Mindfulness: A Innermost Pelvis Self-Study
‘Mindfulness,’ increasingly a pervasive buzz word, has frontier-ed itself past the traditionally practiced borders of meditation, yoga, therapies (and others of the like), and ventured into daily routines and language of the work place, school, sports, fitness, health care, etc. Examples of common mindful imperatives include: Breathe. Observe. Notice. Feel. Sense. Be. Mindfulness is a commanding for awareness of sense in our bodies, our surroundings and the present-moment interplay between the two.
Ever-evolving research in neuroscience leads the charge in supporting mindful practice as a means to step away from our increasingly dominant fight-or-flight response during daily routines and ‘dial down’ our nervous system. Ample scientific studies suggest that persisting pain, trauma or stress can change our brain’s internal mapping of a particular region or across our body shift baselines of important functions like sleep patterns, pain regulation, emotions, movement, sensation, etc. Our nervous system can sneakily re-wire our downstairs — however and thankfully, our systems are dynamic, changeable and highly resilient. It’s a bounce-backable and bounce-forwardable system.
As pelvic physical therapists, we often see that our patients feel in-tune with many parts of their bodies, however, sometimes patients with pelvic issues (including pelvic pain, incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, muscle weakness, pregnancy/postpartum struggles etc) have difficulty with navigating a more intuitive geography of the pelvis. We’re often well-versed with our knees, shoulders, elbows, etc – however, internally mapping of the pelvic region can be difficult, especially for those who have experienced injuries, trauma, pain and other influences that can change our brain’s mapping of our body. Turns out, research tells us that mindfulness and diaphragmatic (deep belly breathing) can be a great tool to help re-learning our brain’s mapping of our body, including our more intimate ‘downstairs.’
So, here’s to a three minute, mindful self-date with your brain and your dear pelvis:
Pelvic Body Scan
I imagine that you, dear reader, are reading this on some sort of screen either in sitting, standing, moderately slouched, laying down, etc. The studied juries of psychology and neuroscience and others might contest that mindful practice should be absent of screens and blue light. Real-worldfully, let’s practice awareness right here, wherever you are. Words on screen, yet your body embodied. You bring your pelvis with you during your every days, let’s use it right here, right now:
- To start, place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose. And exhale through nose or mouth. Notice if one hand – on abdomen or chest — moves first. Change your position if needed: shift to allow your inhales to first inflate your abdominals, then lightly through the chest. Take three more breaths like this.
- Now, place your hands on the outside of your lower ribs: as you inhale, use that same abdominal-first type of deep breath, but make your ribs move outward into your hands (to the side). Three breaths like this. What does this feel like? Notice any areas of tension or discomfort, ease or relaxation. Congrats, you’re human and what you feel is real. And safe. And normal.
- Now, bring these two breaths together: Inhale, feeling abdominals coming forward as your ribs move wide. Picture your inhalations as 360 degree breaths, expansive, wide, full. Three breaths here. Challenge yourself to lengthen your exhales longer than your inhales.
(Congratulations! Neuroscience is hard at work. As you breathe, you’re starting to intuitively map out your nervous system’s control of your pelvis – including connections of the abdominals, pelvic muscles, diaphragm and spine)
- And now, consider the outers and in-betweens of the pelvis: Place one hand on your pubic bone and one hand near your tailbone. Three deep, wide breaths. Notice what occurs in the space between your hands as you breathe. Wide ribs upon inhale. (Can you sense the space between your hands (between your sit bones) gently moves downward, like a gentle bulge? Cheers, you’ve found your pelvic floor and the feeling of relaxing these important downstairs postural muscles). Three deep breaths here. And upon the exhale? (Can you feel the gentle lift the pelvic floor, hammocked across the space between your hands?) Again, three breaths.
- Shift your hands, now placing them on the outside of your pelvis, the bony parts of your hips below your rib cage. You’re inwardly and outwardly tracing the borders of your pelvis. Inhale: ribs wide, abdominals forward, gentle dropping downward, relaxing the pelvic muscles. Exhale: ribs and abdominals move inward, pelvic muscles gently lift. This is the feeling of contracting the pelvic muscles. Three more breaths.
- Now slide your hands down to your sits bones. (Can you feel the movement of pelvic muscles between your sit bones as you inhale and exhale?). As your ribs widen upon inhale, picture these muscles gently dropping down toward your toes. Upon exhale, feel the pelvic muscles gently lift up toward your nose.
- Let your breaths guide safe and healthy movement of your torso, across your abdominals, ribs, spine, pelvic muscles. Place your hands across your lower ribs, lower abdominals, side of your hips, inner groin or low back, feel the expansion of your inhales and gentle recoil of your exhales. Three deep breaths.
Congrats! Your innermost cartographer is hard at work, changing connections and valuable input from your body and brain. You’ve just taken a quick, mindful, embodied self-inventory. Your nervous system is hard at work re-finding connections to your southern territories. Mindful practices such as these can be valuable tools in dialing down pain, coming to know and understand our own bodies and shifting away from our all-too-often fight-or-flight response towards a more intentional, wholehearted (and whole-bodied) state.
Dr. Gina Yeager and Dr. Beth Dessner are physical therapists at Colorado In Motion