Get the Most Out of Your Pilates Practice
By Katherine Campbell, Certified Pilates Instructor
It’s that time of year again. Want a quick solution that will help you relax tension in your body and help release stress from your mind? Try breathing. Yep, plain old inhale and exhale. There are good reasons that we start every session in Pilates with breath practice.
First, you have to breathe to live. You might have noticed that your body does it automatically. What you might not notice is perhaps you are not breathing deeply during the course of your day. Stop yourself periodically and check. Tense and tight anywhere? You might be breathing shallowly or wasting energy by lifting your shoulders. Breathing properly, which you can train yourself to do with Pilates, encourages effective oxygenation and increased circulation of the blood. This is one of the reasons that instructors start every session in Pilates with breath practice, and why we cue it constantly during your session.
Breath helps focus the mind on each task. Have you ever taken a deep breath to calm yourself when faced with a tough presentation at work or when dealing with a truculent teenager? The clarity that follows is one of the benefits of taking the time to “count to 10” with a few deep breaths. The Pilates Hundred exercise is a great example of how to combine breath and focus, and it is no coincidence that it is one of the first exercises we perform in a Pilates class.
Exhaling deeply can also help activate the deep support muscles (transverse abdominis, multifidus, and pelvic floor muscles) of the low back and pelvis, while moving the diaphragm and ribcage for additional support. Activate the diaphragm and these three sets of muscles for your “core-tet” of support. In all Pilates exercises, breath and awareness of stabilization should precede all movement for the exercise to be most stable, efficient, and effective.
Exercises to Try at Home
1. Notice your natural breath pattern. Where does the air go? How long does it take for you to breathe in and out comfortably? Are your shoulders lifting?
2. Breathe while sitting up hugging your knees or while lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Concentrate on sending your air in to your back and sides of your ribcage. Try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth through softly pursed lips (like trying to gently frost a mirror with your breath.)
3. Breathe while holding your pelvis in neutral spine (three natural curves present). Make sure to send air to the sides of the ribs and back so that abdominals do not lift on Inhale. Deepen the contraction of the transverse abdominals on Exhale. Do not shift the position of the pelvis while you contract or release.
4. Rocking Pelvis: Lie on your back, knees bent, neutral spine. Place a towel behind your head for support, if needed. Inhale to maintain a neutral pelvis, Exhale to contract abdominals and imprint spine, Inhale to maintain the imprinted position, Exhale to return to neutral. Repeat several times. You can also try lifting one or more of your legs off the floor to test the stability of your imprint.
Adapted from “The Five Basic Principles” by STOTT PILATES®
All content used with permission.
Katherine Campbell is a STOTT PILATES® Certified Instructor with over thirty years experience in the health and fitness field. She is the owner of Springs Pilates, a fully equipped therapeutic Pilates studio located in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reserve a Pilates personal training session with Katherine at www.springspilatespleasanton.com