Breathe in.... Belly out
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
Belly breathing, is a kind of diaphragmatic breathing and is an absolute must for women in general, not just in pregnancy. It is the foundation of a strong core and a strong pelvic floor and it is especially important in pregnancy when these two areas take a hit.
Now if you're anything like me, you'll be thinking, " Not that crap they try and teach you in yoga?"..... But yep. Its kinda similar. I won't be teaching you chants and mantras etc, that's not my jam. You can chant the Fresh Prince theme tune for all I care. BUT, when I actually researched the benefits of belly breathing to incorporate in to my Pre/Postnatal training and let me tell you.... the benefits are numerous. I actually have incorporated some in to my own warm up prior to training!
What are the benefits of belly breathing?
- Balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
- Improves posture
- Tones abdominal muscles (especially transverse) so is ideal for rehabilitation from Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation)
- Assists strengthening and rehabilitation of the pelvic floor (good for labour, recovery, prevents incontinence)
- Reduces cortisol (the stress hormone)
- Releases seratonin (the happy hormone)
- Can improve mental focus due to increasing blood flow
- Improves sleep quality
How do I belly breathe??
Basically, take slow, big, deep breaths in and out. But not as you may think. We are used to taking a big breath in and pulling the tummy in but I want you to really concentrate on doing the opposite.
BREATH IN = BELLY OUT + RELAX PELVIC FLOOR
I advise starting these lying down (personally it was a good position for me to concentrate in). Draw the air in deep and slowly until you feel the breath fill the belly. Feeling it expand and feeling the pressure build against your core muscles, your transfers abdominal muscles (sides) and your pelvic floor too as it relaxes. Really focus on the muscles being relaxed and stretched as you fill your belly with air.
BREATH OUT = BELLY IN, PELVIC FLOOR IN
Now slowly release the air, focusing on those same core muscles, picture them working and contracting to expel the air from your belly. Pulling your belly button in towards your spine. Almost like someone is pulling a corset tight around you, forcing that air out. All those muscles you just felt, squeeze them down and back towards you. Pull that pelvic floor tight and upwards too (Like Kegel exercises).
If done correctly the tummy may appear smaller on the exhale, if the core muscles and TVAs are being engaged correctly.
How do these breathing techniques work?
The inhale tones all the muscles of the inner core with a concentric contraction of the diaphragm and an eccentric contraction of the core muscles, transverse abdominals and pelvic floor.
The exhale provides additional transverse abdominal support and pelvic floor strengthening.
This is very relevant in pregnancy because a good, strong core and pelvic floor can assist in maintaining good posture, can strengthen the lower back and mid-section which can decrease the muscular pain felt as the abdomen grows. It can actually increase the chance of labouring and pushing easier due to good muscle tone. There is evidence to suggest that it also can prevent the occurrence of Diastasis Recti (the separation of abdominal muscles in pregnancy). What’s more, that healthy toned muscle has memory, making it easier to return to your post baby body when you are ready to start training again.
How do I start belly breathing?
For this, do 10 – 15 breaths per cycle. Complete 3 cycles (roughly 7-10 mins of your day), at least once a day or as part of your daily workout. If including as part of your daily workout, do this at the start of your session.
Sit or lie comfortably (remember a tilt to the left if you are heavily pregnant).
Clear your mind and relax somewhere quiet
Take a slow, big, deep breath in, engaging your muscles to draw air in to the pit of your tummy.
Your tummy should feel full and the muscles working to contain that air.
Slowly exhale, releasing the air, using the TVA muscles, to do this, imagine you are drawing you belly button in towards your spine.
First of all, practice the inhale and exhale as separate exercises once or twice before combining them.
INHALE..... Now take a big inhale of air, remember, BELLY OUT = PELVIC FLOOR RELAXED as you drive it down in to the pit of your stomach (taking 1-2 seconds).
EXHALE..... Now exhale that air, BELLY IN + PELVIC FLOOR CONTRACTED, draw that belly button in towards your spine and shoot the air out of the belly. Remember to concentrate on keeping the whole core engaged and the pelvic floor too.
After practicing the inhale and exhale separately combine them together for the piston breath
When you feel confident in your ability to belly breathe, then start implementing it in your daily life. Whether it is reaching down to pick up a shopping bag (belly breathing doesn't have to be big and intense, just active). Or you are going for a heavy back squat in the gym (Becomes a Valsalva breath).
So get your belly breathing done today. Not only is the increased muscle tone good for supporting that bump, labouring, pushing and recovery, it also works the pelvic floor exponentially too and lets be honest, this is majorly important whether you've had a baby or not ladies! In my opinion prevention is better than the cure so start today!