Breathing

One of the major components of Pilates is the use of your breath to facilitate movement.  It helps to stabilise your lumbar spine, can help you move structures that are stiff and immobile, develops muscular strength, and lastly helps you consume oxygen which is essential to burn energy.

Why Can't I Just Breathe However I Like?

Though Pilates is meant to be fun and is certainly not a dictatorship, we do really encourage you to practice the breathing cues you're given.  If you can stick with them you will find the exercises will start to become natural and fluid.

The Anatomy

Your abdominal cavity is commonly referred to as the 'Powerhouse' when speaking the Pilates lingo.  It comprises your pelvic floor, abdominal wall & the diaphragm.  When these structures are drawing together, they increase the pressure inside the powerhouse and help stabilise the lower back.

Signs of weakness in these areas include

  • issues with continence, especially when sneezing or laughing
  • a history of hernias in the abdominal wall
  • shallow breathing in to the upper chest
  • holding the breath while performing a challenging exercise

Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor muscles (3 pairs) are found at the bottom of your pelvis and allow for the passage of bladder and bowel functions.  This area can be weakened following childbirth, though is commonly weak in men too.  The muscles are similar to a pair of hands cupping water.  As they contract the muscles draw up and tighten, closing off the passage for the bladder and bowel.  Cues for activating these muscles may include -

  • stopping the flow of urine midstream
  • holding on to gas
  • drawing the testicles up in to the body
  • drawing the sitting bones together by lifting the area between the up from the chair while seated

Abdominal Wall

Everyone knows the 'Six Pack'!  It is the sign of great core strength.... isn't it???
The abdominal wall is actually made up of 4 different layers.  

1. The Six Pack muscles (Rectus Abdominus) are responsible for helping us to sit up from lying.  It flexes the body forwards but has little impact on rotation or lumbar stability.

2. The Internal & External Obliques wrap around the belly from the spine and help you with your rotational power.  They help to give you stability when standing on one leg, and are particularly important in sports involving rotational stability (such as running).

3. The Transversus Abdominus has been one of those muscles physiotherapists have been obsessed with in the past.  This muscle has been shown to have a delayed activation in patients with lower back pain.  The suggestion of this is that a delay would increase the loading to the back and therefore increase your risk of injury.  Though there is sound reasoning behind this, physio's are now interested in the area working as a whole instead of placing such importance on one muscle.

Diaphragm

The diaphragm is found at the bottom of your rib cage and divides your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity.  As it it contracts is draws down towards the pelvis, pulling air into the lungs and increasing the pressure in the abdomen.  As the function of the diaphragm improves, the entering air goes deeper into the lung.  This is particularly important as this is where most of the blood is found and improves the exchange of oxygen into the blood stream.  Shallow breathing keeps air into the upper lung and is much more inefficient.