The body movements in Pilates are precise, centered, and controlled. You assume one position, hold, then flow smoothly into another. But a key aspect of Pilates and the one that sets it apart from pure calisthenics is the breathing.
Breath is one of the six essential principles of Pilates. Joseph Pilates placed a great deal of emphasis on the breath, calling it:
“bodily house-cleaning with blood circulation.”
Correct breathing is something most people are unaware of because we begin life with a breath, then rarely give it another thought for the rest of our lives. But poor breathing mechanics can result in a host of health issues, including anxiety, headaches, nausea, insomnia, chest pains, panic attacks, and back pain among others.
Signs of improper breathing include dizziness, frequent sighing, numbness or tingling in the face or extremities, tiredness, weakness, attacks of breathlessness even at rest and pain. Of course, all of these could also be signs of more serious illness and should always be checked out by a doctor. But if she or he tells you there’s nothing physically wrong with you, chances are you are a poor breather.
The benefits of proper breathing are increased energy and stamina, easier weight control, healthy-looking skin, improved digestion and elimination, better focus and concentration, and an overall vibrancy and enjoyment of life as well as the elimination of back and/or neck pain.
For all these reasons, it’s important to learn to breathe correctly, the way you do in Pilates. You know when you come in for a session at Pilates In the Grove that we always begin with a focus on your breathing technique. Pilates emphasizes the lateral breath, as opposed to shallow breathing or what we call chest breathing.
Shallow breathing not only results in the physical ailments mentioned above but robs you of the energy you need to perform Pilates correctly.
In the lateral breathing, we teach in Pilates, you breathe in through the nose, imagining the breath moving down and toward the sides of your ribcage while expanding your ribs sideways (that is, laterally), then exhale through the mouth while closing down the ribcage, bringing the ribs inward. This style of breathing helps support the spine and the diaphragm, one of the main goals of Pilates.
But the vital aspect of practicing proper breathing is to allow it to happen, rather than try to make it happen. With practice, it will come naturally, but too much effort, in the beginning, can have the opposite effect from what you’re trying to achieve. If you try too hard, your shoulder and neck muscles tense up, defeating the purpose of relaxed, deep breathing, and violating another of Pilates’ six principles, flow.
As with everything else in Pilates, while the form is important, it’s even more critical to ultimately eliminate stress, both during the routines and in your daily life. Practicing proper breathing at home is a good way to absorb the principle and reinforce the technique while avoiding the stress of trying to both perform the correct Pilates movements and breathe the right way.
When you come for classes at Pilates In the Grove, we will gently help you correct your breathing the same way we help you perfect your form, so feel free to discuss with us any questions you may have about this important essential principle.