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The Series On Breathing

How important are the choreographed breathing patterns in the Pilates Method?

"Above all else learn how to breathe properly. Squeeze every atom of air from your lungs until they are almost free of air as is a vacuum" ~Joseph Pilates

The importance of coordinating proper breathing with movement cannot be overstated. It is 50% of the Pilates Method. When you breathe properly, filling and emptying the lungs completely, you have more stamina, feel more alive and alert, and are better able to concentrate. The precise breathing patterns assigned to each exercise serve to assist in the contraction of the intrinsic (core) muscles of the Powerhouse and regulate the tempo and rhythm of the Pilates exercises.

Integrating Breath With Movement:

Joseph Pilates combined his knowledge of  Yoga, Zen, and ancient Greek and Roman exercise regimens to create Contrology (The Pilates Method).

As you read these excerpts from Erich Schiffmann’s wonderful book Moving Into Stillness, replace the word Yoga with Pilates.

“...your breathing originates deep inside you, radiates outward and then inward, providing a gentle and steady rhythm for movement, stretch and release. Sometimes you will breathe softly, other times with vigor, but the breathing itself will always be a central and governing focus. Proper breathing brings the poses to life, inspires every subtle shift and movement in every yoga posture, and can help center your awareness in your conscious experience of the now...
The main idea is to coordinate your movements with your breathing.
This brings a graceful and sensuous quality to your practice and turns each yoga session into a fluid and creative meditation. As you become skillful at this, the breath and movement will no longer feel distinct. You will experience them as one action, inseparably entwined. You will instinctively breathe as you move or stretch, and move or stretch as you breathe...”

Here is the website for Erich Schiffmann:

Breathing and the Destructive metabolic state vs. Constructive metabolic state:

Of particular interest to me, are the health benefits of making the shift from a destructive metabolic state, a state where one’s bloodstream is filled with the chemicals of stress (“bodybuilding Pilates”), into a constructive metabolic state, a state of relaxed alertness, and graceful sensuality (“Classical Pilates”).

I offer you excerpts from The Breathing Book by Donna Farhi:

“Throughout time the process of breathing was always considered inseparable from our health, consciousness, and spirit, and it is only recently that we have reduced breathing to a mere respiratory exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. In Greek, psyche pneuma meant breath/soul/air/spirit. In Latin, anima spiritus, breath/soul. In Japanese, ki, air/spirit; and in Sanskrit, prana connoted a resonant life force that is at no time more apparent to us than when that force is extinguished at the moment of death. In Chinese the character for "breath" (hsi) is made up of three characters that mean "of the conscious self or heart." The breath was seen as a force that ran through mind, body, and spirit like a river running through a dry valley giving sustenance to everything in its course...

Most people are not aware that they breathe poorly. Fewer still are aware of the consequences of restricting this central life process. From headaches to heart disease and a vast array of common maladies in between, breathing badly takes its secret toll. Most significantly, very few people understand the ways in which they restrict and distort their breathing. Habitually breathing high into the chest, breathing too fast, and breathing shallowly are epidemic today. And one does not need the trained eye of a respiratory specialist to recognize these patterns in ourselves and in others. A casual glance of any city street will reveal the extent to which tight belts, tight bodies, and tight schedules are literally taking our breath away.

Correlations between breathing and the state of our body and mind have been made for thousands of years in ancient Taoism, in Yogic scriptures, and in the medical practices of India (Ayurveda), Tibet, and China. More recently, countless scientific studies have supported this ancient wisdom, linking effortless breathing with the mitigation of some of our most insidious modern health problems. Breath therapy, sometimes combined with other healing practices such as biofeedback or yoga, has been found to alleviate (and sometimes cure) migraine headaches,1) chronic pain conditions,2) hypertension (high blood pressure), 3) epilepsy,4) asthma,5) panic attacks, and hyperventilation syndrome,6) as well as coronary heart disease.7) A recent study by Suzanne Woodward and Robert Freedman showed that slow, deep breathing alone will result in a significant reduction in menopausal hot flashes.8) In a pilot study prior to their own research, progressive muscle relaxation exercises and slow, deep breathing reduced the incidence of hot flashes by an impressive 50 percent.9)...

Relaxation research shows that breathing techniques can help ward off disease by making people less susceptible to viruses and by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When we breathe in a relaxed fashion we move from a destructive metabolic state to a constructive one. This shift from operating in a chronic stress mode to a mode of relaxed alertness can affect the synthesis of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, increase the production of cells for immune system activation, promote bone repair and growth, as well as enhance the cellular, hormonal, and psychological processes.11)...

People who practice open breathing through healing arts such as tai chi, yoga, or mindful meditation, are rewarded not only with optimal health; they also seem to have a different relationship to life's stresses. They are able to remain calm and centered in the midst of seeming chaos. We speak about such people as being grounded, centered, and having "presence of mind”... Just as each breath arises with its own uniqueness, they have learned to open to each moment as new and different, and as a result, are finding new solutions to tenacious problems... And not so surprisingly, I notice that people who do breathing practices act and appear much younger than their chronological age”...

Here is the website to buy The Breathing Book by Donna Farhi:



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