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Pilates and Breathing

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

"Above all, learn how to breathe properly." - Joseph Pilates

There are other Pilates principles but Joseph Pilates emphasized the importance of understanding the breath and knowing how to breathe when doing his exercises. Breathing has a huge influence on the thoracic spine as well as rib mobility and postural stability. The diaphragm, abdominals, and accessory respiratory muscles produce upward of 21,000 breaths a day!

During inhalation efforts, the rib cage has the unique ability to increase its anterior/posterior and lateral dimensions at the same time as the lungs fill with air. The inhalation also causes the diaphragm to contract and move down. As we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and lifts. The air space in the lungs decreases causing us to push air out. On the exhale, the abdominals contract and the rib cage narrows. It's a beautiful dance that is happening on the inside of our bodies with each breath.

Joseph Pilates stated that to "breathe correctly you must completely exhale and inhale, always trying very hard to ‘squeeze’ every atom of impure air from our lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth”. He believed that proper breathing would stimulate the muscles into greater activity.  In his book Return to Life, Pilates reiterates the importance of learning to breathe correctly stating “Squeeze every atom of air from your lungs until they are almost as free of air as is a vacuum”. He referred to lazy breathing, done by most people, as the lungs being like a cemetery holding onto disease and germs.

Because of the intimate relationship between breathing and bony structures, anything that weakens the diaphragm also adversely affects the thoracic spine and ribcage function. And when the body’s joints stiffen, normal breathing patterns suffer. It matters little what activity you are doing, the core muscles must be properly engaged. Practicing Pilates helps you learn how to properly engage these core muscles.

The following conditions often go hand-in-hand with a weakened core and loss of proper diaphragmatic breathing:

  • Chronic low back pain

  • Frequent tension-type headaches

  • Emotional system overload, high stress and persistent anxiety

  • Chronic postural strain from desk-occupied postures, etc.

  • Repetitive and painful rib fixations

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