Did you know you can get stronger and more stable in your core just by breathing correctly? I know; too good to be true. (I hope this news makes your day!) Take a breath right now; feel how it moves through the body. Notice how and where it goes. In Pilates, breath has a very specific function: it’s used to trigger and engage the abdominals. When we maximize breath, we maximize core stability. It’s easy to get confused with breathing, as there are so many different methods being taught these days. What’s most important to remember is that there isn’t one correct technique; rather, there are different breaths for different purposes. If you’re used to meditation or more relaxing forms of yoga, you have probably practiced belly breathing. When we allow the body to relax and do whatever it wants, it takes the path of least resistance, choosing the least amount of work possible, such as in belly breathing. Belly breathing is excellent to relax the nervous system and to induce calmness, but not so useful when it comes to stabilizing the core and getting stronger.
In Pilates and in more vigorous yoga styles such as Vinyasa, we use a type of breathing that supports the body and stabilizes the core, called lateral thoracic breathing. Something this is referred to as “breathing into the sides of the ribcage,” or “bellows breathing.” In other words, and very briefly, instead of breathing into the belly, we send the breath into the sides of the ribcage, letting the ribs expand out on the inhale and sink back in on the exhale. For many of us this is counter-intuitive, partly because it takes effort. Never fear! It is precisely this effort that makes the difference.
As we start to understand the connection between breath and core control, we can start to understand which breath best serves us. Depending on our goal, our body type, and our individual breathing patterns, each of us needs a different cue to gain maximum benefit from our Pilates practice. This is why two people practicing next to each other may be breathing in completely different ways…and both doing it exactly right for them. Like everything else in Pilates, it’s an individualized practice.
You will be amazed at the difference a correct breathing practice can make. You might even find yourself stealth-practicing breathing while sitting at your desk or driving your car, your own private Pilates practice that you can do anywhere you go!