Pilates exercises require breathing very fully, taking advantage of every breath cycle to draw in lots of fresh air and get rid of every bit of stale air. We want to oxygenate our blood, get our circulation going, and get the rejuvenating qualities that a deep breath delivers. As one of the six Pilates principles, the breath is a foundation of Pilates movement. We frequently coordinate our exercises with inhale and exhale patterns, and use the breath to initiate and support movement.
Despite the focus on the breath in Pilates, some people feel a little "inhale deprived" when they start learning Pilates exercises. Keeping the abdominal muscles deeply pulled in and taking a great big inhale at the same time can seem like contradictory directions. But there is a special breathing technique we use in Pilates that allows us to maintain a contraction of the abs throughout an exercise. It is called, lateral breathing.
In lateral breathing we breathe deeply, all the way down the spine and into the pelvic bowl, but emphasize expanding the breath into the back and sides of the ribcage.
When the abs are pulled in properly, they protect the spine and act like a supportive corset for the whole trunk. Knowing how to breathe well while keeping the abs contracted gives us extra support throughout an exercise. As you practice lateral breathing, you will find that you are able to perform Pilates exercises with greater ease. It helps make the scoop of abs easier and enhances the sense of lengthening the spine with the breath.
This exercise will help you feel the lateral expansion of the ribcage with the breath:
- Wrap about 3 feet of exercise band around the lower part of your ribcage. You can also use a length of elastic or just wrap your hands around your ribcage.
- Hold the band closed in front of your chest.
- Inhale: Let the breath travel down your spine and expand into your back and sides so you feel the band is stretched, side and back, by your breath.
While lateral breathing is the technique to use when you want to keep your abs in during an inhale, we are talking about training the abs here. We don't want to have our abs contracted all the time. Diaphramatic breathing, with a natural extension of the belly on an inhale, is still the healthiest way to breathe regularly. Adding lateral breath to your diaphramatic breathing will increase your overall breathing capacity.