It has been a while since I posted the first in the pelvic floor series mostly because sitting and typing at a computer doesn't agree with me, but I won't leave you waiting any longer. So here we go!
Today I'm going to talk about your pelvic floor, how it is connected to your diaphragm, and pressure. I know you're super excited! Or is it just me that finds the pelvic floor super exciting? Either way we all have one and I'd encourage you to learn about these things to save you a lot of trouble in the future or even correct trouble you're already having.
Pelvic floor problems come in different ways with different symptoms and causes. Basically we have the pelvic floor that has totally given up and isn't showing up to the party, or the uber tight pelvic floor. The thing is BOTH ARE WEAK! Both cause leaks. Both cause prolapse. BUT also, we can work on both to get things in working order again AND breathing is a great way to start!
The diaphragm and the pelvic floor mirror each other. When you are not breathing well and managing pressure in your core properly your pelvic floor suffers. I did a few facebook live videos on this recently which I left up on the SOAR facebook page if you care to look at them for visuals. Better yet come into a breathing class (coming in 2018) or a private session!
This is a diaphragm diagram...
If we think of our core as a canister you have the muscles in the front, sides, and back with the pelvic floor as the base and the diaphragm as the lid. This all has to work together. Today we are only really talking about the top and bottom of the canister, but that is just a piece of the puzzle.
So breathing and pelvic floor function are intimately related.
When you inhale your diaphragm should go down to create pressure to draw air into your lungs. Your pelvic floor also goes down. On the exhale they both should rise from the bottom up. So the exhale initiates as low as the pelvic floor and the diaphragm pushes up.
The problem is most people I see have one of these breathing patterns:
1. on the inhale their diaphragm is sucked up.
2. When they inhale their shoulders rise. or
3. When they inhale only their belly expands.
Lets look at these one by one.
1. The diaphragm going in and up on the inhale. If you take a big inhale and your ribs look like they have hollowed out or your stomach looks like it is sucking in then your diaphragm is sucking up. You cannot get a good inhale. You are in a paradoxical breathing pattern.
2. Shoulders rise on inhale. If you take a deep breath and your shoulders go up and down you are a shallow breather. You are also creating a lot of tension in the neck and shoulders that bodywork can barely touch unless you change your breathing pattern. Your breathing mechanics aren't even touching the pelvic floor. Plus you are raising your stress hormones creating a vicious anxiety/stress cycle.
3. The belly breather. If only your belly expands on inhale you are also a shallow breather because this shuts down the diaphragm. It also leads to decreased tone of the abdominal muscles.
So what should happen when you inhale? A good inhale should expand your rib cage 360 degrees. There should be expansion in the front, sides, and back. The belly and chest should also rise, but not the shoulders. The diaphragm should go down and so should the pelvic floor. So everything expands together. It shouldn't be forced.
Now for the exhale: Your exhale should start at the bottom. It should raise the pelvic floor, the belly should flatten (not suck in, flatten) and the ribs should come back in as the diaphragm raises as you empty all of that air out making room for new fresh air.
Why does it matter to the pelvic floor? With proper breathing mechanics we can manage pressure in the core when doing stuff like picking something up, like our child. Or running, jumping, sneezing, coughing, and just living life. You need just the right amount of core pressure to stabilize the spine. But too much pressure is bad news for the pelvic floor, too little pressure can cause disk herniation and back pain...also not good for the pelvic floor for various reasons. So we must learn to maintain just the right amount of pressure all the time for various scenarios.
If you pick up something heavy what does your breathing do? Do you even know? Maybe you don't pay attention. Maybe you hold your breath. If you are a breath holder you are creating a downward pressure. This is the easiest way to lift. This is not the best way to lift. If this is how you are lifting stuff then you are probably doing it when doing any exercise. This is why it is soooo important to have someone watch you breathe when exercising especially if you are new to exercise, postpartum, have a hernia, want to avoid prolapse, want to avoid a hernia, have a diastasis, or want to avoid a diastasis. I would assume this includes most everyone. This is also why everyone should train their breathing. I have a lot of various exercises, including fun balloon exercises that strengthen your diaphragm, thus your pelvic floor we can do.
Aside from re-training your breathing pattern what can you do now to help both your breathing and pelvic floor? Align your posture. If you look back at the diaphragm diagram you can see this person's ribs are stacked neatly over the pelvis. Remember your ribs should stack over your pelvis. If your ribs and pelvis aren't aligned guess what? Your diaphragm and pelvic floor aren't aligned and cannot work properly! How do you have better alignment comfortably? Strengthen the appropriate muscles, Open up the tight muscles, Align your body when you notice yourself slipping into bad habits, this will Restore function. In other words: SOAR !
I have included a link to a study for the other anatomy nerds out there:
The effect of the correlation between the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles and diaphragmatic motion during breathing
And you know by now that I am not a doctor, nor am I a substitution for one. I cannot diagnose, treat or cure anything. I simply help you move better and that includes breathing better. If needed I have good recommendations for MDs, DOs, Chiropractors, and a Women's Health Physical Therapist. If you are looking for avoidance of issues and are clear for exercise, come see me. If you need more help I can refer you to the right people and once you are diagnosed and cleared we can work on getting you where you want to be SAFELY!