Breathing through Endometriosis

Mayan abdominal massage is touted as great way to increase circulation to the pelvis. This is known, and many women have gotten incredible benefits from this massage therapy. But what if we could massage the pelvic organs all day long, even without thinking about it? Sounds expensive, but in reality, all you have to do is … breathe. Oh, and stop tensing your stomach too.

So here’s the question: Do you actually breathe? Obviously you’re still alive, but you may be much more oxygen starved than you know. Most of us never learned to use our breath in the right capacity, and we end up shallow breathing from our upper chest all-day-long. All-life-long. This not only makes us oxygen starved, and therefore chronically fatigued (ahem, endometriosis), but it also creates stagnation in the abdominal and pelvic cavity by not allowing these areas movement.

If you have endometriosis on your diaphragm this is especially important because it means you probably haven’t activated your diaphragm in a very long time. Your diaphragm is a muscle, not an organ, so if you haven’t been actively using it it’s been in “off” mode for as long as you’ve been chest breathing. Like other muscles, start using it and watch the circulation flood through, watch it get stronger, and watch the endo lesions start to lessen as your cells become healthier.

Poor Breathing + tight tummy = Gray Matter in your Pelvis

For the sake of this post let’s think of tissue that is starved of circulation as gray matter, which makes me think of the weird, cold, nutrient poor meat products they used to serve us as school lunch in elementary school. This is similar to the “meat” inside your body that has no access to oxygen, nutrients, immune help, or waste removal, all which depend on blood and circulation to shuttle it in. It’s sick tissue in need of nutrient rich blood to save the day!

When you breathe correctly - relaxed/strong ribs expand as diaphragm expands down with inhalation into a relaxed tummy- you are massaging your innards like a magical healing masseuse. With each breath you’re bringing life, air, nutrients, and blood to your digestive and reproductive organs. With each exhale you’re washing out toxins and cellular waste products that have accumulated, allowing your inner “septic” system to keep clean. 

When we breathe incorrectly - think of shallow breathing from your upper chest cavity - we foster gray matter in the abdominal and pelvic cavities by allowing for areas of stagnation.

In fact, your diaphragm itself might be gray matter, which is why having patience will help with the transition as you learn how to activate and use this muscle (and why you might feel like you’re suffocating the first few times you try using it). That’s like asking an office worker to lift a big rock 100 times… they’re going to need a little activation work first.

Want to see this in action?? It’s pretty cool. Ok, so here on the right is a human body all lined up correctly. The thoracic cavity is lined up over the abdominal cavity over the pelvic cavity. The only thing separating the cavities is the diaphragm that separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal. When you breathe correctly, with your diaphragm full expanding and retracting, all the squishy bits inside these 3 cavities are pulsed. Kneaded if you may. 

Breathe in: your ribs expand outward as your diaphragm fills, then slightly descends. Now all of your internal organs get a tiny squish down as your diaphragm releases down

Breathe out: all of your internal organs unfurl upwards and your ribs come back together.

This isn’t a huge movement (like, you’re not shoving your guts around like a punching bag), but a subtle movement that happens 23,000 times a day. Now that has a huge impact!!

Wait, I want to breathe, but my body won't let me

1) Release your tummy

The first thing I’m going to have to you is … RELEASE your stomach. Dun dun dunnnnnnn. Yes, I mean it, all of it. If you’re like pretty much everyone in America, you’re stomach is clenched tight right now, either sucking in or flexing or whatever it is you do to make your tummy look flat. Since endo-sisters are phenomenal at sucking in, this may be no easy feat. When we have endo-bloat to cover all the time, our gut-suck-in-reflex get’s Viking Strong!

BUT, in order to breathe correctly your diaphragm needs to out, then go down, so let it through your viking shield wall by r-e-l-e-a-s-i-n-g your grip. When your tummy is tensed up or sucked in, your diaphragm is literally stuck. Here’s me as an example: These pictures were taken 20 seconds apart, not after a cleanse. On the left I’m releasing my stomach, THIS ISN’T ENDO BELLY. This is a normal human body that’s relaxed (yes, everyone has a little pot belly, it's natural). On the right I’m tensing my stomach so all my “embarrassing” internal organs are hidden. Where are they hidden, you might ask? Up in my thoracic cavity, sticking my diaphragm to my lungs, that’s where.

 This is not endo belly on the lest, this is a healthy, natural, relaxed belly after eating. The problematic belly is on the right: tense and stiff.

This is not endo belly on the lest, this is a healthy, natural, relaxed belly after eating. The problematic belly is on the right: tense and stiff.

 When your belly is relaxed, your diaphragm has room to descend. When it's tense and stiff, there can't be any movement, even you want it to.

When your belly is relaxed, your diaphragm has room to descend. When it's tense and stiff, there can't be any movement, even you want it to.

Letting your belly out might be frightening. If you’re screaming angrily at the computer right now “You expect me to go out in public like that??!” I would never ask that :) I mean, in an ideal world I’d love everyone to release their tummies all the time and be happy and dance a lot on the streets (like when I lived in Senegal), but Americans aren’t ready for that .. yet. Instead, I suggest you find times to let your belly hang out where you feel most comfortable. I began with the shower, the car, and when sitting at my computer. 

Just as important, find times you can do this while you’re doing physical activities, like walking. Retraining your body to relax and breathe as you move will have a thousand times benefit on your body because it will allow that deep, intrinsic core strength I talk about all the time to really shine. If you’ve been using a tense outer-sheath of muscle to hold yourself up (along with ligaments and a sore spine), you’ll be able to feel how releasing the outer muscles allow those inner muscles to wake up and your deep core to activate. (Shallow note: You know what that does? Gives you a naturally flatter stomach without sucking in all the time)

As you do this make sure you only walk as far as you can without over-tiring these muscles, since they’re most likely not used to holding your upper body upright.  If you are still finding it hard to release your stomach all the way, I recommend laying down on your bed our couch. Here all your muscles can relax without gravity, and you can now focus on your diaphragm expanding.

2) Release your Ribs

THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! Now that your stomach is released it’s time to wake up your rib cage. This bone and muscle sheath opens up to make room for your expanding diaphragm, which is very important for a very important reason which is important especially if you have pelvic floor issues or endometriosis. So important to you :)

Your 3 cavities have just enough space for all the bits inside. Add a big chunk of air and it’s like stuffing another big organ in there, if nothing moves there’s not enough room! When there’s not enough room there will be excess pressure put on to your organs, and with gravity that pressure will go downnnnn, down your your pelvic floor. That could cause a number of issues, including a pelvic organ prolapse (weakness combine with this “pressure” to push your bladder or uterus out your vagina).

That’s why your ribs move! They do, they do. When you take that big breath your ribs open from side to side and expand across the back, which is a really beautiful thing to feel for the first time if you’re a breathing newby (I would get chills when I first started being able to feel this).

To get the hang of this you can try pushing your hands against your lower ribs (push harder, more, there you go) and then trying to “push” your hands away with your ribs on each breath. Fill your lungs completely while you do this so you expand allll the way into your back as well. These muscles are probably gray matter as well, so be kind to them if they’re weak or inactive. With a little time and use they’ll rehab right back to normal.

 Fill your lungs and feel your hands being pushed away as your strong ribs make room for that air

Fill your lungs and feel your hands being pushed away as your strong ribs make room for that air

3) Stack your cavities

If you’re thrusting your ribs or throwing your hips in front of your body, you’re de-stacking your cavities. That makes it very difficult for your diaphragm to descend. Since I’m obviously a visual person, here’s a colorful picture to demonstrate how an un-stacked body inhibits your cavities from working together as a team. This is another reason laying down on a bed or couch is a great place to get started, so you don't have to think about all these corrections while you focus on what's most important: breathing.

 

4) Release your arms over your head

Now that you know how to release your belly and recruit your ribs and stack yo’self, you’re well on the way to breathing! But here’s one more tip to help during the transition if you’re still finding it tough: lift your arms over your head. This will give your ribs room to move without these tight muscles holding you back. You can do this laying down, or simply lift your arms and drape them over your head while you take some big, beautiful breaths.

Practice Practice Practice

Breathing well like this can be frustratingly challenging to the chronically ill since we sometimes lack the simple muscles needed, not to mention we’re tight all over, not to mention most of us have been chest breathing since the dawn of our lives. Well, I had been anyways :/ That’s why this process might take a while, because not only do you have to retrain your diaphragm to actually work, but you have to also retrain yourself to not tense your stomach all day long, not to thrust your ribs, and strengthen the intercostals. That’s why practicing while laying down will help, as will in privacy where you can really tune into your body and where the iron grip can be released.

But you know what, if I "Iron Lung" can do it anyone can learn how to do it! Be patient, practice often, release that beautiful belly of yours, and let the air flow.