What's so important about breathing?
Have you ever wondered why your Pilates teacher, Yoga guru or personal trainer keeps banging on about your breathing? Why do you need to exhale at a particular point in a movement? Why is the age old advice to "take a deep breath and calm down"
The breathing system is our body's way of releasing tension, massaging the intestine, delivering nutrients to the cells, muscles and organs and expelling waste products.
Breathing mindfully for just a few minutes per day can vastly improve the activity of the Vagus nerve. Simply exhaling for a few counts longer than your inhale will switch on the Vagus which controls the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for your body's rest, relax and digest response). Whenever the Parasympathetics dominate, the heart rate drops, blood pressure lowers, the blood vessels relax and the whole body is put into a state of calm and healing. Conversely, erratic, shallow breathing will activate the body's fight or flight response causing an epic spike in cortisol (stress hormone).
Elevated levels of cortisol are linked to depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, weight gain and plenty more unpleasant effects.
The diaphragm can be thought of as the top section of a closed bag. The bottom of the bag would be the pelvic floor and the sides would be transversus abdominis. Inside the bag is where your organs and digestive tract live. Each time you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and pulls down in order to draw air into the lungs. The more air you inhale, the deeper into your body the diaphragm will sink. This effectively squishes the guts and organs around inside you, helping the contents of the bowel to move freely and releasing, stretching and conditioning the tissues, promoting blood flow and generally improving your internal environment. For this reason, anyone suffering from a bowel or digestive disorder should look at improving their breathing patterns.
Coming back to our bag analogy - in order for the bag to expand and contract evenly and with suitable power, all three components must work. For this reason, when addressing a pelvic floor disorder or a diastasis recti, we must first address the breathing patterns and do all we can to create movement in the ribcage and thoracic spine in order that the lungs have space to expand into.
The transversus is our deepest "core" muscle and plays a crucial part in keeping the spine and pelvis stable. Just like all muscles, the pelvic floor, diaphragm and transversus need to work through their full range as often as possible to maintain strength and suppleness so breathing correctly is a must for building and maintaining good posture and a healthy, pain free spine.
I hope that while you have been reading this you have been breathing more conscientiously and are already feeling calmer, more centred and ready to take on the rest of your day.