Better Breathing For Better Pelvic Floor Exercise
November 10, 2020
Let’s paint a picture.
You’ve been doing your Kegels religiously. You know exactly where your pelvic floor muscles are, and you and your Kegel exerciser are besties. But your pelvic health results are Just. Not. Coming (or at least as quickly as you want them to).
You might want to look at your breathing.
What does breathing have to do with my pelvic floor?
Let’s talk about a breathing technique called diaphragmatic breathing. Your diaphragm is the muscle located just under your lungs. Its job is to help you properly inhale air into and exhale air out of your lungs. When you breathe in, your diaphragm expands downward. This helps create a vacuum effect in the lungs, which draws air into them. Then when you breathe out, your diaphragm moves back up, compressing your lungs to help push the air out. Making sure you are using your diaphragm to help your breathing has been shown to have a number of benefits, including improved circulation and increased endurance during exercise.
As mentioned, the diaphragm is just under the lungs and is part of your core, along with your pelvic floor, abdominal muscles and many other pelvic and trunk organs and other anatomy. When your diaphragm moves down during diaphragmatic inhalation, it creates abdominal pressure and pushes downward on other parts of your core; that force is eventually applied to your pelvic floor down at the base of your pelvis. Your pelvic floor then has to work to resist that force and provide the core muscle stability you need (and prevent your bladder from leaking urine or your bowel from leaking other waste). Then, when the diaphragm moves back up, your pelvic floor is pulled upward, which helps keep it limber and flexible.
How is that connected to exercising my pelvic floor?
As mentioned above, diaphragmatic breathing on its own is good for your pelvic floor in terms of promoting both strength and flexibility. Particularly in the modern world, many of us spend a lot of time with… imperfect… posture, whether slouching on a couch or hunched in front of a computer screen. This can result in breathing using only your upper chest and lungs and not your diaphragm / lower abdomen, which is not a good way to promote deep breathing. So trying to be more intentional about your breathing in general (and posture), can have benefits for your pelvic floor right off the bat.
Beyond that, it’s also a great idea to incorporate diaphragmatic breathing into your Kegel exercise. For Kegels, as for any type of exercise, it can be hard to carve out some of your attention to devote to breathing and not, you know, doing the actual exercise (and minding your technique, etc). This is especially true for beginners, who may be struggling to identify and recruit the correct muscles. But as anyone who’s ever done much work in the gym can attest, effective breathing can make a huge difference in how effective your exercise is.
For any exercise, you should remain in control of your body and its movements. Doing the exercise deliberately and slowly, especially when it is unfamiliar, can help with this, and a calm and intentional breathing pattern, in turn, is a great way to set yourself up for success. Making sure that your breathing is controlled will ensure that your muscles are getting adequate levels of oxygen, and it can make your pelvic floor exercise smoother and more natural.
How to practice Kegel breathing
Here are some easy steps to help with better Kegel breathing 😤. First, start with the breathing:
- When starting out, lay on the floor with support for your head and your knees bent.
- Start with a diaphragmatic breathing exercise without worrying about the Kegel exercise. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen, below your rib cage. This will help you feel whether your trunk is moving out or in at the right times.
- Take in a deep breath in through your nose. The hand on your stomach / abdomen should feel your body moving outward, and the hand on your chest should not be moving.
- When you exhale, the hand on your stomach should move inward toward your spine/tailbone and again, the hand on your chest should not move.
Then, once you have the hang of this, add in the pelvic floor exercise:
- As you breathe in, relax and try to visualize your pelvic floor muscles opening. You can imagine creating some extra space in your trunk for the air you’re inhaling.
- Then begin to breathe out while you slowly do a pelvic floor muscle contraction. You can imagine a lifting sensation with your pelvic floor and think about pushing that extra air out of your body through your nose and mouth.
- Keep the muscles of the pelvic floor activated until you have finished breathing out all the air, then repeat for as many times as needed for that set. Be sure to remember to relax your pelvic floor again with each breath in.
Diaphragmatic breathing has benefits beyond keeping a healthy pelvic floor as well, so don’t be shy about practicing that style of breathing any time (but especially when you’re doing pelvic floor muscle exercise)!