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Breathing and Pilates

Posted in: Pilates | By: Misty Woodden | No Comments


Photo courtesy of Balanced Body

Joseph Pilates wrote in his book Return to Life Through Contrology, “Breathing is the first act of life, and the last . . .  above all, learn how to breathe correctly.”  Breathing is very powerful and important to our health, yet is so often overlooked.  Try this, take a deep breath, slowly let your ribs widen in 360˚, let your breath course through your body like an internal shower.  Then slowly let the air out, feel your shoulders drop, your ribs soften and your jaw relax.  Just one breath can relax, de-stress and energize you.


Our breath is in a sense a cleansing.  Each exhale releases toxins from the body.  Each inhale oxygenates the blood and nourishes the body on a cellular level.  But more than that, a good breath calms the mind and body, improves concentration and circulation it also provides a rhythm for movement and assists activating muscles and encouraging movement.


Breathing lies at the center of all Pilates exercises.  There are 2 basic types of breathing costal and diaphragmatic.  Costal breathing moving the ribs through out the breath cycle and diaphragmatic moves mostly the abdominals.  Theses types can be mixed and matched to create a variety of breathing styles.  Despite what is sometimes taught, one way of breathing is not better than the other they just serve different purposes.  It is important to have access to both.  In Pilates as in other physical activities, we focus on costal breathing, emphasizing lateral and posterior movement of the ribs.  This type of breathing encourages the maintenance of abdominal contraction, which is necessary during exercises for stabilization and proper movement.  Diaphragmatic breathing is more efficient so it is more appropriate when we are relaxing, it also assists in mobilizing the internal organs, but it does not mobilize the rib cage or allow the abdominals to stay contracted.  Costal breathing can be very energizing but requires more effort.  It is most appropriate to use when actively moving or to assist in stretching.

The importance of breathing while we exercise is well known – holding your breath limits the oxygen supply to the working muscles and increases blood pressure.  But during our day-to-day activities breathing is equally important. Inefficient or improper breathing patterns lead to dysfunction, not only structurally, but also physiologically (how the body functions). In our society we tend to breathe shallow using only our upper chest, this maybe due to stress, posture, deconditioning, respiratory conditions like asthma, pain syndromes, tight muscles or just bad habits.  We take breathing for granted, but what you may not realize is you may not be breathing in the most efficient manner and you are actually limiting the oxygen to your body.  Pilates can be a way to restore and encourage proper breathing, maximizing your intake of that vital substance we call oxygen and ultimately your health.  At Diamond Peak Physical Therapy we believe in the power of O2!


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