In class yesterday, one of my clients asked about the Pilates breath. She was concerned that it didn’t feel as deep as the belly breath, which really engages the diaphragm.

The two types of breathing are different, and one is not better than the other. I recommend practicing both. In Pilates, the reason we try and focus the breath into the back and sides of the ribcage is because breathing into the belly forces you to release the abdominal contraction. We are trying to remain connected to our core muscles throughout the duration of a class. When we inhale into our stomach, the stomach extends, and we can’t pull our belly button to the spine until we exhale (the easiest time to contract the core).

When you get really good at working with the accordion breath, you will feel your entire rib cage expand, not only out to the sides, but up your whole back. It feels wonderful. And I find just breathing will sometimes crack my back. In this type of breath, we incorporate the diaphragm and a number of muscles that amazingly rarely get used. For example, the intercostals (the muscles connecting all the ribs) and the lats (the muscles that sort of hug your rib cage from around your back that assist in forced respiration) aren’t really engaged during a belly breath. To test this, touch your rib cage while you’re doing a belly breath. Does it expand? If not, you’re not using all your muscles. That’s okay when practicing the belly breath.

I try to warn Pilates students that after the first class they breathe properly, they will feel sore muscles deep around there rib cage. It’s an unusual pain that I don’t think most people have ever felt before, barring any injury.

Many muscles aid in respiration and we should try and incorporate (exercise) them all. Once you start to feel comfortable with the accordion breath explained on Monday’s Exercise of the Week, try to breathe sideways while doing a belly breath–combine the two types for a different challenge and experience. Have fun learning to engage the many muscles of your respiratory system! You’ll be making Joseph Pilates proud.