What is the difference between Pilates and Yoga breathing?

By FLS Authors Naomi Aaronson and Ann Marie Turo

As an Occupational Therapist, many patients come to me who are in pain and are suffering from a variety of issues including breast cancer, repetitive stress injuries, musculoskeletal problems, and back pain. I use both Yoga and Pilates in my practice Integrated Mind and Body in Boston for relaxation, and to help prepare patients physically and psychologically for the treatments that I offer. They are often curious about the breathing and ultimately ask, ” What is the difference between Pilates breathing and yoga breathing?”

Pilates breathing is “ribcage breathing” or three-dimensional breathing (breathing to the back and side of the ribcage). The breath is taken in through the nose, and exhaled through pursed lips. The benefits of this type of breathing are many. It relaxes and releases tension in tight chest and shoulder muscles  as the exhale facilitates contraction of the transverse abdominas, multifidi, and pelvic floor. This in turn, activates the lymphatic system clearing the proximal lymph nodes located in the abdominal region.

Pilates is a great modality in working with breast cancer patient especially those who have received mastectomies, lymph node removal or breast reconstruction. The breathing in Pilates helps my clients and patients to “get back in touch with their bodies” and to recruit the correct muscles. They tell me that they feel more relaxed, yet energized at the same time after Pilates.

Yoga Breathing is “belly breathing.” In Yoga, the breath is taken in through the nose as the belly expands and then one exhales through the nose as the belly contracts. Yoga breathing helps to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us when we are in ” fight or flight mode.” This promotes the relaxation response and allows muscles to lengthen, stretch and relax as it oxygenates the blood.

Both Yoga and Pilates breathing are forms of diaphragmatic breathing and are useful in my practice. However, they work the body in different ways. I use either Pilates or yoga breathing depending on patient needs and what my treatment goals are for that day.

For more information on Pilates breathing for breast cancer recovery please look for the book “Pilates for the Breast Cancer Survivor: A Guide to Recovery, Healing and Wellness”

Naomi Aaronson OTR/L, CHT, CPI, CET and Ann Marie Turo, OTR/L, certified Yoga and Pilates Instructor

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