What is Pilates Breathing?

L. Burgoon

Pilates breathing is one of the principle foundations upon which Pilates exercises are based. Pilates breathing focuses on deep inhales, complete exhales, and awareness of the body position and posture during breaths. Proponents believe that this technique offers many benefits, including better circulation and oxygenation of the blood. Pilates classes emphasize the breathing technique to get the most out of the exercises, and instructors also encourage students to employ the breathing technique in daily life for maximum benefits.

A woman doing pilates.
A woman doing pilates.

Proper Pilates breathing begins with posture. Sitting, lying down, or standing up straight with the shoulders relaxed and the chin level provides the optimal breathing posture. Take special care to have a straight rib cage that is not hunched over. Observing oneself in a mirror helps achieve these posture goals.

Pilates breathing is divided into two areas of focus: inhaling and exhaling.
Pilates breathing is divided into two areas of focus: inhaling and exhaling.

Pilates breathing is divided into two areas of focus: inhaling and exhaling. To properly inhale, imagine filling the lungs, abdomen, and back with air. A breath deep enough will lift the shoulders slightly, extend the chest, and push the diaphragm lower. These movements help the lungs fill more fully with air. Raising arms in conjunction with the inhale allows for even more air intake.

The Pilates breathing exhale focuses on expelling every bit of breath from the lungs; doing so will cause a subsequent deep inhale and the pattern will repeat. Full breath expulsion causes the diaphragm to push upward and the chest to deflate. Lowering the arms with the exhale helps make the movement more forceful. The breathing technique contracts the abdomen, thereby strengthening core muscles that otherwise may get little exercise.

This technique also is known as lateral breathing because the rib cage should move to the sides. The breathing exercises engage little-used muscles between the ribs to accomplish this. It is thought that the fitness breathing encouraged by Pilates increases circulation because of the full inhales and exhales. Adherents also say Pilates breathing increases oxygen levels in the blood, which helps muscle relaxation. Proponents also claim that the breathing method increases concentration because of the heightened awareness of one’s posture and breathing pattern.

Pilates breathing techniques are part of the core principles of the exercises. Other principles include concentration, control, flow, precision, and centering. Pilates followers believe that proper breathing helps set the foundation for these other principles. Joseph Pilates, the creator of the exercise routine, so believed in the fitness breathing technique that he has been quoted as saying that “Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly.”

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