Principles of Pilates #3

The principles of Pilates (part 3)

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than producing a larger movement!

Joseph Pilates created 6 principles of Pilates, but over time these have been added to and there are now deemed to be 8 key principles:

  1. concentration
  2. centering
  3. breathing
  4. control
  5. precision
  6. flowing movement
  7. isolation
  8. routine

Today we’re going to look at breathing.


“To breathe correctly you must completely exhale & 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” J Pilates

Breathing has 3 key functions:

  • to carry nutrients around the body, bringing energy to every part of the body
  • to carry waste products away from the body and back to the lungs where they can be exhaled
  • to increase stamina

Restricted breathing (which inhibits the removal of waste) can cause numerous problems such as muscle tightness, restricted joint movements, tiredness, headaches and pain. Whilst breathing alone cannot cure these problems, it will contribute to greater well-being when combined with other principles.

one conscious breath

The goal in Pilates is to breathe fully into the belly & rib-cage without unnecessarily using accessory muscles in the neck and shoulders. It is one of the key principles of Pilates but also one of the hardest to grasp to start with!

Why does breathing matter during exercise?

It is common for us to unintentionally hold our breath when we are exercising, but this places the body under tension, especially in the neck and shoulders.

Try this:

  • breathe in to raise your arms above your head & hold your breath as you lower your arms back down, imagining that you are squeezing oranges in your armpits. Can you feel tension in your neck and shoulders?
  • repeat this exercise but this time as you lower your arms gradually release your breath in a sigh. Could you feel that there was much less tension this time?

What is the best breathing pattern for Pilates?

  1. keep the neck and shoulders relaxed to reduce tension in these areas
  2. allow your breath to flow – don’t hold your breath at any point
  3. breathe in through the nose and breathe out through the mouth without holding in between
  4. breathe out with soft lips (not pursed) and try to make a sound as if you are sighing – think of the sound that waves make as they break on the beach

When practising Pilates we want to exhale with the movement which requires the most effort. In most cases you will aim to breathe out as you move away from your neutral/starting position, and breathe in as you return back to neutral but don’t get too hung up on your breathing!

Although there are good reasons behind the style of breathing we use in Pilates, you don’t want to get too hung up on it. If you’re struggling, simply focus on keeping a steady, rhythmic breathing pattern so that your breath is flowing as you move – gradually as you get more confident you will find the breathing becomes a more natural part of your practice.



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