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Pink neon "and Breathe" sign
photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

There is a record number of people googling panic attacks right now. It is an unprecedented time, and most of us are feeling a little out of control. Collectively, I think we all need to take a deep breath. But do we know how to breathe properly?


“Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.”

Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates emphasized that his students should master the art of breathing properly. It is one of six fundamental Pilates principles. Therefore, the main goal of many Pilates exercises is breathing. Breathing isn’t unique to Pilates. Breath is pivotal in practices like yoga, martial arts, weight training, and running. Often, we hold our breath or breathe very shallowly. Breath-holding can send us right into fight or flight, make us anxious and give us a whole host of issues. Breathing has a massive effect on our physical and mental wellbeing.

Are you Breathing Properly?

First, notice if and when you are holding your breath. Is it when you are watching the news? Is it when you are trying to get your kids ready for bed? I noticed when I catch up on emails, I tense my shoulders and breathe shallowly. I feel stressed. But which comes first the chicken or the egg? Was I stressed because I had so many work emails? Or because I was holding my breath while emailing? I would argue the latter.

How do you do it?

There are so many different techniques to breathe properly. Here are some excellent breathing exercises you can try today. As always, you should pick what feels most comfortable. Also, choose what you will do, not the one you think you should do.

Box Breath

I came across box breathing in several podcasts on anxiety relief. It is perfect for stressful times like these. This technique is used in the military, by public speakers and surgeons to reset and regulate their breath. This technique is great if you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious. It is simple to try.

  • First, take a deep breath in and hold it for four counts.
  • Second, hold your breath for four counts.
  • Third, exhale for four counts.
  • Hold your lungs empty for four counts.
  • Repeat this until you feel calmer.
Box breath diagram

The One Hundred

Often, the first exercise performed in Pilates is called the One Hundred. It is a breathing and circulation exercise and gets your body warmed up.

  • Lie on your back, with legs extended or bent. Lift your head and pump your arms up and down.
  • Pump your arms 100 times, inhaling for five pumps and exhaling for five pumps.
  • When you’ve finished the One Hundred, you have taken ten deep breaths, and your body feels warmed up for the exercises to follow.

In Bob’s Pilates Bootcamp session 3, I teach him the One Hundred. You can find it at minute 4:08 in the video.

Next Level Breath

Once you get through these first exercises, you may become more interested in breathing and how it is an essential tool in life. It is a way to maintain control of a situation that feels out of control. This TED Talk has some simple explanations of breathing techniques and different times to use them.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the world right now? You aren’t alone. What are you doing to stay sane during this bizarre time? Do you have any favorite breathing techniques?

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Carrie Mayer Boston Pilates Instructor smiling

Carrie is a Massachusetts-based Pilates and Wellness professional who believes in training smart and enjoying all that life has to offer.