Understanding the Pelvic Floor Plus 1 Move
The pelvic floor is the foundation of the core and it needs exercise just like any other muscle in your body. Working the core from the inside out will build a stronger foundation to allow for progressively challenging exercise. As Paul Check says, “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.” If you don’t have a strong core, you will not be as powerful or as effective in any of the other activities you pursue. You may actually be doing more harm than good by undertaking exercise that is too intense and that creates more intra-abdominal pressure than your pelvic floor can handle!
Building a strong foundation starts with the breath. As you breathe in, the diaphragm moves down and draws air in. The diaphragm’s best friend is the pelvic floor (they’ve been besties since birth!) so they go everywhere together. As the diaphragm moves down, so does the pelvic floor. The other thing that happens is the deepest layer of the abdominals, the transversus abdominus and the small muscles along the spine, expand. The core unit expands and prepares to engage on the exhalation. As you breathe out, the diaphragm and the pelvic floor move up and the transversus abdominus moves inwards to engage the core and bring stability to the spine and pelvis. This co-contraction between the pelvic floor and the transversus abdominus is critical and is actually the missing link to the flat tummy everyone is longing for. Cues like ‘bring the belly button to the spine’ are used in gyms, fitness classes, yoga and pilates classes with good intention, but the focus is on the transversus only with no mention of the pelvic floor. By shifting the focus to the pelvic floor and thinking of the perineum lifting instead of the belly button moving in, you will encourage the natural co-contraction of the pelvic floor and transversus abdominus, which will strengthen your core from the inside out.
The Core Breath is one of the best core connection exercises and you can watch a step-by-step video here. For another variation, which takes out the influence of gravity and can be relaxing and restorative, take The Core Breath to a wide-leg child’s pose.
Move into wide-leg child’s pose. You can have your arms fully extended above your head with your forehead on the mat or your head turned to one side, you can also rest your head on the backs of your hands with bent arms, or you can have your arms long by your sides with your forehead on the mat. You may also choose to have a bolster under your chest for more support. Keep your toes together and your knees wide to the sides of the mat. Relax and just breathe for a few moments.
Now bring your awareness to the inflow of your breath. As you bring air into your body, feel and visualize the expansion allowing maximum oxygen intake. Breathe into your sides, your belly, your back, your pelvic floor. Inhale to expand as you fill your body with air. Breathe slowly, breathe deeply.
Bring your attention to your pelvic floor. As you inhale to expand, feel space, openness and expansion between your sitz bones, feel fullness in your perineum. Enjoy a few breaths with this awareness.
Now turn your awareness to emptying your breath. Feel the fullness leave your perineum, feel your floor lift, feel the tummy move inwards and feel the ribs soften. Feel less space and fullness in your pelvic floor as the core unit engages and the air leaves the space it occupied.
Spend a few minutes enjoying this connection and practice daily. Take the awareness of your breath, of your core, and of your floor with you throughout your day. Apply this breathing to your daily movement and exercise to keep the core unit active and working together as a team. It is this natural ebb and flow of the breath that brings tone, strength and length to the muscles of your core. Poor posture, too much sitting, pregnancy and birth, injury, surgery - life - sometimes interrupts this ebb and flow and takes your focus outside the box. It's time to bring it back.