February 24, 2023

Learn to repattern your breath

The foundation of our workouts at TFB, whether you’re pregnant or postpartum, is diaphragmatic breathing. Asking yourself, “What’s that?” Keep reading.

At one point in your life you were breathing correctly, using your diaphragm, with your rib cage expanding 360 degrees. Somewhere along the way your body decided to switch from breathing into your diaphragm to using your lungs; hence your chest moving up and down.

Why is this so important?

Diaphragmatic breathing not only strengthens your abdominals, but did you know this pattern of breathing also benefits your pelvic floor? Let me explain.

Your diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits underneath the lower part of the rib cage and is your primary respiratory muscle. As we breathe in, the diaphragm fills up and expands and gently pushes down against our internal organs, which gently push down on the pelvic floor (PF). On our exhale, the PF naturally contracts, our internal organs gently push back up into place, and our diaphragm comes back to its resting position. Through this movement, the PF naturally expands and contracts. That’s a whole other layer we will bring awareness to, and we’ll
dive into that more in a later post, but for now let’s focus on the foundation which is properly breathing using your diaphragm.

  • Start in a position that feels most comfortable for you with your hands at your rib cage. With new clients I suggest laying down on their backs with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Others find success sitting cross-legged, on their knees with a sturdy pillow or foam roller between their legs, or in a quadruped position (on hands and knees). In any position, make sure you lift up your butt cheeks so you are sitting on your sitz bones.
  • Next is finding a neutral alignment with your pelvis and spine. Whatever position you are in, rock your hips forward and back. Find where neutral is. Your goal is to find the spot where you butt untucks, but you aren’t forcing an arched back. If you are on your back, allow your low back to have a natural arch. If you are sitting on your knees, make sure you are sitting up tall, but not leaning too far back; shoulders should be over your hips.
  • Take a couple breaths and bring awareness to where you are breathing. Is your chest mainly rising and falling? Is your belly? Take another couple breaths and then focus on breathing into your diaphragm (the rib cage).
  • Take a nice slow 4 or 5 count inhale and feel your rib cage widen and move into your hands. Exhale slowly through your mouth and feel your rib cage and your fingertips draw back together. Allow the diaphragm to initiate your inhale and the overflow of air may go into your belly and chest.
  • Practice this as often as you can. I suggest first thing in the morning for those that have a couple minutes to themselves, before or after a workout, or at night after the baby has gone to sleep. Start off with doing 20-50 breaths. From there you can incorporate it into your daily lifestyle.


  • Remember that your diaphragm does not just move laterally, but anteriorly and posteriorly as well (360 degrees); the latter which can be tricky so if you need to, adjust your hands so they are front and back of your ribcage. You can even try tying a thin long scarf or theraband around your ribs so when you breathe you can feel the band tighten 360 degrees.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing requires proper posture to allow for a deep breathe and movement of your pelvic floor muscles. Untuck your butt, chest is open, and shoulders are back and down. Ribs are over your hips. If any part of your posture is off, you shorten your breath, and your pelvic floor won’t function (expand/contract) the way it
  • Having issues accessing the diaphragm? Try a few stretches of the back and bring mobility to the spine. Check out my previous blog post for some examples.

As I mentioned, this is just one part of the entire breath work. Stay tuned for my next post, where we continue breathing into the diaphragm, but bring awareness to the pelvic floor and transversus abdominis, and deepen our practice.

Step 2 - Pelvic Floor Activation (Kegel)

Before you start you should understand that a proper Kegel includes contracting boththe front and back of your pelvic floor (vaginal and spinchter muscles). Think of preventing the flow of urine and passing gas at the same time. Second, the act of a Kegel is a two-part process. It’s not just a squeeze, but a squeeze and a lift. Some cues may be trying to pull a tampon up, sucking a milkshake through a straw, or imagining your PF muscles as an elevator and you’re trying to go to the second or third floor. So squeeze front and back, first, then lift the muscles. Doing this should fire up your deepest core muscles; the transverse abdominals which is what you contract next (step 3).

Lastly, and most importantly, is the relaxation of the PF muscles. A strong contraction is fantastic, but you need to release and relax the muscles just as well so you should feel somewhat of an expansion or widening of the muscles. The PF muscles contract and release the same as any other muscles of your body. Just like a biceps curl, you contract the muscles and bring your hands up to your shoulders and then fully extend and stretch the muscles and bring the arms down to your side. You wouldn’t go three thirds of the way down as a release and contract again, would you? Same with your PF muscles. Becoming aware of the relaxation component is especially important for those who may have hypertonic (tight) pelvic floor muscles.

Step 3 - Transversus Abdominis Activation

This is a gentle deep core contraction and wrapping of the abdominals from pelvis to rib cage. Some might think they need to brace as they would in CrossFit or any other style of strength training, however, your contraction shouldn’t feel so restricting. It’s gentle yet strong enough to support your body during whatever movement you are doing.

Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hands can be on the stomach or place your pointer and middle fingers on your hip bone and move them one inch in and one inch down. This placement may help you feel the deep core (PF + TA) engage.

Now try putting all three steps together!

  1. Inhale nice and slow for 4-5 counts into your diaphragm, relaxing your pelvic floor muscles.
  2. Initiate an exhale through your mouth.
  3. Kegel (squeeze & lift) then gently contract your transverse abdominal muscles as if you are zipping up a pair of skinny jeans and you don’t want to pinch the skin.

Some tips to keep in mind!

  1. Feel the contraction start in your lower abdominals and then wrap around your torso. Your goal is to initiate the activation in your lower abdominal region. Personally, this was the hardest for me as I was always upper ab dominant which actually puts pressure on the pelvic floor; opposite of what we are aiming to do.
  2. I suggest clients try this breath work in various positions: sitting on a stability ball, kneeling with or without a cushion in between their legs, in child’s pose, all fours position, leaning back in a chair, or even standing.
  3. As in my previous post, proper alignment is key. Ribs over hips. Rib cage is down and not flared as you inhale.
  4. Do not squeeze the glutes or tilt the hips when you perform a pelvic floor contraction. Your glutes should remain relaxed and your pelvis should stay stable and not rock.