In the last post, I challenged you to begin to tune into your breath. Hopefully, you’ve started to discover what it feels like to shift your breath from a shallow chest breath and into a deeper, diaphragmatic one. If you’re still having trouble finding this more calming way to breathe, keep it at, revisiting the breathing exercise every day.
Now, let’s have some fun. I want you to get angry. Go on, give it a try, allow yourself to get worked up over something that bugs you for 10 seconds or so. Now feel how your breath responds. Did your belly breath shift back into the chest?
As you’ll quickly see, it’s difficult to keep our breathing relaxed when we’re responding this way. Isn’t it crazy how our mind can conjure up a thought and our body acts as if it’s true? Now imagine what happens when we spend the majority of our lives in this state. Not only does our nervous system feel triggered to fight, flight or freeze but it can also cause some major instability in our body, especially in the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor and the diaphragm work closely together. And you can think of the pelvic floor as roughly everything your saddle presses against, including all your reproductive organs. They both drop together on a breath in and rise together on exhalation.
Imagine a can of soda (our abdomen) where the diaphragm is the top of the can and the pelvic floor is the bottom. When we breathe, this soda can is pressurized with tightly packed air. It’s this pressure that creates a stable platform for your legs to powerfully drive through the pedals. If you feel pain while riding or lifting, especially in the low back, there’s a good chance your intrinsic core isn’t as stable as it could be.
What does shallow breathing have to do with the pelvic floor? The way we breath directly affects how we engage the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is only supported when we are breathing into the diaphragm.
When you’re working on your breathing, take a long breath past your belly button until you can feel the air press against the elastic, balloon-like pelvic floor at the very bottom of the breath. That’s breathing into the pelvic floor.
The breath helps to support the pelvic floor and if you’ve ever leaked during exercise or when you sneeze, chances are it’s a case of an unsupported pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor wants to feel supported because it’s like a steel safe protecting your body’s most prized possessions: your visceral organs.
Because the pelvic floor is primed for survival, it can be a highly emotionally charged area. Emotions drive our behavior in a very primitive way. For instance, if you crashed on your bike descending, your brain will do everything in its power to convince your body that it’s still in danger every time the road slopes down. Your breath and pelvic floor will no doubt also respond to this trigger.
If left unchecked, our emotions can also affect our performance, sleep and overall well-being. When the body feels threatened or under siege, we won’t be feeling or performing at the top of our game. Ignoring these signs and pushing through, hoping to ride the wave of feel-good chemicals produced by exercise, can lead to further injury or overtraining.
Fortunately, there are ways to fully heal from past experiences that were stressful to the body.
Learning how to breathe correctly is a big piece of allowing your body to come down from past experiences and feel relaxed and safe enough to begin to process them. Healing doesn’t necessarily mean trying to change the emotion you’re feeling, but rather shifting the body’s maladaptive (or overreactive) response to it.
Let me know if you have any questions about this.