Breathing; it is the most natural and vital part of being alive, but have you been doing it wrong all this time? There are some serious correlations between how we breathe and our health. The way you breathe can improve your overall health as well as help you reach your fitness goals. The key to this (as simple as it might sound) is Pilates breathing.
Have you been struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, and more? Breathing correctly could help you ease the effects of these struggles.
Simply put, we don’t only need oxygen to survive, but we need oxygen to thrive and be happy. Deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen that is taken into your blood and your brain. This in turn improves brain function, stamina, energy, and mood.
In this article, we will delve into what makes the use of Pilates breath the perfect conduit for a healthy, happy, and active life. We will also give you tips on how you can start to improve your breathing techniques in everyday activities such as sitting at your desk or reading a book.
The Fundamentals of Pilates Breathing Technique: Understanding the Basics
Breathing is used to enhance your Pilates practice and aid in certain movements, but it is also used to provide you with a higher level of safety while performing certain exercises, helping you to prevent any injuries from occurring.
The main aim of Pilates breathing is to avoid taking shallow breaths that are restricted to the upper chest area. This can create an immense amount of tightness within the body.
There are two main breathing techniques that are used to facilitate Pilates breath.
1) Diaphragmatic Breathing
Also known as “belly breathing”, diaphragmatic breathing is often a good way to begin your Pilates session. This is because this form of breathing is very calming and will immediately allow you to slip into the frame of mind that is best suited to a productive and relaxing session.
Belly breathing is performed by fully expanding your ribcage on an inhale. As you do this you can image your belly inflating like a balloon.
This belly expansion will relax your entire body, including your shoulders and upper body area. This allows your body to rest from a full day or night of tension (you will be surprised by how much tension we hold in our bodies while sleeping).
2) Lateral Breathing
While diaphragmatic breathing is a fantastic way to relieve tension and relax before starting your Pilates practice, it is not a breathing pattern that should be used during movement. This is where lateral breathing comes into the mix.
Lateral breathing requires you to expand your ribcage laterally (to the side) on an inhale. This will allow for your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to activate while breathing. Therefore, your belly should not expand while inhaling air.
On the exhale you will close your ribcage, in and down, which will further allow you to contract your abdominal and stomach muscles.
It is best practice to inhale air through your nose and exhale through your mouth. It Is also advisable to keep your inhalation slow and steady while increasing the force on an exhale.
Common Mistakes with Pilates Breathe
Pilates breathing, while it may seem simple in theory, can be quite challenging in practice, especially when one starts adding movement to breath. One can easily be thrown off course with this, and it is, therefore, important to keep in mind some common mistakes made while using Pilates breath.
Regressing Into Typical Breathing:
Typical breathing is the most natural way to breathe, and also happens to be belly breathing. While many of us have learned to take shallow breaths in the chest cavity, the most natural way to breathe is by expanding your belly on an inhale.
While this is beneficial for relaxation, it is not beneficial to your Pilates practice and should be avoided while partaking in Pilates movement.
This is because it relaxes all of your abdominal and stomach muscles which will leave you with little to no results from all your hard work on the matt.
Forcing Your Inhalation:
While you should be inhaling deeply while performing lateral breathing during your practice, you should not overextend your lungs. Your breath should come slowly and naturally. The last thing you want is to pull a muscle from breathing!
Upper Body Movement:
While breathing, it is important to ensure that you are not experiencing any movement in your shoulders. This indicates and increases tension in the upper body which is not favourable.
If you are noticing movement in your shoulders, try to relax your neck and jaw muscles while focusing on your ribs and ribcage area.
Continuous Lateral Breathing:
While lateral breathing is a very beneficial and crucial part of Pilates practice. It should not be used as your exclusive breathing technique. Rather, it should be viewed as a tool. Therefore, it should only be used while engaging in Pilates practice.
Belly breath is considered to be the healthiest form of breathing when breathing normally.
3 Pilates Breathing Techniques to Try
If you feel like you are starting to get a hang of the basics of Pilates breathing and wish to go more in-depth, there are some Pilates breathing exercises that have been specially designed to increase your skill.
Not only will these breathing exercises help you practice your technique, but they have been specifically designed to restore your posture and the alignment of your body to better facilitate proper breathing techniques.
From reading my Lindywell Pilates review you’ll know I’m a big fan of Robin Long’s Pilates technique. She puts special emphasis on teaching proper pilates breathing technique. These three exercises below are taught by her.
1) Pilates Hundred:
Lie down on your back, bending your knees to be at a 90˚ angle with your hips. Raise your arms slightly off of the floor and bring your chest slightly toward your legs – as if attempting to do an abdominal crunch.
Squeeze your thighs together and start to pulse your arms up and down, while practising lateral breathing.
Here, you should be inhaling for 5 counts and exhaling on 5 counts. Repeat this exercise and flow 10 times or up until capacity.
2) Spine Twist Seated:
For this exercise, you will be seated while spreading your legs to about the width of your Pilates mat. Ensure that your spine is straight, with your shoulders pulled backwards.
Lift your hands behind your head, with your arms and elbows being lateral to your face. Rotate your upper body to one side, come back to the middle, and rotate to the other side. This movement can be repeated as many times as desired.
This movement will help to loosen your ribcage muscles, allowing for them to expand more efficiently during breathing.
3) Moving Breathing Exercise:
For this breathing exercise you can sit cross-legged on your Pilates mat with your back straight and tall.
As you inhale, stretch your arms and hands out to the side while bringing your chest forward. As you exhale, bring your arms forward and around your body to help push the air out of your lungs. This should create a C-curve in your spine.
This exercise is a fantastic stress reducer and can be done at any time, anywhere!
If you would like to see a visual representation of these exercises, follow along to the video below.
The Difference Between Yoga and Pilates Breathing
While there are some surface-level similarities between how you breathe in yoga and Pilates, they are worlds apart.
While yoga breathing is not wrong and is in fact beneficial for your yoga practice, it is not suitable in Pilates practice.
The main differences between the two are that Pilates breathing focuses on the exhale and does not promote deep breaths on the inhale.
How Important Is It to Use the Correct Pilates Breathing Technique?
Pilates and breathing are closely linked as you might have already noticed; but how important is the correct breathing technique to your practice?
Well, it turns out it plays a big role! Not only does it relax you, but it also helps strengthen and tense the belly area for targeted exercise. It also ensures that you fall into a flow. And can even help your posture in all of your Pilates exercises.
While this is not a well-known fact, Joseph Pilates was actually asthmatic. He originally developed these breathing patterns to help with his condition. However, as time went by, he also noticed the immense impact it was having on other areas of his life and body, including his own Pilates practice.
The bottom line is, breathing in Pilates can improve your practice, but it can also improve other areas of your life and your health. We should all know how to breathe correctly and it shouldn’t be a skill that is taught to the few, paying for a subscription to something that is branded “rights reserved” or gives you a “free trial”. It’s important that we all know how to breathe effectively.
All you need to start practising Pilates and the correct technique, is a mat and an internet connection with which to find an online Pilates instructor.
Remember, you can become a Pilates fundi from the comfort of your home and experience relaxation from anywhere!
About the Author: Jane Hart
Working crazy hours in a high-stress work environment resulted in my body one day telling me, “Enough is enough!”
Navigating this serious health journey was both mentally and physically exhausting. But through some serious mindset work and instilling healthy habits, I was able to rebuild my life one day at a time and come out stronger on the other side!
Now my mission is to empower women like me to prioritize their fitness and well-being in a healthy, sustainable way and build a community of strong, happy and healthy women!