Posts filed under The Anatomy of Pilates

Breathing- Is It That Important?

diaphragm[1]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]

Sources:, ADAM

Posted on October 20, 2014 and filed under The Anatomy of Pilates.

The Effects of Gravity-don't let it get you down!

GravityAs Pilates instructors we love to analyse movement through muscle and joint action, to assess restrictions and compensations and use our findings to help exercise prescription. In analysing movement we must consider the relationship of the movement to gravity. In Matwork the main source of external resistance is gravity, unlike the Studio Equipment where resistance comes from springs. So to explain, if the joint moves against gravity then the muscle group that causes the action will work concentrically (shortening as they generate force). If the movement follows the same direction as gravity then the muscle group that has the opposite action will contract eccentrically (lengthen as they generate force).

For example, The Roll Up. Roll up

In the first phase, as the spine flexes to roll up, it moves against gravity therefore the rectus abdominus and hip flexors contract concentrically, whereas in the second phase as the spine returns to the mat it moves in the same direction as gravity so the rectus abdominus and hip flexors work eccentrically controlling the movement.

Changes in the relationship to gravity means changes to muscles functioning. For example, moving from a supine position to standing as in the The Push Up where the first phase is the roll down. Here as the spine flexes forwards caused by gravity, it is the back extensors which are contracting eccentrically to control the movement not the rectus abdominus, and then contracting concentrically as the spine returns to standing.

Many of the Matwork moves are complex and so the effects of gravity during the movements will produce different types of contraction and muscular emphasis. The Roll Over illustrates these changes perfectly as we consider the leg movement.

Roll Over

To lift the legs up to ceiling the hip flexors work concentrically but as they pass the vertical position gravity will cause the hip flexion so the hip extensors are used to control the leg position. On the return, once the pelvis is on the mat, gravity creates the hip extension to lower the legs and so the hip flexors work eccentrically to control the lowering.

When analysing Pilates movement always try to consider this fundamental relationship between the key body segments and gravity at each phase of movement. Try now to analyse Hip Twist- let me know if you have any questions!

Posted on September 3, 2013 and filed under The Anatomy of Pilates.