Breathing is one of the fundamental functions our body needs to perform in order for us to live. This process, also called respiration, is driven by a muscle called the diaphragm. This dome shaped muscle located beneath our lungs contracts and relaxes helping pull air into and out of the lungs.
But, did you know it also has a strong link to pelvic floor function? The diaphragm, core and pelvic floor muscles work together under a pressure relationship. Take a look at this moving visual from Burrell Education which beautifully demonstrates this.
How It Works
When the diaphragm descends (we breathe in) the pelvic floor also descends and when the diaphragm lifts (we exhale) so to does the pelvic floor. It also has an effect on the abdominal wall. You can try this for yourself.
Lie down on the floor, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. For approximately 1-2 minutes just focus on a deep breath in, letting your tummy soften and then have a long breath out. Close your eyes whilst you do this and concentrate on the sensations you can feel in and around your tummy, lower back and pelvic floor. Pay particular attention on the ‘out breath’.
This is something I use when assessing pelvic floor and core function on ladies who come to see me when they require help with either of these areas. If you feel no connection there may be a few reasons for this.
What Can Disrupt the Diaphragm’s Function?
- excessive coughing – smokers, those with frequent colds/coughs, asthmatics
- repetitive vomiting – especially after a stomach virus
- constipation or abdominal bloating
- lifting heavy objects and breath holding
- pregnancy – growing baby reduces the space in the abdomen
- poor posture – being hunched over reduces the space for us to breathe effectively. Try taking a breath whilst shoulders are slumped forwards.
The diaphragm is like any other muscle and needs to be able to contract and relax through its full range of motion. When disrupted by one of the above factors and over a long period of time it will eventually adapt and lose its ability to work effectively. Even simply having tight intercostal muscles and restrictions through the back can affect the amount of breath you can take in. Ladies who have had abdominal surgery or any surgery within their torso, may find breathing difficult due to restrictions from scar tissue within the abdominal wall or in the back.
Not All Is Lost
Here are a few simple things that can help –
1. Stop Smoking
2. Eat Well – ensuring you get all the necessary vitamins and minerals means we should be able to keep coughs and colds at bay. Having sufficient fibre in your diet will also ensure that you are less constipated. Avoiding processed foods will help here to along with reducing bloating.
3. Keep hydrated – being dehydrated will lead to harder stools and constipation. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day and this will reduce the chances of this occurring.
4. Check your breathing – when lifting, its quite common for people to hold their breath. This places an outward and downward pressure disrupting the core and pelvic floor and potentially weakening it. We should be looking to ‘exhale on exertion’ instead, something that I cover in my Holistic Core Restore® courses.
5. Massage therapy – a specialist in abdominal soft tissue therapy will be able to find spots within the abdominal wall and ribcage and help release them allowing for much greater and smoother breaths to occur. Massage Therapy.
6. Stretches and mobilisations for the trunk – this can help free up stuck areas and therefore provide space to breathe. I have a short video showing some releases I use with clients that would be useful to you. This will be available on my social media channels after the 23/6/20. Links to both my Facebook page and Instagram page are below: