Breathing is one of the fundamental principles of Pilates. As Joseph Pilates stated, “Before any real benefit can be derived from physical exercises, one must first learn how to breathe properly.” Joseph Pilates implores everyone to master the art of correct breathing as breathing is the first and last act of life and “our very life depends on it.”
Breathing is critical for obvious reasons, but it is also instrumental in certain aspects that may not seem so apparent. Proper breathing oxygenates the blood, expels toxins, improves circulation, increases skin tone, improves posture, calms the mind, decreases stress, lowers blood pressure, improves flexibility, assists in concentration, improves stamina and helps activate and target muscles. Yet, most people rarely consider breathing as an important part of their exercise program.
In Pilates, the breath is our fuel and power. Pilates exercises are coordinated with breath patterns. In group Pilates sessions, we explore how to actively breathe through the movement. Breath helps to engage your abdominal muscles and stabilize your torso. The Pilates breathing technique determines the efficiency of your Pilates workout, which you learn to implement into your functional activities and other physical exercises.
In active breathing, we generally exhale prior to and through the part of the exercise that requires the most exertion, taking advantage of the tightening of the abdominal muscles during exhalation. Breath can also assist in lengthening and decompressing the spine, which is important for pain relief and prevention of injury.
We also focus on a concept unique to Pilates referred to as “lateral breathing.” In lateral breathing, air is directed into the sides and back of the ribcage. The ribs expand outward and upward. With every inhalation, the ribs expand to the sides and into the back. During exhalation, the abdominal muscles are pulled in toward the body's core. Lateral breathing allows you to keep the abdominal muscles contracted while inhaling. Lateral breathing helps prepare the body for exercise, while also protecting the muscles of the spine.
Typically, people breathe in a shallow manner, barely utilizing the extent of their power. When people think of deep breathing they fill up their upper chest. In Pilates, however, we learn to use the breath to fill up the sides and back of the ribcage and utilize all of the space we have available to us. This increases stamina and gives us more power with which to work.
When working on your correct breathing technique, be patient. Lateral and active breathing take practice. It can be difficult to coordinate breath with movement when you first start practicing Pilates. Focused breathing can be difficult to implement into your daily routine. Practice by putting your hands around the ribcage near your sternum with your forefingers touching, take a deep inhalation and avoid your diaphragm and belly expanding outward. Instead try to pull the ribs and fingers apart through in an outward motion, while keeping your shoulders and neck relaxed. Then exhale and compress the abdominal wall and bring your fingers back together. Try to maintain the tightness of your abdominals as you repeat and inhale again. With practice, proper breathing technique will become easier and more fluid. You will find that correct breathing actually makes exercise easier.
To learn more, visit Bodhi Pilates or call 303-597-8483.