Breathing is the first thing we do once we are born, and the last thing we do before we die, but how much attention do we often give to our breath? Most of us don’t think about our breathing, likely because it is automatic and occurs nearly 20,000 times per day. Breathing of course is vital to our existence, and provides for all of our body’s systems. Physiologically, breathing provides oxygen to our all of our vital organs, as well as elimination of toxic substances from our bodies. For our emotional system, it provides control and clarity. In exercise, it provides for efficiency and organization of our musculoskeletal system.
Breath is one of the fundamental principles of pilates. Breath with pilates therapeutic exercise creates flow and ease of movement, encourages proper engagement of our deep core musculature, allows for axial elongation or decompression of our spinal segments, and general efficiency and strength of our musculoskeletal system.
At Pilates Santé we focus on two types of breathing patterns: diaphragmatic breathing and lateral breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing involves inhaling through your nose, while expanding and relaxing your abdomen, then exhaling through the mouth while engaging your lower abdominal muscles. We often teach this breath technique initially to clients to create a connection to the lower abdominal muscle (transverse abdominus) to facilitate core control. This breath pattern also allows for relaxation and focus for our clients learning the pilates fundamental exercises.
Lateral breathing focuses on the expansion of the rib cage and breathing into the sides and back of the ribs. In lateral breathing, we maintain a consistent inward contraction of the deep abdominal muscles, through the inhalation and exhalation. This encourages us to keep our “corset” engaged by recruiting our intercostal muscles (the muscles between each of the ribs). Lateral costal breathing is the primary breath pattern implemented by our rehabilitative pilates clients, so that maximum core support and engagement is maintained through exercise.
The timing and direction of inhalations and exhalations we cue are based on the type of movement being performed. Inhalation is often cued to facilitate extension of the spine, while exhalation is for flexion. Inhalation is cued for axial elongation or relaxation, while exhalation is cued for engagement or facilitation. However, as Brent Anderson Polestar Pilates says, “Breath is a tool, not a rule, “ therefore cues should be based on the movement quality of the exercise you are observing in your client.
For more on these breath techniques, please refer to our website videos.