Pilates Breathing

With Pilates breathing you become happier, more relaxed, & less anxious.

Take a deep breath wide and low, expanding into your ribcage, then exhale all the air from you lungs: the answer is under your nose.

Joseph Pilates states in Return to life through Contrology: “Breathing is the first act of life, and the last. Our very life depends on it. Since we cannot live without breathing it is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions and millions who have never learned to master the art of correct breathing. One often wonders how so many millions continue to live as long as they do under this tremendous handicap to longevity. Lazy breathing converts the lungs, figuratively speaking, into a cemetery for the deposition of diseased, dying, and dead germs as well as supplying an ideal haven for the multiplication of other harmful germs.”

I did not realise how true this was until one of my clients who was in a car accident and cracked a rib continued to shallow breath. Because of this she ended up in hospital with a lung infection due to not allowing her lungs to expand and to fully empty. We then focused on Pilates breathing throughout her sessions and her lungs vastly improved as did her core.

Breathing has a powerful impact on your health on many different levels.

For example, my asthma clients who often inhale with shallow breathing and find they cannot breathe as they are so focused on the inhale! If exhaling fully they are then able to allow the lungs to fill naturally, like a vacuum. Sometimes I will use a breath count in an exercise that focuses on a longer exhale and a shorter inhale just to allow the diaphragm to relax! Joseph Pilates himself had asthma, so it is no wonder he was so focused on the use of breath in his exercises. Pilates states that: “…above all, learn how to breathe correctly. SQUEEZE EVERY ATOM OF AIR FROM YOUR LUNGS UNTIL THEY ARE ALMOST AS FREE OF AIR AS IS A VACUUM.”

The Pilates breath is lateral with the sideways expansion of the ribs to allow air deep to the lower lobes of the lungs where there is more efficient oxygen exchange. If we only breathe to the upper lobes of the lungs then there is less oxygen intake. Since every cell in the body needs oxygen to survive and thrive, breathing just to the upper lobes means a small amount of oxygen has to do a lot more work to nourish all the cells in the body.

Shallow rapid breathing is also a natural adrenaline response to fear or shock, so if it is a habit, the mind and body remain in a constant state of stress. Having to work harder just to get oxygen throughout the body. The long-term effect of this extra stress may include high blood pressure, faster resting heart rate, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and lowered resistance to infections; especially lung infections. With poor breath patterns accompanied by inadequate upright posture, headaches, irritability and poor concentration can zap your energy and enjoyment of life.

Breathing can assist with the Pilates exercises and with activation of core muscles. If you are holding your breath then perhaps this exercise is too hard; try an easier variation.

Joseph Pilates states that: “…correct breathing… reduces heart strain, purifies the blood, and develops the lungs.….This in turn supplies the bloodstream with vitally necessary life giving oxygen. Also, the complete exhalation and inhalation of air stimulates all muscles into greater activity.”  You can feel the extra muscle activity with the internal oblique muscles softening the ribs down with a more forced exhale. “Soon the entire body is abundantly charged with fresh oxygen”.  You feel more energised, less anxious, and happier. Breathing properly can affect your mental and physical health. Experts believe that focusing on your breath can help overcome food cravings, overeating, and addictions such as smoking.  So next time you feel stressed, anxious, or tempted by cravings, take a deep breath wide to the lower lobes of the lungs. Exhale all the air out of the lungs allowing the ribs to funnel into the waist. Feel the lungs expand naturally like a vacuum after each exhales.

Breathing is one of the principles of Pilates. People feel good after doing Pilates as, not only have they been moving and getting oxygen rich blood circulating, but also improving posture to allow for better intake of oxygen. All the Pilates exercises contain carefully choreographed breath cycles that dictate the rhythm of the moves. The most well known for breath control is the hundred, others with similar pattern include swimming, and magic circle pulses up and down. My favourite is the exercise on the Caddie called breathing.  I feel like the inhale phase, with the bridging action and pulling down of the bar really assists to draw air into the lungs more fully. Try for yourself when you next do this exercise and let me know what you think!

Keep up your Pilates practice!

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