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Deep Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing exercises are essential for treating pelvic muscle problems because of the diaphragm’s direct relationship with the pelvic floor. When you breathe in, the diaphragm descends, and so does the pelvic floor. For good pelvic floor function, we need good diaphragm excursion and function.
Shallow breathing does not allow for good diaphragmatic excursion, and can contribute to the pelvic floor not functioning optimally or becoming overactive. If we are stressed and in a constant fight or flight state, we will physiologically breathe in a shallow manner. Overactivity of the pelvic floor is not simply an isolated dysfunction, but a physical manifestation of the patient’s emotional state.
Breathing is the only autonomic function of which we have voluntary control, and happens to be a simple and fantastic gateway into the autonomic system. It actually allows us to turn on the parasympathetic system to calm down the powerful fight or flight systems. Mindful breathing can help to modify pain and autonomic responses.
There are many ways to change your breathing to be deeper and more mindful. Creating awareness of the lengthening (dropping) of the pelvic floor during the breath in, and the natural elevation of the pelvic floor during the breath out, will help to develop some pelvic floor rhythm throughout your day.
These can be done lying on your back with your arms gently straightened out by your side, or even sitting in a comfortable position. Lying down is most relaxing, but you can also take a mini-breathing break throughout your day in any position that you find yourself in. Mindful breathing can help relieve anxiety, tense muscles, and fatigue. After 5-10 minutes observe how you feel. Does your breathing feel any different? Looser? Deeper?
Here are a couple of examples of mindful breathing techniques:
Mindful, Soft Deep Breathing:
- Gently and slowly breathe in through your nose to a count of 4.
- Feel your ribs expand outwards and your pelvic floor relax (otherwise known as Reverse Kegels).
- Gently and slowly breath out through pursed lips, as if blowing bubbles, to a count of 6.
- If your mind wanders, acknowledge your thoughts, and bring your attention back to your breath.
- Take a soft deep breath in through your nose.
- You can breathe out through your mouth, making an “S” sound for as loud and long as you can during the entire exhalation.
- Do not force the breath out. Exhale normally as you make the “S” sound like a balloon expelling air when the top is open.
- This sound is one of the ways to strengthen your diaphragm by making you more aware of your exhalation.
- Some common reactions to making the “S” sound are eye tearing, feeling the need to stretch, a runny nose, and yawning. These are all good signs!
- One less common reaction is light-headedness. Although the feeling is uncomfortable, it is a positive sign. Your muscles need to absorb the extra oxygen. This exercise helps redirect the oxygen to your muscles, thus alleviating your light-headedness.
- If you get lightheaded while breathing, make fists with both hands and press the knuckle-side of your fists together in front of your chest, and hold for 5 seconds.
- Then straighten your arms and reach out to the side as far as your arms will let you, keeping your fists closed. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 5 times.