I've Been Breathing Wrong by Heidi Shaner

Heidi Shaner is a senior level instructor at Posture Studio. A group exercise instructor since 1997 and a personal athletic trainer since 2008, Heidi has been studying at Posture Studio for over two years and recently took the Stott Pilates Comprehensive Reformer training. Heidi’s natural gift for working with people is complimented by her knack for postural analysis and movement retraining. Heidi wrote this blog in 2016 when she started an apprenticeship at Posture Studio. You can read more about Heidi’s life coaching business or check out her blog at www.heidishaner.com Enjoy!

You think it's hard to change the way you think? Try changing the way you BREATHE! Or stand, or sit, or walk, or move. I've recently been apprenticing under a posture MASTER. You know how when you watch a master musician play their instrument and it looks like they're channeling some kind of cosmic energy? It's like that when I watch my mentor teach. You see, I love being a perpetual student. When I'm with her, I feel like a sponge and I soak up all her amazing knowledge that she's sharing with me. There's always a next level of knowledge and learning keeps us vibrant and growing all the time.

Anyway, I'm incredibly grateful that this woman has taken me under her wing and here's what I know so far. Every thing I've been conditioned to do physically with my group exercise and personal training certifications is OPPOSITE of what she's teaching me now. Can you imagine how hard it is to rewire the things you don't EVER think about?? I'm type A and if I put my mind to something, I can achieve it and this is seriously killing me. I am trying so hard to get the concepts and I do, in my head, but my body isn't cooperating. And this whole thing is reminding me that the work I do to train people is uber important and that REPETITION is the MOTHER of SKILL. I seriously love this quote. So back to my story.

I learned that I pop out my front ribs all the time. That's because I used to have slumped shoulders and my head was forward and I was taught in chiropractic care and through my trainings to pull my shoulders back. And so I did....way too much. I basically straightened out the curve in my upper back. Do you know what neutral means when it comes to your body's alignment? Our spinal cord has natural curves in them- in our neck, our upper back, and our lower back and it's made that way to support our skeletal system against the force of gravity. When your head is too far forward, your upper back will go too far back, and your low back will go too far forward, to maintain balance and to offset the load. Our bodies always find a way to compensate. But then you'll experience pain from the strain of being so far off neutral. Anyway, I digress. I realized that I overcompensated and basically collapsed my shoulder girdle. Fine. So I start sinking my chest a bit and lifting my shoulders and actually rounding my upper back a bit. It feels so very strange but in a photo, looks completely aligned. MINDBLOWN! And that's only the beginning.

I also learned that I wasn't exhaling completely. Again, what?? I inhale into my chest and don't let all the air out. Who does that?? So I start practicing breathing into the side and back of my ribs. Who knew? I think about expanding my back ribs as I inhale. And these are only a couple of the tweeks that I've been making.

Did you know that your diaphragm actually contracts when you inhale and your abs relax and then when you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and your abs contract. Speaking of which, did you know that true ab strength involves bringing your abs in toward your center and UP toward your ribs when you exhale? Who ever heard of pulling your abs up? I learned that neutral posture requires strength. I never realized this before. To stand, sit, walk, breathe, lay down in neutral requires STRENGTH.

All of this is just to say that we truly can rewire ourselves literally from a cellular level. My life's mission is to help people rewire themselves holistically for a higher quality of life- mind, body, and soul. It's not just about the thoughts you think, your behavior patterns, and emotions. It's also about how you BREATHE. It's never too late. You need a mentor or some masterful guidance. You need willingness and desire. You need to bring your unconscious into your consciousness. You need to take deliberate action over and over and over again until you get it into your physiology.

One thing that helps condition your new ways is creating images that are powerful and meaningful for you. With all this focus on breathing, I thought about expanding and strengthening my back. I thought about moving my back ribs as I inhale. I thought about broadening my shoulders and attaching strong muscles to my ribs. I thought about letting my chest down a bit. And it hit me. Strength doesn't come from posturing. It comes from standing with strength. The strength is in my back, not my front. So I connected an image with these thoughts: a falcon with a beautiful huge wing span flying high in the sky, so graceful and strong. So there you have it. I am always at your service with love.

Meditation Through the Backdoor

Meditation Through the Backdoor

What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Meditation through the backdoor" is how I've referred to Pilates for years. Anyone who has practiced the repetitive, rhythmic, and cyclical nature of studying movement knows this, and Pilates is no different. Over time, the study of slow movement that applies to larger movement becomes much more than a means to change the body; it changes the mind and the overall sense of being.

I'll never forget the day that I had this realization. After an injury landed me in a Pilates clinic to rehabilitate and strengthen my weakened body, I quickly found myself humbled by the limitations not only of my body, but also of my breathing patterns and my mind/ego. Learning "Pilates" was challenging in more ways than I ever imagined. I was young and impatient, and I was annoyed by the process. I wanted to hurry through this injury, go dancing and running, and feel free again. Yet two years into my injury, my pain was worse and I found myself on my back studying slow movement. Pain is a huge motivator and I was willing to do anything. I had no idea how hard it was going to be to lie on my back and practice breathing, or how difficult it would be to slowly move my limbs while thinking about what I was doing.

The mindfulness of Pilates was so difficult for me that I wanted to quit. I had practiced yoga and meditation for years and while the mindfulness of yoga and Pilates have similarities, the lack of discussion about the mind/body/spirit connection in Pilates and the sole focus on studying movement challenged me in different ways. I fought against the intense focus of the practice as it agitated me. I found myself annoyed more often than not. Quitting wasn't an option, though, as my body started getting better and I was not turning back. Over time, my breathing exercises became more natural, and I became interested in the movement analysis part of the practice. I could feel my body letting go of holding patterns caused by everything from old injuries to old fears. Things were changing. I was stronger. I had moments free from pain. Those moments turned into days, weeks, and months free from pain.

And then, one day, something else happened. I was lying on my back, practicing my breathing exercises, studying how my breathing patterns could better assist my movements, when I went into a what I call an "accidental meditation" and a calm came over my mind that I hadn't experienced for years. Over the next few months, this "accidental meditation" happened often during my practice. As more time passed, I realized that I was practicing what many refer to as "mindfulness" and it was benefitting my mind/body/spirit in ways that I had never experienced. I knew about this practice, of course, but I had never truly experienced it in such an accidental way. This was unexpected as I never dreamed that this deeper level of awareness could come from practicing Pilates.

Since then, even though I can jump onto the Pilates machines and accomplish difficult exercise routines, I find myself returning to my mat and the slow study of movement again and again. Through ups and downs over the years, through various injuries, losses and life challenges, the mindful practice of slow movement has been much more to me than a way to improve my physical state. Much like a musician never stops learning from practicing scales, repeating forms is essential to the unfolding that leads to those "Aha" moments in our mind. I practice the art of Pilates to keep my body healthy, yes, but also to keep my mind focused and my spirit grounded.

As an instructor, I am fortunate to be an observer of the transitions that people go through as I teach them basic concepts of breathing or movement. I am always amazed by anyone who can stick with it because I know that the struggle to learn these concepts goes far beyond the physical realm. Tears well up for many during this practice, mine included. Old patterns fall away as new patterns unfold. And yet, if you've practiced with me, you'll rarely, if ever, hear me talk about the mind/body/spirit benefits of the practice. I merely encourage the focus of attention to return to the breath and to studying the movements that we are practicing.

If you've studied at Posture Studio for any length of time, you may have experienced the calm that comes from the practice and perhaps integrate these techniques into your life outside of the studio. Focusing attention on breathing and movement allows us to become aware of the present moment, and suddenly what seemed like a very external practice becomes a very internal one. Negative holding patterns from our past melt away as we work on releasing movement patterns that have seeped into our lives from injuries, poor habits, emotionally traumatizing experiences, and even from a simple lack of awareness about how we're holding and moving our bodies. The "to do" list that is in our head drifts away, and the present becomes clearer as we look within.

Thank you for sharing your practice with us.

Happy 2018 to all.