Breathing seems pretty easy, right? Most of the time we’re not even paying attention to it happening. So what exactly is the connection breath? And why is it so important for helping the function of your core and pelvic floor postpartum?
There’s more to your core than just abs…
When you think of your “core”, you probably think of those “six pack abs” (those are your rectus abdominus muscles). But they’re just one part of the whole package.
Picture your core as a container, like a coffee can. You have your diaphragm (your major breathing muscles) at the top of the container, your pelvic floor muscles (imagine a sling or hammock of muscles) at that bottom, and your multifidus muscles and abdominal muscles that form this outside (like a corset) of the container. Your abdominals include your rectus abdominus, transverse abdominals, internal and external obliques.
The power of your breath
Take a few inhales and exhales, and notice how you’re breathing. Is it mostly your chest expanding and contracting? Or do you breath mostly through your belly?
Now take your hands and place them on your sides, so that you can feel your ribs. As you inhale try to expand your lungs, see your chest rise and feel your ribs press out against your hands. You should also feel your belly fill with air and expand. Exhale that breath and feel your ribs contract and your belly empty.
Did you notice a difference?
With this full diaphragmatic breath, you are activating all of those muscles that make up your core. As you inhale your diaphragm descends, putting pressure on your abdominal wall and pressing your pelvic floor muscles down, allowing them to relax.
When you exhale, your diaphragm then ascends, your abdominals contract, and your pelvic floor muscles can contract as well.
Practicing the connection breath
Now that you know what a nice full diaphragmatic breath feels like, you can work on connecting that breath to the muscles of your core and pelvic floor.
This time as you inhale, allow your lungs and belly to fill with air, and focus on relaxing down through the muscles of your pelvic floor. If you’re not exactly sure what it feels like to relax your pelvic floor muscles, think about how you relax when you pee. (visualize those muscles relaxing and spreading down).
Next as you exhale, empty your belly of air and feel your abdominals contract. At the same time, actively lift up through the pelvic floor- imagine trying to pick up and lift a tissue with your vagina.
Creating the foundation
If you’re newly postpartum (or even further along postpartum) and you’ve been experiencing symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, such as incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, or diastasis recti, learning the connection breath is the foundation for helping treat* your pelvic floor issues, especially if one of your goals is to increase activity and return to exercise.
Once you’re comfortable with the connection breath, you can feel more confident about progressing to a strength routine that includes exercises for your core and pelvic floor.
*Since the info. in this post is not meant as medical advice, I always recommend that you see a pelvic health physiotherapist to address any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction. A professional can give you a thorough assessment and recommend specific exercises and treatment based on your unique symptoms.