If Anything…. Breathe!
During the mid-term break in the studio we ran a survey to learn about how we’re doing in our new premises. I believe it’s important to know how we can improve and get some authentic feedback about our classes, new facility and instructors.
What I really love about running a survey is that it can bring up some Pilates topics that clients think about, perhaps struggle with, and I get a chance to address them.
In this last survey a comment was made which warrants an explanation that I believe everyone can benefit from – anyone doing Pilates (not just in our studio), anyone thinking about doing Pilates and anyone who’s heard about this thing we all do all the time - - -
B R E A T H I N G
So here’s the comment we got from the survey:
“If anything, the method of breathing while exercising can vary between instructors. I find it best to be talked through the breathing while carrying out the exercise, to obtain the best results.
I find the breathing rather complicated to think about independently and would rather be told how to breath. I just need clear instruction.“
I’m thinking quite a few of you can relate to one or more aspects of what’s said above - Maybe because you noticed that breathing instructions vary between Pilates instructors; Maybe because you too find it complicated to think about and remember to actually breath (let alone ‘how’ or ‘when’) while you exercise – that can apply to running, swimming or walking just as much as it does to Pilates…
KEEP IT SIMPLE
“…above all, learn how to breathe correctly.”
This is one of Joseph Pilates’ most popular quotes. It comes from his book “Return to Life Through Contrology” (1945).
The idea that we need to learn how to breath and that there’s a correct way to breath – which suggest there’s an incorrect way to breath, can be confusing and daunting for sure.
Here’s the thing: In “Return to Life Through Contrology” Pilates clearly wrote when to inhale and when to exhale. This only gives us a breathing pattern of WHEN to breathe. Nowhere does he tell us HOW to breathe.
Joseph Pilates did not specify a breathing technique.
“In d’air! Out d’air!” in a German accent booming throughout Joe’s studio in NYC is Mary Bowen’s (one of the Pilates Elders) memory, which she shared in an interview.
In the air, Out the air; Inhale and Exhale; breath-in, breath-out.
I’m not saying there isn’t more to breathing. Of-course there is. ‘The power of the exhalation’ to just name one. But a big part of breathing cues in a Pilates class is to keep you from holding your breath, particularly when a lot of effort is required in an exercise. Holding the breath can create an excessive muscle tension and an undesired and potentially dangerous increase in blood pressure – so lets avoid that!
Don’t get hung-up on the breathing. Learn ‘form’, ‘alignment’, movement and just keep Breathing.
Pilates instructors sometimes have too much information in their heads but at the end of the day, Pilates is not rocket science.
the rest will come as you keep on practicing.
Yes. You will find that different Pilates instructors will cue breathing patterns differently. The difference is mostly in when to inhale and when to exhale, and not so much in the technique of breathing itself, or in how to breathe.
You will find that most Pilates instructors agree on and teach Lateral Breathing - sometimes called Thoracic Breathing or Intercostal Breathing - this is in contrast to Belly Breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing.
Lateral Breathing is simply what happens when we breathe deeply with a strong and engaged core/centre/power-house: belly breathing is not accessible; it’s not possible and so “eliminated”; the body is “forced” to a different way of breathing.
There’s no wrong or right, correct or incorrect, just physically what happens when we need to perform movements that ask our body to stabilize from the centre and keep drawing in as much air as possible.
By the way, most Pilates instructors will also encourage you to breath-in through the nose because Pilates himself preferred it (though he never made it a “rule”) and exhale through the mouth, again, because Pilates encouraged a complete exhalation, which you might find easier to execute through the mouth (again, this is not a “rule”).
There are quite a few breathing techniques and exercises out there – all have their benefits and learning them can help us along the way - but I’ll say it again:
Most Pilates instructors will cue Pilates exercises with a breath pattern: inhale during some phase of the movement, and exhale during another phase. That’s pretty much how Joseph Pilates set his method.
It’s the breath pattern that seems to vary between instructors. Partly this depends on how the instructors themselves have been taught in the different teacher training programmes, but professional Pilates teachers always keep on studying after their initial certification. As we deepen our understanding of Pilates and of how the body works, things change and evolve.
Yet again I refuse to go into “wrong” or “right”. At the end of the day we’re working with the body (or bodies) that are in front of us and ‘no-body’ is the same.
Different people, with different issues at a different stage in their life and/or their Pilates practice might need different things to help them improve their functionality.
As I mentioned before, first and foremost, a patterned breath will keep you from holding your breath. In addition, when digging deeper, there is more to consider:
1) A breath pattern will influence the muscles being recruited while doing an exercise.
2) A breath pattern affects the ability to engage the core and stabilize the body.
3) A breath pattern affects how the spine moves.
4) A breath pattern gives the exercise rhythm, a dynamic flow and a unique quality of movement.
Just look how at how many muscles are involved in breathing – front & back and all around:
So for me, it’s the answer to “WHY a certain pattern is used”, taking all the above 4 points into consideration that explains the difference between instructors. But not just between instructors – you can find that the same teacher cue different people differently.
It is the INTENTION, and the different FOCUS that might prompt a change to breathing patterns.
When working with a client that has a PFD (Pelvic Floor Dysfunction), I’ll start them on a very different pattern of breath than a client who came to see me after back surgery.
At first I might teach a group one type of breath pattern, but after 5 weeks I might teach them another as we keep exploring and deepen the understanding and feeling of breath.
In our studio we have different instructors that have gone through different Pilates Teacher Training programs. As we work together we learn from each other, we explore together and most importantly, we keep asking “why?”.
We teach with open eyes and open minds to help everyone that steps into our studio.
You might find different things as you breath in and breath out along the journey.
As instructors we cannot really teach you how to breath anymore than we can teach your heart to beat .
We’ll keep on focusing you into your body and into your breath so that your body will automatically find the optimum way to move through life.