woman sitting cross legged on the beach, facing the ocean, breathing

I think we can all agree that breathing is an essential component of our daily life. In studying Pilates and yoga, we learn that, by and large, we are only breathing at a partial capacity. Most people do shallow breaths in to the top half (or even quarter!) of their lungs. This shallow breathing causes reduced oxygen and, therefore, reduced benefits from oxygen.

My STOTT Pilates instructor trainer, Tracy Maxfield, taught me to remember the benefits of deep breathing as the mnemonic, ORCA. When you take a deep breath, your blood is Oxygenated, you Relax, your Circulation improves, and you start paying Attention. I share this mnemonic device because as you breathe, I want you to think about the benefit you receive from a nice, slow, deep breath.

Let’s begin breathing.

I want you to take a nice, deep inhale in through your nose and, as you exhale, purse your lips and blow as if you’re blowing out the candles on a child’s cake, so not a crazy amount of candles. That pursed lip exhale triggers an abdominal muscle called the transverse abdominis, or transversus.

drawing of the transverse abdominisThe transversus is the deepest abdominal muscle. It runs from one side of your spine to the other and connects to the rib cage and pelvis. Essentially, the transversus is the muscle that holds all of your organs not protected by the rib cage or the pelvis in your body. I like to think of it as a sausage casing, holding all of the good stuff inside of us.

Keeping our organs inside of ourselves is extremely important and yet, the muscle that is tasked with this job is only activated when you cough, sneeze, or intentionally blow air out of your mouth. I believe this is why Pilates breathing involves the exhale through pursed lips. If you can activate and tone the transversus, you can draw the internal organs more appropriately into the body cavity, helping you find relief from low back pain and helping you feel and look thinner.

Before we proceed, it is worth mentioning that you should not grip the pelvic floor while breathing. Type A people, I understand that you want to exhale your best possible exhale each and every time. However, if you put grip and force behind this movement, you will end up ripping your pelvic floor. No one wants that.

So, now that we understand how important it is to exhale softly, but intentionally with pursed lips, let’s continue. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet in line with your SITs bones (the bony part of your butt that you would normally be sitting on). As you take a nice, deep breath, I want you to think about how your lungs are a container. Fill your container all the way with air. And now, let it go. Fill it again. And let it go.

As you inhale, your lungs expand and your diaphragm descends to allow the lungs room to fill. As you exhale, the diaphragm rises to help the lungs expel all the air. This happens without you even having to think about it.

Now, focus on where the air is going when you take a deep breath. Is it going all the way down to the bottom of the canister or just half way? Is it filling up in the front of your chest but not the back? Your breath should be three-dimensional, filling the front, sides, and back of your lungs. As the air enters your lungs, you should send it down so that the rest of your breath can fill in behind it.

If you’d like, you can place your hands on your stomach. I like to have my thumbs on my ribs, my pinkies on my pelvis, and the other fingers rest on the space in between.

You can breathe laying down, sitting up, driving to work. … Really, since we are breathing all the time, any time of your day that you can take some time to focus, you can breathe. As I have said before, setting a focus and intention, being thoughtful in your actions will help you to achieve your goals with this exercise.

Pilates Breathing Video

Here is a video to give you a visual.

How can you use breathing to help you? Share your ideas in the comment section below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.