What is breath? According to dictionary.com, the first three definitions of breath are as follows; 1. the air inhaled and exhaled in respiration, 2. respiration, especially as necessary to life, 3. life; vitality. Functionally, breathing oxygenates your blood.
In order to function properly, your body needs a constant level of oxygen circulating in the blood to cells and tissues. When this level of oxygen falls below a certain amount, hypoxemia occurs and you may experience shortness of breath. So, the most important thing to remember while doing anything is to breathe.
In Pilates, your breath is also used to help you to engage your core. I generally teach Pilates breathing in neutral spine, our spines strongest position, in which it maintains all of its natural curves.
It is helpful to start lying on your back on the floor or another flat stable surface (I recommend using a yoga or exercise mat or a few towels under your body for comfort).
- Lay with your legs straight out in front of you and shift your pelvis into a neutral position (your pelvis and your pubic bone should be completely level so that you could balance a hot cup of tea where your bikini bottom would be, without spilling a drop).
- Press you mid and upper back into the mat without allowing your pelvis to shift out of its neutral position. You should feel a bit of space under your low back. If you have not done this before it may seem as if you are arching a bit. If you are keeping your pelvis neutral and your mid and upper back are pressed into the mat you are not arching.
- Think of extending your spine so that the bottom of your feet reach toward one wall and the top of your head reaches toward the opposite wall. Relax your neck and shoulders and imagine your shoulder blades gliding effortlessly away from your ears and toward your feet and then slowly relax your entire body.
- Keep your mid and upper back pressed into the mat. On an inhale completely fill your lungs with air allowing your rib cage to spread out to the sides, NOT up toward the ceiling. Put your hands on the sides of your rib cage and breathe into them. You will be forced to expand the ribs to the side rather than allowing them to lift up toward the ceiling (likely your natural tendency). On an exhale, imagine someone is tightening the strings of a corset that you are wearing around your entire torso. Think of pulling not just your belly button toward your spine (a common Pilates cue), but of pulling everything that the corset covers in toward the middle of your body. When you do this you are engaging your entire core. (If you are familiar with kegel exercises cinch in your corset and do a kegel lift to engage your pelvic floor muscles a bit more.)
Once you have done this successfully on the floor try it standing while leaning against a wall and eventually move on to standing. It will be more difficult without the tactile feedback from the floor or the wall, but my goal is to get my clients to a point where they are able to feel in their body whether or not they are in neutral spine.