Why Your Breath Is So Important For Pelvic Health
By Aliya Dhalla
Pelvic Health PT, Educator & Coach
A recent study of over 25,000 women revealed that 32% of them experienced at least one pelvic floor disorder. Issues like incontinence, strong urges, and prolapse are so very common yet people feel lost, blind-sided, and confused when they experience them for the first time.
As a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist, I hear this all the time in my clinic and in my online communities – women wish that they had been warned, that they had a plan to follow, and that they understood what was going on inside their bodies. They google their symptoms and search frantically for solutions, only to come up with overwhelming information and very often, the recommendation to do more kegels.
What is important to know about our pelvic health is that it is impacted by what is happening both inside and outside of the pelvis. From our mental health, social support, trauma history, fears, previous injuries, pelvic floor muscle length + strength, hip and spine range of motion + strength, sleep, nutrition, and more – our pelvic health is much more than just our pelvic floor.
Where to Start?
Whenever someone walks into my clinic space and trusts me with their intimate + personal concerns, the one place I always start is the breath.
Our breath is so intricately connected to our pelvic floor mobility + function and it has the added benefit of influencing our nervous system state. With diaphragmatic breathing, we can encourage gentle movement of our pelvic floor with each breath in and out while we move our nervous system out of the sympathetic state (fight/flight/freeze/fawn) and into the parasympathetic state (rest + digest).
The Diaphragm + The Pelvic Floor: Best Friends
The diaphragm is a muscle that sits just under our ribcage and lungs; when we inhale, the diaphragm lengthens and lowers, creating pressure in our midsection that pushes the contents of our abdominal cavity down. That downward pressure during each inhale encourages the pelvic floor to lengthen and drop down.
If we have a diaphragm that doesn’t move well, we are missing out on the gentle + rhythmic movement of our pelvic floor as we breathe. In order for our diaphragm to move well, we need good ribcage mobility + proper breathing mechanics. Our ribs need to open up all around as we inhale, allowing the diaphragm the space to lengthen + lower. We need to ensure that we are breathing deep into our belly – not just filling our chest + shoulders with air. Diaphragmatic breathing is not the same as belly breathing – rib cage mobility is the key differentiator. When this all “clicks”, we have a diaphragm and a pelvic floor that move together: when we inhale, they both lengthen and lower. And when we exhale, they both lift back up.
The Power of The Breath
Learning how to breathe diaphragmatically is the first step towards better pelvic health regardless of symptoms – and in the absence of symptoms, too! It’s a powerful tool and the foundation of other breathing strategies that can be used to:
- Support the core + pelvic floor during exercise
- Protect the spine during daily activities
- Push effectively during childbirth
- Improve function + performance
- Decrease stress + anxiety
Starting Your Journey To Better Pelvic Health
Let’s start right now – together. Sit comfortably and place one hand on your belly and one hand on the side of your rib cage.
- Inhale slowly through your nose and feel your rib cage expand while your belly gently fills. Visualize your pelvic floor “letting go” + gently dropping down
- Exhale slowly + gently and feel your rib cage collapse and your belly gently deflate
- Repeat 10 times, trying to slow down your breathing enough to allow 4 seconds for your inhale and 4 seconds for your exhale
Practice diaphragmatic breathing in this way and you might immediately feel more calm and relaxed, have less tension in your body, and be aware of your pelvic floor – maybe for the first time! You can also use this breathing strategy intentionally to reduce your pelvic floor symptoms like:
- strong urges
- painful intimacy
- pelvic or back pain
- pressure from prolapse
- and even painful bowel movements
So, if you’re struggling with pelvic floor problems and don’t know where to start, start with your breath.
And if you’re looking for guidance on your journey to better pelvic health, my Pelvic Floor Mobility Program is a self-paced program designed to improve your pelvic floor symptoms with a whole-body approach. From foundational breathwork, pelvic floor stretching, full body mobility, core + pelvic floor strengthening, mindfulness and more, this program includes short follow-along videos where I guide you towards a life with less annoying pelvic floor symptoms and more freedom and joy.
Aliya is a physiotherapist with 12 years of experience. She focuses exclusively on women’s health + pelvic health, including prenatal and postpartum pelvic health, incontinence, painful intimacy, and pelvic pain and teaching the right pelvic floor exercises for the person, situation, and their goals.
Kenne, K.A., Wendt, L. & Brooks Jackson, J. Prevalence of pelvic floor disorders in adult women being seen in a primary care setting and associated risk factors. Sci Rep 12, 9878 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-13501-w