Breathing is one of the six so-called Pilates principles:
- flowing movement
And although Joseph Pilates never speaks of the ‘Pilates principles’, he uses and describes these terminologies in great detail in his two books, “Your Health” (1934) and especially in “Return to Life through Contrology” (1945).
In “Your Health,” he writes in the “Chapter 8: First Educate the Child!”
“Before any real benefit can be derived from physical exercise, one must first learn how to breathe properly – this all-important function requires individual instruction, not only by precept but by example.”
And in “Return to Life Through Contrology,” he writes,
“To breathe correctly you must completely exhale and inhale, always trying very hard to ‘squeeze’ every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth. When you stand erect again, the lung will automatically refill itself with fresh air. ”
One page later, “Breathing is the first act of life, and the last. Our life depends on it. Since we cannot live without breathing it is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions and millions who have never learned to master the correct breathing. One often wonders how so many millions continue to live as long as they are doing this tremendous handicap to longevity. Lazy breathing converts the lung, figuratively speaking, into a cemetery for the deposition of diseased, dying, and dead germs as well as supplying an ideal haven for the multiplication of other harmful germs. Therefore, above all, learn how to breathe correctly.“
As a Pilates teacher, I often observe that new students and beginners have little awareness of their breathing. Many breathe very shallowly, and if they want to breathe deeply, they often pull up their shoulders when trying to fill their lungs with plenty of air.
Now there are various techniques and tools to mediate ‘correct’ breathing.
- To raise awareness of breathing, put one hand on the chest and the other on the stomach. Watch as the hands raise and lower as you inhale and exhale. Try to breathe deeper, “down into the stomach” – then the “belly” hand should lift more than the “chest” hand.
- To achieve deeper inhaling and to fill the whole lungs with air: breathe in deeply and lift your arms, exhale long and “deep”, lowering your arms and exhaling until no air seems to be left in the lungs to exhale while the upper body automatically is rolling down or bending forward a bit … and then exhale a bit more. The impulse for inhalation comes automatically and intense. The upper body straightens and the lungs fill with air.
When the awareness of deep inhalation and the complete exhalation is awakened, I practice with my students the conscious guidance of the breath. The techniques described above result in deep breathing, but often also cause the front of the body to open very much and the center of the body (the well known Pilates Powerhouse) loses its stability. The following exercises help my students:
- Place a cloth (scarf, towel, etc. or even a Thera © band) around the lower ribcage (make sure that the cloth rests smoothly on the back) and cross over at the front. Hold with both hands and exert a slight pull. The light resistance that the cloth exerts on the inhaling and expanding chest, directs attention to the back of the ribcage, helping to breathe deeply while still holding the front of the midsection stable.
- Cross your arms in front of your chest and put your hands on your shoulder blades – hug yourself, so to speak. Inhaling deeply, you can feel the movement of the upper posterior thorax and the stretch between the shoulder blades.
Since shallow breathing is often accompanied by a bad posture, slightly bent shoulders and a round upper back (and it is arguable what is the cause and what the effect), I observe in all my students after a only few classes a significant improvement not only in breathing, but also in posture.
Therefore, above all, learn how to breathe correctly!