Updated: Mar 6, 2022
Breathing is essential to life but proper breathing is essential to an optimal life. So few of us ever take a deep breath throughout the day. We end up taking short, shallow breaths and our stress continues to rise up into the chest, the shoulders, neck and brows. Instead, proper breathing involves releasing that tension starting all the way down in the pelvic floor. Then, it allows the diaphragm to drop, the rib cage to fill with air, the shoulders to drop, the jaw to release and the facial muscles to relax.
Breathing has other benefits like oxygenating the blood and brain. This allows for increased focus and mental clarity. In his book, Return to Life, Joseph Pilates describes this breathing as an “internal shower”, leaving you full of energy and vitality.
Breathing is also the key to becoming more efficient in your Pilates practice. I see so many people who overwork themselves, leading to overstressed muscles and a fatigued body. By allowing your breath to engage the proper muscles, we only use what we need to—building you up instead of breaking you down.
Next, I’ll take you through several exercises that will begin to help you achieve these results.
4 Pilates Breathing Exercises
Goals: Oxygenation of the blood, warm-up the body, connecting to the powerhouse, coordination of mind and body.
The Hundred exercise is a warm-up exercise intended to get the body moving quickly and intensely. The powerhouse supports the weight of the body while we focus on breathing. Inhale for 5 counts, exhale for five counts. 100 counts in total. This exercise will expand your lung capacity and give you better cardiovascular function for other exercise such as walking or running. By intensely engaging our core, we are naturally making our heart pump harder and in the Hundred, our core is being challenged to the max.
Double Leg Stretch
Goals: Strengthening the powerhouse, stabilizes the hips and shoulders, stretches the hips and shoulders, breathing.
Laying on your back, inhale to stretch the body long, exhale to pull everything into a little ball. In this exercise, the lungs are helping to guide us into using the correct abdominal muscles. While inhaling, we are stretching long, reaching from our back. Thus, using the full arsenal of the abdominals and obliques. When exhaling, we are stretching our backs and deepening our abdominals as much as possible. This part of the exercise gets at our true core muscles and lower abdominals.
Spine Stretch Forward
Goals: Stretching the spine, breathing, strengthening the powerhouse.
Sitting with the legs as far apart as possible, arms reaching straight ahead, inhale. Exhale as you round forward, the crown of the head tries to touch the mat in between the knees. In this exercise we are again inhaling to find length and support against gravity. And while we are exhaling, we are stretching the back and deepening the work in our abdominals. As seen here, we are typically exhaling on the effort of an exercise in Pilates.
Goals: Opening the chest, strengthening the back and the powerhouse, working the arms and shoulders, breathing.
Standing with your back against the wall, feet about 1ft away from the wall, do circles with your arms. Inhaling to lift the arms, exhaling to circle the arms down to the sides. Breathing helps to facilitate stretch in this exercise. As we reaching the arms overhead and inhale - our rib cage stretches, allowing for more air to fill the lungs. The tactile feedback of the wall in this exercise is key to being able to feel your back muscles. By breathing air into your back, we take a deeper breath but also engage the back muscles in a lengthened way. This paramount to spinal longevity. Our breath stretches open the ribs, intercostal muscles, and creates a spine that is lifted and lengthened, not shortened and under pressure.
Go ahead and give these four exercises a try now. 3 repetitions of each. See how you feel. Did the weight lift a little off your chest? Did your jaw relax a bit? Did your shoulders drop an inch? Do you have more energy? These are all indications that you were breathing! Try our series of videos focused on breathing and let us know how you feel!
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