Pilates Breathing - Why is it Important?

January 28, 2022

Breathing - something we rarely need to think about unless we’re being asked to focus on it. Then for some strange reason, breathing becomes unnatural or even confusing. How should we breathe? And for how long? And how?!

Joseph Pilates had several principles that incorporated the foundations of every single exercise. Breathing is the very first principle.

‘Breath can facilitate spine stability, spine articulation, core control, efficiency of movement and movement can facilitate breathe’. – Joseph Pilates.

Learning how to breathe efficiently is crucial to our overall health. The way we breathe can affect the cardiovascular, nervous and the muscular systems. Let’s dive into how breathing can affect these systems.

Cardiovascular System

The cardio and respiratory systems work together to provide oxygen for muscles and remove carbon dioxide from the body. During exercise the muscles need more oxygen in order to contract therefore producing more carbon dioxide as a waste product.

Pilates combines deep full inhales and exhales as well as movement, thus creating the ideal way to remove excess carbon dioxide from the body.

Take the exercise ‘Hundred’ for example: the pumping of the arms with the rhythm of 5 inhales and 5 exhales facilitates blood flow throughout the body. This exercise was created to practice full breaths while performing a core challenging movement that increases the heart rate. This is why breathing is a vital component of pilates exercises.

Nervous System  

The nervous system is in charge of many important roles within the body. One being the parasympathetic nervous system, which sends a signal to your brain to tell the anxious part that you're safe and don't need to use the fight, flight or freeze response. The easiest and most efficient way to tap into the parasympathetic mode is to slow down the breath.

Pilates is all about this! There are very few exercises that require vigorous breathing during a Pilates class. So, throughout a 60-minute class, the body has time to slow down the pace of breath which automatically transitions the body into the calm parasympathetic mode. Improving mood and digestion – just to name a few! Taking the time to slow down and focus on your breathing is important during pilates exercises.

Muscular System

Muscles need oxygen to function. If you hold your breath and attempt a workout, fatigue will be accelerated and the cardiovascular system will be under immense strain. Muscles perform at their peak when the breath is co-ordinated with the power involved for the specific movement.

In Pilates, breath is attached to each component of the movement. Usually, an inhale will prepare the body and the exhale for when the most power or stability is needed. This is especially important during core exercises to brace for increased load. Breathing plays an important role in all parts of pilates movements.

What Parts of the Body are Involved in Correct Breathing?

When we think of breathing and which part of the body are involved, we tend to only think about the lungs. However, there are other very important organs and muscles that work together to create efficient breathing.

When we take a deep breath in, the lungs fill up with air and the diaphragm (a domed shaped muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen) flattens downwards. The pelvic floor mimics the movement of the diaphragm, slightly relaxing downwards.The external intercostals (muscles between the ribs) help expand the ribcage during the inhalation.

When we exhale the lungs deflate, the diaphragm returns to the domed shape. The pelvic floor also lifts and tightens while the internal intercostals help push the air out of the lungs. This is why learning to breathe correctly is an important part of your pilates practice.

How Do I Practice Breathing Correctly?

Place your hands on the sides of the ribs, wrapping the fingers around the front, thumbs around the back. Take a deep inhale, expanding the ribs in all directions and filling the abdomen. Start to exhale and feel the ribs begin to deflate and gently draw the navel towards the spine. Make sure to fully empty all the air out of the lungs before taking your next inhale. After a few breaths, this action will become easier and smoother. Practicing your pilates breathing will significantly help you in everyday life.

Yes, breathing is a very natural part of living, but it’s nice to know that we can enhance the way we breathe to have a better quality of life. Next time you feel yourself becoming stressed or anxious, practice some deep breathing techniques and notice the difference. Booking yourself into a Pilates class can take the guess work out of it as you’ll have a qualified instructor telling you when and how to breathe! After a while, you won’t have to think about it, the body will know what to do. This is why pilates breathing is so important for the body.

What else is pilates good for? Click here to read more.

Want to know more about breathing and other ways to get more out of your pilates workouts? Click here to learn about the other benefits pilates provides.

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