For most beginners attending a new Pilates class the biggest stumbling block is the breathing. The one thing you enter the room confident that you have a pretty good knowledge of is going to confuse the hell out of you within minutes of your first class.
Pilates uses breath cycles for 3 main reasons
1 – to assist with muscular control
2 – to create a flow
3 – to help with concentration
As a beginner the most important thing you can focus on is ‘where in space is my body and which bits am I meant to be moving (and which bits are still)’. Anyone who has done a Pilates class will testify to the fact that there is a huge amount to remember and think about, constantly. No exercise is performed for too long or for too many repetitions because we simply cannot concentrate and carefully activate for that long. Adding in a breath cycle in these early stages is crazy to me and it’s something I actively avoid for the most part.
From a beginners perspective its worth focusing on the breath cycle separately from an exercise. This may seem a little basic, I mean we all breathe constantly don’t we? But when was the last time you used your breath to actively switch on a muscle?
Below are 2 examples of how you can begin the “breathing-journey”.
1 – Lateral breathing
We need to be able to breath without disrupting the parts of the body that we would like to keep still. Lots of people breathe into their shoulders creating a lot of rise and fall and equally as common are belly-breathers who are unable to take an inhale without “inflating” or letting go of the abdomen.
Lateral breathing aims to direct the breath into the sides of the rib cage/armpits. Useful when you need to inhale and hold the tummy tight at the same time.
To practice this place your hands on the ribs, fingers together. Take a big inhale and try to send the ribs and breath wide – as you do this the ribs will slide apart, made more visual in this position by the fingers sliding apart. Exhale, close the ribs and the fingers come back together.
2 – Abdominal breathing
Abdominal breathing is a wonderful, magical aspect of the pilates breath cycle and something I still find just brilliant. Try this.
Take a deep breath IN. Exhale slowly and as you get towards the end of your breath feel how the tummy begins to tighten. Even if you try NOT to tighten, as the breath gets to the end you have no choice, the abdominals switch on to assist you with the exhalation. SO clever and for all the teachers out there, a great way to help clients “find” their abdominals and work out how to activate them! Genius.
Once you understand the basics of the Pilates-breathing, it can be an incredibly useful tool for you and will become something that you naturally begin to incorporate. The key lesson for me initially is this. If it’s confusing you, if you’re holding your breath or if its causing you stress – FORGET ABOUT IT!!! The movement patterns of your body and your understanding of how you are moving is far more important. Get to grips with that and you will naturally have more head space and more understanding so that the breath- cycles can be incorporated as a seamless addition to your practice.