Did you know that breathing exercises can promote pelvic floor strength and recovery?
How you breathe can impact upon your pelvic floor and effect your overall health and well being. Learning how to do diaphragmatic breathing exercises is simple and can be readily incorporated into your everyday life.
Read on now to learn:
- What is diaphragmatic breathing?
- Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing exercises for your health
- How diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help your pelvic floor
- Step by step diaphragmatic breathing exercise technique
What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
Diaphragm breathing or abdominal breathing is a breathing exercise and technique that promotes deep breathing using your main breathing muscle- your diaphragm. The diaphragm is a dome–shaped muscle that sits under the lungs.
The image below shows how your diaphragm moves as you breathe. When you breathe in normally, your diaphragm contracts and moves downwards into your abdomen. This downward movement creates a vacuum inside your chest causing air to enter and fill up your lungs. You breathe out when your diaphragm relaxes and moves back up into your chest allowing air to leave your lungs.
Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is thought to benefit overall health in a number of ways:
- Improve circulating oxygen levels
- Reduce fatigue with exercise
- Decrease blood pressure
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Improve core deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscle function
Diaphragmatic Breathing and Core Muscles
The way you breathe affects the tone in your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Your trunk is like a cylinder surrounded by muscles that should work together during breathing. The muscles surrounding your trunk clinder include your diaphragm (top of the cylinder), your deep abdominal muscles wrapping around your trunk (the sides of the cylinder) and your pelvic floor muscles at the base of this cylinder.
During regular breathing your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles are also active to help maintain pressure in your trunk cylinder. When you breathe in deeply during diaphragmatic breathing, the pressure inside your abdomen is increased so that your pelvic floor muscles need to contract even more strongly to maintain your continence.
Learning diaphragmatic breathing technique and practicing breathing exercises can help you promote the coordinated activity of your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. This is a vital first step in undertaking pelvic floor rehabilitation for prolapse or incontinence problems in women and men.
Posture, Breathing and Pelvic Floor Problems
You will notice that if you try to breathe deeply with slumped forwards posture, it is difficult to fill your lungs and breathe deeply. This is because when you are slumped your abdominal contents become compressed and your diaphragm can’t move downwards. This creates the need to use your upper chest muscles to help you breathe.
Slumped forward position and breathing with the upper chest muscles increase pressure on the pelvic floor; what’s more is that in this slumped forward position your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles can’t work well to counteract this increased pressure. This is why correct posture is very important in helping your diaphragm, pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to work well together.
If you live with a prolapse, bladder control problems good upright posture, diaphragmatic breathing exercises along with regular pelvic floor exercises can help you optimise your pelvic floor training.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises aim to normalise breathing patterns so that the diaphragm is used appropriately with the trunk muscles during normal breathing so that upper chest breathing is minimised and the upper abdominal muscles are relaxed.
Start lying down with your head supported by a pillow and your knees bent. Place one hand on your upper abdomen just below your sternum and the other hand at the side of your chest on the lower part of your rib cage. Alternatively if you find you have difficulty performing this breathing technique lying down, try it sitting down with one hand placed on your upper abdomen to feel the outward movement with your in breath as shown below.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique
Breathe in slowly and deeply so that you feel your belly rise under your hand. You may also notice your lower rib cage move wide under your other hand – remember the focus is upon keeping the upper chest muscles relaxed and using the diaphragm to breathe. This technique can be cued by thinking to “breathe into the belly”.
Breathe out by letting the rib cage fall back to resting. You should feel a gentle rise and fall of your belly under your hand.
Progressing Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises
When you have mastered diaphragmatic breathing exercises lying down, it is important to practice doing them sitting and standing upright. Don’t forget the need for good upright posture in allowing you to do your breathing exercises effectively. Try to then move around and walk with diaphragmatic breathing when you feel confident to do so.
How Many Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises?
Practice these breathing exercises at regular intervals throughout the course of your day when learning this technique. Try to breathe slowly and deeply using your diaphragm to inhale and let the air passively leave your body, don’t force the air out of your lungs. Do what feels comfortable for your body- a minute or two of diaphragmatic breathing when starting out is great. Then try to build on this up to five minutes at a time if you can.
Sometimes diaphragmatic breathing technique can make you feel a little out of breath when starting out, especially if you are accustomed to breathing with your upper chest. If this happens stop, take a break and try again later when recovered. Remember the ultimate goal is to promote a pattern of diaphragmatic breathing and reduce upper chest breathing as you go about your daily life. Regular daily practice will help you achieve this goal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway
Michelle Kenway is a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and author of Inside Out – the Essential Women’s Guide to Pelvic Support, along with Dr Judith Goh Urogynaecologist. The Inside Out exercise DVD and book show women how to strengthen the pelvic floor and exercise effectively with pelvic floor safe exercises.