Pilates is an effective exercise method that hinges on controlled isometric movements and a unique breathing technique. Proper breathing is the first principle of Pilates and one of the most crucial techniques to master to get the most out of your Pilates practice.
Learn more about why mindful breathing is crucial to Pilates, the benefits of mastering your breathing technique, and how to correctly breathe while exercising.
Which Type of Breathing is Taught in Pilates?
Pilates uses posterior-lateral breathing to facilitate or challenge your movement during a workout. It also helps to improve cardiovascular circulation and create a more relaxed mindset.
Posterior-lateral breathing involves movement in three dimensions:
- Forward and backward motion
- Sideways motion
- Upward and downward motion
Unlike other types of exercise, posterior-lateral breathing doesn’t typically require you to inhale or exhale based on different movements. An exercise that is frequently used in yoga practices to teach breathing is “cat and cow,” where you inhale as you curve your lower back in the “cow” position and exhale when you arch your back in the “cat” position. Instead, posterior-lateral breathing is meant to teach you how to breathe optimally by positioning your ribcage correctly.
Is Pilates Breathing the Same as Yoga Breathing?
In yoga, your breathing typically follows the rhythm of your movement. You control your breathing and pair inhales and exhales with different elements of an asana (pose), focusing on deep breathing directed towards your lower belly.
In Pilates, your goal is to have your muscles engaged in your breathing at all times rather than matching your breath to each movement. Instead of taking breaths on a particular count as you do in yoga, you usually take deep breaths directed toward the sides of your ribs in a steady rhythm. Your breath should match the intensity of your exercise rather than adhere to a counting pattern.
Why is Proper Breathing Important in Pilates?
In Pilates, breathing correctly is the key to achieving the best results from your exercises. Without proper breathing, you’ll fail to engage your muscles fully. You also may be unable to achieve a full range of motion if you are holding your breath or breathing incorrectly.
Additional benefits of proper breathing can include:
- Facilitating correct muscle activation
- Keeping abdominal muscles activated
- Preventing shallow breathing
- Relieving tension in the neck, shoulders, and back
- Strengthening deep core muscles
What Are The Health Benefits of Pilates Deep Breathing?
Deep breathing in the diaphragm is a part of Pilates training that can offer numerous benefits to your overall health and well-being.
Some of the physical health benefits can include:
- Reducing stress and anxiety: Deep breathing and physical exercise reduce stress and anxiety by elevating the endorphins released in your brain and lowering cortisol production. Providing a positive activity to focus your energy on can reduce the physical impacts of stress.
- Reducing muscle tension: Deep breathing allows you to relax and engage muscles properly to avoid muscle tension or strains.
- Increased blood oxygenation: Deep breathing lowers your heart rate and blood pressure to regulate oxygen circulation around your body. Increased blood oxygenation achieved through deep breathing can help keep you energized throughout the day.
Deep breathing exercises in Pilates also offer mental health benefits that can be just as important. The mental health benefits can include:
- Stabilizing emotions: Proper breathing regulates serotonin and dopamine production (feel-good hormones), reducing stress and creating a sense of calm after exercising.
- Improving focus: Deep breathing encourages circulation and blood oxygenation, bringing blood flow to the brain to make it easier to focus.
- Increased motivation: Combining exercise and deep breathing leaves you feeling centered and energized to complete other tasks throughout the day.
How to Perform Breathing in Pilates
To perform Pilates breathing correctly, you inhale through your nose and exhale through the mouth. You should first begin to practice Pilates breathing without incorporating additional exercise movements.
Focus on finding the proper rib cage position while you are breathing. The rib cage shouldn’t flare outwards. If you’re lying flat on the floor or reformer machine, the rib cage should feel like it is resting on the ground, being drawn towards the hips rather than outwards.
Start by finding the proper neutral position:
- Lay flat on your back with bended knees or sit in a seated position.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your back to feel your ribs.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and lowered away from your ears.
- Find a neutral spine position.
After you are in the proper set-up position, you can start a breathing exercise that follows the correct Pilates breathing steps. To practice proper Pilates breathing exercises:
- Inhale slowly through your nose, letting the air fill your chest and feel your ribs expanding.
- Relax your stomach while you engage your transverse abdominal muscles by drawing your belly button slightly toward your spine.
- Exhale through your mouth without forcing the air out.
- Repeat this breathing exercise, focusing on feeling your ribs expanding in the front, back and sides.
Incorporate Proper Breathing into Your Pilates Routine
After you’ve learned the basic breathing technique, you can use it in your Pilates routine. Gradually incorporate your breathing technique into your routine to ensure you maintain the correct technique while completing exercises.
Start by practicing your breathing during warm-up exercises, such as a pelvic thrust stretch or the swan prep stretch. While exercising, check in with yourself to ensure you are practicing posterior-lateral breathing to increase the effectiveness of your exercises.
Pilates is an excellent addition to your fitness routine if you want to balance your mind and body and improve your strength, flexibility, and range of motion. Find a class at Phitosophy, including pilates reformer classes, dynamic jumpboard sessions, or a focused one-on-one training session.