Anatomy and Asana -
By: Susi Hately Aldouse

Over the years I have received many questions about yoga and Pilates breath. The following explanation comes from Suzette's training in hatha yoga and STOTT PILATES® as to the difference in how they are used. Enjoy the read!

For many people who have experienced yoga and Pilates, the difference in breath patterns can be confusing. By understanding why each breath is how it is, you can learn to use the breath to assist yoga poses and Pilates exercises with the greatest awareness and effectiveness. As a yoga teacher or trainee, you can also explain the differences in application to students practicing both forms of movement. 

Shallow and Deep Breaths during Movement

The breath pattern in Pilates and yoga acts to release any unnecessary tension in the body. You want to avoid breathing shallowly into the upper portion of the rib cage, and in many movement situations, you want to restrain yourself from breathing low into the abdominal cavity. When this is done in Pilates, for example, breathing low into the abdominal cavity allows the abdominal muscles to completely relax, thereby making them unable to protect and stabilize the back during the exercise. What we recommend in STOTT PILATES is to breathe into the lower rib cage three dimensionally (back and side ribs).

Anatomy of Breath and Movement: Exhale/Inhale, Flexion/Extension 

Anatomically, during exhalation the rib cage closes in and down while the spine flexes slightly. Thus we encourage the exhale on spinal flexion during yoga and Pilates. During inhalation the rib cage opens up and out while the spine extends, and so we encourage an inhale on extension. Sometimes we will reverse this in Pilates to maintain abdominal recruitment and support the lumbar spine.

The Purpose of Breath in Pilates; The Purpose of Breath in Yoga

In Pilates, we use the breath to allow us to create awareness and initial activation and then increase the abdominal involvement in the movement as the diaphragm assists in the abdominal connection. This may take the form of initiating the pelvic floor and the abdominals on the inhale and moving on the exhale. As we become more aware and increase our abdominal strength, we eventually reverse the breath to increase the challenge to the abdominals. Think of it as a gradual progression to stability. We can also move on the exhale to start and then speed up the movement once the pattern has been established, moving on the inhale as well.

In yoga, we want to encourage the pelvic floor to contract with each contraction of the diaphragm, thereby creating stability as well as drawing up the root energy. We may also create a pelvic floor lock throughout a pose or series of poses to create endurance and strength.  Both are incredibly useful breathing techniques that can lead to a strong, stable core when applied to individual poses or individual needs.

Here's to breathing and movement, yoga and Pilates. 

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