Breathing the Pilates way!

Do you find that you are concentrating so hard on getting your Pilates movements correct that you forget to breathe?! Perhaps you are unsure when to breathe in and out during movements?

Joseph Pilates, the founder of Pilates famously quoted “Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.” He also said that millions and millions of us have “never mastered the art of correct breathing.”

Lateral Thoracic Breathing

Breathing is the first of the 6 Principles of Pilates and is known as lateral thoracic breathing. It flows in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Often people’s breathing can be too shallow, particularly when exercising and this can create tension and restrict movement. The Pilates method of breathing relaxes the body and assists good core and muscle activation. It’s also a more efficient way to draw more oxygen in and around the body to the working muscles.

When you INHALE try and imagine the breath heading into the back and bottom of the ribcage. Keep tension away from the neck and avoid hunching the shoulders and use the abdominal contraction to assist the breath.

When you EXHALE, imagine blowing out a candle, the lips purse together and there should be a quiet sound and resistance behind each breath. The resistance helps the interaction between the diaphragm and the abdominals and helps to activate the core. If you place your hands on your low abdominals and force a breath out quite loudly you may feel the abdominals engage. Try to exhale fully to completely empty the lungs, then you will have to breathe in again, making it happen more easily!

The Coordination of the Breath and Movement.

As you breathe in the chest lifts and the ribs expand. The spine then naturally lengthens and extends. On the exhale the ribs close and the spine folds in. For example, breathing out as you go into an abdominal curl up. Quite often, but not always, in a lot of Pilates exercises we exhale on the effort or the hardest phase of the movement. I like to think… inhale to prepare and get ready, then exhale as we move and inhale again to recover back to the start of the movement. The flow of movement and breath can then continue from there.

I often find that people are concentrating so hard on the movements that they forget to breathe! It doesn’t matter if you don’t follow the exact pattern of breath, sometimes it’s better to simply find a rhythm to suit you as this is more beneficial than not breathing at all!

The Connection of the Breath to the Pelvic Floor

Not only is the breath linked to the diaphragm and deep abdominals but also to the pelvic floor. When you breathe out try and imagine and feel a gentle contraction of the pelvic floor. This assists with good effective core activation and works to strengthen the pelvic floor.

Top Tips!

  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and down throughout.
  • Keep length from the crown of the head and keep your spine in neutral as you inhale.
  • Inhale through the nose evenly into the whole of the ribcage, and in all directions including the back and sides.
  • Exhale with a slightly open mouth or pursed lips and relaxed throat. Almost sighing the air out can help.


We are all unique and will have different levels of experience in Pilates, so it’s important to do what feels right for you. Continue to practice the movements and then work on mastering the breathing. The MOST important thing is that you remember to breathe!

Not only does the breathing help with core and muscle activation and flow of movement but it also reduces stress, boosts the immune system, energy levels, and lifts mood! How wonderful is that!


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