Part Two: Fresh Breath
Check out part one, here!
How do I find this mystical body part the Pelvic Floor?
In a recent study 49% of the women verbally instructed to use their Pelvic Floor did so incorrectly! Gulp! As a Pilates Instructor this is a sobering statistic!
In our last post we told you where your Pelvic Floor is located. Let’s see if we can help you feel your pelvic floor and become aware of its movement.
Sitting upright on a firm surface (like a chair or a step), see if you can feel the two sit-bones right underneath you. Aim to keep a small curve in the small of your back so that your tailbone doesn’t tuck under, but be careful not to over arch your back.
Take a few slow breaths and see what your body does naturally.
Here is what should be happening:
On the Inhale:
The diaphragm (main breathing muscle) contracts and pulls down.
The volume of the lungs increases and draws air in
(think of your torso and belly like a balloon inflating).
Abdominal pressure increases and Pelvic Floor responds (think of the boney landmarks at the base of your pelvis expanding or opening, you may even feel a little pressure downward).
On the Exhale:
The diaphragm (main breathing muscle) relaxes and moves up.
The volume of the lungs decreases and air flows out (think of deflating your torso and belly like a balloon).
The abdominal pressure decreases and the Transversus abdominis (lowest layer of abdominal muscle) contracts. This should feel like you’re gently shrink-wrapping your torso or tightening a corseted garment around your centre.
The Pelvic floor contracts (think of the boney landmarks at the base of your pelvis closing and gently pulling upward)
This breath is often referred to as “Core Breath”, “Diaphragmatic or Pelvic Breathing”.
Alternatively, you can do this on all fours. In either position, don’t change the position of your spine while doing the exercise. Just understanding this proper breath pattern is a huge step toward better Pelvic Floor health.
Front & Back
Exhale and imagine drawing your pubic bone and your tailbone closer together without using any leg, hip or cheek (glute) muscles. This should feel subtle and may feel more mentally challenging than physically! Inhale and let that go.
Repeat a few times until it feels more intuitive.
Side to Side
Now trying using your exhale to imagine drawing your sit bones together. Inhale to release. This one is much trickier and the Glute muscles (your bum cheeks!) will want to join the party. You can imagine curtains closing if that’s helpful.
Let’s put this all together!
Inhale and allow your belly to fill with air. Think of yourself like a balloon gently stretching all the way down to the bottom of your pelvis. Imagine the four boney landmarks opening away from each other like the balloon expanding or a flower opening. When you exhale, notice that the torso deflates like a balloon and the belly should come back in toward your centre. Simultaneously, draw the four points of the Pelvic Floor closer together and think of gently pulling them up inside you. Remember not to recruit extra muscles.
You’ll know you’re doing this correctly if you feel an equal engagement around the anus and the vagina openings and a small sensation like you’re trying to levitate off your seat. Some other images to consider are picking up a blueberry with your vagina or the idea of holding a tampon in. Remember to do the work with a sense of ease, there’s no clenching allowed.
Images to help you picture the actions of your pelvic floor
Egg in a nest – gently pick up the egg, place it back down. Remember to do the work with a sense of ease, there’s no clenching allowed.
the movement of a jellyfish or the idea of holding a tampon in
a flower opening (and closing)
using the boney landmarks- pelvic bones (opening wider, coming closer together)
a balloon inflating and deflating
It may take some time to feel the awareness or to get the coordination. There’s no rush! The use of images can be really helpful. Your muscles have three times more sensory neurons than motor neurons which means that if you use a variety of images while practicing, your brain will mirror back to your body what you want it to do and you’ll have an easier time finding some sensation.
Once you’ve mastered this breathing in coordination with Pelvic Floor awareness we’ve got some other ideas for you to play with too!
The next time you urinate see if you recognize when your Pelvic Floor is open and when it closes. (HINT: it opens to let things out and closes to hold thing in!) Are you able to keep it open for a few seconds after the stream of urine has ended? Are you then able to close it slowly as you did in the previous exercises?
When having a bowel movement, also take time to become aware of the pelvic floor. Notice your body’s own willingness and urge to push without any excess, intentional help from you. Can you support the urge to push with your Core Breath exercise (above) but this time keep your pelvic floor open both while inhaling and exhaling? This is a very calm gentle version of what it’s like to push during birth!
Egg Photo: Artist – MaryJo Hoffman
Jelly Fish: http://www.worldatlas.com
Lotus Flower: Artist – Florence W Deems
Pubic Arch: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pubic_arch
Balloon Lung: https://basicmedicalkey.com
Bowel posture: https://suecroftphysiotherapistblog.wordpress.com