Breathing in Pilates

You may have noticed that breathing is mentioned a lot in Pilates. In fact, it’s one of the six fundamental principles of Pilates, along with concentration, control, centring, precision and flow. Why is it so important though?

Breathing style
Lateral breathing, which is used in Pilates, refers to inhaling into the lower back and the sides of the ribcage. Unlike shallow breathing, lateral breathing reduces tension in the neck and shoulders due to it using fewer muscles in those areas. It also helps to stabilise and stretch the spine during exercise and by breathing into the sides (instead of the belly, like in diaphragmatic breathing) the abdominal muscles can remain engaged.

Practicing lateral breathing
You can practice lateral breathing by first placing your hands onto the side of your ribs. As you inhale through your nose and into your lower back and sides of the ribcage, you will feel your ribcage expand and your hands will move away from your body. Then, as you exhale through your mouth and air leaves the lungs, your hands will move back in.

Lateral breathing can also be very calming and is therefore great to use during relaxation. Remember to inhale and exhale fully and deeply for optimum benefits.

Breathing pattern
Newcomers to Pilates sometimes find that it takes them a couple of sessions to adjust to the breathing patterns adopted in Pilates. It’s common in Pilates (and other forms of exercise) to inhale to prepare for a movement then exhale on the outward movement. This is because the act of exhaling relaxes and mobilises the body, helping movements to flow freely.

Example exercise
Using the shoulder bridge as an example, this is how the breathing pattern may be adopted:

Lying with your back on the floor, your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, inhale deeply through the nose and into the sides and back on the ribcage. Then, as you exhale through the mouth, lift the lower back off the mat and into bridge position. Inhale to hold the position, then exhale to return the lower back down to the mat.