Why do Pilates instructors always tell us when to breathe?

I have always been the type of person that enjoys exercising. Ever since my teens I have had gym memberships, worked at gyms and tried new workouts routines. It was not until I started my first Pilates class that any fitness instructor spent that much time talking to me about my breath. When to breathe, how to breathe and where in my lungs to breathe… How do I breathe into one lung? Lateral rib breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and sniffing breath, what was this lady talking about?? I decided to be a good student and listen to what she was telling me to do instead of asking the most important question. Why?

It was not until I began my journey as a Pilates instructor that this began to make sense. Our body automatically forces you to breathe. It is the first thing you do during any activity. It only makes sense to use that natural rhythm to move more efficiently. People have been using this rhythm for millions of years. It can be seen in meditation practices, techniques to relieve stress and to help complete daily activities. Pilates just helps people, including myself, become more aware of how breathing can facilitate movement.

Ok, let me try to talk about how breathing facilitates movement without getting too technical.

Inhale. When we inhale a lot of things happen. The diaphragm contracts, the lungs fill and expand as you draw in air which moves the rib cage as well as its surrounding muscles and you create pressure in your abdomen. It feels like our body is preparing us for something. Let’s say we use that inhalation to stand a little taller and open our arms out to the sides of the room.

Now, exhale. When you exhale you’ll feel the diaphragm relax, the lungs empty and contract as the air flows out, the ribs move back down the body and the surrounding muscles relax to support the body and the abdominal muscles contract and tighten. As you exhale draw your arms back together and allow your belly button to pull back to your spine. Could you feel how hard your abs worked to pull everything back in? Your exhalation just facilitated flexion in your spine which engages your abdominal muscles. Pretty cool, huh?

Pilates helps us improve our lung capacity over time and become more efficient at using our breath in daily life. Some popular breathing exercises include;

Diaphragmatic breathing in which you imagine you are filling your belly with each breathing. You can watch your belly expand and contract with each breath.

Lateral breathing is where you try to breathe into the sides of your rib cage versus allowing your chest to rise. It can be tricky to find. By placing your hands to both sides of the ribs you can try to press the ribs into the hands. This is very important to help find good rib placement during exercise.

One lung breathing is where you imagine you are breathing in to one side of the body. The best way to understand this one is to come in to a mermaid position. As you reach your arm up over head try to breathe deeply into that side of the body. You may feel the stretch a little deeper or feel like you are able to reach a bit farther. Are you really breathing into just one lung? No, but its good visual.

Sniffing breath is the breathing that we use while doing exercises like the hundred where you slowly fill the lungs with multiple small breaths in and empty the lungs slowly with multiple small exhalations. This exercise helps us fill and empty our lungs completely throughout the exercise.

Before you know it, you’ll be exhaling to engage your abs every time you pick something heavy up and inhaling to get a little taller whenever you’re trying to reach the top shelf of a cabinet. It’s just takes practice! Feel free to ask me or any of the instructors here to explain or demonstrate these to help you better understand breathe or different breathing exercises.



Amanda Thomason