THE ART OF BREATHING & PILATES

It's quite possible that you take a breath more than 50,000 times a day if you're active. We don't often think about breathing as being a skill but it certainly is - one that you can get better and more efficient at. BodyLove Pilates wants to help you harness the power of your breath to not only nourish all the cells of your body with a deep inhale through your nose but activate the target muscles during exercise with a focused and even exhale out your mouth. 

What is the relationship between breath and Pilates?

Joseph Pilates placed huge emphasis on the invigorating qualities of deep breathing - consider the following quote from his book Return to Life Through Contrology:

"Lazy breathing converts the lungs, literally and 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."

The simple act of breathing can be extremely challenging and in Pilates we place a lot of importance on breath patterns and practice what is called controlled or voluntary breathing exercises.

What is the benefit of breathing emphasis during exercise?

Breathing exercises have huge benefits:
  • Relaxation
  • Better circulation
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Stress relief 
  • Most importantly here – aids in correct muscle activation

How is breath used in pre/postnatal Pilates?

Learning how to breath correctly is vital for the duration of your pregnancy and a skill that will come in very handy during labor. In Pilates we talk about different sorts of breathing – for the purpose of your pre & postnatal work the following three are relevant:

Diaphragmatic Breathing

1. Diaphragmatic breathing or Yoga breathing – is when we focus on the movement of the diaphragm as it domes down on inhalation, allowing the abdominal muscles to relax out with the breath. Drawing the abdominals back in and up to aid the return on the diaphragm and exhalation of the breath.

  • The diaphragm is our most effective breathing muscle
  • When used correctly it will decrease the effort of breathing, it will grow stronger and therefore support the spine for correct posture
  • A more efficient diaphragm will help alleviate the use of your neck muscles when you breathe
2. Lateral breathing - Lateral breathing is when you focus on the lateral and upward movement of the ribcage as you inhale – sending breath into the back and sides of the lungs. In this case the deep core abdominal muscles (TVA) maintain an inward directional pull throughout the inhale and exhale.
  • This type of breath is important during challenging exercise enabling you to breath efficiently whilst not letting go of the stabilizing abdominals
  • The cue we often use in Pilates is to “inhale but maintain the connection of your belly button and spine.”
  • It’s particularly important in pre/post natal Pilates as deep core stabilization is crucial to ensure you are exercising safely and other auxiliary muscles are not recruited.

 

Lateral Breathing

3. Set pattern breathing - This breath is used in almost every Pilates exercise and refers to the instruction of the inhale at one phase of the exercise and exhale at another. There are a few reasons for such instruction:

  • It ensures that you are NOT holding your breath when performing the exercise. This is vital in avoiding muscle strain and a dangerous increase in your blood pressure
  • It places emphasis on the activation of certain muscles. I want you to get into the habit of using your exhale on the exertion of the exercise - at the beginning of the exhale your activate and stabilize using your deep core muscles and then move at the end of the long even breath

What is the BodyLove Pilates Fundamental breath?

THE INHALE!

Here are a few visual cues that might help you inhale more easily.
Take some time to try out each image with a few breaths and see which ones resonate with you the most and allow you to breathe deeply and easily.

Inhale…..through your nose…

  • Gently filling backs and sides of your lungs up with air.:
  • Feel your ribcage expand out to the sides and up with the breath
  • Imagine your lungs as two empty, stretched out balloons and the inhale is going to fill the very bottom of the balloons up.
  • Imagine your back ribs are smiling up towards the outside tip of your shoulders
  • Feel like you can send the breath all the way down and into the belly
  • Imagine you have two valves for the air to come in on the sides of ribcage. Direct your inhale though those to two valves
  • Imagine a pair of nostrils, one on each side of your back ribs – Direct the breath in through your back nostrils!

THE EXHALE!

Unlike classical Pilates where you breathe out through pursed lips – I want you to imagine you are Darth Vader from Star Wars and exhale from the back of your throat through a softly opened mouth. A long Haaaaaaaaaaaa sound should be made – slow and even.

Here are a few visual cues that might help your exhale.

Take some time to try out each image with a few breaths and see which ones resonate with you the most and allow you to exhale most effectively.

Exhale..out your mouth…

  • Imagine the breath is always going up the front of the body 
  • Feel the lift of the exhale through the body instead of baring down on the exhale
  • Imagine the exhale coming up a tunnel through the body and out the crown on the head
  • Imagine you have a spout like a whale at the top of your head and that’s where the breath exits your body.
  • If your heart were a spotlight, the exhale would make that light burn brighter, stronger and wider