Breathing patterns differ among exercise regimes – particularly between yoga and pilates. Using the breath with awareness is one of the six principles of pilates; it is also the area that can cause a lot of confusion in the beginning! This is an attempt to explain it in simple terms:
In pilates breathing, you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. This pattern helps bring focus to the breathing during a workout.
When inhaling, you think about keeping your shoulders still and expanding your lungs to your back and sides. Think about widening the girth of your torso as you breathe in.
Inhaling through the nose has four advantages. The nose acts as a filter to prevent particles from getting into the lungs, it warms the air flowing into your body, it prevents gas from getting into the stomach, and it naturally controls the intensity of your workout by controlling the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
On exhalation, you activate the core stabilising muscles of the lumbo-pelvic area. What does that mean? It means exhaling is your cue to activate the deep tummy muscles, starting with the Pelvic Floor and moving onto the deep abdominal muscle, the Transversus Abdominus.
The Pelvic Floor (PF) muscle is like the floor of your torso (running from pubic bone at front to coccyx at the back and from one side to the other). It’s a slow reactive muscle. Gently squeezing and tightening the Pelvic Floor muscle as you exhale fires up the Transversus Abdominus. Think of pulling your tummy inwards from a point a little below your belly button as you lift the PF and you’ll be activating the Transversus Abdominus . Think it as your internal girdle of support for the lower back and the lumbo-pelvic region.
You always stabilise before movement (inhale to prepare and exhale to stabilise) and then start to move.
You aim to keep this stability throughout your pilates class / to keep your ‘abs on’. You obviously keep breathing throughout. You try to focus on that pull ‘in and up’ whenever you exhale. Remember, you are only looking for about 20% engagement of the pelvic floor – that’s why I call it a gentle squeeze. Think of it as tightening from the inside out.
The breath pattern can be quite confusing at first, but most people find after three or four classes, it becomes second nature.