Breathing is the first Pilates principal, and in my opinion, one of the more challenging principals to master, especially if you're new to Pilates. Most of us understand that breathing is essential. We hear our teacher cue us to inhale or exhale during certain movements. Breathing doesn’t always come easy when you're just starting to learn Pilates, especially when the tempo or rhythm changes along with the different intentions and body movements. As a teacher of Pilates, my goal is to help students find efficient breathing techniques that support the exercise or movement they're in.
In our Pilates practice, we use a different tempo or rhythm of the breath to facilitate certain movements or outcomes. The breath itself also has movement. During the inhalation, the diaphragm pulls down toward the bottom of the rib cage creating movement in the lower floating ribs. During the exhalation, the diaphragm contracts, rising up while forcing air out. For example, The One Hundred is a warmup exercise whose purpose is to increase the circulation and blood flow, incorporating short and percussive breathing. In the exercise The One Hundred, we're instructed to take five inhalation breaths in a row followed by five exhalation breaths in row. The percussive breathing is rhythmic and vocal. If you're new to Pilates, building up the stamina to take five percussive breaths in a row might take some time and practice. If you're finding it difficult to achieve five percussive breaths in a row, you might want to start with just one inhalation, followed by one exhalation. Then, when you're able, increase to two inhalations followed by two exhalations. Then increase to three inhalations follow by three exhalation, making your way up to five breaths . The exhalation has a sound like you would shush someone who can’t stop talking behind you at the movies to send a message to them to stop talking. If we were at the cinema, you would most likely put energy and intention into your shushing and make your shushing short and to the point with one "shush". On the other end of the spectrum, we use a long-sustained breath that will correspond with the movement of exercises like the The Swan, a lengthening exercise where we elongate the spine. Here's an exercise to help you feel the movement of the breath: Lay down on your side. If you're lying on your left side, your left arm that's down on the mat should come across your stomach with your left hand resting on the side of the top rib cage. Inhale and direct your breath towards the hand that's resting on your rib cage. With the exhalation, feel the ribs relaxing down towards the mat. Concentrate on taking breathes that last long to encourage the most moment in the ribs. See if you can feel the movement in both directions, up towards your hand, and down towards the mat. I hope the video demonstration helps you see the movement, subtle as it is, in the lower floating ribs