Pilates breathing is an integral component of the pilates method, but it’s also one of the most difficult for newcomers to grasp. In fact, many people are so overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to master several challenging concepts at once that they give up before they even begin. But don’t worry: with some practice and a little patience, everyone can learn to breathe like a pro. When doing a pilates instructor course you need do it step by step in order for your student to mimic it.
One of the biggest misconceptions about pilates breathing is that it’s the same as yoga breathing. It isn’t! Yoga breathing (pranayama) is done through the nose, while pilates breathing is done through both the nose and mouth. The purpose of this is not only to oxygenate your body more effectively during high-energy activities like jumping or running, but also to provide a calming effect and help you focus on your body during exercises that require precision and control.
How do you do it? The first thing to know about pilates breathing is that you should always exhale before or during effort; this keeps the lungs from collapsing and allows them to expand fully during inhalation. There are two types of breath: abdominal breath and lateral breath.
When you’re just starting out in Pilates, breathing can be tricky. You might take short, shallow breaths, or you might breathe very quickly—neither of which is helpful for your body. Pilates breathing differs from regular breathing because it includes a process called the “exhalation lift”: after you inhale, you gently contract your abdominal muscles and exhale slowly to help you engage your core and stabilize your body in the movement. Here’s how it works:
Inhale through your nose as you slowly lower yourself into the exercise—for example, when doing a roll-up, inhale all the way down as if you were sitting on top of something with your back straight.
Exhale through pursed lips, using that gentle abdominal contraction to pull your spine away from the floor (or whatever surface you are on).
For an added bonus, always exhale at the most challenging part of a movement, such as when you are moving into an extension or lifting an arm or leg up off the ground. This will give you extra strength and support to finish the exercise correctly!
It takes more than muscle to get the most from your Pilates workout. In fact, most of the success of a movement comes from how you choose to breathe. This might be something you’ve never taken much time to think about—how do you breathe while exercising? If you’re like most people, you probably take short, sharp breaths that sound something like huffing and puffing. But with Pilates, your breathing technique is crucial in getting results. The right way to breathe during these exercises allows your body to relax and will keep you comfortable while working out.
When you think about it, the way we breathe is pretty wild. The body takes in oxygen and expels carbon dioxide, but it does so without any conscious effort on our part. We just inhale and exhale without thinking about it. But when we focus our attention on our breath, we find that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Pilates founder Joseph Pilates famously said, “Breathe deeply, regularly and rhythmically…the secret of energy, vitality and inspiration.” His words echo a common thread among yogis and other mindful movement practitioners: breathing is an integral part of living well. It’s a way to connect with our inner selves and feel more grounded in our bodies—not to mention be better at sports and the like.