What’s up with Pilates Breathing?
We use a specific technique for breathing in Pilates. We call it Lateral Posterior Ribcage Breathing. That’s a mouthful, right? But, the concept is quite simple.
Basically, it means that when we breathe, we expand into the backspace of the body. Or, what you might hear me say in class is, “fill the sides and backs of the ribs with air.”
What exactly is happening to our body when we breathe? I’m going to get anatomical here for a minute, just bear with me. Our primary respiratory muscles are our diaphragm (shaped like a dome and moving like a parachute), and our intercostals (the muscles between our ribs).
Ideally, when we inhale, the diaphragm moves down towards the pelvic floor. The abdomen rises slightly. The pelvic floor gently stretches. The intercostal muscles will allow the ribs to widen and expand, while the spine extends slightly. During exhalation the ribcage closes in and down, the spine flexes slightly, and the pelvic floor contracts slightly.
When we’re stressed, we might lift our shoulders towards our ears and breathe more shallowly. Or, if we sit with a rounded posture and our chests collapsed, full breath might not be possible. Without deep breathing, our diaphragm is not moving at its capacity, and the pelvic floor isn’t getting the gentle exercise that it needs from our breathing.
To put it simply, moving away from shallow breathing and filling the sides and backs of our ribs with air allows our body to function at its best.
Why do we use lateral posterior ribcage breathing in Pilates?
We use this breathing to:
- Enhance our focus and mind-body connection
- Activate the deep support muscles of the body, and keep the abdominals activated when performing exercises
- Reduce unnecessary tension in the neck, shoulders, and mid-back
- Promote healthy pelvic floor function
- Encourage regular, gentle thoracic flexion and extension
- Promote effective oxygenation of the blood and clearing of toxins from the body
Tips for Breathing in a Pilates Class:
- Inhale through the nose, and exhale through the mouth in order to access the deep layers of the abdominals.
- Keep your breath length natural for your inhale. No need to take too much air in.
- Your breath should come before your movement.
- If the breath and movement pattern is too much, focus on your movement first. You can add in the breathing whenever you’re ready.
- Consider breath cues as suggestions. You can always breathe in the way that feels most comfortable to you. Try not to hold your breath.
Three ways to practice breathing at home:
Sit in rest pose and feel for the backs of your ribs expanding. Let your head be heavy between your arms. Take it up a notch by resting your arms on a bolster.
Lying on your back, place one hand on your sternum to encourage it to soften. Place your other hand around your ribcage, fingers to the front and thumb to the back. As you breathe, feel the ribcage expanding and contracting. Try placing both hands around the ribcage and see if you can feel any difference between the two sides. Does one expand more fully than the other? More quickly? Observe any differences without creating a story about it.
Place a bolster or partially deflated ball under your ribs while side lying. Reach your top arm over your head. Breathe into the top ribs. Notice any feedback the bolster gives your bottom ribs.