Learning how to breathe properly in Pilates is one of the keys to easier and more fluid exercise. It increases the flow of oxygen to the blood and also aids in focus and concentration.
Step 1: To prepare
Lie down on your mat with your knees bent, feet hip distance apart and arms relaxed at your sides.
If you feel any strain in your neck in this position then place a small support under your head.
Step 2: Focus on your breath
Breathing naturally, start to focus on where you take each breath to. This could be into the chest, into the abdomen or into both areas.
Notice if you feel any tension while breathing in and where that tension is and as you breathe out, try and relax those areas.
Step 3: Breathe into the rib cage
If you breathe into your chest, the breath is usually very shallow and can cause the shoulders to rise which in turn creates tension in the neck. Then if you breathe into your abdomen you're allowing the abdominal muscles to expand and relax making it difficult to perform the exercises properly.
To breathe most effectively, in Pilates you're encouraged to aim the breath towards the back of the rib cage expanding it outwards on each inhalation.
To practice this, rest your fingers on the lowest of your ribs and gently take the thumbs around to the back of the rib cage.
Now breathing in through your nose aim to guide your breath down towards the bottom and back of your rib cage, expanding it like a balloon, then exhale through your mouth to deflate again.
Repeat this a few times until you feel you have the right sensation.
Step 4: Activate the abdominal muscles
The exhalation is just as important as the inhalation as it's when you can most activate your abdominal muscles.
Inhale again taking the breath towards the back of your rib cage then as you exhale and deflate also gently flatten your abdomen, activating each one of the muscles, before inhaling again.
In time, you should try to maintain this 'flattening sensation' as you breathe in as well as when you breathe out.
Practise this a few times then when you're ready, sit up with your knees bent and rest your hands on your shins.
Step 5: Practice sitting up
Resting over your knees is one of the best positions to feel the breath expanding into the back of the rib cage and also for noting any tension in the shoulders and/ or loosening of the abdominal region.
So, inhale while sat up straight to prepare, then as you exhale gently roll down through the centre of the spine to relax over your legs letting your neck relax to finish.
Inhale here, feeling the breath expand into the back of the rib cage as if you were stretching a net, then exhale relaxing away any tension while finding the connection with the abdominals.
Repeat two more times, each time contracting your abs more. On the final exhalation, roll back up to sitting.
This breathing technique is one recommendable to many controlled fitness exercises, such as a simple stretching routine and once conquered, is hugely beneficial.