Breathing is a big part of Pilates and helps to focus our mind-body connection when we are exercising but it also has other important physical benefits. Breathing is how we promote the circulation of oxygen around the body and up to our brain so effective breathing is important to maximise full oxygen utilisation and removal of stale air.
Naturally we don’t always utilise the full capacity of our lungs and instead we tend to take more shallow breaths from our upper chest and around the neck. If our breathing is inadequate, i.e taking, short, rapid or very shallow breaths then our oxygen supply is less, muscle tension can increase, and we have less movement of the diaphragm.
Applying breathing to your exercises
In Pilates we encourage a natural breathing pattern by breathing in wide and full to the sides of the ribcage. This allows full use of the ribcage and respiratory muscles. The diaphragm is the upper part of the core cylinder and it is thought that during early expiration the core muscles are activated. Including breathing in our practice can help to increase the core connection and used to promote and facilitate control of movement.
You may often hear me say ‘Inhale to prepare the movement and exhale to move’ this is because in most cases we are exhaling and connecting the core on the hardest, most effortful, part of the movement. Sometimes when we change the pace of an exercise we may modify the rhythm of our breathing pattern. For example, I might say ‘breath in for two movements and out for two movements’ this is often best applied when the movement pattern is more rapid and we want to maintain a slower breathing pattern.
However, this may not always work for everyone and a key aspect of Pilates is to create smooth, fluid movement patterns in the most efficient way for our muscles. Therefore for some people their breathing patterns may be different depending on their flow of movement. More importantly we want to encourage a natural breathing pattern when exercising and avoid holding our breath.
The mind-body connection
By focusing on our breathing cycle we can gain a greater connection between the flow of the movement and the connection of the mind to how we are performing the movement.
Mindful breathing by taking deep steady inhales through your nose and exhales through your mouth can also reduce stress and anxiety helping to promote a feeling of calm.
Take away message….
So, remember to breath and do what feels natural for your body and don’t hold your breath!
Simple breathing exercises to try:
- Sitting up tall, place your hands around the lower half of your rib cage so your finger tips from each hand slight touch. As you take a breath in feel your rib cage widening and your finger tips move apart from each other. As your breath out slowly feel your ribcage sinking back down and your fingers tips coming back together.
- To add a pelvic floor focus to breathing continue with the above instruction but as you breath in focus on relaxing your pelvic floor muscles, releasing the muscles downwards. As your exhale, focus on feeling the pelvic floor rise upwards.
Putting it into practice
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