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Pilates Breathing - Why is it so important?

Pilates focuses acutely on strengthening our core or "powerhouse". Pilates exercises include breathing patterns and techniques that further activate the core muscles while performing an exercise.  In Pilates we use 3 types of controlled breathing – Lateral Breathing, Active Breathing and Set Breath Patterns.

Lateral Breathing:

Lateral Breathing refers to the expansion of the lungs from the center of the chest and out left and right as opposed to diaphragmatic breathing which focuses on the expansion of the belly. 

During Lateral Breathing we focus on the expansion of the rib cage while maintaining a consistent inward pull of the deep abdominal muscles during both inhalation and exhalation. By breathing laterally we can keep our “corset” engaged while taking a deep breath. Lateral breathing engages the intercostal muscles – or muscles between each of the ribs. Just like any other muscle of the body, the intercostal muscles can become tense and rigid without regular stretching. Over time this breathing practice will provide more space for the lungs to expand within the rib cage. Deeper, fuller breaths means more oxygen can enter the body to nourish all of our living cells.

Active Breathing:

An early student of Joseph Pilates named Ron Fletcher developed an approach called Percussive Breathing. Percussive breathing further engages the core by putting emphasis on a contraction of the intercostal muscles of the ribs during exhalation. This type of breathing is not meant to be forceful necessarily, but rhythmic. An excellent example of the use of this breath is during the Hundred exercise. By adding a rhythmic pump of the arms and a percussive exhale to an ab curl, the entire core is activated with the effort of the breath. Ron Fletcher explains: “The breath shapes the movement and defines its dynamic.”

Set Breath Patterns:

Many Pilates exercises have breathing patterns that are integral to the exercise being performed correctly. As with Active Breathing, the exhale is often used at the rhythmic point of most exertion. Sometimes the breath is used to set a certain pace – a deep, slow inhale and long exhale with cues such as “squeeze out all of the air...” are used with exercises requiring more attention to control. Shorter bursts of breath such as those used in Percussive Breathing are used in exercises requiring quick contractions of the muscles being strengthened.

In the beginnings of our practice it can be challenge enough to keep up with our form and alignment during class! We can start giving more attention to the level of incorporation we give our breath as we grow stronger. A stronger core with supple intercostal muscles improves the respiratory system which in turn improves the condition of the entire body, including the mind.

“Contrology (Pilates) is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. Through Contrology you first purposefully acquire complete control of your own body and then through proper repetition of its exercises you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activities.”

- Joseph Pilates

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