During my postnatal healing I spent the first three months practice the Deep Core Breath with no other exercises added in except for a few bridges (setu bandha sarvangasana). It allowed me to reconnect with my core muscles gradually while my body took time to heal after having a caesarean section. The gentle expansion of the inhales allowed my scar tissue to heal while staying soft and elastic rather than hardening and tightening. A strong muscle should be able to engage and release all the way. Which is why this breath is so crucial to postnatal recovery and in preparation for birth. When I felt ready to get back into my fitness I added this breath into my core exercises in an organic way. My abdominal gap (diastasis recti) closed, but more than that my functional strength came back and I felt stronger than ever.
Why the Breath?
In yoga our vital life force is known as prana. Pranayama is the practice of altering/controlling this energy through breathing exercises. Pranayama paired with mindful movements (asana) and meditation can have significant benefits for our overall health & wellness.
Benefits of using the Breath.
stretches the core & connective tissues from the inside
stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest & digest)
reduces anxiety & stress
connects us to our deepest layer of core muscles
deep breathing enriches the blood & oxygen in the body
increases mindfulness (body awareness & proprioception)
can be the focus of meditation
release tension in the deep core and connective tissues
strengthen the pelvic floor and deep core muscles
Cultivating the Core Breath.
(Please Note: if you are in your fourth trimester; ie the first three months after birth focus your inhales out to the sides of the ribs. It is not necessary to stretch the front of the abdomen or pelvic floor before engaging until these muscles have had a chance to heal.)
Inhale: As you inhale, invite your breath into the rib cage, abdomen and pelvic floor. Create a sense of expansion as you breathe in, front, sides and back. Allow your breath to stretching you from the inside, massaging your internal organs and cleansing every cell in your body. Exhale: The exhale can have two different qualities for different purposes. To cultivate strength, as you exhale draw in the pelvic floor & deep core muscles. To create relaxation as you exhale release the core muscles and ‘let go’.
INHALE STRETCH & LENGTHEN,
EXHALE ENGAGE or RELEASE
Anatomy of the Core
The Diaphragm – our biggest breathing muscle; the top of the core. A strong lid creates a strong container. The diaphragm resides underneath the lower ribs and connects at various vertebrae. Connection - When you inhale this muscle contracts and thins, creating space in the thoracic cavity for the lungs to fill with breath. On the exhale it relaxes and returns to its parachute shape under the ribcage. Mindful Breathing - Even though this action happens naturally, when we do exercises to strengthen the diaphragm the quality of our breath improves as well as our overall health. Transverse Abdominis – our deepest layer of abdominal muscles, create a corset of support around the spine. They run horizontally around the torso from the bottom of the ribs to the top of the pelvis. Connection – place your hands on the sides of your waist. As you inhale feel the ribs expand and stretch with the breath. As you exhale feel the hands draw back inwards. Mindful Breathing – On the inhale think about a cylinder or an innertube filling up in that 3-dimentional shape. On the exhale release the valve and hug these deep muscles in towards the spine. Pelvic Floor - The group of muscles that make up the pelvic floor are also known as the pelvic diaphragm. The pelvic floor sits at the bottom of our core system. They are the only muscles in the body that attached directly to bone, attaching to the front, sides and back of the pelvic bones and sacrum. They have many responsibilities in the body including creating both a strong and supple foundation for the spine. Connection & Mindful Breathing - Inhale lengthen the breath down in between the sit bones, pubic and tail bone. Imagine these four points stretching away from each other. Exhale draw all four points together and then upward.
The Elevator Visual
Lengthen the breath downward between the pubic bone and tail bone, sit bone to sit bone. Imagine an elevator moving down with the breath into the pelvic floor (into the basement floor and out the basement window.) Then visualize the elevator doors opening front to back and side to side.
Exhale to Let Go
Release the breath and let the pelvic floor muscles naturally recoil like an elastic band that has been stretch and released. (The elevator doors slowly close on their own and the elevator moves back up to ground floor to await the next inhale.)
Active Exhale Imagine pushing the 'Close Door' button in the elevator. Draw in front to back (pubic bone to tail bone) and side to side (sit bone to sit bone). Then visualize drawing up to the 5th floor.
So what if we don't do any of this when we do core exercises? What happens if we don't draw in and up?
- Possible abdominal doming, aggravated prolapse, leaking, etc.
Don't believe me? Do the cough test.
Sit upright in a neural position. Either cross legged on the floor or in a chair. Place one hand on the lower belly and sit on the other hand so that the heel of the hand is on the pubic bone and the fingers are pointing towards the tail bone (front to back).
Take a deep breath in using the Core Breath and hold. Forcefully exhale and either cough or say 'HAH'.
What did you feel?
If you felt pressure under the hand on the belly it means you are not engaging the TA which are important to supporting the spine and stabilizing while we exercise.
If you felt pressure on the hand under the pelvic floor (the one you are sitting on) it means you are not engaging the pelvic floor, which can aggravate or perpetuate a prolapse under heavy lifting or high intensity exercising, or result in leakage during certain exercises.
In conclusion its not what exercises we do or don't do. You don't have to avoid your favourite exercises post-partem. But you do need to be mindful of how you do them.