Breathing – That’s What Your Nose Is For!

August 18, 2010 at 10:05 pm 24 comments

Breathe in and out through your nose!

Breathing…it’s fundamental. We don’t think about it in daily life…an autonomic action…but, boy, does it become an issue in Pilates. It seems that every school of Pilates teaches a different way to breathe. What was Mr. Pilates’ intention?

Well, Mr. Pilates just wanted you to breathe properly. Proper breath is both inhalation and exhalation through the nose.

Yes…through your nose.

Close your mouth and breathe in and out through your nostrils. The entire system of your nostrils, to sinuses/nasal cavity to trachea to lungs is designed to heat, hydrate and purify the air you take in so that it is prepared to oxygenate your blood…the stuff of life.

When you breathe through your mouth, you dry out the tissues of your mouth, trachea and lungs as well as allow in every molecule of pollution. The dryness and particles add not only to bad breath, but also open you up for infection. The more dry your membranes, the more liable to crack. Those cracks become entryways for bacteria and viruses to enter your system.

The very small entryway of your nostrils is your first line of defense against bacteria and viruses. Your lips and mouth are far bigger than nostrils allowing a lot of danger in. Directly inside your nostrils are nose hairs. While they seem rather annoying, they are incredibly functional catching big debris and small. Air passing through these hairs is literally combed. Teeth and tongue don’t do quite the same thing. Those nose hairs also help heat and hydrate the air which is vital for respiration.

If that’s not convincing enough, the mucus in your nose is another catch-all for particles and gives a means of getting rid of these particles from your body. Blowing your nose allows you to expel the dirt and debris that you take in without letting it enter deeply into your body. If you take everything into your mouth, then you must swallow and allow every bit of polluted debris to go through your digestive track, liver, kidneys, etc. That takes up far too much energy. It’s inefficient. Why make your body work harder than it needs to? Use what you’ve got. Your nose and sinuses were meant for this!

One more thing, because the air has to pass through the wild caverns of your sinuses, warm and deep within your body, the air stays hydrated sometimes moistening the tissues it passes by and other times taking on more moisture. And the cilia (microscopic hairs) beat back and forth to move that mucus where it needs to get to get out of you! (Horrid, yes…but incredible!)

Breathing through your nose is brilliant! And all you have to do is close your mouth!

But wait…there’s more!

When you work to breathe through your nose in exercise…it’s actually work! Yes! And your goal in exercise is exertion. Mr. Pilates wanted you to learn to breathe correctly. Part of it is to have a complete and strong exhalation. When you exhale completely, not only do you rid yourself of stale, old air, but you create space to let in fresh, new air. A strong exhalation through your nose requires effort from your abdominals…your deepest abdominals. Your transverse abdominus is your deepest layer of abdominals. It’s the layer we’re seeking to connect with in Pilates. And a great way to connect is to work the exhale because the transverse abdominus aids in exhalation! While it works when you exhale through your mouth, it doesn’t have to work very hard at all. A strong exhalation through your nose with the effort of your transverse abdominus helps you make a healthy core connection.

OK…so what do you teach your clients?

Beginners have a difficult time coordinating their breath. Except for a few exercises that can teach them where to inhale and exhale (The Hundred, The Roll Up, Spine Stretch Forward and Breathing), there is little reason to teach breath in other exercises at the beginner level.. Wait until they are more intermediate before layering on many breathing cues.

The action of in and out through the nose can wait, too. It takes a lot of mental energy to get this physical coordination. If your clients ask, then have them try. If they can’t do it…that’s fine. Eventually, they will be able to coordinate it all.

If they can do in the nose, but can’t do out through the nose (the more difficult action, for certain) then they can do a modification for a while: Inhale through the nose, then exhale strongly through pursed lips as though you’re blowing through a tiny straw. That narrow passage way through the lips simulates a nostril. At least it will take effort from the transverse abdominus to push the air through that tiny opening and considerable focus.

When it is possible, when your client has become adept at this modified breathing, then advance the breath to the ideal breath: in through the nose, out through the nose. Don’t forget to advance your clients to idea versions of exercises and actions. This one in particular.

What about when your client’s nose is stuffed or because of other sinus problems your client can’t do this breath at all…no way no how? Then just make sure your client is breathing in and out and not holding his breath (unless that’s part of the action of the exercise, of course).

What’s beautiful about this breath (in and out through the nose), is that it is a simple example of how actions we do in Pilates are intended to be actions we do in the rest of life. This is how you breathe in Pilates…and how you are meant to breathe in life. Now, I hope it’s clear why.

Close your mouth and breathe through your nose! What else is it there for? Just to smell? Your mouth is for eating, drinking, talking and kissing. Your nose is for smelling and breathing! And it looks cute in the center of your face!

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Classical Confusion: Clarifying the Definition of Classical Pilates Commanding Your Class – A question from a reader

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Body Workout 101  |  August 18, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Breathing ? That's What Your Nose Is For! « The Vertical ……

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  • 2. Frustrating Conditions and Symptoms  |  August 19, 2010 at 2:13 am

    Sinus Headache…

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  • 3. Jodi Brinkman  |  August 19, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Hello Shari! It’s been too long since I came here. Please forgive, but it helps that we’re facebook friends and I can see when you post something new!

    BREATH….oh my gosh is this hard to teach. i find it most difficult with older clients, because they’ve been alive longer, and have harder habits to break! for instance, the old adage, ‘children should be seen and not heard’, has been taken literally by many baby boomers, because they learned how to hold their breath at very young ages. as a singer i know just how important breath is, especially as it pertains to exertion! in fact i struggle in my own Pilates practice with breath at times, because singing breath and Pilates breath are different indeed. while we also breathe into the intercostals laterally for singing, we do also fill the diaphragm and belly. on the note sung, we empty the belly, but try to keep the ribs filled with as much air as possible, especially on the long sustained notes, much different than tightening that corset and softening at the ribcage with Pilates! however, i have learned how to crossover nicely, and i find that the two help each other in the long run! 🙂

    i LOVE this article, because even though i only teach Pilates, i do a lot of yoga on my own for me, and the breath in yoga is in and out through the nose as you wrote, which i absolutely connect to SO much more. though in yoga we do what’s called oceanic breathing (Ujjayi breath), which exhales through the nose, but also out the throat with closed lips, and sounds like an ocean inside you. i love this sound, even though some people think i’m sighing sometimes in daily life (cause i use it under stress to calm me!). and it does in fact help engage the TA! is this the same breath you are speaking of in this article? if so this blows my mind! i was always taught to exhale out the mouth in Pilates. WOW! i’m so excited because often on the reformer or trap i find myself using my oceanic breath instead of out my mouth, and it does feels more natural.

    why have i not read you in so long? i miss your writing! i hope to come to new york soon and take some lessons. i think it would be much fun to learn from you. also, i will not be going to long beach (is that where the PMA conference is?) this year, but am going to save my pennies for next years, and am seriously thinking about getting PMA certified as you recommended. i may move to a different state in the next year or two, and know that my chances of remaining as successful as i am here in cleveland will be more so if i can have the certification on my resume to be taken seriously.

    thank you again!


    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  August 19, 2010 at 10:46 am

      Hi, Jodi!
      It’s so good to hear from you!
      I’m really glad to know that this was an effective article for you! Your comment is full of excitement which is thrilling for me to read/hear/know!
      The breath in and out of the nose is not Ujjayi breath, but obviously they are related. In Ujjayi breath that humming sound and those vibrations are important to open you up internally and soulfully. In Pilates we don’t put the extra energy into the sound and those vibrations because we’re doing functional breathing that you’d apply to daily life and intensify in exercise life. The purpose of yogic and Pilates movements, actions and intentions are different, though the crossover is tremendous! So, while breath is absolutely an opening action in both yoga and Pilates, the vibration of Ujjayi is best for yoga, eliminate the sound creation and extra opening of the larynx, trachea and soft-palate for Pilates. Instead, for Pilates, create a more forceful exhale, energetic, strong and lengthening without sound.

      I am a professional singer and have loved how Pilates has enhanced my understanding of breath in singing, too! I will never forget the voice lesson I had after my first Pilates session! It was tremendous!

      I’m glad you’re considering PMA in 2011. Keep me posted and let me know how I can help you prepare for the exam!

      It’s great to see you here!
      – Shari

  • 5. Shannon  |  August 19, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Ahhhh Shari…I never forgot this precious nugget of information. “Your mouth is for eating…” Thanks for the enlightenment!
    Good way to start my day.

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  August 28, 2010 at 10:30 pm

      Hi, Shannon!
      I hope you’re well and enjoying San Diego!!!
      Hope to see you at PMA!
      – Shari

  • 7. Liz Ann  |  August 19, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Shari, I enjoyed your article… I have also practiced yoga over the years and studied other forms of breathwork. I have learned this idea of the nose is for breathing and the mouth is for eating….so why have I learned in pilates( and taught ) to breath in through the nose and out through the mouth??? I much prefer nose breathing. Practicing nose breathing is great for atheletes in recovery and is much healthier overall. I was of the understanding that the Pilates breathe was in through the nose and out through the mouth because it engaged the core more. I have been taught this from several schools. Here is a question….how do I now change my clients into nose exhalers after teaching them to exhale through the mouth for years?? help me out . thanks
    Liz Ann

    • 8. Rachel  |  August 20, 2010 at 10:36 pm

      I was taught the same thing — that exhaling through the mouth helps you engage the Powerhouse and lengthen through the spine. I do feel the TA when I exhale out through the NOSE and I’m open to that change but I can see how beginners (or people not comfortable with pilates breathing) may shorten through the spine to get that strong exhalation. I’d love some tips on this as well. Thank you!

      • 9. theverticalworkshop  |  August 28, 2010 at 10:24 pm

        Hi, Rachel!
        I owe you a long e-mail and blog post…I haven’t forgotten!
        – Shari

    • 10. theverticalworkshop  |  August 28, 2010 at 10:29 pm

      Hi, Liz!
      Thank you for reading, commenting, asking questions!
      How do you change your clients breath action? Well, whenever we learn something as a teacher that makes us need to adjust our teaching, a great way to go about is to tell your clients something like this, “You’ve been breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth for a long time. That’s been going really well and you are strong with it. It’s time to advance your breath. Now, breath both in and out through your nose keeping your mouth closed the entire time. It will be challenging, but you’re ready for it.” You can say something like that for any advancement…and that’s exactly what it is with this breath. in through nose out through mouth is a modification. In through nose out through nose is the ideal…an advancement of the modification.

      Let me know how it goes! If you find your clients getting frustrated, be encouraging. If they absolutely can’t do it…fine. Drop it and go back to the old way. Eventually they will be able to do it.

      I’m sorry it took me so long to respond. The summer has been very busy for me!
      – Shari

  • 11. Nityda  |  August 20, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Thanks again for answering another question Shari. Your commitment to advancing the standards of Pilates education is inspirational. And I’m glad that you cleared up the differences between yogic Ujjayi breathing and ideal Pilates breath while explaining WHY we do this! Providing a purpose or reason for doing something is much for useful than just saying “do this.”

    See you Monday!

  • 12. Bonnie  |  August 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    hey Shari,
    As always I love your blogs! But this one especially… I am always telling my clients their breath should be FELT, not heard. And I especially like your quote “The mouth is for eating, drinking, talking and kissing.” Perfect!!! I will be adding that to my cueing from now on!!

    Take care, hope to see you soon!

    • 13. theverticalworkshop  |  August 28, 2010 at 10:23 pm

      Hi, Bonnie!
      Thank you!
      I hope you’re having fun with it all!
      – Shari

  • […] Breathing – That’s What Your Nose Is For!2010/08/18 […]

  • […] the breath in life.  Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose.  (check out the post Breathing – That’s What Your Nose Is For!2010/08/18 )Allow an expansion of your lungs and then push the air out with the aide of your abdominals.  If […]

  • 16. The Back-Off Approach to Fertility | Fertile Pickle  |  September 8, 2011 at 9:44 am

    […] Before you breathe, though, read this awesome post by The Vertical Workshop on how to breathe. […]

  • 17. CathB  |  October 29, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Great article! So many teachers are obsessed with the audibility of the mouth-breath. This is completely counter-productive! If clients are focussing on making a forceful sound when they breathe, then they are certainly not focussing on pelvic stability, good alignment, correct recruitment or balanced movement patterns. Some teachers also insist on telling clients exactly when to breathe in and out. I find this is also counter-productive. Everyone has a different span of breath. Regimenting the class (if it is a group class) so that everyone is breathing exactly on cue is no way to develop independent, self-aware clients. The nose-breath is fantastic! It’s a calm, deep, effective way to prepare oneself for movement. It focuses one’s mind internally, so to speak and promotes natural breath flow.I find that many clients prefer the nose breath and find it easier to co-ordinate their movements with the nose-breath. Thanks Shari, for bringing the advantages of nose breathing to light!

    • 18. theverticalworkshop  |  November 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm


      I’m glad that you find this effective. I can see why some schools do teach a very audible mouth-breath. Focusing on breath is really important. I’d like to be clear that I do not think it’s counterproductive at all to breath in these other manners. I just think it is more productive to focus on the breath in the manner in which I laid out in this article. I would not disparage anyone who works toward helping focus their clients with their breath. Breath is ultimately important no matter how you do it!

      Thank you again, for your attention to all of this!

      – Shari

  • […] Breathing – That’s What Your Nose Is For!2010/08/18 […]

  • 20. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Breathing – That’s What Your Nose Is For!2010/08/18 […]

  • 21. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Breathing – That’s What Your Nose Is For!2010/08/18 […]

  • 22. tranquillicious  |  September 18, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Reblogged this on Tranquillicious and commented:
    I am slowly diving into the world of Pilates to compliment my yoga practice. I still struggle as some of the things don’t sit well with me, but maybe I just have to make it my own thing again just like yoga practice. One thing that really puts me off is the way Pilates practitioners breathe as I do not see the need for breathing out of your mouth. In my Taekwondo sessions breathing out of your mouth is required because of the power and force needed for kicks, punches … but not here. I quite happily breathe in and out of my nose as nature intended it and as yoga practitioners have been doing for sssssoooooo long.
    Questioning the technique taught on breathing I checked it online and stumbled across the following blog post which just confirmed my way of thinking. Thank you for sharing this with us!
    Now as I understand there are different schools of thought on this subject and instructor are taught differently depending on their training. Well, I know what I will stick with.

  • 23. Barrie Marshall  |  September 16, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    I have been breathing through through my nose for about four months now and the benefits are great and I’m 75, a few people have said I have not looked so good for years, some asked me how I did it, I attempt to explain its my nasal/conscious breathing but sadly they don’t take me seriously, my brother thought it was very amusing, I do it 24\7, no snot up my nose, no back ache, I can pick thing off the floor without getting onto my knees, a dramatic improvement in my posture, my diction is much better because of better tongue thrust, I do not get out of breath anything like I did before, my overall well being is so much better and I now get a good nights sleep, its so sad that everybody does not do it, its my secret weapon!

  • 24. danseadlib  |  November 25, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Reblogged this on Danse Ad Lib and commented:
    La respiration en Pilates..


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