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Breathing Techniques: How to Adapt STOTT PILATES® Breathing to Make Pilates Exercises More Effective

How to Use and Adapt the STOTT PILATES® Breathing Technique

Breathing in Pilates plays an important role in creating mind-body awareness and assisting with the execution of exercises.

The STOTT PILATES® Principles, of which breathing is one, provide guidance on how to breathe while executing the STOTT PILATES repertoire to maximize performance benefits. Instructors often begin their workouts by getting clients to become more mindful of the breath and how it physically affects the body.

Merrithew® Master Instructor Trainer Kim Kraushar emphasizes that while the traditional Pilates breathing technique is a tool that can help people execute the exercises more effectively, it’s not appropriate for every person in every situation.

“The Pilates breathing technique comes in handy to provide support, especially in certain challenging core exercises. But do you need to breathe like that when you’re washing dishes or sitting at your computer? No, you need to go back to low-volume, relaxed breathing.”

For those who are new to Pilates, practicing mindful breathing for an hour can be revelatory and have huge benefits, she says.

What is the common Pilates breathing technique?

The most common Pilates breathing technique is cyclical: inhale through the nose followed by an exhale audibly through pursed lips.

What’s the reasoning behind this breathing technique in Pilates?

  • Inhale through the nose: Nasal breathing has countless benefits, including its ability to ensure the main breathing muscle, the diaphragm, is participating fully by naturally drawing incoming air deep into the lower lobes of the lungs for a more efficient gas exchange. It also effectively filters the air and triggers important chemical responses in the body
  • Exhale through pursed lips: When needed, this creates a smaller aperture for air to exit the body. This slight increase in resistance created by the lips on the exhalation can help condition the inner core unit muscles (pelvic floor, diaphragm, transversus abdominis) to trigger a deep supportive muscle activation

 A woman reclines over a Stability Ball and practices mindful breathing during a Pilates exercise

How do you breathe in Pilates? When do you inhale/exhale during a Pilates exercise?

The STOTT PILATES repertoire suggests certain breath patterns to support the movement or motion of the exercise; however, the process of exploring breath allows for educated choices.

When determining what type of breathing is going to be most effective, individual responses are important and must be taken into consideration.

“In certain situations and for certain exercisers, an inhale may be more effective than an exhale,” says Merrithew Master Instructor Trainer and Executive Director of Education Moira Merrithew.

Breathing in Pilates is meant to be logical, so consider this:

  • When you take a breath in, you naturally straighten up. So when an exercise requires lengthening or extension, most often an inhale will make the most sense
  • When you’re exhaling, you naturally curl inwards. So when performing a flexion exercise, it makes sense most times to exhale

“Having said that, an inhale can promote a sense of elongation and opposition to promote stability and control, while an exhale can signal release and relaxation,” Moira adds.

How do you teach clients about breathing effectively in Pilates?

When teaching, Kim recommends guiding clients to focus on the movement sequence first so they’re not overwhelmed by Pilates breathing.

Once they have mastered the quality of movement, ask them to think about which breath pattern (inhale/exhale) would make the most sense during each phase of the exercise.

“They make the decisions that feel logical to them and then you build on that experience and understanding. But if they don’t understand the logic behind the breath, then it just feels like another extra piece of the puzzle that they’re trying to figure out along with everything else,” Kim says.

“When breathing is confusing or challenging in Pilates, that’s when people aren’t being given enough time to integrate just the movement first and then infuse it with the breath.”

Breathing approaches and techniques

There are so many breathing approaches, strategies and techniques that Kim likes to think of them as being on a spectrum, intersecting and diverging at different points and being useful for different purposes.

Instead of getting hung up on any specific Pilates breathing technique and whether you’re ‘breathing properly’ during your practice, use this opportunity to simply become more mindful of the breath.

The goal of Merrithew’s modalities is to create awareness of the importance of the breath, so you learn to leverage this powerful tool outside class to calm your mind, fuel your body and gain a competitive edge.

“We are still learning about the benefits of different breathing styles, and we will continue to evolve our messaging and approach as these techniques become tried and evaluated,” Moira says.

Read more > Breathing Techniques: What Is a Natural Breath Pattern and How Can I Breathe More Efficiently?

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