Many Pilates classes will begin with breathing exercises. Oftentimes, clients will wonder why class begins on such a “slow” note. When you come in pumped and ready to work, the last thing you want to do is connect your mind to intentional breath, right? But starting your Pilates Practice with the correct breath work couldn’t be more important. With three different kinds of breathing and one specific way that works best with Pilates exercises, it’s imperative to know the difference between different breathing patterns. When the correct one is applied, it allows you to work smarter - not harder - and can even get you to your wanted results faster.
Apical Breathing: aka upper chest breathing
You know when you’re having a bad day and you take an incredibly deep breath to calm yourself? It’s the kind of deep breath where your shoulders basically reach your ears and your chest puffs out. That is Apical breathing, aka upper chest breathing. This kind of breathing is the kind that Pilates instructors see in the most excited or nervous students. However, it’s not ideal because it activates unwanted neck and chest muscles. Everything from your ribcage up gets tight - even your jaw can accidentally be recruited if you’re not careful.
As you can imagine, this tightness is the exact opposite of what you should be feeling when you’re about to begin your Pilates Practice. This kind of breathing pattern induces the fight or flight mechanism - so instead of being calm and centered during your exercise you are jumpy and off balance from the start.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: aka belly breathing
Oftentimes, a Pilates class will ask you to begin with big belly breathing, known formally as Diaphragmatic Breathing. It’s a great way to calm our minds. This breathing pattern is achieved by expanding the ribcage fully and imagining you are filling the belly with air, as though you are a balloon. By focusing on the belly being filled with air with each inhalation, you allow your shoulders to get some much needed rest and the upper body is relieved of its usual tension.
However, Pilates is all about activating the core. You can’t exactly activate your core when you’re filling your belly with air and relaxing into each breath, can you? Diaphragmatic Breathing is an amazing way to clear your mind and allow a calmness to take over, but when you’re actually doing a sequence of movements it is unrealistic to maintain.
Lateral Breathing: aka pilates breathing
Lateral Breathing is the correct way to breath while doing any pilates exercise. It is accomplished by expanding the ribcage laterally so the abdominals can be deeply activated (navel to spine anyone?) without recruiting the trapezius or any other muscles in your shoulders or neck. You’ll take a large breath into your ribcage, rather than your belly. With each exhalation your abdominals are engaged further and further. This kind of breathing allows the correct muscles to remain activated while your mind stays calm and focused on your ultimate goals.
Understanding the difference between these three breathing patterns can be a little confusing the first couple of times you try to master them. At PhysioElements, our unique Discovery Session covers Pilates Breathing so you can be sure that you’ll walk away with complete knowledge of how to connect your breath to movement.
Questions? Pick our brains - don’t be shy! Send us an email at info@physioelementsNY.com to schedule a session with our physical therapists or pilates instructors to learn more about pilates and the importance of breathing.