“Breathing is synonymous with life and with  movement. It is all-encompassing: the link between body, mind and spirit…” -  Rael Isacowitz

Breath in Pilates is an important component to the movement and can provide so many benefits when integrated properly.  However, integrating the breath with movement can be challenging and overwhelming at times. I often tell clients to just breathe freely or how they naturally want to breathe while they are learning a new exercise or just beginning their Pilates journey.  It personally took me several years to properly use my breath in Pilates.

Proper breathing  provides the following benefits:

  • Oxygenates the blood
  • Releases toxins
  • Improves circulation
  • Calms the mind and body
  • Facilitates concentration
  • Provides rhythm for movement
  • Assists in activating target muscles

In Pilates  we encourage lateral or intercostal breathing.  I usually describe this to my clients as breathing into the sides and back of their ribs.  The reason for this type of breathing is it allows us to maintain a consistent inward pull of the abdominal wall which helps stabilize the spine.  This, of course, is very useful when doing any exercise that incorporates flexion, such as the chest lift. In BASI Pilates we always exhale on flexion of the spine and inhale on extension of the spine.  This provides rhythm for the movement and naturally recruits muscles needed for these movements. In addition, a strong exhale will engage our transverse abdominis, which is our deepest abdominal muscles, and form a girdle around our trunk.  In Pilates we frequently do a forced exhalation, often making a “sh” sound, to really tap into these deep abdominal muscles and further stabilize the spine. Inhaling on extension help activate spinal extensors. I also like to think of filling my lungs with air and becoming lighter.  Especially when doing prone back extension, it is helpful imagery that helps me lift my shoulder girdle smoothly and effortlessly. When there is no flexion or extension of the spine, then I just do an exhale on effort. So in footwork on the Reformer, you would exhale when you push away from the bar.

In summary, be patient with yourself and your breath.  Let it flow. It you are finding it frustrating, just breathe how it makes sense to you and slowly over time start to incorporate the breath cues into the movement more purposefully.  Like everything in Pilates and in life, it is about the journey and the building of a lifelong way of being. When you are able to successfully master your breath it brings a more mindful connection to your practice and is a moment of heightened awareness, control, and harmony.