I grew up with a sister that was at an elite level of high school long distance running. She would train nearly every day, and I always wanted to be able to do what she did, she made it seem so easy. I tried, but it became evident pretty quickly that I didn’t have either the stamina or the will to maintain the dedication to running that she had. I was also a mild asthmatic, so found that I was out of breath so quickly she would leave me in her dust. I discovered though that I could play soccer, as that required short bursts that I usually had time to recover from, before the ball came back in my direction.
I gave up on running fairly quickly.
Fast forward almost 20 years. I found a passion for cycling, loving spending hours on the bike. I thought that my love of cycling would translate pretty easily to triathlon – I used to swim and run when I was a kid, after all. I did a few training sessions with a triathlon squad, and went into oxygen deprivation a few times during swimming and running training – but I didn’t think much of it, I had always done that. So I signed up for my first triathlon. What a disaster. I panicked when the gun went off, couldn’t catch my breath and ended up having to be rescued from the swim. Whilst I was at this point officially disqualified, they let me finish the bike leg – which I rocked – but when I got to the run I remembered why I had stopped running at high school. I hurt, I couldn’t breathe and I ended up walking to the finish line, where I almost passed out. Oh dear. End of triathlon career (for a while, at least!).
At this point I was sporting a painful shoulder injury caused by the combination of my many hours behind a computer for work and many hours behind the handlebars of my bike. My physio suggested I try Pilates and when I found that it really helped my shoulders, I decided to become a teacher. Becoming a Pilates instructor involves not only learning the exercises and teaching them, but also hours upon hours of practise to perfect the technique – you can’t demonstrate how to do something incorrectly!
Breathing and control are two of the six Principles of the Pilates Method passed down by Joseph Pilates. My hours of practise have taught me how to fill my lungs completely with every breath and how to use my exhalation to focus my energy and control my movement. Opening the lungs and filling the ribcage with air lifts the shoulders, opening the chest and extending the back – so it makes sense that not only is breathing properly enhancing your lung capacity and increasing oxygenation to the muscles, but filling the lungs properly releases tension, helps to relax and teaches you that inhalation is also adding stability to your core. Not only that, but learning to control my breathing means that I don’t feel the need to gasp as I run, so my chest doesn’t burn as it used to. I don’t panic when I’m out of breath so much, as I know that if I keep my breaths deep, measured and focused, my lungs get all the oxygen they need.
Although I’m still working at it, I’ve just completed my first half marathon – and loved it 🙂