Breathing is an important part of Pilates for many reasons.
Personally I use it to a help in connecting my muscles, on exertion to complete a move that I may need more strength for, or indeed to actually find that strength. It aids my concentration and focuses my attention on the task at hand namely to move my body and with it comes a meditative state of mind. Hence that well-known phrase "find your mind body connection".
In Return To Life Joseph Pilates often refers to the art of breathing. One of his main points :
"Bodily House Cleaning With Blood Circulation
True heart control follows correct breathing which simultaneously reduces heart strain, purifies the blood, and develops the lungs. To breathe correctly you must completely exhale and inhale, always trying very hard to squeeze every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth.........."
Every exercise he lists in his book comes with breathing instructions.
The art of breathing within the Pilates System is so important that the second book on Pilates, written by some of his students , with the aid of his protégé Romana Kryzanowska :The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning
lists breathing as one of the 6 principles of Pilates.
"Soon the entire body is charged with fresh oxygen from toes to fingertips, just as the head of steam in a boiler rushes to every radiator in the house."
In my own classes I often end with a breathing exercise I first learnt from a first generation teacher Lolita San Miguel
Breathe in for 5 and out for 5
In for 5 out for 6,
In for 5 out for 7 and so on till you get to 20. If you feel you can go on continue to 30 second exhales.
The breath control comes from the ability to learn how to use your diaphragm. This will greatly help your Pilates practice.
Breath is foundational to Pilates practice, so when I came across James Nestor's new book Breath, I bought it straight away. It is full of interesting and useful ideas, and Nestor experiments with all sorts of aspects of breathing. Such as, demonstrating through controlled experiments using only mouth breathing and then only nasal breathing how detrimental to health mouth breathing is for a person.
Nestor explores how the change in our lifestyles over time have affected our facial bone structure and teeth. These too have a profound effect on how we breathe by narrowing our nasal cavities. Nestor again proves how we can indeed change this for the better.
I found myself researching these other breathing experts and wondered if Joseph Pilates himself had ever come in contact with any of them. In the 1950's he was teaching Pilates to Roberta Peters the opera singer who probably came in contact with the breathing methods that Carl Stough was working on at the time. Stough was sought after within the Opera world gaining a position at the Metropolitan Opera in the late 50's.
Nestors' conclusions from ten years of research can be summed up as:
" The perfect breath is this: Breathe in for 5.5 seconds, then exhale for 5.5 seconds. That's 5.5 breaths a minute for a total of about 5.5 litres of air.
You can practice this perfect breathing for a few minutes, or a few hours. There is no such thing as having too much peak efficiency in your body."
The realisation of knowing the first exercise in the Pilates System is the 100 and its premise is to breathe in for 5 and out for 5, 10 times became all the more important me as a teacher, and practitioner.
I found this book easy to read and understand. The other experts that Nestor has investigated are so interesting that I find myself trying some of those of breathing techniques too!
I urge you all to get this book from the library or your local bookshop: you won't be sorry.