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What is Percussive Breathing?

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  • Written By: Dana Hinders
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
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Since breathing is something we do every minute of every day, most of us never stop to think about the significance of this act. However, Joseph Pilates once referred to breathing as “the shower of life.” He believed that teaching people better breathing techniques could improve their overall health and mental stamina. Pilates practitioners say the rhythmic expansion and contraction patterns they’ve learned from his teachings help take pressure off the joints and make it easier to think more clearly.

In Pilates, percussive breathing is defined as “breath with sound and rhythm.” While a regular breath is seldom noticed, percussive breathing sounds like an orchestra. The rhythmic pattern of inhaling and exhaling is more challenging than it first appears. When the exhalations get longer, you are working to improve your cardiovascular capacity.

The development of percussive breathing techniques as a vital and important part of a regular Pilates practice is credited to Ron Fletcher. In 1971, Fletcher opened a studio in Los Angeles adapting Joseph Pilates’ teachings to create a style of exercise known as West Coast Pilates. Fletcher’s percussive breathing technique was revolutionary in that it provided a way for people to easily monitor and measure the effectiveness of their breathing throughout a Pilates routine. In West Coast Pilates, instructors insist on breathing as a part of movement.

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There are three basic forms of breath used with percussive breathing. The pattern for a single breath is a simple inhale and exhale. Inhale, inhale, and exhale for a double breath – filling the lungs 1/2 full each time. Inhale, inhale, inhale, and exhale for a triple breath – filling the lungs 1/3 full each time. When practicing percussive breathing, students may take several single breaths, followed by a series of double and triple breaths before finishing with another single breath routine.

Proponents of percussive breathing say the practice provides many benefits. It is said to strengthen trunk muscles while assisting in the restoration of proper posture. Athletes who incorporate Pilates into their training program often say that percussive breathing helps to build endurance as well.

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