PART 2: REPATTERNING YOUR BREATHING

Building on part one (Diaphragmatic Breathing – aka: DB); diaphragmatic breathing with core activation involves bringing awareness to your pelvic floor and transverse abdominal muscles and incorporating them into your breathing.

When I train new clients, I break this entire process down into three steps. First being, getting comfortable with breathing into the diaphragm (see previous post here). When that happens we then incorporate steps two and three.

Step 2 - Pelvic Floor Activation (Kegel)

  • Before you start you should understand that a proper Kegel includes contracting both the front and back of your pelvic floor (vaginal and spinchter muscles). Think of preventing the flow of urine and passing gas at the same time. Second, the act of a Kegel is a two-part process. It’s not just a squeeze, but a squeeze and a lift. Some cues may be trying to pull a tampon up, sucking a milkshake through a straw, or imagining your PF muscles as an elevator and you’re trying to go to the second or third floor. So squeeze front and back, first, then lift the muscles. Doing this should fire up your deepest core muscles; the transverse abdominals which is what you contract next (step 3). Lastly, and most importantly, is the relaxation of the PF muscles. A strong contraction is fantastic, but you need to release and relax the muscles just as well so you should feel somewhat of an expansion or widening the of the muscles. The PF muscles contract and release the same as any other muscles of your body. Just like a biceps curl, you contract the muscles and bring your hands up to your shoulders and then fully extend and stretch the muscles and bring the arms down to your side. You wouldn’t go three thirds of the way down as a release and contract again, would you? Same with your PF muscles. Becoming aware of the relaxation component is especially important during the last couple weeks of pregnancy as it can be help during labor.

Step 3 - Transverse Abdominal Activation.

  • This is a gentle deep core contraction and wrapping of the abdominals from pelvis to rib cage. Some might think they need to brace as they would in CrossFit or any other style of strength training, however, your contraction shouldn’t feel so restricting. It’s about a 15-20% contraction. It’s gentle yet strong enough to support your body during whatever movement you are doing.

Assume the same position you did when you practiced basic diaphragmatic breathing. Your hands can be placed in several spots. Start with one hand on the stomach and one on the chest, then hands at the rib cage/diaphragm area, to front and back of rib cages, and lastly your hands on your lower stomach. For this position, it's best to lay on your back. Place pointer and middle fingers on your hip bone and move them one inch in and one inch down. The first three placements help you feel the diaphragm and the last one helps you feel the transverse abdominals turn on once you perform a Kegel.

Now try putting all three steps together! 
  1. Inhale nice and slow for 4-5 counts into your diaphragm, relaxing your pelvic floor muscles.
  2. Initiate an exhale through your mouth.
  3. Kegel (squeeze & lift) then gently contract your transverse abdominal muscles.
Some tips to keep in mind! 
  1. Feel the contraction start in your lower abdominals and then wrap around your torso. Your goal is to initiate the activation in your lower abdominal region. Personally, this was the hardest for me as I always contracted my upper abdominals first which actually puts pressure on the pelvic floor; opposite of what we are aiming to do.
  2. I suggest clients try this breathe work in various positions: sitting on a stability ball, kneeling with or without a cushion in between their legs, in child’s pose, or even standing.
  3. As in my previous post, proper alignment is key. Ribs over hips. Rib cage is down and not flared as you inhale.
  4. Do not squeeze the glutes or tilt the hips when you perform a Kegel. Your glutes should remain relaxed and your pelvic should stay stable and not rock.

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