Breathing in Pilates, and the more importantly, what is the correct breathing pattern is a highly contested topic among health and fitness professionals. Activists will go blue in the face trying to explain to you the biomechanical theory on whether it is best to exhale or inhale on exertion. You can literally do a whole seminar, even a course, on this topic. However, sometimes the persistent focus on someone's breathing pattern can actually do more harm than good.
The general public knows very little about the correct methods of exercise. How many times have you heard a client say "am I doing this right? I can feel it in my legs" while they are doing an abdominal curl? It is clear as day to a trained professional that an abdominal curl is not meant to work the legs, but the general public really do not have a clue.
This becomes even more pertinent when taking a Pilates class. There are so many aspects about body positioning in Pilates that are critical to its success, that most people are lost in a cloud of information during their first few sessions. Their problems become even more compounded when their instructor puts such a high value on the correct breathing technique. Which is more important? Correct technique or correct breathing?
All of us can agree that safety is paramount when teaching Pilates. As instructors, we definitely want to avoid injuring clients. Taking this into consideration, which components of Pilates is the most important for safety? Spinal position, and your Tzone. Your spinal position is what keeps your back, especially your lower back, safe. Being mindful about whether your back is either arching or flattening too much decreases your chance of applying any unwanted pressure through your spine. Correct Tzone technique not only helps stabilise the spine, it also helps all the other muscles around your torso to work together in limiting any excessive movement.
Keeping correct spinal position and Tzone contraction is hard enough as it is. Including breathing, then performing the prescribed exercise is sometimes just too much for the general public. A common sight in bad Pilates classes is all the participants breathing perfectly, but their Tzone is off and their back is arching to breaking point. This is because everyone is so focused on their breath that they forget the building blocks of Pilates, and safety in general.
Breathing will only help your Pilates if you are in the right position and the right muscles are turned on. If you do not have those prerequisites set up, all you are teaching your clients is how to breathe slowly. Instead of drilling your clients with the proper breathing, try to explain to your class that while breathing is important, it is not the determining factor in whether you are doing your Pilates correctly. This gives everyone in your class the permission to focus on the more important aspects of their exercise, which is controlling the movement of their body.
As instructors, be wary of how much attention you spend on getting breathing correct, as opposed to the right movement pattern. The way that you instruct your class will largely impact the amount of focus your clients will have on certain proponents of their Pilates. Basically, if you focus on technique and Tzone activation, your clients will do so.
This is not to discount the importance of breathing in Pilates. It is still a great tool for helping your clients achieve stronger Tzone activations and to perform exercises with better efficiency. Just remember that you are teaching Pilates to people who in general have no previous fitness or anatomical background and may have a hard time thinking of too many things at any one time.