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Pilates Breathing for Beginners – When Do I Breathe and Why?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. During Flexion – whenever the body needs to round forward — as in c-curve exercises.

Try to Inhale:

  1. In preparation for most movements – Inhale & engage your abs to move with stability through an exercise.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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:’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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Substitute for Success

When you think of the word diet or the phrase weight-loss, you might think of all the foods you have been eating lately which you won’t be allowed to eat.

I’m not going to lie to you either, you can’t keep eating the way you’ve been eating if you fill your stomach with empty calories, fast food, and junk food in general.

Also, I’m not going to tell you if you come to pilates class 3 days or more per week that you’ll lose weight and have the body of your dreams…and you can’t eat anything you want.  None of that is true.  You need to know though that eating cleaner, better foods is going to be the element that’s going to really get you results.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can’t just work out like a maniac and think you can eat the same way. Doesn’t work that way.  You might get lucky for awhile, but the bad eating will eventually catch up with you.  Believe me, I’ve been there.

However, here’s my secret to cutting out those same addictive foods … I don’t CUT them out.  I REPLACE them.  There is a big difference in feeling like you’ve replaced something you normally eat with something else.  Let me tell you what I mean.  I am a huge dessert fan.  Always have been.  I knew that I’d be spending day after deprived day wanting the foods that I had banned from my kitchen.  So, after my initial I-can’t-eat-anything-bad week on the diet, I started coming up with ingenius little snacks to satisfy my cravings.

I still have bread, but it’s Ezekial Bread or sprouted grain bread which has a lot more fiber and protein in it.

I still eat burgers, but they are usually organic ground turkey or chicken on a  bed of spinach with avocado and low fat mozzerella on top.

I still have dessert sometimes, but it’s usually melted almond butter with a few slices of banana or coconut in it.

I still have wine from time to time.  And it’s just wine…

I still have “shakes” but they aren’t from McDonald’s or In-n-Out  — they are Protein Shakes – in many different yummy natural flavors.

I still have chocolate, but it’s usually in raw cacao nib form.  Look at your local health food store to find that. A few nibs, some raisins, and a few almonds…and I’m good to go.

Now, during the holidays, I’m still consuming my favorite thing ever…pumpkin.

Last year this time I was hunting down the local jack in the box for their pumpkin pie shake — and having it several times per week I might add….what the heck was wrong with me!  Today, I roasted my own pumpkin and used some of the puree to make my own smoothie with vanilla protein powder, stevia sweetener, fat free milk, a little pumpkin pie spice.  It was seriously yummy and healthy too!  Next time, I’ll add in some ground flaxseed, bee pollen and benefiber.

I know you’ve probably got a ton of things that I didn’t mention on this list and don’t know where to start to make some healthy food replacements.  Most everything I was eating had a replacement.  The things that I did not replace were:

1. sodas of any kind – even the no carb ones.  I rarely have anything carbonated at all — I was a heavy ginger ale, diet coke, and sometimes diet dr. pepper drinker…but no more.  I have brewed iced tea, water, almond milk in smoothies sometimes, and fat free milk in my coffee.

2. cake – I know there are a ton of healthy, vegan recipes out there but I feel like if I go down that path of making cakes again, it could be a trigger for the bad cakes.  I’m not saying I never have cake, it’s just not on my list of things to get at ralphs every single day.

3. juices & sports drinks – never really had them and now I definitely don’t

I was trying to think of more things that I haven’t found replacements for, but really, I’ve been able to find something to satisfy whatever craving strikes.

If you need help finding a replacement for your food that will actually satisfy you, let me know. I’ll help!

If you live in the Los Angeles area, come to one of my group reformer pilates classes and ask me the questions directly.  We always talk about food…mostly because I love to eat, but also because classes are often right before lunch or dinner.

Some sites that have helped me and I know they can help you too:

Live Well 360

The Healthy Irishman

Carrot ‘n Cake

Kath Eats

Good luck finding those healthy alternatives!

How To Choose A Pilates DVD

I recently started writing articles for a fabulous website Here’s my latest article just posted on Blog Critics yesterday!

Many pilates beginners are not sure what it takes to start doing pilates. It really takes nothing more than your body and a little bit of space. As a pilates instructor, I often get asked about pilates DVDs and got a few specific questions over the weekend about choosing a pilates home workout. What are some good pilates DVDs I can use at home? And how do I know if they are good DVDs?

First of all, here’s what I look for in a pilates DVD:

pilates dvds1. Reputable Pilates Company: I’m not putting down workouts by top fitness professionals, but when I choose a pilates DVD, I want to make sure it’s not just a workout that they happened to put out in addition to their salsa routine. I want to make sure that the person on the video actually teaches pilates. A good way to find this out is to ask your pilates instructor for a recommendation, which brings me to another point — take a pilates group class first to make sure you know what the pilates moves look & feel like. Get corrected by a pilates instructor before you go it alone.

2. Good Reviews: Read reviews on and other Web sites. All you have to do is search for “DVD title review”. There are a ton of places to find reviews. Often, pilates instructors will go in and review DVDs as they try them out themselves. This is the next best thing to having a pilates instructor. Again, you can also ask a pilates instructor you trust.

3. Room To Improve: Make sure the DVD has different levels that allow you to progress and improve your pilates moves — and also to give you a little bit of variety. I have a few DVDs that have two or three workouts on them. Those are the ones I go back to over and over again, because I get variety in my workout or might need to go back some pilates principles. When you are at home, it’s easy to get bored, so having room to grow is a big benefit.

Now that you know how I choose my pilates DVDs, here are my top three picks for pilates DVDs that I do myself when I’m at home. The instruction in these DVDs is amazing and easy to follow. I could have listed a few more, but these companies or actual pilates DVD titles are ones I revisit regularly.

  1. Pilates for Dummies with Michelle Dozois. This one of the first pilates DVDs I purchased, even though I had been using pilates books for a few years prior.
  2. Pilates on the Go with Master Trainer Maria Leone. Maria is amazing. If you come to LA and can get to her studio you must take a class from her!
  3. Stott Pilates — All of the DVDs I’ve seen so far are great. Easy to follow. Great for teachers looking for inspiration and different ways to cue your client. You can get these from Netflix to do a preview of them before actually buying them. So worth it!

My favorites in the Stott library are:

One final word about doing pilates at home.  Start Now.  If you can’t afford a pilates class or their are none in your area, start doing it at home.  Most people will benefit from even the most basic pilates workout.

Feel free to comment below if you have a specific body issue and need help finding a DVD that suits your needs!  Also, if you’ve been doing a pilates dvd, why not try one of my group pilates classes to improve your home workouts.

Check out my other articles on Blog Critics.  Also, take a look around the site and you’ll find articles & reviews on a variety of topics that might interest you.

Pilates and Breathing …

I’ve received a lot of questions this week about the importance of breathing during pilates. People always wonder if they are breathing correctly or at the right time. There are many opinions about proper pilates breathing. For me — since I see mostly beginners, I am more focused on whether my clients are actually breathing or not. If you do too much belly breathing, yes I’ll stop and encourage you to breathe more into your ribs, but most of the time, if you are breathing to enhance your movements, I’ll be happy. Some people hold their breath which as even bigger issue I think. So, just breathe!

Why do we focus on Breathing?

As many of you notice, I always give a breathing direction before I instruct you to move your body. Why? Breathing is the foundation of your proper movement. It helps center you, relax you, and stabilize your body for movement.  Focused, conscious breathing also does many more things for your body and mind…read on!

What specific benefits does breathing consciously do for you and your body?

Check out this excerpt from a long list of ways breathing supports every system of the body:
(reprinted from


Gives you more energy.
Reduces mental and physical fatigue.
Reduces chest pains due to tight muscles, thus the tension causing anxiety of “heart attack potential” is reduced.


Improves blood circulation and relieves congestion.
Increases supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body. Major organs such as brain, and eyes need copious oxygen.
Eases the strain on the heart by increasing oxygen to the heart.
Helps increase the supply of blood and nutrients to muscle blood and bones.


Better breathing can calm or stimulate the nervous system, balance or unbalance brain hemispheres, depending on the technique.


Diaphragmatic action acts as a pump to massage the internal organs, aiding their *function.  “Rest, digest, and heal.”


Given a complex carbohydrate diet, toxic CO2 waste is eliminated more directly through breath.
Wrinkles can be lessened due to improved circulation and blood oxygen flow.
Radiant skin is observable and more pleasing to look at.


Relax deeper.
Look more rested.


Relaxes muscle spasm and relieves tension.
Helps increase flexibility and strength of joints; when you breathe easier you move easier.
Sounds amazing, right? The list goes on too! I’ll put the link to this specific page at the end of the article.

Here’s a simple breathing exercise you can do right now:

1. Sit in a dining room chair – not the couch. Find a stable chair.
2. Close your eyes. Place 1 hand on chest and 1 hand on belly. Begin to breathe naturally. But notice how your chest rises a little as you inhale and your belly hollows in a bit as you exhale. Try to breathe like this for a few few minutes.
3. Now put your hands even with your chest but around your ribcage. Index fingers are around the front and the thumbs around around the back of the ribcage. Now imagine breathing to open up the sides and to the back of ribcage. Do this several times.
4. Now sit on the floor with you knees bent and feet flat on the floor in front of you. Round forward with arms curled around your shins. Head and neck are also rounded forward.
5. Inhale and Exhale naturally. On the exhale tighten your abs and try to keep them engaged. On the next Inhale try to keep your abs engaged and inhale as if you are breathing into the back of your ribcage. Each exhale, slightly tighten and contract your abs a bit more. Do this a few times.

Make sure you breathe deeply – if your breathing is too shallow you might hyperventilate or get light headed.

Now that you know some reasons why we breathe, tomorrow I’ll talk more about WHEN we breathe in pilates.

Ready to start breathing more deeply? Come to a pilates group class or get a customized online workout.