“Two poles of a battery between which energy flows – in this way bandhas conduct breath through the body. Working against the force of gravity and achieving lightness; a union between the respiratory and pelvic diaphragms.” – Unknown
Last week well known Strength and Conditioning Coach Carmen Bott CEO of Human Motion Strength & Conditioning (and friend – shameless plug), asked an amazing question to her fellow friends and team:
“Connective tissue then, in its various shapes and consistencies, forms a continuous net throughout the entire body. It contains many specialized structures, but it is really one piece, from scalp to soles, from skin to marrow. – Deane Juhan.
So then, how do we isolate the pelvic floor?” – Carmen Bott
My extension of this question seeks to explore the answer as it relates to Yoga and the connection between the abdominal diaphragms (the respiratory and pelvic diaphragms), in addition to the activation of the mula bandha (in scientific terms the pelvic floor) through deep breathing techniques.
First let’s look at movement and posture for a moment and begin with the simple fact that “posture” comes from the Latin word placement – it is an action, much like sitting or standing. We are never truly placed in stillness, as we are always moving, shifting, balancing and adapting – even in the stillness of mediation and yoga. Therefore, as outlined in our on-going exploration of the interconnected fascial web – isolation is not plausible.
Secondly, let’s recognize that the pelvic floor is not solely a muscle; its function is complex as it acts as a diaphragm and plays an integral role in breathing mechanics, but is commonly overlooked. In actuality all three diaphragms pelvic, respiratory and vocal come together in yoga movements that are coordinated to facilitate the breathing cycle. Feeling how breathing works is a good way to realize the power of the diaphragms working jointly, or sometimes working against one another, as seen in faulty mechanics.
Today’s article, we are looking for reciprocity between the respiratory and pelvic diaphragms. When relaxed and in balanced acture, they face each other (like a beach ball) with a top and bottom. Understanding that we are always moving and our posture is constantly changing, the positioning of the shoulders-to-spine and spine-to-pelvis can vary; therefore balance and reciprocity between these two diaphragms (like a slightly deflated or overly inflated beach ball) can be compromised. Balancing of the respiratory and pelvic diaphragms means an equal balance between 4 main muscle groups; which Tom Myers calls the four pillars.In easiest terms – a constant balance of the back muscles, psoas complex, and the abdominals with breathing supported, ensures that the pelvic cavity is properly pressured.
In Yoga deep breathing techniques are used to bring about an awareness of the muscles associated with breathing, align proper intra abdominal pressure and calm the body into a state of stillness.
Of particular interest to Yoga practitioners is the action of mula bandha (pelvic floor) or as Carmen Bott’s question asked “So then, how do we isolate the pelvic floor?”
We already know isolation is not truly plausible, but through breath we can engage the pelvic floor and associated fascia– simply by initiating a lifting action produced in the pelvic floor muscles that also includes the lower fibers of the deep abdominal layers through breath. Mula bandha is an action that moves apana upwards, and works to stabilize the central tendon of the diaphragm and fascial net. Inhalation, while this bandha is active then requires a release of the attachments of the upper abdominal wall, which then permits the diaphragm to lift the base of the ribcage upwards establishing energetic dynamics of the pelvic girdle and aids to properly pressurize the pelvic cavity.
When relaxing the body in the more supported, horizontal, restorative practices and postures, it is important to remember to release the bandhas and constrictions that are associated with vertical postural support. This gives rise to zen-mode-relaxed breath work!
Deep Breathing Yoga Exercises:
- The Stimulating Breath / Bellows Breath: which aims to stimulate the pelvic floor/mula bandha and reflex actions of the diaphragm through quick exhalation)
- The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise: (nurturing and calm meditative breath work to balance out the breath cycle)
- Breath Counting: (designed to lengthen and strengthen the breath cycle through targeted breath counting)
All of these breathing exercises are adapted from various yogic breathing technique, all of which aim to raise vital energy and increase alertness, a clear state of mind and a physical stillness through movement and unify the abdomen through the respiatory and pelvic diaphragms – your organs will thank you for co-mingling support!
Posture in Action, Anatomy Trains: Tom Myers (http://www.anatomytrains.com/)
Breathing Exercises: For a complete breakdown of breathing exercises link to Dr. Weil at (www.drweil.com)