Blood must be oxygenated in order to fill the cells with energy. We also know that breath enhances the benefits of exercise. Breathing is actually how we regulate our energy, and so it was taught by Joseph Pilates.
The timing and depth of how and when we inhale and exhale will dramatically affect how we move. Joe Pilates was asthmatic and, in an attempt to improve his own breathing, he professed that a full exhalation, squeezing out all the toxic stagnant air, was key to getting a full and deep, rejuvenating inhalation.
Even though we know that breath is the key to life, it is amazing how few individuals breathe properly. By employing full inhalations and full exhalations, you expel stale air and noxious gases from your lungs and replenish your body with fresh air to energize and revitalize your system. As importantly, breathing will enhance the control of your movement during exercise and daily life.
Traditional fitness simply teaches us to exhale on exertion. While that rule sometimes holds true in Pilates, the better way to understand Pilates Breath is to imagine breathing in cool fresh air when you open and expand your body and exhale warm, deep and stale air whenever you close and contract your body.
If you try to inhale and feel the breath fill your lungs deep into your ribcage, stomach and back, you will better understand the type of breathing Joe Pilates suggested. Did you notice how your shoulders lifted slightly? Did your back extend and your diaphragm lower as your entire chest expanded? If you lift your arms in the air, it will seem intuitive to inhale as you do so, moving your extremities away from the body. It is also at this time that we use the breath to expand our body and extend our spine.
Now as you exhale, force the last drop of air out of your lungs. As you do so notice how your diaphragm raises, your chest caves in and you naturally pull your belly button down and into your back as your ribcage collapses and your spine flexes forward. If you add an exertive movement to that breathing pattern like lowering your arms back down, you can imagine how much sense it makes to exhale as you flex, collapse and contract. Furthermore, if you were carrying something heavy in your hands, as simulated by the straps and cords on the reformer, you will naturally exhale on the exertion of that movement.
Pilates Breath is not always so simple, however, because it is true that when we exhale we actually engage our core stabilizing muscles and create more stability in our body. So let's begin by learning that we should exhale exactly at the time that we need to feel most stable.
In spiritual practice we learn that inhaling brings energy in through the top of our head or crown chakra and down the spine spreading it throughout the whole body. Exhaling on the other hand directs energy out of our bodies relaxing us as all the tension leaves with it. As we become more aware of this breathing pattern, we learn that we can focus that energy and place it wherever it is needed for healing in our body.
Without much effort however, I have found that doing Pilates heals profoundly. As we lie on the Reformer, feeling totally physically supported, and begin to make the very brilliant movements that Joe Pilates designed, we unconsciously inhale invigorating energy into every cell of our body. As we exhale, we release all the tension and toxins from our body. The miracle occurs quickly and then one day you realize that you are now consciously breathing in and out, invigorating and releasing, and healing your own body with the power of your breath.