Like strength training, you will most often exhale during the phase of an exercise that involves the most exertion. However, breath is used in Pilates as a way to hold your attention; your instructor will ask you to exhale on the part of the exercise where they want you to focus your intention, which may or may not always be the hardest part of the exercise. It's OK if you mess up when to inhale and exhale in Pilates, but do you best to maintain this lateral breathing technique. Over time, it will get easier to breathe properly and at the correct times during your exercises.
In yoga, "breathing serves a variety of purposes," according to Stepfanie Romine, a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher. Like Pilates, yoga has a unique form of breathing known as "ujjayi" breathing. During this slow, even breath through the nose, one should inhale for 4-5 heartbeats, pause slightly, and then exhale for an equal length of time. The back of the throat constricts slightly to allow the air to create an audible sound. The audible breath serves as a "moving meditation" during a yoga practice, Romine says, meaning that when poses get difficult, the mind can focus on the rhythm and sound of the breath to stay calm. This breath, which sounds like the ocean, helps you stay in the moment and centered while practicing yoga. In addition, "the breath serves as a metronome for the body, each movement timed to the length of an inhalation or exhalation," Romine says.
In yoga, each pose (or new movement within a pose) should start with an inhalation. Inhalations are used for movements that involve standing taller or lengthening in a folded pose. The exhalation is used to go deeper in a pose: sinking lower into a lunge in Warrior pose, getting the nose closer to the knees while folding; exhalations are also used to get out of a pose.
There is a lot more to proper breathing than just going with the flow. Keep in mind that you may need to consciously practice these various techniques for a while before they become automatic, but your workouts will improve dramatically if you are able to perfect them. When all else fails, just breathe!
This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople fitness expert, Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer.