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The Pilates Principle of Breath and Covid-19

One of the six principles of Pilates is Breath. Joseph Pilates himself said,

“Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Above all, learn to breathe correctly.”


Breathing is an important part of any Pilates exercise. It helps to engage the core and bring the focus of any exercise to the correct muscle group. Breathing also adds to the sense of control, flow and precision of a particular exercise.


Interestingly, Pilates breathing is exactly the type of breathing exercise that is recommended for Covid-19 patients. Maybe you’ve followed Chris Cuomo and his Covid-19 ordeal. At one point he stresses how important it is to breathe deeply and to lift/move his arms around to help expand his rib cage and fully inflate his lungs. This reminded me of the way we breathe in Pilates.


Pilates breathing entails allowing the rib cage to expand to the sides and back. I often tell clients to “fill the space between the shoulder blades with air.” This side to side expansion of the rib cage is called “lateral” or “costal breathing.” When we inhale laterally, we expand the lungs/rib cage without allowing the belly to push out. When we exhale we pull the belly “in and up” as if we could pull the belly button up under the rib cage. This allows for a full exhalation, and then repeat.


Joseph Pilates believed, and I think he was correct, that we do not breathe deeply. We tend to be shallow breathers as a rule. Good lung health and good oxygenation however, require that we use our lungs to their full capacity when possible.


Try some lateral breathing exercises.

~Using a thera-band, sit upright with the thera-band around the bottom of your rib cage. As you inhale, try to stretch the band side to side and to the back (without overly elevating the shoulders). As you exhale, draw the belly in and up and feel the band return to it’s starting tension.

~Repeat this exercise lying supine (lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor). Place your hands on your low ribs. As you inhale, expand the rib cage side to side and into the floor underneath you, allowing your hands to draw apart. As you exhale, pull the belly in and up and feel the rib cage narrow and your hands draw back together.


Add this breathing to your Pilates practice and see how it enhances your workout! Let me know what you think and if you have any questions about Pilates Breath.


Stay well!


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