Importance of Breath in Pilates

Those of you who come to Will’s classes know they are tough. There is little time for rest. You’re going to bend, extend, rotate (he likes that one), and you might even balance on one foot!

Will Byrne on his bike
But have you ever asked why he places so much emphasis on breathing?

We chat to Will about his understanding of Breathing & why it’s an integral part of his workouts.

Will, Tell us why you incorporate so much breath work into your classes?

I was always taught, if you cannot breathe you cannot move and that the two went hand in hand.

My coach said when mammals breathed, this meant they were in a relaxed state and did not sense any danger.

What I now know is that Diaphragmatic Breathing is known as Eupnea. (Which is what he was referring to.)

For me, this Diaphragmatic breathing was instilled at an early age. Try to swim and hold your breath!

What people may or may not know is that your diaphragm is a huge muscle and directly linked to not only your abdominals, but also the rest of your body.

If you learnt to breath correctly, your abdominals would get an amazing workout!

As you breathe in, your diaphragm contracts and moves downward, the muscles in amongst your rib cage also contract and help with expansion of the rib cage. Your actual abdominal muscles do something that is called ‘eccentric contraction’ which means they contract but lengthen. It is this eccentric movement that really works.

BUT, and unfortunately there is a big but, LIFE

 we live in a stressed world  and we have become lazy

Will and Milena of Platinum Pilates

So how does this ‘bad breathing’ actually affect you?

Well if you ‘chest’ breath, your body moves into a state of alertness. This alertness is ok if danger is there. Animals chest breath when in danger. But if you use this breath constantly, this will over-stimulate the nervous system and engage the survival portion of the brain. Here lies the problem, our sympathetic nervous system will in this case dominate and can make you tense, anxious and irritable.
Muscularly, your neck and jaw could go into over-load, thus creating un-balanced workload on muscles that were not designed for prolonged tension. As your neck muscles go into over-load you may find that your shoulders elevate, this is big one… once up, they don’t want to come down!

Through your lower back, this ‘chest’ breathing may actually aggravate the lumbar spine placing strain on the pelvis as it now wants to tilt. The negative effects are endless …. But I think you get the picture?

To stop breathing with your chest and throat muscles, you must learn how to breathe with your diaphragm. The absolute only way to do this is to practice using your diaphragm.
It’s a challenge! The diaphragm is a muscle you can’t see and can’t feel directly. It’s like trying to learn how to wiggle your ears. A lifetime of bad habits may stand in your way.

I’ll be using breath in my classes over the next few months to challenge the way you move.


William Byrne