I love this image. Not only does the Lord breathe life into our lungs, but His name alone, Yah Weh, aligns with our inhale/exhale rhythm. This holy name of our God requires little effort to express yet carries the power of His work within us.
Breathing is critical to life obviously, but it’s the way we breathe that brings life and healing and freedom. Fitness especially draws attention to our breathing as Lori reminded us this week during our special Holy Barre Yoga session. Whether we were flowing or standing in tree pose, proper and effective breathing is so valuable to our bodies and our hearts and our souls and our minds. And your abdomen is foundational to your breath, so keep your core engaged with that belt of truth wrapped tightly around your waist. I am continually in awe of our intricate design and how all aspects of our being are relate and designed to connect back with our Father and Creator.
Our friend Amy Griffith gathered more beneficial information about our core and breathing that is shared below . . . but ultimately, what if fitness was just a way to get God’s breath in our lungs? Let’s breathe deeply today . . . connecting with Yah-Weh!
Center Strength and Lateral Breathing
by Amy Griffith
Based on Conditioning for Dance by Erik Franklin and
Dance Anatomy by Jacqui Greene Hass
Four abdominal layers – listed from deepest to most superficial
- transversus abdominis
- internal obliques*
- rectus abdominis
- external obliques**
*the internal obliques and the rectus abdominis are in the same layer but are separated by connective tissue
**the external oblique muscles themselves do not come into contact with, or cover the rectus abdominis, but there is connective tissue that covers the rectus abdominis
When the abdominal muscles contract all together, their combined strength provides security for your lower spine, helping to keep length through the curves of your spine. Their support protects your spine when landing in petite or grand allegro, or when landing from pirouettes. They also aid in pelvic alignment, with the rectus abdominis being the primary initiator in achieving that imperative alignment.
Even though there is no bony structure within your four abdominal walls, there is incredible strength in the layering of these muscles and in the opposing directions in which their fibers run. The transversus abdominis, also known as your “corset muscle”, has muscle fibers that run horizontally. This muscle encircles your entire torso from back to front, by starting as connective tissue at your sacrum and spinal vertebrae. The tissue ends and the muscle starts at the side of your body and then horizontally wraps around the towards the front. At the side of your body where the connective tissue ends and the muscle starts, it connects to the crest of the ilium (those hip bones you can feel on the sides of your pelvis) and to the six lower ribs, then into more connective tissue that ends somewhat close to the medial (center) line of your body.
The internal obliques have fibers that run in an ascending diagonal from the back portion of your side (low part of the diagonal) to the front of your body (high part of the diagonal). These muscles on either side, similar to the transversus abdominis, connect at the crest of the ilium and ribs, then continue to wrap upward around to the front of your body by connecting into tissue close to the medial line. Unlike the transversus abdominis however, these muscles start at the side of your body instead of the back.
The external obliques’ fibers run diagonally as well, but in opposition to the internal obliques’ fibers. Their points of connection are just like like the internal obliques’ from the sides of the body to the front, but these wrap around in a descending diagonal from the back portion of your side (high part of the diagonal) to the front of your body (low part of the diagonal). The external oblique muscles, again just like the internal obliques, start attached to the crest of the ilium and your lower ribs. Then they wrap in a downward flow and connect into tissue on the outer edge of your rectus abdominis.
The rectus abdominis, your 6-pack muscle, has fibers that run vertically. As you know from our talks on pelvic alignment, the rectus abdominis starts at the pubic bone and ends in connection to your upper ribs.
PAUSE: exercises to find & feel each of the abdominal walls work – show & have try the action(s) of each layer
ACTION – “corset muscle” / stabilization & posture control
TO ENGAGE – hard breath out
CONDITIONING – hard breath out and hold contraction for 5-10 seconds
Internal & External Obliques:
ACTION – both: trunk flexion, bending side to side / both: trunk rotation – contraction on rotating side and extension on opposite side by pulling towards the rotating side / external obliques: lace ribs together by funneling inward and downward towards the medial (center) line.
TO ENGAGE – trunk rotation, feeling purposeful contraction on one side and pulling extension on other side
CONDITIONING – standing oblique crunches with arms straight overhead; be sure not to lean forward or twist at all.
ACTION – trunk flexion, bending forward / pelvic alignment initiator
TO ENGAGE – slowly roll up from a cambré forward position in plié, starting with a pelvic floor contraction; imagine each pair of the “6-pack” muscles contracting from cartilage connection to rib connection as roll up.
- Lay on back with knees bent in “chair” position; use fingers to monitor hip flexors – they should be able to keep completely relaxed in this position, using the rectus abdominis instead, to hold legs in the position.
- Once you are able to hold the position with hip flexors relaxed, bring head, neck, and shoulder blades (or lower) straight up off of the ground. The chin and shoulders should still be facing the ceiling.
As I said before, imagine the strength and protective power these four muscles have when working together, because their muscle fibers run in different directions! When you can feel them lengthening in contraction instead of “hunkering down” or gripping to contract them, this strong center is where all of a dancer’s power comes from, and this powerful foundation is the reason we’re able to execute movement with fluidity and lightness, making it look easy!
So, our goal should be to strengthen these muscles along with equal strengthening and stretching of our back muscles, but we won’t go into the back muscles right now. Once the abdominals are strengthened and you begin to get used to dancing while actively holding the torso with a lengthened strength, you should next focus on training your muscles to help you with breathing correctly. Learning how to use lateral breath will make it much easier to breathe and keep up your energy while executing combinations like petite allegro, pirouettes, and adagio. It’s worth noting too, that your ability to breathe is directly connected to any tension you’re holding while you move, whether it’s in the abdominals, shoulders, foot, jaw, hand…anywhere!
In order to understand lateral breathing we have to start with learning about the muscle used the most for breathing: the diaphragm. In the exercise where we forcefully blew out our breath in order to find and feel the transversus abdominis contracting, we learned that this contraction happens because the diaphragm is actually interwoven into the horizontal fibers of the transversus abdominis. The diaphragm is a dome-like muscle that lies inside of your ribcage and attaches to your lower sternum. Upon inhalation it flattens out and is pressed downward, expanding your ribcage and pushing your abdominal muscles out. On exhalation it relaxes and becomes dome-like again, returning to it’s original place. When all of your torso muscles are completely relaxed, you can feel your abdominals and ribs expand naturally while you take a deep breath. Give that a try once, then place your hand on your chest and, again with your torso muscles completely relaxed, take another deep breath. You should find that you don’t have much movement at all in your upper chest. Something that’s very important to remember when breathing correctly is that you don’t want to completely eliminate all abdominal muscle expansion on inhalation. If you grip your abdominals to have no expansion at all there or in your rib cage, you’ll just trade too much abdominal relaxation for chest breathing. Chest breathing is an extremely tense way to breathe and it will hinder everything from spotting in turns to port de bras and balancing. It will reduce your power to jump because you’ll trap your energy in tension instead of allowing it traveling out of your body. Enter lateral breathing to save the day!
Earlier when we went over the actions of the each of the four abdominal walls, I mentioned that the external obliques have a sort of funneling action for the ribcage. Using the forceful breath exercise again and keeping in mind that the external obliques are attached to the front edges of your ribs, see if you can’t feel that funnel motion happening when you blow out your breath while contracting all four abdominal layers at once.
- PAUSE: breathe out forcefully a few times sitting to engage the core, then once aware of core muscles, do “Breathing with side bend” exercise in DA book, pg 42
- PAUSE: try a forceful breath exhalation while performing a pirouette – inhale on preparation & upon execution forcefully exhale, feeling external obliques funnel down in opposition to the lengthening upward of the spine & rectus abdominis.
- PAUSE: do “Breathing with port de bras” exercise in DA book, pg 44
- PAUSE: do “Breathing plié” exercise in DA book, pg. 48
- PAUSE: sit and place hand on front of rib cage & perform a few relaxed breaths allowing all 3 directions of breath to happen – expansion forward, side to side, & back. Now take deep breaths & on inhale engage external obliques to keep ribs in front funneling down, but allow expansion side to side & back. Remind them that a small amount frontal abdominal movement is necessary for no tension.
Jacqui Greene Hass states in her Dance Anatomy book, “Organizing the process of breathing will 1) reduce tension in the upper body, 2) improve oxygen flow to your muscles, and 3) engage your core muscles.” Start sitting and practicing lateral breathing exercises, keeping one hand on the front of your ribs to remind the external obliques to allow them to move only side to side instead of allowing the diaphragm to force them open. Keep your other hand on your stomach, feeling only minimal lengthening of those muscles. Focus some of your attention too on releasing any tension upon every exhalation. In all of your movement classes begin building the habit of “organizing your breathing process” when you need control, to inhale properly on preparations and to exhale consciously upon execution of the movement, releasing all tension.
‘Stability is created through concerted action of the whole body in dialogue with a centered mind. It is a mental image as much as it is physical fact.’Eric Franklin, Conditioning for Dance