Mums often list strengthening their core as a priority when returning to exercise after baby. However before you get stuck into training your "core" muscles, there is one simple thing you can do to get you on the fast track to using your core effectively. Breathing!
You take approximately 20,000 - 30,000 breaths per day so it is easy to see how poor breathing habits may impact your health. While the desire to get stuck into core exercises may be strong, if your breathing is dysfunctional you won't be getting the most out of them anyway. Dysfunctional breathing could also make it more difficult to heal a diastasis (abdominal separation) and be putting unnecessary pressure on your pelvic floor.
So What Does Functional Breathing Look Like?
The picture below shows the connection between your diaphragm and the pelvic floor. They move up and down together with each breath. As you breath in, your diaphragm pushes down to make way for the air coming into your lunges and in doing so, pushes your organs down onto your pelvic floor causing it lower also. As you exhale, your diaphragm lifts and so does the pelvic floor.
Ideally, breathing should expand the rib cage in a 360 degree range. Your ribs should go out to the side, front and back to allow air to fill the chest cavity while keeping the shoulders relaxed.
There are three main ways that breathing can become dysfunctional:
1. Belly breathing
This is where the belly expands outwards with each breath (to look like you have swallowed a balloon) with very little movement of the ribs. This type of breathing is particularly detrimental if you have abdominal separation as the connective tissue is being stretched each time you inhale.
2. Chest breathing
This is where you breath high into your chest or shoulders. This is usually a tense, restricted breath that sees your shoulders rising and doesn't allow correct rise and fall of the diaphragm and pelvic floor. This style of breathing is also often related to 'sucking it in' (see below).
3. Sucking it in
If you are sucking in your tummy your breathing is going to be restricted (see point above). The air is going to have nowhere to go. In the video below, Harriet the chook demonstrates what happens to your pelvic floor when you suck in your tummy. Poor Harriet.
An Exercise in Breathing
Try this breathing exercise daily or whenever you think about it.
1. Place your hands around your ribs (like photo) Inhale and try to feel a 360 degree expansion of your lower ribs and into your tummy. Your hands should go slightly further apart.
2. Now exhale for 6 counts and feel your ribs lowering and coming together and tummy deflating. This should bring your hands slight closer together.
3. Repeat 2 x 10 repetitions.
If you have any concerns about your breathing there are osteopaths (and some physiotherapists) that specialise in dysfunctional breathing correction.
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