Breathing Lessons



As the plane taxied for takeoff. her heart vvould rev. She’d clench her eyes and shrink into a ball of anxiety. But that’s in the past. These days, five deep breaths calm her panic and allovv her to return to her normal self.

Likewise. on cardio runs around NYC. where she’s a Pilates instructor and owner of the Ashley DeLeon Pilates studio, the new mom has seen her stamina ıncrease. She credits the changes to one tweak in her vvellness routine: breathvvork. ‘Once I started practiced breathing,’ she says. “I could run longer. become less vvinded and feel less exhausted aftervvard.”


To the uninitıated, the concept may sound ridiculous. Learning to breathe? Please! ‘When I first started to teach breathing, people vvould cock their heads and say, Um, vvell. actually, breathing is one of the things I do vvell,” recalls Belisa Vranich. PsyD, a clinical psychologist. breath coach and author of Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health (St. Martin’s Griffin. 2016). “I got a lot of sarcasm.’ But the truth is, most of us are getting our air intake ali vvrong. Many people are ‘lazy breathers,’ says Dr. Vranich. ‘taking short. shallovv breaths from the chest, filling only the very top portıons of the lungs vvith air. Then they do not exhale fully, and with most breaths. 30 percent of stale air stays in the body.’

‘I never realized how little I inhaled.” DeLeon, who learned controlled breathing from Dr. Vranich. recalls of her own respiratory challenges. ‘I was chronically exhaling. operating on the bare minimum.”


While fringe practitıoners have been panting with purpose for years. breathwork has suddenly gone mainstream-vvith classes cropping up at gyms. meditation centers and community programs across the country. “İt makes me giggle that it s now trendy.” says Dr. Vranich.

When it comes to the healing benefits for body and mind, hovvever, this stuff is serious. Devotees say that practıcing breathing has improved everything from soothing their mental and emotional trauma to lowering blood pressure. clearing brain fog, even boosting vveight loss. And Science backs up many of those claims.

“Research is shovving that proper breathing can help overcome anxiety. counteract disease and improve stamina and physical performance/ says Patricia L. Gerbarg. MD. assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath:

Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotions (Shambhala. 2012).

Breathvvork’s value in treating anxiety and depression was illustrated in a 2011 study in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy. vvhich successfully employed a three-component breathvvork model to help patients with mood disorders find relief. Stress? A 2016 study found that people who practiced two 10-minute breathing sessions a day produced significantly lower levels of inflammatory cytokines (proteins associated with stress).

Jordan Beinhorn. instructor and ovvner at Pilates on Traction in Los Angeles, is vvalking proof of breathvvork’s therapeutic povvers.

The former professional figüre skater suffered extensive injuries and lingering PTSD when the Mini Cooper she was driving was struck from the side in a shattering crash. ‘I suffered a concussion and side vvhiplash. with jaw. back and neck issues,” she says. “Then after the accident, I was afraid to drive or to be touched for physıcal therapy. especially my face. head and neck.”

She finally recovered thanks to the breathing techniques she learned studying with David Elliott, a renovvned Californıa ınstructor. ‘The breathvvork was a significant part of my healing.’ says Beinhorn. who now teaches breathing herself. ‘İt is an active meditation, vvhich forces you to disconnect from the mental process and focus on the physical.’

For Jennifer Savino. a Pilates instructor and breath coach in San Juan Capistrano. CA, proper breathing vvorked like an antidepressant. “There was a time when I was very depressed because I had a job that left me physically. mentally and emotionally depleted.’ she says. Through conscıous breathing, Savino realized that she was holding on to a belief instilled by her parents—that the only path to success is through hard, grinding vvork. at any cost to one’s health. “Breathing helped me slow dowrı and trust my intuition that something didn’t feel right,” she says. “Soon, I left that job and ended up teaching Pilates. a career I love.”


Joseph Pilates famously said. “Breathing is the first act of the life, and the last…above ali. learn how to breathe correctly.” İn Pilates. breathing is a founding principle for the rhythm of the exercises and the activatıon of muscles. But dedicated breath practice goes further.

“A sustained period of focused breathing is a vvorkout for the diaphragm. just as the gym is for other muscles.” explains Dr. Vranich. “A breathing class is an exercise class (you’ll sweat!) for your lungs.” Through counting. follovving rnusic. chimes or other prompts. participants learn to go from shallovv. rapid breaths to deep, slow breaths— optimally four to six per minute.

“Controlled breathing automatically stimulates the vagus nerve (a long nerve that extends from the brain to the abdomen].” notes DeLeon. “İt literally chills you out.” Moreover. fuller lung capacity increases oxygenatıon to the blood and nourishes the body on a cellular level.


A typical breath class lasts about an hour. İt begins in a seated, upright position while you observe your own natural breathıng patterns. An instructor then guides you through a series of inhaling and exhaling exercıses. often including breath counts. pauses and resistance breathing. “We go through different tempos and depths of breath, both lyıng down and standing.’ says DeLeon, vvhose breathvvork sessions culminate ın the supine position. findıng the deepest, longest breath possible and then fading back into the natural breath. ‘İt is alvvays very apparent,’ she says. ‘how the State of one’s natural breathing is changed from the beginning of the session to the end.


Beyond its myriad health benefits. breathvvork can also be a valuable tool for improving your Pilates practice. “Proper breathing ıncreases stamina as it helps utilize more lung capacity. sometimes ıncreasing the surface of охудеп exchange by as much as 50 percent.” says Dr. Gerbarg. ‘When you don’t have to breathe as frequently to get the same oxygenation. you can apply that extra energy to Pilates or other athletic activities.”

Savino found that breathing lessons helped her feel more connected vvith her body. resulting in a gain in fluidıty ‘that helps me transition from one Pilates movement to the next vvith more grace and confidence.’ she notes.

As a Pilates instructor. DeLeon dıscovered that her breathvvork practice enabled her to help get her clients moving properly. ’Cueing the breath is the most effective way to engage the core,’ she adds. ‘The abdominals are always involved when breathing, so sometimes if a Client is having a hard time figuring out how to use their abdominals in an exercise. paying attention to their breath is the simplest way to fix it.”

There’s also a case for integrating breathing techniques directly into Pilates movements. “İn our vvorkshops, vve’ve found that almost any exercise routine. including Pilates. will be enhanced by adding breathing practices during the movement.” says Dr. Gerbarg. ‘People see better results in a shorter time.” İn particular. she observes a heightened ability to elongate key muscles by stretching on the inhale and relaxing on the exhale.


‘Two words.” says Beınhorn. ‘Body avvareness.” Having a Pilates background prepares the novice breather to make the mind/body connection required for breathvvork. she says.

On a physical level, having a strong core translates to effective breathing patterns because the same muscles are involved. “Pilates can literally make you a stronger breather.” says DeLeon. “And breathvvork can make you stronger in Pilates.”


When starting breathvvork. it’s preferable to learn from a trained instructor in order to tailor the exercises to your specific needs (i.e., relaxation. anxiety. digestıve dısorders). and to get the kinks out of your personal technique.

Classes are widely available and cost as little as $10 for a group session (even at NYC’s buzzy MNDFL

studios) to $200 for prıvate appointments. There are also YouTube tutorials (Andrew Weil. MD’s ‘Asleep in 60 Seconds: 4-7-8 Breathing Technıque” is a good one) and instructional CDs, such as the 11-part audio program—complete with chime cues!—included with Dr. Gerbarg’s book, The Healing Power of the Breath.

Once you’re ready to practice on your own, Savino suggests “a daily sessıon of 10 to 15 minutes-and sometimes 30 to 45 minutes. depending on your needs and available time.”

The beauty of breathwork ıs that it can be done anywhere. Yes. it’s optimal to practice alone in a calm, quiet room—either on a comfortable chaır, floor or bed. But it’s also possible to squeeze in 10 minutes in a public space. Headphones do vvonders for blocking outside noises in order to focus on breathing.

While you’ll be slovving down your respiratory rate—along with your body and racing mind—you can expect remarkably fast-acting results. ‘I found breathing exercises used with my patients got them feeling better right away,” says Dr. Vranich. “especially the ones with anxiety and depression. I mean. right away. One session!” PS

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