One of the most complicated things in Pilates can be the breathing. It is not uncommon for people to say that it feels back to front. They want to inhale when the teacher is cueing them to exhale. I remember being the same, the breathing just takes time to grasp.
So why do we exhale at a certain part of the movement and why is important?
Pilates is all about working with the body in a functional way, to strengthen it and keep it moving in the way it was designed to work. In the same way we work with the body in terms of the breath.
When you inhale your lungs full with air, your diaphragm descends, your tummy goes soft and your pelvic floor relaxes. This is the point where you have less strength and less of your core functioning. So it makes sense at this point that you aren’t placing lots of load and pressure on. The exhale part of the breath is when you empty the lungs of air, your diaphragm rises, your tummy comes in and the pelvic floor rises. It’s when your core fires. So therefore at this stage it’s when you load the body.
Think about lifting. You exhale as you lift a heavy weight. You exhale when it’s hard work. Yes?
Therefore we EXHALE on EXERTION in pilates. Thats when you stretch a leg away, when you curl up, when you press up from the mat, when you come into a teaser. Now of course there are aways exceptions to the rule and in some exercises the whole thing feels like hard work (for example the hundred) so you hold some core tension throughout.
Many of your know my obsession with the pelvic floor . By exhaling on exertion you are also helping to protect your pelvic floor, rather than sending pressure down on it. So next time you lift something or even get out of a chair – breath out and think of me!
It’s that September time of new beginnings, which has led to more new Pilates enquiries and a flurry of activity in the studio. So we’ve some new Induction classes to help introduce people to Pilates and teach the basics before they join a class. One of the key things that people always struggle with is the breathing. I know it seems back to front, it did to me too. However the breathing really is key. Let’s face it, breathing full stop is key.
The breathing in Pilates gives you stronger movements, more control and helps you focus. If Pilates was Star Wars I reckon the breathing would be “the light sabre” and the core would be “the Force”.
Why is it so important? When you breath in the right way you work with your core. So you will get a more effective movement, work harder and see better results.
Stress, everyday life and bad posture leads to people breathing into their belly or having their shoulders rise and fall as they breath. The type of breathing we are after in Pilates is thoracic breathing. This means breathing with the ribcage expanding and contracting.
A good way to practise this is to tie a resistance band or folded towel around your ribcage. Alternatively place your palms with middle fingers touching, on your ribcage. As you inhale breath into the ribcage, you should feel it expand or push into the band with the breath. The diaphragm moves downwards. As you exhale let the breath come out of the ribcage, the diaphragm moves upwards and you will feel a tightening in your core (your lower abdominals will draw towards you and your pelvic floor will lift). You may have to exhale to the end of your breath to initially feel this. Once you tune into it, it will feel more intuitive.
Often when people start Pilates the breathing can be the bit that they struggle with the most. I often hear “I just can’t get the breathing” or “I want to breath in/out at the wrong time”. I must admit that I was the same. I found the breathing back to front and hard to master. Coming from an aerobics background I wasn’t used to using my breathing in a slow controlled way.
I’ve been focusing on the breathing with my classes, using a resistance band gently pulled around the ribcage to act as a guide. Feedback has included:
“It’s made me slow down and focus more”
“I can feel my core working more”
“It has made it harder”
“It makes me more aware of my body and what I am doing”
When performing the Pilates exercises getting in touch with the core muscles is essential to doing the exercises correctly. The core is like a house consist of the pelvic floor (floor), transverse abdominis (front wall), multifidus (back wall), and diaphragm (roof). Deep breathing is an essential part of maximizing this. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts downward drawing in air, allowing the lungs to inflate like balloons expanding in your ribcage, without the shoulders lifting or the abdomen being pushed outwards. It’s known as lateral breathing. When you exhale, the diaphragm returns pushing air out. Deep core muscles act as a brace around your spine to support and protect your back. Practise breathing with your core engaged, with every out breath feeling the strength of your core. Generally in Pilates you exhale on the hardest part of the exercise when you need the most core strength. So this would be when you push up in a press up or when you curl up in an exercise for example.
To practise this breathing try placing your hands on your ribcage with your longest fingers touching. As you breath in focus on your fingers moving apart and your ribcage expanding whilst your shoulders stay still. As you breath out your fingers return to touch. Breath into your ribcage. You may feel lightheaded when doing this, its deep breathing so takes some practise if you are not used to it but can be a very helpful practice in helping calm people and is used in meditation, showing the multiple benefits of Pilates.