Pilates Breathing is probably the hardest thing to get correct, but once you master this technique the difference it makes to your practice and your life is astounding. I know this is a pretty bold statement to make but you know me I don't shy away from these things.
I am going to try and break down the breathing technique and hopefully make it easier for you to master, and include a bit of geeky science too, so here we go.
The Different Types of Breathing (Who would have thought).
Lateral or intercostal (ribcage) breathing emphasises the lateral expansion of the rib cage while maintaining a consistent inward pull of the deep abdominal muscles during inhalation and exhalation (so no stomach's going in and out). The reason we do this type of breathing is to maintain abdominal contraction (pulling that stomach in) whilst performing the Pilates exercise , ensuring that you keep your core strong will allow you to successfully perform the move whilst protecting your body.
I should not be able to see the stomach going in and out whilst breathing.
Set Breath Patterns
Inhalation occurs during some phase of the movement and exhalation occurs during another phase. One reason for these patterns is to stop you from holding your breathe, particularly when a lot of effort is required in an exercise. Holding the breathe can be associated with muscle tension and an undesired and potentially dangerous increase in blood pressure. Another reason is to slow the movement down, a great example of this would be leg circles Inhale up, exhale down. This means that you won't rush through the movement and will help establish a rhythm allowing the movement to be performed more slowly and smoothly. Lastly exhaling can activate the deep abdominal muscles.
A special case in which breathing may dramatically influence the dynamic of an exercise is active breathing. The hundred is a great example of a Pilates move that uses this type of breathing. The hundred requires five beats during inhalation, where the breathe is drawn in with emphasis in stages, highlighting the external intercostals (the muscles that run between the ribs) and five beats during exhalation, the breathe is pushed out not only more forcefully during exhalation but also with emphasis as you actively contract the abdominals, each beats represents further contraction of these muscles.
Use of active breathing should be individual, if this type of breathing makes you feel dizzy, light headed, nauseous then don't do it!
Geeky Science stuff!
Being one of the original six Principles of Pilates, the breath is the foundation of all Pilates movements. In Pilates we learn several breathing techniques but the one method that we use the most and the one that is the hardest to master is Lateral Breathing, hopefully this article will help you understand that a bit more. Learning to breathe fully, drawing in lots of fresh air filling the lungs and then subsequently rid the lungs of every bit of stale air. The goal is to oxygenate the blood, increase the overall circulation, and experience the rejuvenating sensation that a full deep breath delivers. This is when I start yawning during my practice, getting rid of all that stale air! Most people are shallow breathers inhaling into the uppermost part of their chest. This doesn't allow for ideal exchange and overall builds stress in the body.
When to Inhale and When to Exhale!
Exhale During Spinal Flexion
The easiest pattern to remember is to exhale when your spines flexes, or rounds forward, for example, Roll downs or Ab-prep. Since the exhale helps to engage your abdominal muscles you should always exhale during times when you need a strong abdominal contraction, such as when you move your arms and legs away from the body in an exercise such as the double leg stretch.
Inhale During Spinal Extension
The basic rule for inhalation in Pilates is to do so when you extend your spine or arch your back, for example Back Extensions. The inhalation helps expand your chest when it's more open. When you inhale, take the air in through your nose, and exhale through your mouth.
A general rule to follow in some Pilates exercises is the principle of exhale on the effort. If in doubt just remember to BREATH, don't hold your breath!