A short while ago I was contacted by a highly experienced instructor who was concerned as a newly qualified instructor had attended one of her classes and at the end had said that teaching the breathing is very out dated and no longer important. To me this demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how important breath and the act of breathing was to Joseph Pilates and his work. The importance of breath in Pilates can be seen as far beyond the crucial role of respiration. It is the link between body, mind and spirit. It can promote awareness and attention, can enhance natural movement and aid relaxation. This relaxation or release of tension will then allow increased mobility and fluidity of movement.
Correct breathing patterns can enhance the connection between the deep abdominal muscles, pelvic floor and diaphragm, reversely if the diaphragm's movement is restricted, its can affect not only spinal stability and activation but also cause metabolic, respiratory and digestive issues. This can be apparent in clients with forward head posture where the phrenic nerve (the nerve that runs from C3-C5 and looks after the diaphragm) can become compressed and alter the neural feed to the diaphragm. If the diaphragm becomes inhibited it can mean less oxygen is reaching the body leading to a slower, weaker circulatory system which can cause dysfunction and complications.
The breathing patterns recorded by Joseph Pilates in "Return to Life Through Contrology" reflect how the breath enhances the movement patterns. Lateral, posterior breathing allows the lower ribs to remain mobile, so with the inhalation the ribcage expands upwards and laterally facilitating spinal extension. The opposite occurs with exhalation facilitating flexion. Joseph intuitively applied this to his instructions for movements such as Swan Dive and Double Leg Kick.
As Joseph stated, "Breathing is the first act of life, and the last... above all, learn to breathe correctly". When teaching, the breath forms the foundation to all the principles which are essential and integral to Pilates, it's importance should never be diminished.
Here's a short video showing an exercsie which can help to develop lateral, thoracic breathing.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hCJur3Z8Og]
Sources: kineticchainspecialist.com, ADAM