How should we relearn to breathe

It is common for new students of the method to ask me, “how should I breathe?” What they want to know is when to inhale and when to exhale during the exercise so that they understand how to perform it correctly.

It might be because our instructions when teaching the Paula Method are so brief, or because the exercises are not demonstrated by the teacher, that people want more clarity and guidance about how to succeed in performing their exercises; it may also be due to the fact that people have become conditioned to receive specific instructions about when and how to breathe when they exercise.

Last weekend I attended a course taught by a renowned Pilates teacher. The theme of the course was pelvic-floor health, and therefore we also spoke about breathing. The teacher demonstrated beautifully how, with certain movements, our range of motion is much larger during exhalation than during inhalation. However, while practicing exercises that required movement during both inhalation and exhalation, students constantly asked her how they should breathe, meaning when should they inhale and when should they exhale?

When the teacher answered the question, the students usually asked WHY the breathing went that way. The teacher constantly gave one of two answers:

  1. This is how we teach this exercise.
  2. You may try it both ways, and choose the way that makes most sense to you.

When I heard the teacher’s answers I interpreted them in these ways:

  1. This is how we teach the exercise: meaning, I was taught this way by my teacher, who probably learnt this from their teacher and so on until Joe Pilates himself – in other words, an authority on breathing, who knows the body and its ways better than we do, had intelligently made the decision for us.
  2. Choose what makes most sense to you: meaning, work with your brain and make an intellectual decision.

In both of these options, the students do not learn how to trust their own bodies. They don’t KNOW – in the deepest way of FEELING it – how to breathe correctly. When you don’t know, you either need to trust someone “smarter” than yourself, or “think” about it, which leads to a 50% chance that you will be wrong….

When teaching the Paula Method, we never tell our students when or how to breathe. We expect their bodies to engage in each exercise in a way that allows the body to find its breath in the most natural and effortless way – the way our bodies were meant to function and the way we have forgotten to live by. The exercises allow us to slow down enough to give us time to simply follow our body. When our body is balanced and not rushed, when it is comfortable and relaxed, it simply knows how to breathe. We were born to breathe. No one needs to teach an infant how to breathe, and I’m pretty sure that if we were not taught to ignore our body’s needs, and to restrict our breathing in all sort of ways, it would not even occur to us to ask anyone outside of ourselves to tell us how to breathe.