When to Breathe during Pilates

Pilates and Knitting

One of the questions I am often asked is when do I breathe? Overall I hope that you keep breathing during Pilates. It is an important part of the movements and if you do the breathing backward, that’s ok! It’s a lot to understand when first doing Pilates and I’ve struggled with breathing as well. I was a dancer for about 13 years and even when I danced I would hold my breath. Both my dance and Pilates teachers had to remind me often to breathe and now I remind myself. I’m one to hold my breath without even realizing it. This is why I remind you to breathe often during Pilates. 

“Breathing is the first act of life and the last.” Joseph H Pilates

Breathing is one of the foundational movements of Pilates and there’s even an exercise called Breathing! It seems silly to discuss breathing because we do it everyday without thinking. But the type of breathing in Pilates is diaphragmatic breathing. It’s a deeper breathing that has the inhale through your nose and the exhale out through the mouth. 

Breathing is important during Pilates because it calms your nervous system while activating many deep muscles. These muscles include your diaphragm, transverse abdominals which are close to your spine, and pelvic floor. Focusing on your breath also makes Pilates easier! When holding your breath tension remains in your body and simply exhaling releases it.

When starting Pilates it’s really easy to hold your breath without realizing it.

While focusing on the exercises it’s easy to forget to breathe. Deep breathing is important because it helps you move. The movement is simpler and more fluid. It’s like fish swimming in water or dolphins doing flips out of water. 

Typically, we inhale when our spine is lengthening (during extension) and exhale when it is flexing (bending). A good example of this is during Spine Stretch. When you sit up straight you breathe in and when you bend forward you exhale. The breathing pattern here makes the movement easier.

Exhaling helps bend the spine during Spine Stretch.

Pandiculation is a big inhale when waking up in the morning and stretching your body in all directions.

We use the same concept when working with the springs. When inhaling, the spring opens and exhaling closes the spring. You can picture an accordion being the springs and the inhale stretches the accordion and during the exhale the accordion is squeezed together which is what happens to your diaphragm. 

During swan, inhaling while lifting your body off the floor allows you to feel lighter like you’re floating in the water. When you inhale in the water your body becomes more buoyant. Because gravity plays a role in the mat work, thinking of being lighter again makes the movement easier.

Breathe in during swan to feel lighter.
Inhale during Swan to feel lighter and buyoant.

The rolling exercises in Pilates help push the air out of your lungs. It’s hard to balance, roll, not too far, then come back up, and balance!! But focus on the breath and will help!

Rolling helps you breathe out
The act of rolling helps push the air out of your lungs.

This is true for any twisting. Breathing out during your twist is like ringing out a washcloth full of water. Inside your body your spine is being rung out of tension.

Breathe deeply by inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds.

Try it! You will feel more relaxed. While breathing in focus on your ribcage expanding and during your exhale feel it contract like a corset.

Breathe out during a twist to release tension.
Twisting releases tension in your spine and feels good!

If you end up breathing differently during Pilates, don’t worry about it and keep moving. When I see a client holding their breath, usually when an exercise is new or difficult I remind them to exhale. I know it’s easy to forget which is why I say it!

Did this post help you understand the breathing of Pilates? Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “When to Breathe during Pilates

  1. This article is exactly what I was searching for in regards to proper breathing technique and suggestions of when to inhale (extension) and when to exhale (flexion). Thank you!

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