Connecting the breath
Joseph Pilates once said “breathing is the first and the last act of life”. It brings us in to this World with a great burst to give us life on Earth and it will leave us with a sigh as we take flight to the Heavens.
Above all, said Jo “learn to breathe correctly.”
In a World that has many of us living in a state of anxiety, expectation and surprise, our stress responses on alert when we are awake and (for some) while we sleep, understanding breath has many benefits.
Breath connects us to our core, communicates with our mind and keeps us alive. Exploring tempo, intention and depth of breath is beneficial and is recognised by many cultures as an integral approach to overall health and wellbeing.
Understanding how breath can help us relax and contract our PVF makes it much easier to feel the connections.
Healthy PVF muscles contract when we forcefully exhale. Actions include laughing, coughing and sneezing. As we forcefully perform these actions, a healthy PVF will contract to maintain bladder control (one of the primary actions of PVF). As a muscle group my PVF also acts with transverse abdominals, multifidi, obliques and some other back muscles to stabilise or support your pelvis and lumbar (lower back). Support means you can move with ease and control. So, with that in mind, if I want my PVF, (and other muscles associated with them) to support an exercise, I will want to exhale during the movement.
Note: No muscle in your body acts on its own to do anything, including PVF. Having said that, when you are stationary, you should be able to isolate PVF contraction to control the bladder, stop leakage and prevent passing wind.
Breath control is explored in Pilates, Yoga, Tai-Chi, Chi Gung and swimming to name a few, each activity having a unique relationship with tempo and purpose, and each being recognised for its significance during the practice.
In Pilates, if we remember that exhale is the role of deep abdominal stabilisers preceding movement to support the pelvic lumbar region and encourage PVF connection, it make it easier to know when we might want to exhale.
As well, an inhale will facilitate back extension.
Sitting or standing take a deep inhale and notice the direction that the spine moves. As the chest rises, you will naturally move into an upper back (thoracic) extension to allow for air to fill the lungs. With this in mind, when performing a back extension exercise, it may help to move more easily as you inhale.
The idea is to avoid holding your breath when exercising. I have attended many gym based exercise classes where I have been instructed to hold the breath and brace when lifting weights. This is not recommended for anyone for 12 months post birth and I strongly discourage practicing this at all unless you are under the guidance of an exercise physiologist or PVF specialist. Personally I have questioned trainers who instruct me to hold my breath and their answers are inconclusive at best and are the result of poor mechanical understanding of the human body. In fact, I have seen video footage of weightlifters losing bladder control when lifting excessive weights while their peers cheer them on for breaking records, being oblivious to the long term detriment of a dysfunctional PVF.
If you are more comfortable inhaling or exhaling during a particular movement once you have mastered PVF connection post birth, that is fine, as long as you remember that the exhale will help regain PVF strength if you are lacking and that breathing in general is more favourable than holding your breath during exercise.