I’ve known these famous words from Joseph Pilates for a couple years now, but it was not until recently that this quote finally illuminated its simple yet deep truth to me.
In my ever-evolving practice, my experience with breath has shifted in a way that feels both subtle and significant at once. As my limbs reach and spiral out, striving towards length, stretch, and the pure joy of movement, my core roots itself down to the earth, holding steady and strong. Here, I meet my breath fully and intimately. My lungs, muscles, tissue, and cells embrace the breath—wrap it up and tie it into their being; for they know breath as what supports and moves them, and ultimately gives them life.
Breath is my body’s power and engine—the driving force behind my movement in Pilates. Active breath—full inhales, profound exhales. I imagine myself like a balloon, emptying my lungs out completely, and then filling myself back up with oxygen and energy. Each exhale is a chance to rid my lungs of stale, used air, discarding of what has gone and passed, and no longer serves me. Each inhale is a moment to welcome in fresh vitality, taking in exactly what I need.
In his book Return to Life, Joseph Pilates wrote: “Before any real benefits can be derived from physical exercise, one must first learn how to breathe properly.” As a child, Pilates was himself an asthmatic, so it seems evident that his emphasis on breath came as a result of his personal history and healing himself. In Pilates’ words, “…correct breathing… reduces heart strain, purifies the blood, and develops the lungs…This in turn supplies the bloodstream with vitally necessary life giving oxygen. Also, the complete exhalation and inhalation of air stimulates all muscles into greater activity.”
The benefits from improved breathing are vast. Breath helps in detoxification of the body, stress relief, pain reduction, mental clarity, increased energy, improved sleep and rest, elevated mood, and the list goes on. To experience the truth in this, simply take a few, deep breaths right now, and observe the difference in how you feel. Every cell in your body needs oxygen to survive and thrive, so is it not evident that the more fully you breathe, the better you feel?
Maintaining full breath throughout an entire Pilates session (or yoga, or daily life for that matter) is not easy. It requires practice, and above all, awareness and focus. On days when I succeed in making breath the foundation of my practice, everything shifts closer to perfection. The breath carries me through, as if I were riding a wave. In one inhale, I ascend and find length in my body. In the next exhale, I dive down and contract, feeling the depths of my internal strength. Here, I discover power and lightness in one. As I move through this ebb and flow, I hear my breath and feel it supporting me, lifting me, and moving me towards the ultimate—the coming together of body, mind, and spirit.
Without expecting it, my breath has taken me into another space—that of moving meditation.