Breathing is a fundamental of the Pilates Method – one of the six Pilates principles. The breath is a foundation of Pilates movement. Unfortunately, the breathing also seems to be one of the things that many people find the hardest to do well when they workout.
Do any of these sound familiar to you….?
- When you concentrate on the movements you stop breathing
- If you think about your breathing you stop moving
- You have trouble coordinating your breathing with the exercises
- You can’t pull your powerhouse in and breathe at the same time
Pilates exercises require breathing very fully, taking advantage of every breath cycle to draw in lots of fresh air and get rid of every bit of stale air. We want to oxygenate our blood, get our circulation going, and get the rejuvenating qualities that a deep breath delivers. When we breathe, effectively, oxygen flows into our blood which flows through our muscles. More oxygen in the muscles equals more relaxed muscles. The more effectively we breath in pilates the more we can release those tense muscles “trying to help out” in our exercises.
Despite the focus on the breath in Pilates, some people feel a little “inhale deprived” when they start learning Pilates exercises. Keeping the abdominal muscles deeply pulled in and taking a great big inhale at the same time can seem like contradictory directions. But there is a special breathing technique we use in Pilates that allows us to maintain a contraction of the abs throughout an exercise. It is called, lateral breathing.
In lateral breathing we breathe deeply, all the way down the spine and into the pelvic bowl, but emphasize expanding the breath into the back and sides of the ribcage.
When the abs are pulled in properly, they protect the spine and act like a supportive corset for the whole trunk. Knowing how to breathe well while keeping the abs contracted gives us extra support throughout an exercise. As you practice lateral breathing, you will find that you are able to perform Pilates exercises with greater ease. It helps make the scoop of abs easier and enhances the sense of lengthening the spine with the breath.
How to do it….
Practice makes perfect….here’s something you can try, to get a feel for lateral breathing:
Place your two hands over your ribs, so that your two middle fingers come together on the sternum (breast bone) Concentrate on your breathing, focus on staying centered and allowing your ribs to fill out in width rather than height as in regular breathing. Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth, always controlled breaths. The fingers should part as you breathe in, and as you breathe out, the fingertips should meet gently again.
So there’s my spiel on lateral breathing….Now, with all that being said, I have to admit that when I started taking Pilates, my instructor didn’t focus too much on my breathing. She, of course, told me how important breathing is in Pilates, but she didn’t want me to obsess over it – she knew that eventually I would remember to breathe.
She was right. I haven’t yet passed out, or been witness to, anyone passing out because they were thinking about their powerhouse so much they forgot to breathe. I have, however, seen people think so much about their breathing that they completely forget about their powerhouse! It’s easy to worry so much about your breathing that you stop thinking about everything else – for meditation: excellent! for Pilates: not so much.
So let’s just try to remember this:
In spiritual practice we learn that inhaling brings energy in through the top of our head or crown chakra and down the spine, spreading it throughout the whole body. Exhaling on the other hand directs energy out of our bodies, relaxing us as all the tension leaves with it. As we become more aware of this breathing pattern, we learn that we can focus that energy and place it wherever it is needed for healing in our body.
Pilates heals profoundly, so as we lie on the Reformer, feeling totally physically supported, and begin to make these awesome movements that Joe Pilates designed, we unconsciously inhale invigorating energy into every cell of our body. As we exhale, we release all the tension and toxins from our body. The miracle occurs quickly and then one day we realize that we’re now consciously breathing in and out, invigorating and releasing, and healing our bodies with the power of our breath.
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