Breathing: Rib Mobility
Yes, it’s simple. Yes, it’s the foundation of basically every function of the human body. Yes, it’s harder than it looks. And, yes, it’s almost always overlooked because of its simplicity; we are already born “knowing” how to do it. Right?
You’d think. But life circumstances often conspire to affect our breathing patterns in myriad ways. Not the least of which is pregnancy and the hormone bomb-drop of the early (i.e. first 12 months) postpartum period.
The good news is we have a *lot* of control over how we breathe. And learning to recognize patterns and their triggers is very valuable information. Manipulating your breathing can prevent/stop/reroute just about any circumstance imaginable. Seriously.
Today, play around with directing your breathing to different areas. Think of, or physically place your hand on, a spot and send it there. It starts out that simple. Can’t do it? Keep creating the intention and keep practicing. You just need to wake up a forgotten skill. Most likely. Barring extenuating circumstances, of course.
Here, I’m playing around with one-sided lateral rib expansion. Fun little party trick! 🤓
I know, I know, there is some lingering upper ab gripping. I am, *we* are, a constant work in progress, should you choose to seek the path of self-improvement. It’s a fun one!
Where Do You Breathe?
Is your chest doing all the work? Belly? Can you see the muscles in front of your neck popping out with each breath? Are your sides moving with each breath? Do you feel your back expand at all?
How about the quality of your breathing? Is it fast, slow, or relaxed? Loud? Quiet? Audible to the person next to you? Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth? Mouth open or closed?
Fun challenge: how quiet can you make it and still breathe comfortably? Hint: you’ll have to slow it down quite a bit!
Just notice. Be curious. Note how you’re feeling right now and how that correlates to your breathing pattern. Trying manipulating it and slowing it down with a few very slow and deep breaths (in/out through the nose). Then speed it up and breathe in/out through your mouth and see how you feel. Your heart rate will likely change. Which feels better?
Breathing is the simplest and yet most essential task of daily life. Automatic yet we can manipulate it, re-train it for better or worse. It effects every single essential task of the body. There are optimal and sub-optimal ways of breathing. Everyone is different and everyone has their best way of breathing.
The pelvic floor (PF) responds to every single breath you take. Cool, huh? So if you’re stressed, your PF is going to be stressed. If you’re relaxed, your PF should be able to relax. Unfortunately, we are often way too stressed and it creates some pretty gnarly patterns down the line. So stop every now and then and take three nice and slow diaphragm lubricating breaths, let chest rise slightly, belly/back/sides expand like a balloon would, shoulders and neck relaxed. Close your eyes if you can/need to. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Exhale longer than your inhale. See if you can feel your PF descend down gently with your inhale, and if you have high kinesthetic awareness, try to feel your PF recoiling back up on the exhale. That is what happens but so many of us have lost that connection to our bodies. The more you practice noticing the better you’ll get at it.
Quick Tip: Hip Mobility
Recently, I got to attend a natural movement class from MovNat Madison hosted by Mindful Motion Physical Therapy, here in Madison. It was so much fun! I discovered a fun little hip mobility move...and that crab walking is way harder than it looks!
My left hip is often much tighter but a few reps of these and it was nice and loose! Plus, it is great practice for ground mobility and transitions from sitting to standing, which is very important as we age. Hands free is the goal!
Remember, happier hips = happier pelvic floor.
Try it out and see how it feels! How did you do??
It’s a special Halloween edition of The Pelvic Underground. I even dressed up for the occasion!
Here’s something scary...tight glutes and pelvic floor! One of my recent favorite self-myofascial release tricks.
This one targets pelvic floor from behind and specifically deep hip rotators. It is delicious for getting a femur (the “thigh” bone) that sits too far forward in the socket to rest back and center.
Got a tight pelvic floor, hip impingement, or a labral tear? Try this out!
First, lie on the floor with knees bent and feel what you feel, particularly how much floor you can feel with your bum. Is one knee higher than the other? If so, do that side first and most.
Next, find your midline between #glutesofglory and then feel for your tailbone, place the ball an inch or so above and to the right or left of the tailbone. Don’t rest *on* the bony areas, find flesh. Then rest in that spot, breathe into it and feel yourself #relax into this. It should NOT hurt. Then move across your glutes doing this same thing until you reach the back of your “hip bone” (posterior portion of the greater trochanter). Remove the ball and now see how it feels. How much more floor can you feel? Does it feel like a wide open space now? That’s your femur resting into position 😎 Are your knees level now? Excellent!
Happy (belated) Halloween!
Hypertonic Pelvic Floor Stretches
It’s hump day so how about some more stretches for a tight pelvic floor? Sure!
Now, I say "hypertonic" because that is unfortunately the verbiage used most commonly, but it implies something neurological in nature and generally that is not the case. What we should actually be saying is a "tight/weak pelvic floor." Because, anything that is tight is also weak, just as anything that is loose is also weak. But loose is also a terrible way to describe a hypotonic pelvic floor (which is less common). I digress...
Back to a tight pelvic floor! Happy baby pose is another favorite of mine. Bottom photo is the typical way it is performed. Hold your legs so they feel relaxed and shins (anterior tibialis) are relaxed as well. Breathe deeply and slowly into your belly/back/sides (360 breathing!) for up to two minutes. Note: don’t send your breath down *past* your bum, but aim *for* your bum. Breathing so far down actually puts too much pressure down and out. No need to go crazypants on us here.
Top photo is a modification in a more prone position. I bolster under my bum so that my hip flexors can relax and my back stays long and relaxed. Too much rounding of the back and your canister (i.e. your core) isn’t aligned appropriately. Breathe deeply and slowly into your belly/back/sides and down to your bum. Really try to feel your rib cage expanding in your back and imagine that pelvic floor expanding more and more with each breath.
Holding Your Kids: Wrap-up
What this all boils down to is, be more mindful! Because, sometimes, it’s going to look like ☝️this☝️. And that’s okay!
Notice your habits and if they are not in alignment with your goals, work to change them! With posture it just takes a lot of repetition. These aren't earth- moving concepts. They are simple, actionable things that you can do over and over and over again. Make a sticky note (or 10!) and put one anywhere you look frequently to remind you. If I can help one of you lift and carry better then I am full of joy over here! It isn’t going to be 100% of the time, and likely not even 70% of the time that you’ll have this wonderful posturing. I don’t! You just need to do a little here and a little there, and be more body aware. And it totally helps.
For those of us labeled with various pelvic health ailments, it is scary to read what the interwebs have to share on things like diastasis recti and particularly pelvic organ prolapse. Sure, you need to be more aware and change up a few habits but it is all for the better and will serve you well into old age when everyone else is dealing with overuse injuries from a lifetime of bad posture and mechanics. So, high five to you for taking the first steps!
Good posture and alignment that best suits *you* and excellent breathing strategies will allow you to perform most of what you wish to do. But, obviously, please seek guidance from a qualified medical or exercise specialist who deals with these kinds of things regularly and understands the unique circumstances of postpartum rehab and pelvic health issues. Having a go-to women's health/pelvic floor physical therapist is one of the best tools to have in your lady bits tool box. (Oh my gosh, so many puns in that sentence!)
If you have any questions, please reach out to me and I will do my best to assist you and/or point you in the right direction. We are in this together! YOU are not alone, my friend.
It sounds so simple, huh? It can be, but for some it is SO HARD. My favorite thing to do is get down on the floor, prop my legs up on a table/bed/couch/ottoman and just chill out.
Focus on doing your really amazing 360 breathing and moving those ribs laterally (out to the side). Hang out as long as you feel comfortable, but I usually end up spending anywhere from five minutes to an hour (if I fall asleep!). So deeply relaxing.
The back can relax fully, too, which is great for tension/pain. Let your legs really flop to the sides and pay attention to *anywhere* you are holding tension. I store mine in my left groin and jaw 😎 So mindfulness is key here. Put something under your head if it is uncomfortable for your neck or your ribs thrust too much.
See if you can feel your breathing down into your pelvic floor. This will help relax things, big time. To me, it feels like my bum is expanding/opening, and that is how most people describe the sensation in my experience. This is a good thing for all my tight pelvic floors! You have to learn how to let go and allow it to expand fully in order for it to effectively contract completely and at the right time.
Holding Your Kids: Part IV
Okay, this time the adjustments are pretty subtle, but with very big improvements as a result. I got to a point where I couldn’t wear my second because it caused symptoms of prolapse. Obviously, I still wasn’t managing pressures well. Once I figured things out I could use the symptoms I felt as a feedback loop. I almost felt lucky that I was getting this instant feedback on my alignment rather than years down the road and after a lot of repetition of bad habits. So, here you go!
See in the first pic you can barely see my neck, head is forward and shoulders are hiked up and rolled forward. Hips are thrust forward, knees are locked out, and glutes are clenched. Bottom strap is much too high, sitting at my waist and in the curve of my lumbar spine. What to do?
Relax glutes! Move hips back over ankles, soften the knees a touch, and engage those lower abs just enough to give stability. Relax the shoulders! Your kid isn’t going to fall out if you relax. Make your neck long, and slightly tuck chin by lifting from the crown of your head. Gently engage between shoulder blades (enough to hold a feather). Move the bottom strap down across your hips. (Your low back just said, “ahhhhh.”)
Think of the unconscious things our bodies do in tight situations. It wants to create tension to push against something. You have a strap across your waist? Your brain wants to push your belly out to create tension against the load, and thus stability. Something pulling down on your shoulders? Your brain wants to push up against the load and you’ll hike your shoulders up. Hips thrust forward on locked knees? Your glutes will clench to create stability from behind. This is why ill-fitting or too-tight clothing is a tricky thing. But that is for another time :)
If you are a sling user, then these same principles apply, but also make sure to switch sides every other time so one shoulder isn’t always taking the load.
**My kids are too heavy now for wearing so today’s model was my daughter’s doll, “Baby Jayne” 😎**
Holding Your Kids: Part III
First pic...ahhhhhh! Stop right there! Even my toddler knows it’s a bad position 😂😂😂 See how my back is rounded and the load (my kid) is way out in front of my center of mass? This = very bad things for my back and anterior/posterior core if it were to be a postural habit.
Quick fix: move in so your load is as close to you as possible and squat down (neutral pelvis, engage the core to match the task, neutral spine). Think about using your glutes and not your back or your quads for this. As you come to standing, push through your heels and engage those glutes. Use your biceps to hold and bring in the load, and once again engage the shoulder blades slightly so they can also respond to the load efficiently.
Next, before you start to stand BLOW BEFORE YOU GO. This is a tip from the amazing @juliewiebept and one I use everyday with every single lift and squat (even standing up from a toilet!). Begin to blow out through pursed lips and then complete the move as you exhale completely. I like to inhale with a good 360 breath on the way down (expanding/opening up the pelvic floor and preparing it for a good contraction...because in order to shorten a muscle well, you have to be able to lengthen it first!), snag my load, then begin to blow out through pursed lips right before I push up to standing, continuing to exhale (contracting the pelvic floor* and disbursing the load nicely, avoiding bearing down). It is so engrained in me now that even my kids do it with me 😍
It doesn’t matter what you are or aren’t lifting. It could be a crumb off of the floor, sitting down to/getting up from a meal, on/off the toilet, getting in/out of the car. Practice good mechanics and mind your core and pelvic floor. Always bring the load as close to your center as possible, and harness the power of your breath.
*It should be noted that for me I no longer need to *actively* engage my pelvic floor with different movements; it knows what to do and it does it. But I have done a ton of re-training and re-connection of my PF with the breath. Check with your PFPT first to determine what your strategy should be based on where you are at at that time.
Breathing Basics: Full Squat
Deep squat for back body expansion. Bellisimo. This is perfect for those of us with a high hinge point. This is the curve in the back that had migrated a little farther up towards mid back, commonly seen in the postpartum body. It is also usually much more exaggerated of a curve than the normal low lumbar curve we like to see.
Grab onto something very sturdy (i.e. won’t move!) and sit back enough that your arms will be straight. Relax into the squat and make sure the fronts of your ankles are relaxed, too (no tibialis anterior activation). Feet and knees together, head down if possible, and breeeeathe. Slow and deep, aiming for the bra line. You may (hopefully!) feel this down into your pelvic floor. If not, focus on this and see what you discover. Don’t let your breath go past your bum though. Let it stop there, otherwise too much efforting could create a bearing down 🛑. Do this for 3-5 good breaths and then go back to whatever you were doing. I try for a few of these daily. They help relax my very overactive paraspinals and are helping me work on decreasing a feisty anterior pelvic tilt!
A modification for prolapse or knees that don’t enjoy end range flexion is sitting on a full foam roller, then wrap your arms around your legs instead of holding onto something. I personally have more difficulty with the modification and end up breathing more into my neck. More proof that everyone has different needs. Even with a prolapse I find the full squat works better *for me*. Try both and see what works better for you. I use a foam roller for the modification but you can use a yoga block, stair, curb, firm folded yoga-type blanket, etc. I will do these at the park sometimes, squatting down onto the low divider between the woodchips and grass and it works great! Dropping your head down helps to round the upper back and create more mobility there, but is not required.
**Sound on if you are needing the jarring sounds of toddler noise during breakfast!
Runner, lifter of children, PTA, CPT, PCES, pelvic health zealot