B is for 'Breathing in Pilates'

School Of Pilates Posted Oct 20, 2014 Future Fit Training


As you know the diaphragm is one of the primary muscles used for breathing. During normal breathing we breathe without thinking as air passes through the respiratory system to the lungs to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen and vice versa.

B is for 'Breathing in Pilates'

The lungs are protected by the ribcage and the diaphragm forms the floor of the thoracic cavity. The other muscles used for breathing are the intercostals which attach between the ribs. When we breathe in the diaphragm contracts and slides down and the intercostals move the ribcage out and up and on breathing out the diaphragm slides up and the ribcage moves in.

During exercise or when playing a wind instrument for example the breathing rate increases and the force of the contraction of these muscles is much greater. Other muscles such as the scalenes, rectus abdominus, and pectoralis minor will then come into play.

In Pilates the breathing technique is conscious as opposed to unconscious (normal breathing) and the participants are encouraged to maintain core contraction and breathe out when the spine is flexed and in when it is extended. We do change the rules sometimes to challenge an exercise or if it is appropriate for a specific individual.

This is called ‘lateral thoracic breathing’ (LTB) and it requires a full breath that depresses the diaphragm and expands the ribcage out to the sides and into the back. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth and try to breathe into the ribcage rather than the abdominal cavity. 

Lateral thoracic breathing

Breathing technique is a very important part of Pilates helping to focus the mind, release tension, complete rhythmic flowing movements and enabling you to maintain the contraction of the transversus abdominis and keep the shoulders stabilised. ‘Belly breathing’ is the way we naturally breathe when at rest.

Standing:
  • Place both hands on your ribs with the heels of your hands at the sides of the rib cage and your middle fingers meeting in the middle
  • Breathe in – focus the breathing into the ribcage and feel the sides and back of the ribcage expand and your finger tips come apart
  • Breathe out – feel the ribcage move towards the middle, bringing your fingertips back together.
  • Avoid lifting the shoulders and creating tension in the neck and shoulders
Visualisation:

Imagine you are opening the curtains of a window as you breathe in and closing them as you breathe out. Or imagine your ribs are like umbrellas opening and closing.

Lying supine in set-up position

When lying supine it is recommended to briefly outline the set-up of the body as your clients now have their bodies in contact with the floor and this creates a different sensation.

It is also a useful reminder to them to be aware of the basic Pilates fundamentals of maintaining set-up.

Neutral spine supine

Lie on the floor, knees bent and in line with hips. Feet flat on the floor, heels in line with hips.

Neck alignment

When completing the ‘lengthening’ process in the supine position make sure the head stays in contact with the mat as you lengthen and ensure the chin is in neutral and not poking forward. Clients who have kyphosis may need to rest their head on a block or firm cushion.

Practise lateral thoracic breathing in this position as the focus can change slightly.

  • Place both hands on your ribs with the heels of your hands at the sides of the rib cage and your middle fingers meeting in the middle
  • Breathe in – focus the breathing into the ribcage and feel the sides and back of the ribcage expand. Focus your client to feel the back of their ribcage expand against the floor
  • Breathe out – feel the ribcage move towards the middle, bringing your fingertips back together.

Ensure the back of your pelvis stays fixed and stable against the floor. 

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