Learn how to use your deep core with the core connection breath described below. Your deep core is the deepest layer of muscles in the torso and is critical to your health.
Think of your deep core like a canister. There is a top, bottom, front, and back. Your deep core unit consists of the following 4 muscle groups making up the core canister.
- First is multifidus, which are muscles that support your spine to help you maintain good posture. (BACK OF CANISTER)
- Second is your respiratory diaphragm. It is dome shaped and when it is relaxed on your exhale it floats up towards your lungs. When it contracts on the inhale it floats down towards the abdominal cavity. It has a massive impact on intra-abdominal pressure. (TOP OF CANISTER)
- Third is your pelvic floor (aka pelvic diaphragm). Think of this as a hammock at the base of your pelvis with the tension and flexibility of a trampoline. It is intimately connected to the respiratory diaphragm and moves in tandem as you breathe… on exhale it lifts and gains tension, on inhale it stretches downwards (BOTTOM OF CANISTER)
- And fourth is your deepest layer of abdominals, your transverse abdominis. This layer of abs wraps your torso from back to front, attaching at the spine and wrapping to the base of the ribs and top of the pelvis, meeting in the middle at the linea alba. (FRONT OF CANISTER)
To access your deep core, try this breath.
- Sit up tall to access your postural muscles. Stack your rib cage directly over your pelvis. Think of them like two bowls filled with water and you don’t want to spill water from the front or back. For tactile pelvic floor feedback, it can help to sit on a block or bolster. Conversely, you can try this lying on your back with your feet on the floor and knees bent, which may be easier to access to start.
- Place your hands on your belly and take a soft but deep inhale all the way down towards your baby or abdomen. Allow your ribs to expand outwards and your respiratory diaphragm to expand down into your abdominal cavity. Take a few breaths like this until it feels more natural. We have a tendency to breathe very shallowly, into the chest, so work mastering a deep diaphragmatic breath first.
- Next, on your exhale think of drawing up your ENTIRE pelvic floor. This isn’t just stopping the flow of urine, a popular cue for Kegels. Instead think of CLOSING & LIFTING ALL of the openings in your pelvic floor (urethra, vagina, anus). This is a subtle engagement, so don’t worry if it feels like you aren’t doing it right at first. Work on this for a few breaths. Inhale softly into your belly, exhale and lift your pelvic floor. And when you inhale again RELAX the pelvic floor, letting go is just as important as engaging! Try NOT to squeeze your glutes and instead focus on the deep muscles inside the pelvis.
- Once you feel more comfortable with the inhale and pelvic floor lift, add in the transverse abdominis engagement. Imagine the feeling of putting on a pair of jeans just out of the dryer. They are tight and in order to get them on, you need to do some sucking in – not a belly button to spine sucking, but rather a wrapping from the back to the sides to the front of your torso. Think of drawing the front of your hip points closer together and then think of knitting the front insides of your ribs together. So it’s a wrapping from low back to front. You could also imagine a corset being tightened around your abdomen and consider how what muscles you might use to help get it tied up. Like the pelvic floor contraction, this is also subtle and may be hard to access as you are first starting out.
With practice the feeling of contract and lift in the pelvic floor and wrapping in the abdomen will feel more obvious. You are repatterning your deep core and creating/strengthening neural mind-muscle connections.
This breath is CRITICAL in stabilizing your core and pelvis and can dramatically reduce postpartum recovery time. I recommend this breath is used not only during pregnancy to help but also postnatally to aid in core function rehabilitation.
Benefits of the core connection breath
- Deep stabilization of the entire core unit
- Prevent or heal incontinence (leaking)
- Lengthen and strengthen pelvic floor muscles for optimal response to intra-abdominal pressure such as sneezing, coughing, jumping, running
- Diastasis recti prevention and healing
- Mindfulness – brings you into the present moment and in tune with your body
- Calming effect on the mind and body, brings you into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest)
WHO SHOULD NOT PRACTICE THE CORE CONNECTION BREATH
If you are at all concerned you have a overactive/tight/hypertonic pelvic floor, I recommend you see a pelvic floor physical therapist before attempting this breath technique. You may need to work more on RELEASING the pelvic floor before you bring back in an active contraction.
A hypertonic pelvic floor is one that cannot let go. Think of a trampoline you jump on and it does not move downwards as you push off. The muscles are gripping and in a near constant state of contraction. This can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction as the muscles fatigue themselves from the constant effort.
Symptoms of a hypertonic pelvic floor are pelvic pain, painful sex, pain inserting a tampon, incontinence (stress or urgency), difficulty eliminating or fully emptying. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate, find a PFPT ASAP!
A deep yoga squat sitting on blocks is one way to work on lengthening and releasing the pelvic floor. Using a squatty potty is also beneficial when using the bathroom. Of course, it’s recommended that you work with a professional to heal any dysfunction and not take my words as medical advice.
It is very COMMON to experience any of these symptoms, but it is not NORMAL. Meaning, you don’t have to live with it, there is help out there!