“Squeeze that pelvic floor every time you’re at a red light”: have you ever heard that one?
I am not a big fan of this, and here’s why.
It’s not functional (meaning, it’s not practical and a true-to-life way of using these muscles).
It’s too easy to do it wrong this way, due to both the position of the pelvis sitting in a car, and the obvious distractions around you.
And I see too many people that hold tension in their pelvis as they are rushing around all day feeling stressed about the next thing they need to get to.
Isolated muscle training requires focus – mindfulness – and this strikes me as a fairly mindless way of using the pelvic floor muscles.
But there is another exercise I like to encourage at red traffic lights.
And it fits quite nicely with the fact that most people are tense, rushed and stressed when driving.
It’s diaphragmatic breathing, otherwise known as belly breathing.
This is the natural form of breathing that your body engages in when you are relaxed. It follows that by consciously employing this method of breathing, you can help your system be more relaxed.
Now, by relaxed, I don’t mean sleepy, zoned out or slowed down – if so, I obviously wouldn’t be encouraging it while you are driving a car.
No, by relaxed, I mean:
Alert but calm.
Ready to respond but not tense.
Able to invest the right amount of energy for the task at hand.
The best, most effective version of yourself, in fact.
If this sounds a bit like what you are trying to achieve with meditation, then that’s no accident.
Belly breathing, when performed at 3-5 breaths per minute, is very similar to the breathing pattern used in meditators, according to a study way back in the 1980s.
A more recent study on yoga mantras and the rosary is one of my favourite atudies on breathing.
It showed that specifically breathing at a rate of six breaths per minute, either by a method of saying the Hail Mary or yoga mantras, resulted in an increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity (that is, the “rest and digest” arm of your unconscious nervous system).
Learn belly breathing with your physiotherapist, and consider using it whenever you need to…well…breathe. (And make sure you talk to your pelvic floor physiotherapist about when you really SHOULD be activating your pelvic floor).
So rest easy at the red traffic lights, and enjoy the relaxation that comes from belly breathing!
Driving is my favourite time to do belly breathing. What’s yours?