mais pilates

Pilates Basic Principle – Breathing

Breathing for Pilates Exercise

In pilates there is a focus on breath because it is the basis of movement. How many of you have been stressed and it was those couple of deep breathes that got you through the day? I know… too many of you!

Breathing supports the following ideas in pilates.

Oxygenation Releases Tense Muscles

When we breathe, effectively, oxygen flows into our blood which flows through our muscles. More oxygen in the muscles equals more relaxed muscles. The more, effectively, we breath in pilates the more we can release those tense muscles “trying to help out” in our exercises.

Heightens Concentration

In pilates there is a breath pattern with each individual exercise, and one of the major benefits of this is the concentration we gain.

Activation of Stabilizing Muscles

Exhaling deeply also encourages the activation of the deep abdominal muscles, which are essential in pilates. Breath and muscular stabilization should occur before movement for safety and efficiency… for all of you type A uber-anxious people out there!

Effective Pilates Breathing

You didn’t know this was Lamaze class 101!

In pilates, breathing in the upper part of the rib cage tends to overwork the superficial breathing muscles and we get tense. Point being… just don’t do it!

Often breathing low into the deep belly completely relaxes the abdominal wall leaving the back very vulnerable for injury… just don’t do it!

Three Dimensional Pilates Breathing

Here is the scoop: think of a three-dimensional type of breath. The ribs will expand laterally (left and right) AND into the back.

Give it a try. You may find this three-dimensional way of breathing difficult because we are not used to breathing into the lower lobes of the lungs where there is more efficient gas exchange.

Breathing Exercise

Try Breathing

1. Take an inhalation. Which way did your spine and ribs move?

2. Take an exhalation. Now which way did your spine and ribs move?

HINT: Answers for 1 and 2 should be opposite, and if not… well… Houston, I think we have a problem.

Anatomical Breathing Pattern in Pilates

  • inhale our spine slightly extends and our ribs open a little
  • exhale our spine flexes a little and our ribs close in and downward

So the method behind the madness is… when we have:

  • spinal flexion in pilates we exhale
  • spinal extension we inhale

Although, don’t get too married to this rule. Once you get advanced the “rules” change to challenge your core stability!

You Just Learned Pilates Breathing

  • Why there is focus on breathing in pilates
  • How to breathe in pilates
  • Anatomical movement of spine and ribs during breathing
  • Want to learn more pilates principles? Check out this full overview of the pilates basic principles.

Pilates Basic Principle – Pelvic Area

Pelvic Area

In pilates there is a focus of two placements of the lumbar spine (very low back) and pelvic region. These two placements are the neutral or imprinted positions.

It should be clear at all times in pilates whether you are in neutral or imprint. There are several occasions when you might be in a passing through position, in the event of spinal articulation.

The pelvic region holds the largest percentage of the body’s weight load; therefore, it is important to grasp the idea of stability and mobility in this region.

Neutral Pelvic Position

Neutral position is the most stable and shock-absorbing position that we can put our pelvis and lumbar spine in; therefore, it is the ideal position for us to be in, not only in pilates class but also in our daily life.

When you see a person lying (stomach facing up) on the floor in neutral position often you will see a slight curve in the low back, this is normal. Naturally, anatomically, we have a slight curve in the lumbar region.

However, to find your own neutral do not judge by the amount of space between your low back and the floor. (Look below for instructions on how to find neutral pelvis.)

Imprint Pelvic Position

This position is generally used for certain body types and is also used in the beginning to ensure stability of the pelvis and lumbar spine region if neutral position cannot be maintained. This position is also great for stabilizing weak abdominal obliques, with neutral being the ideal placement goal.

Often when you see a person lying down in imprinted position you do not see a space between their lumbar region and the floor. It is important to note that the low back is not jammed into the floor; rather it is lengthened almost parallel to the floor. (Look below for instructions on how to find imprint.)

How to Find Neutral Pelvic Position for Pilates

1. Find your ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine.) These are the front corners of your hip bones. The picture above illustrates two fingers on top of each ASIS.


2. Place the heels of your hands on your ASIS.

3. Fold your finger tips in together, keeping palms over ASIS. Your fingers should meet directly over your pubic bone. (above picture)

4. Make your hands level. Now you have two points under each hand: ASIS and pubic bone. As if your hands were pieces of paper, you would want them to be level. You don’t want your fingertips (pubic bone) higher than the heels of your hands (ASIS) – or vice versa.

5. Neutral Pelvis. Once your hands are level, which means your ASIS and pubic bone are also level, you have a neutral pelvis. Congratulations! Mazel tov! Tres bien! Ay que bueno! Etc.


This is a side angle of a neutral pelvis. You can see this person’s slight space in the lumbar region. It is important to note that every person’s lumbar space will be different, since neutral is determined by the ASIS and pubic bone rather than the lumbar space.

How to Find Imprinted Pelvic Position for Pilates


From a neutral position simply imagine the space between the ASIS and lowest rib shortening in distance. This movement is not huge. The low back will lengthen alongside the mat, not press into the mat.

The picture above is a side view of an imprinted position. As you can see, this person’s lumbar space is no longer present.

You Just Learned Pilates Pelvic Placement

  • Why neutral and imprinted positions are important
  • When to use neutral vs. imprinted position
  • How to find your own neutral and imprinted positions
  • Want to learn more pilates principles? Check out this overview of the pilates basic principles.

To learn how to correctly engage the abdominal muscles check out this article “Pulling in the Abdominals.” This article distinguishes proper engagement from the inefficient sucking in of abdominal matter.

Pilates Basic Principle – Rib Cage Area

Rib Cage Area

The goal of observing the rib cage area is to identify and achieve a neutral rib cage. When the rib cage is in a neutral position the body can move in a more efficient way free of pain.

Rib Cage Alignment for Pilates

A good test is to lie on the floor, with your stomach facing up. A neutral position for the ribs is one where the ribs are resting, not pressing, into the floor. The ribs will not lift away from the floor, nor will they jam into the floor.

You will find that your abdominal muscles will be recruited in maintaining the proper alignment of the ribs.

Rib Cage Movement in Pilates

The rib cage is directly connected to the spine and the abdominal muscles. As the spine moves it is important to allow the rib cage to gently follow. When the spine:

  • Extends (moves slightly up behind the hips in an arced way) the ribs should gently open up
  • Flexes (moves down slightly forward of the hips in a curved way) the ribs should gently close in and down

Throughout all of this movement it is important for the abdominal muscles to maintain connection; if it is lost then the spine no longer has support. Look! You did learn something new!

Pilates Rib Cage Placement Exercise

1. Lie on your pilates mat, with stomach facing up and knees bent with feet flat on the floor.

2. Take your arms from by your side to slowly toward your ears.

3. NOT SO FAST! Slow down….

4. The idea is that your arms can only go as far towards your ears as your ribs can maintain contact to the mat. As soon as the ribs pop up you no longer have a neutral rib cage. This would be the equivalent of standing up, raising both arms, and letting your rib cage totally splay out forward. Yes… very attractive.

Trying this while lying down is great because you have some tactile feedback, the floor.

Rib Cage versus Pelvic Placement

People forget that “ribs” do not also mean “pelvic area.” When doing this exercise try to maintain a neutral pelvis. Initially it might be difficult to execute both the pelvic and rib cage placements at once.

For instance, it is a stretch (literally) for some people to create a neutral pelvis and neutral rib cage. A few common tendencies are:

  • “In order to create a neutral pelvis I have to lift my rib cage off the mat a little.”
  • “In order to create an imprinted position I have to press my ribs into the mat.”

Don’t worry! Just keep practicing! One of the great things about pilates is that through our practice we gain stability and mobility and this applies to your neutral basic principles. So just keep practicing with a diligent mind and put your awareness there. Let your pilates instructor know that this is an area you are working on.

Pilates Applied

As you go through your day think about where your rib cage is in relation to your pelvis. When I am standing in line at the grocery store I often find that my back is slightly swayed behind my pelvis.

The first step to correcting mis-alignments or bad habits is awareness! I know my tendency so I check for it more frequently and then think about aligning my rib cage on top, instead of behind, my pelvis.

Want to hear more? Check for another article about posture and pilates!

You Just Learned Rib Cage Placement

  • Why neutral position of the rib cage is important
  • How the rib cage moves in relation to the spine
  • How to find your own neutral rib cage
  • Want to learn more pilates principles? Check out this overview of the pilates basic principles.

Pilates Basic Principle – Scapular Area and Movement

Scapular Area and Movement

The scapulae (more commonly, the shoulder blades) are unique because of their attachment point… they don’t have one! The scapulae lie on the back and due to this lack of attachment have a great deal of mobility, making it more important than ever to use the muscles to stabilize the area.

When we get lazy, admit it… it happens to the best of us, and don’t stabilize the scapular area the upper trapezius and other surrounding muscles over work as a result.

Then, the next morning the first thing you do is curse your pilates instructor’s name because your shoulders and neck hurt! Didn’t your mother teach you that cursing isn’t nice, especially when it’s really your fault?

Six Scapular Movements

  • elevation (upward gliding)
  • depression (downward gliding)
  • retraction (inward movement towards the spine)
  • protraction (outward movement away from spine)
  • upward rotation
  • downward rotation

Connection of Scapulae in Pilates

Though the shoulder blades move with the arms, it is important to keep the shoulder blades slightly connected throughout movement to ensure safety from injury and control of movement. Connection of the scapulae refers to thinking of gently and slightly sliding the blades in towards the spine and slightly downward in a “V” position.

Maintaining width through the chest will also help maintain a neutral and connected scapular area. Ideally the shoulder blades will lie flat on the back without any of the edges of the scapula sticking out. (see photo below)

Like the other principles, scapular stabilization should be present in all exercises. Yes, even those exercises that seemingly don’t involve the arms or upper back. This is how pilates becomes a full body exercise method.

In the gym you work just arms or just legs. In pilates we might have an exercise where the mobility is primarily of the legs but all of the other principle areas of the body are engaged and working towards a neutral position to help facilitate optimum movement in the legs (or wherever the mobility might be.)

Scapular Placement in Pilates

Every single person has a different placement of their shoulder blades and this is where I see the most variation. It is important to work with your pilates instructor to find out where your natural resting position is. From that knowledge he/she can help you understand the action you will need to create a supportive and neutral scapular area.

Pilates Applied

You can see how this can quickly translate into other activities. The first analogy that pops into my head is running. When we run the mobility is in the legs. It is much easier to run with the head and torso aligned than it is to run with your back swaying behind your pelvis.

So… doing leg exercises in the gym is great for brute strength and a little toning but doing a pilates exercise that has mobility of the legs with neutral alignment of the other principle areas (like scapular area) will have many benefits that go far beyond focused strength and toning alone.

Shoulder Stabilizers

There are 4 (muscular) scapular stabilizers. Often your pilates instructor will refer to them as “scapular stabilizers” instead of naming them all.

  • serratus anterior
  • middle trapezius
  • lower trapezius
  • rhomboids
  • the latissimus dorsi helps out



These pictures depict the flat, or not so flat, scapula along the back.

The top photo shows the scapula that is not muscularly connected. Instead of lying flat on the back you can see that the inside edges (nearest to the spine) are released off of the back.

What we are aiming for is the scapula in the bottom photo. These scapulae are muscularly connected and you can see that it fits right onto the back of the rib cage with no edges popping up.

You Just Learned Scapular Stabilization and Placement for Pilates

  • Why scapula stabilization is important
  • How to create connected/neutral scapula
  • Muscles used to create scapula stabilization
  • Want to learn more pilates principles? Check out this overview of the pilates basic principles.

Pilates Basic Principle – Head and Cervical Area

Neutral Head and Cervical Area

When the head and cervical spine (neck) is in neutral position, which is what we are aiming for, there is a slight forward curve of the spine. The head then balances above the neck and shoulders. This maintains true when lying down, which is where us pilates-folk spend most of our time.

It is important to allow the cervical spine to continue the line that you are making with the rest of your spine to avoid injury. If you are in:

  • spinal flexion (curved forward) then the head and neck will also slightly curve forward
  • spinal extension (torso arcing behind back) then the head and neck will follow

Your baby blues… and greens and browns (i.e. you eyes)… will affect your head and neck placement. The easiest rule of thumb is when you are in spinal extension look forward and slightly up, and when you are in spinal flexion look slightly down.

Head Nod in Pilates For Protection

When we flex the spine starting with the head… a problem appears! Since we are so smart our heads have evolved over time to be heavier and heavier.

I’m not sure if that math adds up but what I do know is that our heads do weigh a hefty number. If we lie on the floor, with our stomach facing upward, and try to lift our head up, it hurts and puts strain on our neck.

Anytime there is flexion involving the head and neck, we do a little bit of neck flexion first, before the head comes off of the mat, to prepare our neck and head. Simply think of nodding your chin towards your chest.

Not too much nodding (for you type A people), the chin does not touch the chest. It is a very slight movement simply to have the head in a more comfortable place for lifting. We call this a head nod. (tutorial below)

Pilates Head Nod Exercise


Above you can see that this person is:

  • In neutral head and cervical spine alignment
  • The chin is not tipped too far up or down
  • Standing up, the head would be balanced over the rib cage, shoulders, and neck

To prepare for your head nod exercise lie on your mat, on your back. You will have your knees bent with the feet flat on the floor and arms by your side. Try to incorporate all of the neutral alignments you have learned from reading about the other four principle areas.


From the neutral head and cervical position, simply think of two things:

1. Gently nod the chin towards the chest

2. While thinking of lengthening the back of the neck

Things to remember:

  • The head stays on the mat for all of this… NO LIFTING!
  • The chin moves towards the chest, NOT touching the chest.

You can compare the chin movements in the circles of picture one and two above. The movement is quite small but is more than enough for you to feel the difference when lifting the head up in an exercise.

Try lifting your head up without a head nod. Then, try lifting your head up with a head nod first.


Above: No thank you Sir!

The last picture above is a wonderful example of OVER flexion in a head nod. This over-works the cervical muscles. You will feel this, in not such a great way, the next day.

You Just Learned Head and Cervical Spine Placement for pilates

  • Why the head and cervical placement, in neutral, is important
  • How to create neutral head and cervical placement
  • What a head nod is and why it is important
  • How to do a head nod properly
  • Want to know more pilates principles? Check out this overview of the pilates basic principles.

Pilates Basic Principles – Overview

Pilates Basic Principles

Pilates is based on a few “core” ideas which are called basic principles. Different instructors or pilates methods might teach slightly different principles. The five that yours truly teaches are:

  • Breathing
  • Pelvic area
  • Rib cage area
  • Scapular area and movement
  • Head and cervical area

Why Have Pilates Principles?

The idea is that we have five different areas of focus that do not work separately, but together! This is in sync with how our body naturally acts. When we lift a forearm we are not just using the muscles of the forearm but also the muscles of the upper arm and maybe the torso (depending on position and weight of the object.)

As you can see, other parts of our body help out whether it is in a stabilizing action or an assisting action. So… we focus on five different principle areas so that they can assist, one way or another, in each exercise. Assist in this context can mean support, stabilize, counter-act, or aid.

Often you will hear a pilates instructor talk about maintaining the principle area in neutral.

What is Neutral Position – Why do we need it in pilates?

Within these principle areas we often talk about a neutral alignment. A neutral alignment is what is anatomically best for our bodies. For instance, the neutral position for the pelvic area is one that is the most shock absorbing for the large weight load that is carried there.

In our daily lives we often do certain motions that steer our bodies away from neutral. It may be schlepping the kids from school to soccer practice, carrying a purse or bag on the same shoulder, doing repetitive motions the same direction (like golf), or sitting at a computer all day long like I am right now! Our bodies can also create certain patterns due to stress.

In pilates we try to restore these neutral positions to maintain or regain strength and mobility in the most efficient way that is free of injury and pain. The goal is a healthy, pain-free, mobile, and strong body that works in the most efficient way possible.

Did I mention that your posture will improve? Did I mention that your back may not hurt anymore? Did I mention that you will be ready for a swimsuit even in the winter? Okay… just checking.

Pilates Exercise… More for your Money

One of the major differences I see between gym exercises and pilates exercises are the basic principles… well… and the general idea that we don’t have to grunt to vocalize how much brute strength we have.

In every exercise that is performed in pilates it is done with the basic principles in mind which heightens our focus of the exercise. This yields more results from each single exercise.

I find that I can do less exercises in the pilates method than I do in the gym and feel like I worked more muscles. How is that? The principles! They are involved in every exercise – this is not usually the case in the gym.

Pilates Basic Principles in Detail

Pilates Basic Principle – Breathing

Pilates Basic Principle – Pelvic Area

Pilates Basic Principle – Rib Cage Area

Pilates Basic Principle – Scapular Area and Movement

Pilates Basic Principle – Head and Cervical Area


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