As an instructor I am well aware how difficult people find it to maintain a natural Pilates breath, how I have taught as many classes as I have without someone passing out on me is a mystery – everyone wants to hold their breath once it gets tougher on the core!
In Pilates we do what’s called lateral breathing or Intercostal breathing. Lateral breathing emphasises the lateral expansion of the rib cage while maintaining a consistent inward pull of the deep abdominal muscles during both inhalation and exhalation. This is in contrast to the type of breathing that emphasises the lowering of the diaphragm during inhalation, with the abdominal muscles relaxed so that they are allowed to push outward (probably the type that you are taught in a yoga class).
Adopting the correct Pilates posture (weight distributed equally throughout the feet, soft knees, pelvis adjusted to flatten the back, lengthened spine and neck, shoulder blades down the back, standing tall, tight abdominal and pelvic floor muscles) will help you to achieve lateral breathing most effectively and comfortably.
Breathing into the base of the rib cage, encouraging a consistent tightness in the abdominal muscles makes the exercises that you are performing more effective overall. A strong core brings control to the movement – which is one of the key principles of Pilates.
Breathing out on the tougher part of the Pilates movement increases the muscle activity in the deep abdominals, protecting the spine.
Lateral breathing (and other controlled breathing patterns) are thought to activate specific muscles, better circulation and respiration, improve focus and enhance relaxation.
To practice Lateral breathing technique – adopt a Pilates posture and place both hands on the side of your rib cage. Practice breathing with a focus on the rips expanding outwards and inwards on the exhale. Once you have mastered that without your tummy moving, engage your core and repeat.