Cath is a very experienced Sports (titled) Physiotherapist and Pilates Instructor and recently ran a workshop for us on the use of breath in exercise and pilates…
Effective breathing while exercising and doing Pilates helps to improve oxygenation to the body, enhance relaxation and engage the mind. Breath is often used to assist with facilitating a muscle, and the coordination of movement patterns. An exhale (breath out) is often used during the more effortful component of a movement (for example lifting or lowering a load, or moving a limb). Breathing can be regressed so that movements always occur on an exhale, with pauses in movements occurring on inhale. As people progress, and are able to achieve greater dynamic stability, breathing patterns can be progressed making movements more fluid. The focus on breath during exercise can be helpful for some to improve timing and coordinate movements. For others it can create too many things to have to attend to in addition to just doing the movement! The important thing is to ensure that you avoid holding your breath during exercise, as this can result in increased blood pressure while exercising.
Breathing also has a significant impact on the mechanics of an exercise. For example, when looking to facilitate extension through the upper back/ trunk we can time these movements with an inhalation (breath in), as the extra air going into the lungs will facilitate this movement. For some we may want to promote more stability with this movement (instead of mobility), and we may cue to do these movements on an exhalation.
Figure 1. An inhalation will facilitate getting an increased range of thoracic extension as the trunk goes upwards towards the ceiling during the Swan exercise on the Wunda Chair.
Some words to ponder which draws upon the relationship between breath and its relationship to engaging the mind –
“Breath, prana and mind are mutually and inherently related; cultivate one well and the other two will fall into line. Prana is the energy that drives life, the power that animates the body, enlivens the mind, spurs the soul. Prana is life’s inspiration, its foundation, its tenacity; it is the sure hand on the tiller, the wise voice of good counsel, the urge to health and harmony that craves to turn our bodies into havens where we can take shelter from the storms of the hectic modern world. Prana is at work every instant in every cell of every living organism.” (Robert E. Svoboda, as cited by Polestar Pilates Rehabilitation Series Course Notes, pp. 21).
Balance and Control Training College (2012) Foundation Level Manual (pp.42-46)
Norkin CC, and Levangie PK (1992): Joint Structure and Function, (2nd edition), pp.178-192.
Polestar Pilates Education (2012) Studio/ Rehabilitation Series Manual – Principles of Movement, pp. 16-26.