Pilates Breathing: Diaphragmatic vs Lateral

Discover the difference between diaphragmatic and lateral breathing in Pilates. Join our online Pilates classes to learn proper Pilates breathing techniques.

  • Author: lesley.logan
  • July 23, 2023
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lateral vs diaphragmatic breathing online pilates classes

Breath is the important core foundation to Pilates

Sometimes we forget to breathe when we’re doing Pilates because we’re working so hard. But the actual truth is that the breathe is really important core foundation to Pilates. But how do you breathe? Do you do diaphragmatic breathing? Or should you do something called lateral breathing? We’re going to cover those both and which one you should do in Pilates.

Hi, I’m Lesley Logan, founder of OnlinePilatesClasses.com™. I’ve been doing Pilates since 2005. I’ve been teaching Pilates since 2008. And I’m so grateful that one of my teachers was one of Joseph Pilates’ clients. So that makes me a second-generation Pilates instructor.

Welcome to OnlinePilatesClasses.com™, the most supportive Pilates loving community across the globe. Enjoy new weekly classes from our amazing teachers. Download the OnlinePilatesClasses.com™ app today.

Importance of breathing during Pilates

Today I’m here to share with you the importance of breathing during Pilates and also how to breathe during Pilates. So Joseph Pilates was a big proponent of breath in his practice. In fact, if you read his books, he really wanted you to learn how to breathe, “Above all else you must learn how to breathe.” Is what he said. And it’s because we tend to do lots of shallow breathing in life where we hold our breath. But breath is such an important part of our way of living and just living in general, but also the way you breathe in Pilates can be the difference between you connecting to the muscles and also just struggling through the exercises.

You may not have heard of a lateral breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. And they can seem really similar but they actually have very different techniques and also different emphasis. So in life, when you are breathing, we have one type of breathing, but in different fitness modalities, there’s gonna be other types of breathing. And so today I want to talk to you about both lateral and diaphragmatic and how to use them in Pilates.

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What is diaphragmatic breathing?

So what is diaphragmatic breathing? Well, let’s say what it’s not. It’s not chest breathing. So, if you breathe through your chest real fast and the chest is rising only, that can be really stressful. That happens oftentimes when you’re stressed out. Or when you’re worried about something. Diaphragmatic breathing is actually where your whole diaphragm, your whole belly, fills with air on the inhale and then it reduces down on the exhale, right. So if you put your hands on your belly with me, and you do it with me, and you inhale, fill those hands with air. And then you exhale. So you can feel the belly move away from the hand. That is an amazing way to breathe in life. And you should. In fact, a lot of people go around trying to hold all this together. But that’s actually super bad for your health. It can make you constipated actually. So you really do want to let all of this go and breathe into your belly when you’re doing life. It is not great for Pilates.

Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing

Let’s talk about the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing. One, it lowers your heart rate and your blood pressure. Two, it decreases muscle tension. Three, it increases the oxygen in your blood. Four, it brings warmth to the hands and feet. Five, it increases energy and motivation. Six, it improves concentration. Seven, it strengthens your immune system. Eight, it reduces stress hormones. Nine, it activates the body’s relaxation response and reduces the body’s stress response. Ten, it can be easily implemented requiring no medication or cost. But, it’s not super great for when you’re doing Pilates. It is really great for when you’re moving your body through the parasympathetic nervous system. But it’s actually not really great for when you’re working out because you need to be activated. And, when you are moving your body from your center, you also do not want to be losing connection to your center at the same time.

We just dropped our video on myth-busting around Pilates and I would love for you to watch it after you finish watching this one.

What is lateral breathing?

Let’s talk about lateral breathing and what it is. So lateral breathing asks us, requires us to actually breathe wider. So wider sideways, aka lateral, versus forward with your belly. So what you want to do is you actually put your hands on your ribs, and you’re going to inhale through your nose. You want to make sure your lungs feel like they’re an accordion. So inhale through your nose. Exhale through your nose. Inhale, exhale. When you breathe laterally, you’re actually breathing through your lungs like they’re balloons and also into your back. So if we were to lie down, you can actually feel your whole back take up space on the mat while you’re doing that without your belly inflating. You can by the way, do lateral with diaphragmatic that would increase your capacity for oxygen and lungs and everything. However, we’re not doing that in Pilates. In Pilates, we are doing lateral breathing. This allows us to keep our abdominal muscles connected while we’re moving and still get full breaths in and out.

Benefits of lateral breathing

Let’s get into the benefits of lateral breathing. One, oxygenate the blood. Two, increases overall circulation. Three, experience the rejuvenation that a full deep breath delivers. Four, helps you keep your abdominals connected while taking full, deep breaths. Five, helps you keep your upper back connected to the equipment and helps you maintain a long spine. All those benefits and a few more are actually why this type of breathing is really great for Pilates. So when you are doing Pilates, you actually do not want to have to reset your abdominals every time. In fact, each rep is supposed to help you connect more to your muscles than the rep before it. Meaning, if you have to reset each exercise, you’re actually going to slow yourself down and prevent yourself from advancing in your practice.

Leave your comments below

I’d love to hear in the comments below. If you’ve been doing your diaphragmatic breathing in your regular life and your lateral breathing in Pilates, or if you have any questions about them. I respond to every comment.

Pilates exercises require you to breathe

In Pilates, not every exercise actually has a breath cue that goes along with it. There are a couple, in fact, there’s an exercise called breathing, where you do inhale at a certain point and exhale to a certain point. But most Pilates exercises just require you to breathe in and out through your nose, doing that lateral breath as you move and ideally not thinking too much about it. However, when you’re a beginner, if you inhale on an extension, it does help you lengthen that extension because the natural inclination of our spine is to extend on it. When you flex on your exhale, it really helps you push that air out. So we can really use the extensions and flexions with the breath to increase our connection to those. Also, when you exhale on a twist, you can get more air out. Now, as you advance in your practice. Ideally, you are not stopping to inhale before you extend your spine, you are just extending your spine, which means you may extend on an exhale or you may twist on inhale. And you should be able to use your breath in a way that facilitates even more length that way. So there’s a way of using breath as I mentioned for beginners to establish good form.

Another way to use lateral breathing

Another way to use lateral breathing is to inhale when you’re opening the springs, exhale when you’re closing the springs. Knowing how to do lateral breathing well will allow you to have continuous movement with support in every exercise. There are some exercises that if you were to hold your breath, it will actually impede you from having good connection. And most exercises, by having this amazing lateral breathing, that allows you to keep your abdominals connected throughout helps you find more length. In fact, as you’re doing your Pilates and as you get more advanced in it, see if you can use your breath to find more length out of every rep.

OPC Community

At OnlinePilatesClasses.com™ we do teach lateral breathing. In fact, we often have classes for our members that focus on the breath. And, if you’re in our community, we will actually have a look at your form and make sure that you are actually doing the proper breathing technique. If you’re curious about breath and Pilates in this way we do have a legacy workout on OnlinePilatesClasses.com™ over on the reformer. At OPC you can also enjoy our all-levels classes, live with us on our monthly live class also in our app or online. Plus, we also have a Spotify playlist. If you love to do Pilates to music, we got some fun songs with you there. You can mix it up any way you want. Give OPC a try and see if it’s the right community for you. Thank you so much for watching and I’m so appreciative of you. I love the questions you ask. Make sure you join us on YouTube every Sunday at 9am Pacific Time where I will answer the questions that you put in the comments. Have an amazing day and I’ll see you there next week.

By lesley.logan

Lesley Logan, NCPT, is the founder of OnlinePilatesClasses.com, the first free online catalogue of Pilates exercise tutorial videos, where you can also find weekly online mat classes and workshops. When not teaching from her studio in Los Angeles, Lesley can be found traveling the world leading Pilates retreats, or offering Pilates business coaching to studio owners and other instructors through her private mastermind group. Connect with Lesley on instagram @lesley.logan or through the contact page on this site.

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  1. Why is lateral breathing not recommended for all the time breathing?I learned to do lateral breathing from PT rehab – to tie breathing into progressive core work! I researched some yoga sites that recommend lateral(thoracic) diaphragmatic breathing over belly diaphragmatic -because it provides more access to air, in addition to keeping your lower belly tone(in contrast to belly breathing) I am now working with a Speech therapist that has only knowledge of using the belly diaphragmatically to generate volume. Seems to me it s/b lateral breathing for the reasons mentioned above. Why would you only do lateral breathing for certain exercises. Seems you want to train that breath-body reflex so it is there when needed. Is it because belly breathing is more relaxing and promotes better sleep?

    1. Hey Steve, great questions, in life its so good for your pelvic floor, digestion, sleep etc to let your belly expand and to take full breaths. Lateral breathing for Pilates (I can’t speak to other modalities) allows you to keep your abdominals engaged while moving. But, in life you don’t want your abs contracted all the time. I’d recommend reading “Breathe” by James Nestor if you’re really interested in learning more about breathe. Its very fascinating! xx~LL

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On the Mat we will use light weights for one round of Teaser as they can be helpful for those still adding into their practice.
No props on the Reformer.

See you in class,


MAT EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Your awesome self, light weights and a Mat!

>> Wondering what mat I’m using? You can find out more here.

REFORMER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Your awesome self and a Reformer!

>> Wondering what reformer I’m using? You can find out more here.



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Chair: Please have a foam roller and a balance pad available. We are going to challenge your balance safely.



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See you in class,

MAT EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Your awesome self, light weights and a mat!

>> Wondering what mat I’m using? You can find out more here.

REFORMER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Your awesome self, a small ball and a reformer!

>> Wondering what reformer I’m using? You can find out more here.


Online Mat & Reformer Pilates Class Descriptions:

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No props needed.

See ya in class,
xx-LL 💋

    MAT EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Your awesome self and a mat!

    >> Wondering what mat I’m using? You can find out more here.

    REFORMER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Your awesome self and a reformer!

    >> Wondering what reformer I’m using? You can find out more here.


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    xx~LL 💋

    MAT EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Your awesome self and a mat!

    >> Wondering what mat I’m using? You can find out more here.

    REFORMER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Your awesome self and a reformer!

    >> Wondering what reformer I’m using? You can find out more here.


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    >> Wondering what mat I’m using? You can find out more here.

    REFORMER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Your awesome self and a reformer!

    >> Wondering what reformer I’m using? You can find out more here.