“Take a big breath”
How many times have you been told that when you are upset about something?
I’m so over this cue! It doesn’t do what it is supposed to do very well. Big forced breaths do not calm the body and mind. Just focusing on the breath how it is, is way more effective. How big the breath is, has no relevance, unless you are in a breathing contest of some sort.
The thing I do care about these days is HOW you breathe. What strategy or strategies do you use? Cause those strategies have a BIG impact on your pelvic floor.
When I take a breath it is probably different from how you take a breath and also different from how I might do it at a different time.
Depending on what is happening at any given moment, you will take that breath in a different fashion and that is reality. I’m not suggesting that you breathe a certain way all the time, but I do encourage you to do some investigation into your most common breathing habits.
Cause I mean it. Breath is a BIG CONTRIBUTOR to how well your pelvic floor functions. There are others, don’t get me wrong, but breath is a pesky habit that you repeat over and over, day in and day out cause you've got to, to stay alive.
Here are some simple Coles Notes on why your breath impacts your pelvic floor.
It includes some anatomy, but it is very simplified, so don’t get scared off by the word diaphragm, I also use the very scientific word guts :)
The diaphragm is a muscle that separates your upper torso contents from the lower torso contents. It does the bulk of the work in breathing. To breathe the middle of the diaphragm moves down toward your feet and creates a vacuum in your lungs which sucks air into them. The rest of the diaphragm is attached to the bottom of your ribs mostly. As the middle of it draws back up toward your head the air gets pushed out of your lungs.
Right beneath the diaphragm are your guts. When the diaphragm moves downward it pushes them downward as well. Those guts then push down on your pelvic floor and out on your abdomen wall. A nice supple strong pelvic floor and abdomen wall will then expand all the way around, to accomodate the relocation of your guts. When the diaphragm moves back up to make you breathe out, the pelvic floor moves back up and the abdomen wall moves in.
Notice how I said a nice supple strong pelvic floor and abdomen? It turns out that this is not the reality for all of us. How strong and supple our pelvic floors and abdomens are has a lot to do with how we breathe and hold our bodies. A strong muscle needs to be supple as well.
Here are a few non-optimal breathing strategies that are pretty common. My fondest wish is that you get curious about your own breathing strategies as you read these.
#1. Some of us don’t really use the diaphragm much for breathing, we breathe mostly using chest, shoulder and neck muscles that are there to back the diaphragm up.
#2. Some of us, especially the yogis, use lots of front belly movement on the inhale which takes care of much of the gut movement. It can be relaxing to breathe this way but comes with some issues especially if you are currently dealing with Diastasis Recti.
#3. Some of us hold our belly tight all the time so we look skinnier which can put extra pressure on the pelvic floor.
#4. Some of us have the complete opposite pattern going in our body, usually in tandem with chest breathing. The abdomen expands on the exhale and contracts on the inhale.
All of these strategies show up across humanity but with moms there is the added complication of pregnancy.
Pregnancy can confuse things. Adding a growing baby into guts that move back and forth with your breath, constricts the movement and increases the pressure on all the muscles involved. It is pretty common that because there is less space available due to a rapidly growing baby, mom adopts one of the non-optimal breathing strategies above.
Check yourself out over the next few days. Do you use any of the non-optimal strategies? Sometimes it can help to try and do an exaggerated version of them all and see if any of them feel a bit like your normal.
If you do find yourself with some variation of a non-optimal breathing strategy, that’s great news. Especially if you are struggling with some pelvic floor, or Diastasis Recti issues. It means that you could have a big impact on healing those issues just by doing some breathing exercises and building some awareness and new habits.
Playing with your breath and small postural shifts can reduce symptoms that you may have. Getting curious and trying new strategies can open up a world of healing, without too much difficulty, just a gradual building of awareness.
If there are certain movements and activities you like to do, that make your symptoms worse, it is worthwhile spending some time investigating new breathing patterns and slight postural shifts while doing those activities.
You may find ways that you CAN do them that feel supported and strong instead of weak and scary. Wouldn't that be awesome!?
If you would like to have some more guidance on exploring this, I’m currently working on creating a bite sized offering around breath and pelvic floor function. It will have more specific information without being too overwhelming. It will have simple self assessments, movement explorations and strategies to try, so you can get this figured out and start to feel better in your body. Best of all it will be really affordable, because I want to make it easy to acquire and easy to do without any guilt feelings. Bite sized is what I'm after cause you already have lots on your to do list.
And now, I hope you do some investigation science with your own body ASAP. I'd love to hear how it goes and what you find out.
To exploration and curiosity and Mom Body Love,
If you are feeling stuck and want some support to heal physical issues left over from pregnancy and childbirth, finally get movement and exercise into your life, or get strong without creating any more physical issues, pop over to the other pages on my website. You are on it right now, you can navigate by clicking the tabs at the top of the page.