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Breathe Deep(er)

Breathe Deep(er)

The controversial and untapped breath-control power of the pelvic floor 

Adam and Eve

          I think I have heard more than a dozen voice teachers talk about “supporting your air from down there”. One of my old teachers told me that her voice teacher once recommended that she sing from her vagina. While I’m sure many comedians could have (and probably have already) had a field day with “singing vaginas,” I think that there is something to be said for understanding that general region of our anatomy as we think about breathing and singing techniques.

         So far we have discussed the role of the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles in regulating pressure in the abdomen and thoracic cavity (where the lungs reside). This has allowed us to think about how we control exhalation or maximize the amount of air we inhale. The diaphragm forms the floor of the thoracic cavity and the roof of the abdominal cavity. The abdominal muscles therefore form the sides of the abdominal cavity. But what about the floor of the abdominal cavity?

Some of the key core muscles forming the borders of the core. Notice Multifidus (a deep muscle of the back) is included here as support behind the abdominal cavity with transversus abdominis.

Some of the key core muscles forming the borders of the core. Notice multifidus (a deep muscle of the back) is included here as support behind the abdominal cavity with transversus abdominis.

         The pelvic floor and its respective muscles form the base (or floor) of the abdominal cavity and have actually been shown to be very closely related to the actions of the abdominal muscles. In fact, they are so interconnected that studies show a contraction of the abdominal muscles is always accompanied by contraction of the pelvic floor. So this must have implications for regulating the pressure in the abdomen right? RIGHT!

A superior (from the top) view of the pelvic diaphragm muscles.

A superior (from the top) view of the pelvic diaphragm muscles.

         The pelvic floor muscles are also referred to as the pelvic diaphragm, and interestingly enough, seem to move in parallel with our friend the “respiratory diaphragm.” This means that when the diaphragm contracts down, the pelvic floor relaxes down. Conversely, when the diaphragm is relaxing up, the pelvic floor is contracting up. While the muscles of the pelvic floor were first and foremost discovered for their role in maintaining bladder and bowl control (continence), their role in respiratory control has peaked interest in the latter part of the past decade.

Another superior view of the pelvic diaphragm with some detailed labels.

Another superior view of the pelvic diaphragm with some detailed labels.

         So what does this all mean for the pelvic diaphragm and its role in controlling breathing? Basically it means that better control and awareness of your pelvic floor not only can improve continence (maybe being able to hold it until the end of the movie instead of having to climb and hurdle over theatre patrons), but can improve control of your breathing. Relaxing the pelvic floor with the abdominal muscles (although some of the pelvic floor muscles never fully relax because… well… then we’d have a “clean-up on aisle 6” kind of problem) can increase the diaphragm’s ability to fully contract inferiorly. Likewise, contraction of the pelvic floor muscles with the abdominal muscles only means better regulation of intra-abdominal pressure and thus better control of expiration.               

          The moral of the story seems to be then, pelvic diaphragm health and strength can make you a better and more efficient breather and singer. So men and women everywhere get working on those kegel exercises and you’ll not only improve your continence and sex life, but your breathing and singing too!

Explanation of a basic kegal exercise for men and women.

Explanation of a basic kegal exercise for men and women.

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