The Pelvic Floor & the Breath
Prolapse and the Pelvic Floor Muscles
A prolapse happens when an organ in the pelvic drops into the vagina. This can cause aching, heaviness, or dragging feeling in the vaginal area. Some studies have shown that 50 percent of women who have given birth one or more times will have some degree of prolapse. Most likely there is an even higher percentage due to the low reporting rate and lack of awareness in women. Prolapse can happen for many reasons, such as: having a weak pelvic floor, pregnancy, childbirth, having a weak pelvic floor after pregnancy and childbirth, additional strain during exercise or using the washroom, and increasing activity levels.
The anatomy of the pelvic floor is made up of three layers of muscles. There are a total of 16 individual muscles. These muscles are connected to the left and right sitting bones, the pubic bone in the front, and the tailbone (coccyx) in the back. These four points are the diamond-shaped frame of the pelvic floor. The layers of muscles “hang” like a hammock in the base of the pelvis, holding the organs in place.
There are breathing techniques that can dramatically improve prolapse and a weak pelvic floor.
Breathe in Breathe out
“Breathe into your belly” is commonly talked about in yoga, meditation and in some schools. While it may seem like a convenient metaphor for active and engaged breathing, the breath definitely does affect the muscles of the abdomen and the pelvic floor. A deep breath that goes into the abdomen and lower lobes of the lungs benefits the pelvic floor in many ways. Although the proper breath actually expands laterally it is a mindful way to remember to use your lower breathing muscles( intercostals, between your ribs) instead of your upper breathing muscles( neck, upper chest, clavicle) which create tension and pressure around your heart, neck, shoulders and head.
Proper functional breathing is incredibly important for healthy pelvic floor function. The most important tool in breathing is the muscle called the diaphragm. This is identified as a dome-shaped muscle which moves like a piston. It is connected to the lower part of the ribcage. The intercostals, the small muscles that are in between your ribs, have an important role in breathing. When these muscles are working together accordingly the breath is supporting many functions in the body properly, such as the lymphatic system, the nervous system and the pelvic floor and more.
Bringing in air from the nose (the mouth is for eating and the nose is for breathing) during the inhale the lungs expand and the diaphragm moves down towards the pelvic floor. The diaphragm massages our organs and pushes them down. The organs slip into a sack called the peritoneum. This sack of muscles get pushed to the pelvic floor.
This is why breath is such an important part of pelvic floor work. When we inhale, the pelvic floor is being massage and pushed by the downward-moving organs. As we exhale the organs also move up with the breath. A healthy pelvic floor stretches as we breathe in and contracts slightly as the breath goes out.
Functional Thoughtful Breath
Connecting the diaphragm and the pelvic floor thoughtfully while breathing will help strengthen your muscles and encourage functional breathing patterns.
Another important part of a healthy function of the pelvic floor is your abdominals. The transverse abdominis is the deepest abdominal muscle. It is like a corset that goes all the way around the lower torso at the bottom of the rib cage. The fibers of the transverse abdominis are horizontal. When these fibers contract they pull in the diameter of the abdomen, like tightening a belt. These muscles are also an assistant in exhaling, by tightening they help push the air out.
Poor posture or spending a lot of time sitting contributes to our transverse abdominus muscles weakening. This can be linked to pelvic floor problems. Sometimes we collapse our chest while sitting, this causes a “C-curve” in the spine, challenging us to take a deep breath. The muscles of the pelvic floor won’t receive the gentle massage and strengthening they need by stretching and contracting such as with a functional breathing pattern and proper posture.
If posture is not proper we can not take deep breaths into the lower lobes of the lungs and abdomen, there for our pelvic floor is weakened. All these muscles are connected. Proper functional breathing is the most efficient way to maintain and strengthen the pelvic floor.
Breathing habits and patterns can be changed, practice makes perfect. You can practice your breathing anywhere any time. Sitting at your desk, watching tv, while on a run/ walk, or laying in bed before you go to sleep or before you get up in the morning. Placing your hands on your lower 2 floating ribs feeling for 360 lateral expansion on the inhale and a lateral contraction on the exhale. As the diaphragm moves down you should notice your rib cage moving outwards and downwards not high your chest. All those years of sucking in your belly has put a damper on your functional breathing pattern. Let your belly soften on the inhale.