In Return to Life (1945), Joseph Pilates wrote, “Breathing is the first act of life, and the last. Our very life depends on it.” Breath fuels our cells and nourishes our bodies. This all-important delivery of oxygen affects our activity on every level from the simplest daily task to intense physical activity or emotional stress. Breath is vital to the mind body connection….
Yet, most of the instructions for breathing in the matwork program are very basic, stating only INHALE SLOWLY AND EXHALE SLOWLY for almost all the exercises…..
Each of the Master Teachers interpreted these words in a different way and uniquely applied them to their work. They all said Joe had a saying, “you must OUT the air before you IN the air.” But beyond that they did not have specific rules. Each of the Master Teachers developed breathing techniques that suited the way they taught the method.
Bruce King taught me to change the inhales and exhales in the same exercise in order to place the emphasis of the breath in a different area of the lungs to fully cleanse the lungs. In Hug A Tree, I did 3 repetitions inhaling as I brought my arms front and exhaling as they returned to the sides of my body. Then, I did 3 more repetitions exhaling as the arms reached front and inhaling as they returned to the sides of my body. This brought attention to filling and deflating my entire ribcage and brought more awareness to my back muscles helping to assist in promoting better posture through the exercise.
The mechanics of proper breathing were always a part of Carola Trier’s program. She used posterior lateral breathing and would place her hands on the student’s shoulders to see if they were tensing their necks. She also used the Pilates Pinwheel to increase the exhalation while rounding forward.
Romana Kryzanowska taught the Hundred with a 3 count inhale and a 7 count exhale, which is the breathing pattern I use most often in my mat classes. The long exhale promotes the emptying of the lungs which in turn allows the lungs to refill themselves more fully. This also promotes greater attention to the exhalation and supports deeper activation of the abdominal muscles throughout the movement.