Pilates beginners are always asking me the question, “Am I doing it right?” Most of the time, it’s a question about their movement. I think what trips them up is that the movements themselves are often “simplistic” so they think they might be missing something.
Most of the time, all they are missing is the right breath and muscle recruitment before the move begins.
So, here’s my simple beginner’s cheat-sheet on Pilates breathing. These are not hard and fast rules. Just as you get used to them, your instructor might cue you differently, have you exhale when you used to be inhaling…just to shake things up.
First – How Do You Breathe?
>Inhale through the nose
>Exhale through the mouth – with lips slightly pursed to help connect more to those abs!
Second – When Should I Breath?
Generally, you should be exhale:
- On the Exertion – pressing out during Footwork, pulling your hands down during the arm series on the reformer, as you lift your head and shoulders, whenever you need to hollow out your abs to create a c-curve.
- During Flexion – whenever the body needs to round forward — as in c-curve exercises.
Try to Inhale:
- In preparation for most movements – Inhale & engage your abs to move with stability through an exercise.
- To Increase Back Extension — Swimming, Breastroke, Pulling Straps, Swan Dive. Anytime you open your chest and “bend backward”, the inhale helps to increase this extension.
- To Increase Rotation – Instead of exhale each time you twist your torso, try to inhale through your nose as if you are filling up your rib cabge. Exhale to release back to center.
Here are some exceptions found in reformer exercises where you might feel like you are doing the opposite breathing:
- Elephant – I ask you to INHALE as you press out and EXHALE as your legs come back in. You might think think you need to exhale on the exertion as you push your heels into the shoulder rests, but the hip and torso flexion as you come in is a more important place to put the exhale to get the abs firing.
- Knee Stretches – same thing here. You are pushing out with your feet against those shoulder rests, but you inhale as you push out, exhale to quickly bring the knees back underneath you.
Third – How Do I Improve My Breathing?
- Try to focus on breathing deeply and evenly throughout your pilates session or class. Stay focused on the quality of your breath. If you start thinking about other topics, your teacher will most likely see you glaze over and bring your attention back!
- Make your breath as important as the spring setting on your machine or the ball between your knees or any other part of the exercise. Start with a good deep breath before your class and then try to find the breath just before the exercise to get the most out of it.
- Let others hear you….especially your teacher! Keep your breathing even, but let your teacher hear it. If he/she doesn’t, it makes it more difficult for them to deepen the exercise for you. I’ve seen people with their mouth closed the entire class, no matter what I say…Give me a good exhale once in awhile so I know you are listening! Even more than that…breathe so I know you aren’t holding your breath!
For more Detailed Breathing Exercises and Advice:
Learn to Breathe More Deeply: About.com’s Pilates Guide Marguerite Ogle has compiled a lot of useful and clear information on how to learn to breathe more deeply. She even gives advice on different types of breathing — another way to improve your pilates practice.
Pilates Breathing: Easy Vigour is a great site for pilates information. This section on pilates breathing has a few diagrams and instructs the beginner on how to do pilates style breathing. Pilates breathing exercises are included as well!
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