Better breathing techniques

Pilates uses breathing in various ways in an attempt to foster greater health benefits.

Proposed benefits are enhanced relaxation, decreased stress, lowered blood pressure, improved focus, activation of specific muscles, better circulation and respiration, and even lowered risk for cardiovascular disease.

Pilates uses three key ways to shape or control breathing.  These are lateral breathing, set breath patterns and active breathing.

Lateral breathing

Lateral, or intercostal, breathing emphasizes the lateral expansion of the rib cage while maintaining a consistent inward pull of the deep abdominal muscles during inhalation and exhalation.  Lateral breathing is used to help maintain abdominal contraction while performing Pilates exercises, as keeping a stable core is important for successful performance and for protection of the body.

Set breath patterns

Breath patterns can keep you from holding your breath, particularly when a lot of effort is required in an exercise. Holding the breath can be associated with excessive muscle tension and an undesired and potentially dangerous increase in blood pressure (Valsalva maneuver). Exhaling during the phase that requires greater exertion can prevent holding the breath.

Breath patterns may also influence the muscles being recruited. For example, an exhalation can foster activation of the deep abdominal TVA muscle.

Breath patterns can also help establish the flow of an exercise.  This may be slow and smooth, or rapid and forceful.  Varying the flows can assist in giving more variety during a Pilates session, as well as more closely simulating daily activities.

Active breathing

Active breathing can dramatically influence the dynamic of an exercise.

Use of active breathing should be individual. People who work with excessive tension are encouraged to use a more relaxed and softer mode of breathing. For some, active breathing may help activate certain muscles and inject a higher energy into a Pilates class.