As a Pilates practitioner, I take what I know and love about Pilates and teach that to my students. It’s with sheer excitement, that I share small discoveries and wins with my students. For me, I teach what feels good for me and vary that for students depending on their level of experience and what’s going on for them that week or day. In my day, I will work with students from a vast variety of skill and experience levels. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a beginner student will ask something along the lines of ‘when am I supposed to breathe?’ Absolutely no judgment from me if this was you!
While breathing is an essential tool we use to stay alive, I don’t believe that you have ever been taught to ‘do’ it or ever asked anyone other than your Pilates teacher when to ‘do’ it, have you? This belief that there is a right and therefore wrong way to breathe when practicing Pilates has always baffled me. I remember as a beginner, being told to inhale on this bit and then exhale on that bit and feeling like my lungs were going to explode if the movement was too slow and then feeling like a was going to hyperventilate if the movement was fast. I also found that when the teacher said to breathe in – I wanted to breathe out, maybe it’s the rebel in me or can you relate to that feeling too?
When starting out, just getting in and out of certain Pilates choreography is enough of a challenge of its own without adding a specific breath pattern in the mix. I remember my first Pilates teacher training where I could not for the life of me remember the breath pattern of a specific movement and I had to repeat it over and over again in front of the group until I got it right…not a fun moment! Although when I watch archival footage of Joe teaching, his 100% focus appears to be on the body in front of him making the correct shape. He demonstrates, gives hands on assists and moves their body to make the shape he wants them to be in. The movement is the most important thing – I think this is where we as teachers can confuse and maybe even discourage beginners with overcomplicated classes that focus more on doing ‘all the things’ instead of focusing on good quality movement.
As your teacher, I want to see you moving well and then you may want to try experimenting with breathing patterns to see what works for you once you’ve got that part down. If you’re an experienced Pilates practitioner, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that you breath full and deep when the movement allows and it doesn’t enter your mind to be conscious of the specifics of the inhale or exhale – or is that just me again?
Joseph Pilates did give specific instructions on the breath in each movement however, these breath patterns are working with the natural biomechanics of the particular movement. For example, if you are rolling down from standing, the lungs are compressed from the forward flexion. I feel like this strong importance to inhale and exhale at certain times originated with the publication of the Pilates principles. Did you know that Joseph Pilates never had any written ‘principles of Pilates’? These were created many years after Joe passed in 1967 by a couple of students who were taught by one of Joseph’s disciples in the 80’s. They included the principles in their book “The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning”, and these 6 principles ended up becoming a part of most Pilates training programs worldwide. These principles are known to be – concentration, control, centering, flow, precision and breathing.
Although these principles weren’t of Joseph Pilates devising, he did mention breath work in his books “Return to Life Through Contrology” and “Your Health”. He speaks of how your breath should be the fullest and deepest possible, of how clean air and sunshine are vital to good health. He advocated for eating healthy meals and sleeping well every night and the importance of mental calmness. Off topic: would you believe he even wrote about dry brushing??? (see paragraph below) Oh and he never mentioned strong abs (not once!).
My message here is to advocate a freedom to move that is unrestricted and not bound by too many rules. Breathing is something that we inherently accomplish without guidance all day long. We may need a gentle reminder to deepen or slow down our breath and as a Pilates teacher, that’s what you’ll get from me.
The use of a good stiff brush as described stimulates circulation, thoroughly cleaning out the pores of the skin and removes dead skin too. The pores of your skin must “breathe” – they cannot do so unless they are kept open and freed from clogging. Your skin will soon respond most gratifyingly to this perhaps seemingly “Spartan-like” treatment and acquire in the process a new fresh, glowing appearance, and develop a texture smooth and soft to the touch. So brush away, merrily, and heartily too!
Return to Life Through Contrology