Does it really matter how you breathe? In a word – yes. It can matter greatly where core and pelvic floor dysfunction is concerned.
Breathing is not something we really think about. In the main it’s an unconscious process. But the fact that we breathe 20,000 times a day surely means that it deserves to be executed well. When done well, it delivers the maximum results to our health and can prevent core dysfunction.
However, it’s not uncommon for those experiencing symptoms of core and pelvic floor dysfunction to have breathing patterns that are not optimal to how the body works.
To explain why we should be breathing from our ribs and not from our bellies, I’m going to explain a bit about what’s going on inside of us. Understanding how our bodies have been designed to work will help you visualise what’s going on and empower you to use your breath more efficiently.
What happens when we breathe? / How should breathing happen?
When we breathe in, the respiratory muscles moves the rib cage in (ideally) 3 directions. This decreases the pressure in the lungs which draws the air in. When the respiratory diaphragm moves downwards during inhalation it increases pressure in the abdomen. To manage that pressure the abdomen changes shape. This can appear like the tummy is expanding, however, the abdomen can’t really do that – more on that below. What is actually happening is the abdominal wall is passively resisting the change in shape, which assists in the exhalation of the air.
So, what if we do breathe from our belly?
It’s not uncommon for people to adopt a pattern of belly breathing. If you were to belly breathe the muscles of your abdominal wall are actively moved when you breath in, rather than passively moving in response to the expansion of the ribs.
The belly has been designed to change shape but not to expand unless it’s full of food or liquid, or there’s a baby inside. It’s not designed to change shape with every breath. So, if the muscles of the abdomen are actively moving it will bulge increasing the pressure in the abdomen.
As pressure always follows the line of least resistance, a bulge in the belly caused by this increase in pressure may move forward onto the Linea Alba, not great for a Diastasis. This action may cause a weakening of the front line which will reduce the integrity of your core function. Should the pressure go downwards, it may put excess pressure on the pelvic organs, and this could be part of the picture of pelvic organ prolapse.
The benefits of breathing from your ribs
So, now you know just a couple of negative things that can happen to your health should you ever fall into the habit of belly breathing, let’s move on to rib breathing and celebrate the benefits that this brings us!
- It keeps the ribs and thoracic mobile.
- Helps maintain bone density against osteoporosis and fractures.
- It supports the management of intra-abdominal pressure.
- It creates negative pressure in the pelvic and abdominal cavity on the exhale, creating a passive lift and toning of the pelvic floor muscles.
- It releases tension from the shoulders as the thoracic spine moves with every inhale, almost like your very own massage with every breath. Amazing!
Simple ways to find if you are a belly breather
Lie on your back with one hand resting on your chest and the other on your tummy.
Allow yourself to relax and breathe normally. Start to notice which hand moves first when you inhale.
Ideally the hand on your ribs move first, followed by your hand on your belly. On the exhale the hand on the tummy lowers first followed by the hand on the ribs. If you notice the hand on your tummy moving first you may be belly breathing.
If you feel you could benefit from finding out what your breathing patterns are and whether making changes could help you to support your core and pelvic floor function, feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In my ‘Do More 4 Your Core’ programme we use a series of techniques to address different breathing patterns to make them more optimal for resolving symptoms of core and pelvic floor dysfunction.