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Pilates Exercises and Cues to Improve Breathing

When we combine movement with deep breathing, we feel a sensation that Joseph Pilates called an "internal shower". Maybe you've noticed it in exercises like the Hundred. The whole body warms up and feels energized. This is one of the many reasons we feel so great after class.

Deep breathing is linked to decreased stress, improved circulation, and can even help engage our muscles. With benefits like these, it's a skill worth improving, isn't it? 

Pilates can help us learn to fully inflate our lungs and expand our rib cage in all three directions: up and down, side to side and front to back.

Here are a few cues and exercises to get you started:

  • Anterior-posterior breathing (front to back) 
    • Place your hands onto your upper chest (your sternum) and feel it lift on the inhalation (without arching your back/extending your spine).
    • Anchor the back of your rib cage into the mat.
  • Side to side or lateral breathing 
    • Place your hands to the sides of your rib cage and breathe into your hands.
    • Lie sideways over a spine corrector or a Franklin ball and focus on expanding the top side on the inhalation.
    • The best exercise to improve breathing, but especially lateral breathing is the Mermaid.
  • Vertical (up and down) breathing
    • Well, it's basically axial elongation. Think of reaching the crown of your head up towards the ceiling as your tailbone stretches down towards the floor. It's a vertical two way stretch along your midline.

Related: The Cueing Cure: Dramatically Improve Your Verbal Cueing in 30-Days

To see even more exercises and cues to improve breathing, check out the Pilates Protocols chapter of the Pilates Encyclopedia. You'll even get videos and detailed instructions of each exercise!


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