The Principle of Breathing


Breathing is essential to life.  Unlike shelter, food and water, without air for just a very short while we would perish.  The cycling of our breath is an autonomic response that spontaneously occurs and influences all our body’s vital processes.  Pilates practitioners know that intentional focus on and attentions of breathing helps to promote deeper concentration and facilitates relaxation.  In pilates every movement begins with an awareness of the breath used to focus and facilitate particular objectives.  The breath should move with an easy continuous ebb and flow.   It should never stop.   New or inexperienced exercisers may have a tendency to breath sporadically or to hold their breath.  If this is a tendency the respiration process should be observed carefully and attended to with focused consideration to encourage a smooth rhythmic cycling of air and to refrain from constricting air flow.  One should never stop or block the flow of air at any given point.


The breath can be seen as an organic interface connecting the internal body and the external world. Thus, focusing on the breath helps facilitate subjective awareness of present-centered, lived moment to moment, somatic (bodily) experience.  Breathing optimally well promotes deeper torso connections, more thoracic engagement and centering of control in a strong integral core.  Fuller thoracic expansion and deeper muscular contractions during respiration facilitates a stronger connection between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor improving proprioceptive coordinations of whole body movements and integrations of upper and lower body actions through the core.


Paramount to Joseph’s method was the significance he gave to his precise deep breathing technique.  He noted, “Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly.” Joseph advocated conscious breathing to oxygenate the blood and improve circulation awakening the cells and energizing all the vital mechanisms of the body.   For the blood to do its job effectively Joseph knew it needed to be both replenished with oxygen and purged of toxic waste.  Thus, expelling toxic gases through deep exhalations was essential to his thinking and central to his method.  Joseph Pilates taught a breathing practice that emphasized a dynamic forced exhalation which he proclaimed encouraged a fuller more energizing inhalation.  He described the exhalation process as squeezing “every atom of air from your lungs until they are almost as free of air as is a vacuum.”  Another metaphor he used to sufficiently force air out of the lungs during torso rotation is to squeeze out the lungs like one would wring out a wet towel.


Joseph believed better breathing would energize the body and improve fatigue. Ceasing to breath at any point during exercise hinders this process and thus is avoided. Pilates breathing method incorporates deep belly breathing with posterior and lateral breathing that inflates the chest cavity not just out front but expanding into the back and sides of the ribcage as well creating more space for air to fill.

Joseph described breathing as the first act of life, and the last.  He advocated expansive inhalations inflating the chest cavity which he countered with precise forceful exhalations.   In pilates practice as in life Joseph sensed the quality of every movement tied to the quality of every breath. During pilates exercise a precise powerful breathing technique is coordinated with specific directives designed to facilitate particular movement goals and somatic objectives.

The essence of the breath is to initiate, facilitate & enhance movement execution & performance.

In essence, an explicit breathing practice in pilates is used to enhance awareness and facilitate efficiency in all movements of mind and body. One simple rule may be to inhale through the nose to ensure a filtering of air and a pacing intensity that is appropriate for the aspiring participant. Exhaling forcefully through the mouth will help engage a deeper abdominal connection, but more important, is the objective to expel the lungs completely ridding them of carbon dioxide whether done through the nose or mouth.  As one becomes more skilled exhaling through the mouth may not be as necessary.  If one breathes fully cycling air efficiently in and out through the nose then that may be all that is needed and ultimately involves using the nose best for what it was designed.

Inspire Deeply. Release Tension. Move Into Life.

More On Breathing:

  1. The Anatomy of Breathing by Blandine Calais-Germain.
  2. Breath Into Being: Awakening to Who You Really Are by Dennis Lewis
  3. Breath to Heal: The Science of Healthy Respiration by Case Adams, Ph.D
  4. Free Your Breath, Free Your Life: How Conscious Breathing Can Relieve Stress, Increase Vitality, and Help You Live More Fully by Dennis Lewis
  5. The Art of Breathing: 6 Simple Lessons to Improve Performance, Health, and Well Being by Nancy Zi
  6. The Oxygen Advantage:The Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques for a Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter You by Patrick McKeown

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