Breathing – most of us do it every day without much thought. But breathing is essential obviously and in my opinion the second most important element of Pilates. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute – here’s what happens when you inhale and why a full inhale during Pilates is so important:
“When you breathe in, or inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This increases the space in your chest cavity, into which your lungs expand. The intercostal muscles between your ribs also help enlarge the chest cavity. They contract to pull your rib cage both upward and outward when you exhale.
As your lungs expand, air is sucked in through your nose or mouth. The air travels down your windpipe and into your lungs. After passing through your bronchial tubes, the air finally reaches and enters the alveoli (air sacs).
Through the very thin walls of the alveoli, oxygen from the air passes to the surrounding capillaries (blood vessels). A red blood cell protein called hemoglobin helps move oxygen from the air sacs to the blood.
At the same time, carbon dioxide moves from the capillaries into the air sacs. The gas has traveled in the bloodstream from the right side of the heart through the pulmonary artery.
Oxygen-rich blood from the lungs is carried through a network of capillaries to the pulmonary vein. This vein delivers the oxygen-rich blood to the left side of the heart. The left side of the heart pumps the blood to the rest of the body. There, the oxygen in the blood moves from blood vessels into surrounding tissues.”
The exhale is just as important as the inhale, too! The exhale serves to remove carbon dioxide from the body. Did you know one of the measures for metabolism is a breathing test that measures how much carbon dioxide the body expels with each breathe? Big breathes remove more carbon dioxide, making the body more efficient and increasing the metabolism.
So you can see inhaling is an important thing especially when you are asking your body to do moves like in a Pilates class! I teach my reformer students the “shh” breath made popular by Ron Fletcher, one of Joseph Pilates apprentices and a man who made Pilates more accessible for the masses with Joseph Pilates’ blessing. To properly perform the shh breath one takes a full inhale filling the lungs and ribcage and then exhales with a shh sound pulling the air from all four quadrants (from the pelvis up to the lungs) and in turn pulling the navel upward and inward.
This breath serves three main purposes!
1. It’s a guarantee that you do not hold your breath will working out. You’d be surprised how many folks tend to hold their breath! The inhale is used to prepare the body and the exhale is used to power through the difficult part of the movement. Using the shh breathe lets me, as an instructor, know you are breathing properly.
2. The Shh breath serves as a reminder to you, the student, to contract your core and never lose focus. It is impossible to puff out your belly while doing a proper shh breath. Each breath becomes a core contraction! Just by breathing, you are building a strong core.
3. Each breath provides your body what you need to be physically active and able to perform at your best. Each breath provides the cells what they need.
I often find new students are self-conscious about doing the shh breath. I, too, as a new student was reluctant and made shallow, quiet breaths – until I got it. Once you have given the shh breath a chance, I guarantee you’ll miss it when you walk into another studio that does not practice breath principles. The shh breath can make the difference between a so-so workout and a great core workout.
When I have tried Pilates classes at various places that don't incorporate breathing – I miss the breathe and missed the intensity of the workout I got with the breath. The breath is essential to the mind-body connection. You can not let your mind wander and go through the motions when you need to focus on each breath and how your body is feeling and reacting. And that’s a good thing. Mindless workouts produce uncertain results. If you are going to spend the time – get the results!
So next time you come to one of my reformer classes – breath loud and proud and reap the rewards!!