It has recently been brought to my attention that I may have an ‘obsession’ with breathing and movement. I originally thought that ‘obsession’ was a bit strong of a descriptor, but after thinking about it in a bit more depth, I may be guilty of being a bit obsessed.
Breathing – Key of Pilates
Breathing is one of the key principles of Pilates (and many other disciplines as well!) and I am sure you would have heard some reference to it at some point in your Pilates experience.
Ever wonder why most relaxation techniques involve a focus on the breath? From a physiological perspective, a simplified explanation is through the relationship between our breath and arousal level. When we are stressed, scared, anxious or angry the ‘fight or flight’ system is triggered in our bodies. This is controlled by our sympathetic nervous system and some key responses are shallow rapid breathing, increased heart rate and blood being diverted to our big power muscles. On the contrary, our relaxed or basal state is controlled by our parasympathetic nervous system, which has the opposite response: Longer slower breaths decreased heart rate and blood/energy directed to more basal functions such as digestion or immunity.
Control and power
You may be thinking, “well since I am exercising when I’m doing Pilates, don’t I want to have more of my energy to my big power muscles?” My answer to that is that it depends on what your goal is. If you are trying to generate power, sure, a strong powerful exhalation can be more beneficial (there are many opinions on breathing techniques for maximizing power but I am not going to go into that debate).
However, Pilates exercises generally require a greater focus on control than on power. Through my experience, I find that most people are in a slight state of over-arousal, and therefore find it difficult to relax or breathe long, relaxed breaths. Our movement reflects this. We are good at fast and powerful, but find it hard to slow down and focus on control.
In reality, no one form of breath or movement is better than the other, it is just more efficient and effective when we use them appropriately.
- The breath should match the movement. ie. Long fluid movements require long fluid breaths.
- Exhaling during the most challenging aspect of the movement is often easiest.
- To increase range or stretch, allow for a FULL exhalation.
- Although breath can be a very powerful tool to improve your practise/performance, it can be confusing and therefore hinder performance when you are first learning a new exercise or technique. If this is the case, don’t worry about the specifics and just ensure you continue to BREATHE.
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