One of the most common complaints I hear when people start Pilates is how complicated the breathing is. It is not uncommon for beginners to say that the breathing feels back to front. They want to inhale when the teacher is cueing to exhale and vice versa.
In Pilates, we have a specific breathing technique that helps in the correct recruitment of muscles for each exercise. Generally talking, rule of thumb is to inhale deeply through the nose directly into the sides of the ribcage where the lungs are housed and protected. This creates a lateral expansion of the ribcage. And then exhale out through the mouth where the ribcage softens and closes.
So, why are we so pedantic about breathing in Pilates and why do we exhale at a certain part of the exercise?
Well there are a number of reasons 🙂
- When you inhale, your lungs fill with air and your diaphragm descends into your abdominal cavity placing slight tension on your abdominal wall and pelvic floors which are located at the base of the abdominal cavity. At this point you have less core functioning and less strength. Therefore, it makes sense not to create too much load at this point. As you exhale your diaphragm ascends reducing tension on the abdominal wall and pelvic floors enabling your core to fire, creating strength and stability. It makes sense to load at this stage. Therefore, exhale on exertion.
- Correct breathing also prevents you from holding your breath during exercise. As we exercise we need to get oxygen to our muscles so they can perform optimally, yet many people find they hold their breath or further more shallow breathe. A deep purposeful breath allows the oxygen to travel into the lower lobes of the lungs where efficient gaseous exchange occurs allowing rich oxygenation of the muscles.
- Pilates breathing also helps release stress and tension. In particular, this distinct breathing technique increases the activity of the vagus nerve which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for reducing heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and regulating the relaxation response.
- Finally, the correct breathing technique provides rhythm and flow to the exercise ensuring we do not work too quickly. It allows us to be in control of the exercise and get the most out of the exercise. As I say to my clients “you are controlling the exercise and not the exercise controlling you”.
Oh and did I mention it is also one of Joseph Pilates original principles of Pilates.