By Petra Fisher, Restorative Exercise Specialist
One thing that I love about the naturopathic approach to health care is that your doctor will treat causes instead of symptoms. Although this may at first seem counter-intuitive (like when Dr. Darou recommends changing your diet to change your symptoms of depression), the results speak for themselves. When you heal the cause, the symptoms disappear. No more need for drugs like antidepressants that just mask the real problem, and which come with side effects, and instead you rebalance and get true wellness.
I believe that it’s equally important to treat causes and not symptoms when it comes to treating a pelvic floor issue (or any other musculo-skeletal condition).
Sometimes people are surprised to come to one of my pelvic floor classes and never once do a kegel, or anything resembling one.
But the thing is that your pelvic floor weakness is probably not caused your pelvic floor muscles – it’s just a symptom. The cause is your whole body movement patterns. Something about the way you move is creating forces that have resulted in short, weak pelvic floor muscles. The fix isn’t to strengthen just the muscles down there, but to step back and improve the way your entire body moves.
For instance, the way you breathe makes a huge and direct impact on your pelvic floor health.
Did you know that there are actually three main strategies that you can use to breathe? Your thoracic cavity and lungs are like a container, and you have to change the size of this container in order to draw air in and then push it out. There are three ways to change the size of your container and you can test these all out:
First, try chest breathing – inhale by elevating your shoulder girdle. Here, the air goes mostly into the top part of your lungs because you’ve increased the space at the top of your thoracic container.
Next, try rib breathing – put your hands around your lower ribcage and inhale to expand your ribs out to the sides. As you breath out, the ribs contract in. This time, you’ve enlarged your container by increasing its circumference.
Finally, you can breath by dropping your diaphragm, creating space in the bottom of your container (this is the way you breathe when you do ‘belly breathing’ in yoga class).
All three of these strategies get air into your lungs, but only rib breathing does it without causing damage to other bits of you.
When you chest breathe, you create an upward ‘smushing’ force that compresses and damages the discs in the neck. So that’s no good.
When you breathe only with your diaphragm, you create a plunger-type effect, pushing pressure down into your abdominal cavity and from there to your pelvic floor. Over time, this constant pressure can overload the pelvic floor and it can’t do its job any more – stuff starts to leak, or to hurt.
This means that if you have a pelvic floor issue, one of the first things is to learn how to breathe better.
And to do that, you need to fix the reason why you’re breathing poorly in the first place. Which is, in part, your tight shoulders. So that’s why when you come to one of my pelvic floor classes we’re going to spend some time working to lengthen your chest and shoulder muscles. And we’ll also practice better breath mechanics. And a whole lot more stuff that all has a major impact on the movement habits that can cause your pelvic floor to fail.
If you’ve noticed any kind of incontinence, if you’re planning to get pregnant or are finding some pelvic floor issues post-partum, or if you’re suffering from pelvic, low back, or SI joint pain, then you should join me this fall for the Whole Body Alignment: Pelvic Floor and So Much More class, starting October 31st, 12:30-1:30. Come and fix the cause of the problem – or make sure it never becomes one!