Why is breathing important in pelvic floor health?
The core group of muscles have a terrific role in continence and pelvic organ support. As you know, the pelvic floor muscles are part of this muscle group.
So if we want to be most effective in pelvic floor health we don’t only have to ensure that the pelvic floor muscles are strong and thick enough to function well, but also that their function within the core is in synergy with other core muscles.
We can find easy opportunities to encourage optimal core function. One is diaphragmatic breathing. In fact, diaphragmatic breathing is one of the foundational elements of all pelvic floor and core works. This is because the following gentle movement takes place with a diaphragmatic breath:
the diaphragm and the pelvic floor moves down
the diaphragm and the pelvic floor lifts up
The goal is to adapt diaphragmatic breathing as your normal breathing pattern.
Here is what we are aiming for:
- The lower part of the ribcage and your stomach opens on the in breath and relaxes on the out breath.
- The breath expands in all directions inside like an umbrella.
- The breath is effortless and spontaneous.
Implement regular inquiries into your breath out through your day. Align your intention with this aim at the start of your day. You will find that your breath changes as your feelings and activities change. Ensure that it always re-adapts to diaphragmatic breathing.
You may find it difficult to reinforce diaphragmatic breathing if you normally breathe into your upper chest. The following practices can help you to reduce chest breathing by redirecting your breath to the diaphragm. This may be mechanical at first, but with a little practice, it will become natural and effortless. In time breathe through this practice in a way that could be maintained during your daily activities.
- Lie down with your head on a pillow and knees bent, or sit upright.
- Hold on to your sides, with two fingers at the base of your ribs and two on your stomach. Your thumb is facing behind, gripping the back of your ribcage.
- Apply firm pressure.
- “Breathe into your hands”. Feel how the base of your ribs and stomach gently expand on your in-breath and relax on your out-breath. This is the breath we are looking for.
It is ok to start out with a 1-2 minutes practice a few times a day. It is normal that you may even feel breathless at the beginning. Allow time to slowly build up to 5 minutes of practice and longer. The most important thing is to remain consistent in your effort of regular daily practice.
If you have found this exercise challenging sitting start with lying down. When you are ready to progress try again sitting then standing and eventually implement it as you are walking around and in other everyday situations.
Another easy way to quickly assess your breath is to place one hand on the sternum and one hand on top of your abdominals. Take a moment to determine where your breath is heading. If to your chest, make necessary alterations to divert to diaphragmatic breathing.
If you are:
- wearing tight-fitting clothing on your abdominals
- sucking your stomach in or
diaphragmatic breathing does not work well.