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The Importance of Pilates Breathing

in Southfield, MI

The Importance of Pilates Breathing

Thinking about taking a Pilates class and wondering what to expect?

If you haven’t yet tried this method, it might surprise you to find out that there’s a special Pilates breathing that you’ll learn to use when you move in and out of positions .

 all comes down to understanding the importance of 

Connecting Breath and Movement

Perhaps you’ve engaged in other activities such as yoga, capoeira, or tai chi and are already familiar with the importance of linking breath with movement. But it’s not just practices and disciplines from faraway places that incorporate this principle. 

In fact, the connection of breath with movement is universal and is also utilized by dancers, swimmers, and weightlifters, to name just a few. Not only does conscious breathing improve the efficacy of movement, but it enhances relaxation, increases focus, improves circulation and respiration, and even lowers blood pressure.

As such, each Pilates movement corresponds with a breath in or breath out. And there’s a specific technique for breathing encouraged by Pilates instructors when executing these movements.

What Is Pilates Breathing?

When performing Pilates breathing, you’re attempting to keep the abdominals engaged, as well as activate the obliques to stabilize the spine. While there is deep diaphragmatic breathing performed in Pilates at specific times, the main breath utilized is often referred to as lateral thoracic breathing or intercostal breathing. 


The intercostals are the muscles of the rib cage and during Pilates breath, awareness of the position of the ribcage is crucial. The ribs often want to move forward (pop out) or open outward (flare) during the inhalation. This is counterintuitive as it makes it difficult for the obliques to activate in these positions. Likewise, to keep the obliques activated, the ribcage should draw down toward the hips during the exhalation. 

Here’s How It Works

Inhale through the nose in a normal fashion – i.e. not a long and deep breath. Direct the breath into the sides of the ribs. They should expand laterally – hence the name.

Exhale somewhat forcefully through the mouth and visualize the ribs on either side of the body weaving together while moving downward toward the hips.

Inhale again through the nose, directing the breath into the sides of the ribs, then exhale through the mouth the close the rib cage down and in again. Repeat and continue. 

When learning this breath, you may want to try it while lying supine. Then place your hands on the sides of your rib cage so you can feel them expand outward when you inhale. As you exhale, visualize releasing air from your lungs like squeezing air from a beach ball.

You want to maintain a sensation of the ribcage resting gently on the floor at all times. So be sure the base of the ribcage isn’t allowed to lift away from the floor.

It’s also important to note that unlike with a lot of other activities, Pilates focuses on the exhalation during the effort. As we stated above, it’s critical to have the abdominal muscles activated at all times during Pilates and focusing on this ‘exhale during the effort’ breathing pattern facilitates that.

Why Engage in Pilates Breathing?

So many relaxation practices encourage deep breathing into the belly. And that has tremendous value – sometimes even in Pilates! But belly breath doesn’t allow you to keep the abdominal muscles engaged and the lower back protected.

Thus, lateral breathing is incorporated to enable deep breathing during the practice. And by directing the breath into the sides of the ribs, it deters shallow breathing in the upper chest which can cause tension in the shoulders and neck. 

The reason for taking a normal in-breath and not a long deep inhalation is the tendency to extend the upper and middle back (thoracic spine). When this happens, abdominal muscle activation releases.

As for the somewhat more forceful but slow exhalation, it helps o activate the obliques.  

In every situation, holding the breath while attempting to exercise should always be avoided as it strains the cardiovascular system.

The Importance of Pilates Breathing

Yes, Pilates breathing is an important component of the practice in terms of achieving the best results while safely performing the exercises. 

But you sure don’t need to stress about it. When working with skilled Pilates instructors who can guide you in the proper breathing, you’ll pick it up in no time.

So contact us today to get started!