“To breathe correctly you must completely exhale and inhale, always trying very hard to “squeeze” every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth.”
Pilates breathing has many benefits that our typical breathing does not give us. Most of us tend to breathe very shallow breaths, we take short breaths from the top of the lings and then don’t expel them completely. This means that the body’s pumping system by whcih oxygen is flushed into the bloodstream and carbon dioxide is flushed out, is not working efficitently. This type of breathing increases our adrenaline and stress—it is fight or flight breathing. Learning to breathe correctly is one of the best methods of stress relief and it can work instantly. Pilates breathing relaxes tension in our bodies, gives us a better exchange of oxygen, and engages our abdominals.
Proper posture is also important in correct breathing—if the shoulders are slumped or your chin tilted back, your airway is not fully open and the muscles that control breathing won’t be able to stretch fully. Keeping the spine long and straight will prevent the ribs from collapsing and the spine from bending forward.
Stand in front of a mirror to check your breathing. As you inhale through your nose, there should be no upward movement of your shoulders or tensing of the neck muscles. As you exhale through your mouth with relaxed lips, your shoulders shouldn’t pull downward, your spine should stay straight and long, your collar bone shouldn’t move and your neck should remain free of tension.
The Pilates Inhale: Breathing in through the nose warms the air and filters it through the cilia (small hairs in the nostrils). The breath then moves through a series of branches (bronchioles) that looks somewhat like an upside down tree. The diaphragm is at the base of the rib cage at the thoracic area. As we breathe, the diaphragm contracts and relaxes. The Pilates breath tries to get the diaphragm to move across the ribs, going downward during the inhale, allowing space for the air to fill the lungs. It looks like a sling or a hammock attached to the ribs.
The Pilates Exhale: Stitching the ribs together in Pilates breathing causes the diaphragm to move, like an arch, up. This forces the air out and contracts the abdominals connected to the ribs. The inhale also gives you a great stretch of the muscles in-between the ribs (intercostals).
Full Breathing: As your breathing improves, you will feel the muscles between the ribs stretch on the inhale and the abdominals contract on the exhale. Over time, you will also feel your abdominals muscles working when you inhale, by keeping the abdominals connected as the breath goes out into the lungs and rib cage.
Breathing During Exercise: Often, in exercise, we should breath out on exertion or effort. You may have heard people say “exhale with exertion.” In Pilates, the breath can be a little different. Many forms of Pilates have the breath coordinated with the movement of the spine. For example, Stott Pilates notes, “during exhalation the rib cages closes in and down while the spine flexes slightly. For this reason, an exhale is suggested to encourage spinal flexion. During inhalation, the rib cage opens out and up while the spine extends. An inhale is suggested to encourage spinal extension…”
The most important thing is to remember to breathe. If you get confused don’t hold your breath—keep breathing. Always begin the breath before the movement.
Principles of Pilates Breathing
Do not hold your breath—keep your breath flowing
Inhale through the nose to cleanse air
Do not let shoulder rise on inhale
Breathe into your back and sides of ribs
Exhale through the mouth with relaxed lips, don’t purse your lips
Relax your jaw and tongue, neck and shoulders
Hollow abdominals, pull naval to spine on exhale
Zip or stitch ribs together on the exhale. Try zipping down and zipping up
Try to breathe at least five seconds each way
Exhale to flex/round spine
Inhale to extend/arch spine
Exhale to move legs and arms away from body (typically in mat work, varies)
Sample Breathing Exercises
Notice Your Breath Pattern. Sit, stand, or lie on a mat. Notice where your breath goes. Place your hands on your rib cage, under your chest. How do your ribs move? Is your breath in your chest, ribs, or belly?
Balloon Breath. Sit, stand, or lie on a mat. Imagine you have two balloons encased in your lower rib cage. As you inhale try to fill up the balloons. As you exhale try to get all the air out of the balloon. Feel the balloons deflate, then fill them right back up with your inhale. Make sure you feel your balloons fill out to the sides and backs of your ribs.
Flexed Over Hugging Knees. Exhale: try to pull your belly away from legs. Inhale: try to feel the breath go into your back, expanding and stretching the back rib cage.
Face Down. Lie prone (face down) with hands under head, nose hovering above mat. Inhale into your back. Exhale: pull naval away from floor, about the size of a marble. Pretend you are pulling a marble up off the floor with your belly button. Do not use your bottom or your back, just your abs.
Scoop it Out. Lie on your back with your legs bent, feet on the floor. Place your hands just below your belly button. As you exhale try to move our abs away from you hands. Inhale into your ribs and back, try to keep the belly from rising, instead pull the belly button in and up, feel the ribs stretch your diaphragm out like a hammock stretching further and further from each end.
“Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly.”
Be patient and keep up with it. You can practice your breathing any time of day, anywhere. You will discover a benefit just from improving your breathing technique.
Researched by KATIA C. ROWLANDS – STOTT PILATES INSTRUCTOR & PERSONAL TRAINER – 0825134256