How to breathe properly so your pelvic floor exercises work

Here at Neen, we talk a lot about the importance of breathing when you are doing your pelvic floor exercises but what does it actually mean to ‘breathe properly?’

We have a muscle that does most of our breathing – called the diaphragm.  Your diaphragm is a big sheet that sits below your lungs and above your belly button. When we are breathing in a relaxed way, the diaphragm does most of the work of breathing. But our neck, tummy and shoulder muscles can also help with breathing. The problems start when the shoulder and tummy muscles then begin to take over. This means that we don’t breathe as well as when our diaphragm does the work.  This makes it harder to tighten your pelvic floor muscles in the right way.

This exercise will help you to breathe in the right way so you can make the most of your pelvic floor exercises:

Begin by lying down on a comfortable surface with your head supported by a pillow and two pillows under your knees.

Place one hand on your tummy and one hand on your chest.  Close your eyes so you can concentrate on your breathing.

Focus on the hand that is on your tummy.  Is it moving more than the hand that is on your chest? If you are breathing in the best way, the hand on your tummy should be moving more than the hand on your chest.

Try to stop your chest from moving so much and allow your tummy to fall and rise naturally. Don’t try to make your tummy move. All you should try to do is stop your chest moving so much and the rest will happen naturally.

As you breathe in, feel your muscles work but then your breath out should be completely relaxed and effortless. Don’t try to force the air out.

Once you can do this try counting your breaths: a count to 3 in and then a count to 4 out.

Adding in a pelvic floor contraction

The next step is to add your pelvic floor exercises.

On a relaxed breath out, pull up and in down below as though you are trying to stop yourself from passing wind or doing a wee. Hold on to this contraction whilst you breathe normally. After a slow count to 10, let go. It’s really important to keep breathing in a relaxed way while you hold your pelvic floor tight.

It can be quite difficult to get this right to begin with so don’t give up too soon. Keep at it and it will soon become easier and those leaks and red cheeks will soon be a thing of the past.

By Alison Bourne MA (Cantab) BSc MCSP ACPWH

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