This is a common question in Pilates and there is no easy answer. Thankfully, we don’t have to be conscious of every breath we take but one of the underlying principles of the Pilates method involves making a connection to your breath. On the most basic level we want you to keep breathing! Frequently, as we are learning something new (especially if it’s challenging) we hold our breath. This is actually a dysfunctional movement strategy as it asks the body to rely on the diaphragm for support instead of our other trunk muscles.
When it comes to Pilates, breath is sometimes a controversial subject with different instructors advocating for an inhale at certain times and others for an exhale in that moment. While there is no one “right way” here are some things to consider:
- Inhalation can help stretch the ribcage, facilitate opening of the chest and extension of the spine.
- A side breath or a back breath can help move through some typically stiff zones of the body and can trigger some deep muscles to support you in the exhale.
- Exhalation can be a great strategy to find more active support with your movements. If you fall in the camp of not being sure if those abdominal muscles are working or not, try “exhaling as you exert” and visualize your abdominal wall getting narrower and flatter.
We all have a natural instinct when it comes to breathwork and the good news is we don’t have to think about this all the time. Next time you are in class play with your breath. Notice what feels natural and what doesn’t and, if you’re up for it, challenge yourself to breathe opposite to what you normally do. After all, wouldn’t it be great to be able to do it both ways?
Check out this article for even more in-depth conversation about breathing.
I also highly recommend the book Breath by James Nestor. I had the opportunity to hear him speak this summer and it sparked me to re-read the book. He’s a journalist for the New York Times and does a great job investigating this basic function we may be taking for granted.