This vaginismus series blog explores the connection between breathwork, the pelvic floor and intimacy. Breathwork is an intentional breathing practice that serves a purpose, and it also happens to be a great mindfulness exercise. Breathing is the body’s way of self-regulating during stress and duress. Changes in breathing can be related to a stress response preparing the individual for a fight or flight response under threat. There is so much untapped potential in learning how to inhale and exhale mindfully. Practice it throughout your day and during different behaviours and activities to promote inner calm and relaxation.
“Breathwork and relaxation exercises are referred to often in research that identifies successful interventions and outcomes for overcoming and resolving vaginismus as part of a holistic intervention approach.”
So how does it work, you ask? Good breathing is essential for the functioning of every system in the body. When you inhale deeply, right down deep into the lungs, the belly and into the base of the ribs, the lungs and respiratory system fill with essential oxygen. This oxygen is carried throughout the body in the blood, helping the nervous system and muscular systems to relax, which includes those important pelvic floor muscles. Did you know that it is challenging for the body to experience arousal and pleasure while under stress?
Dr. Lori Brotto, author of the wonderful book Better Sex Through Mindfulness, says that ‘countless studies have shown that stress-reduction strategies such as deep breathing (from the diaphragm) and progressive muscle relaxation, which have been in existence for nearly a hundred years, reduce feelings of fear, anxiety, overwhelm, paralysis, hopelessness, and helplessness.’ Her book, which now also comes in workbook form, is about how women can cultivate desire through mindfulness by developing self-awareness and relaxation strategies. She states that ‘For many women, managing stress is the key to improving their sexual desire.’ Her two books are among my most recommended book reading for female clients coming to sex therapy with sexual and libido concerns.
Breathwork can also enhance sensitivity, responsiveness and pleasure by bringing you down into the body, shifting away from the mind and anxiety-based thoughts. It is a simple tool that can be used during intimacy to promote a deeper sense of relaxation and release.
The female sexual response cycle has four stages. The pelvic and vaginal muscles lengthen, expand and contract during each phase in this cycle, which is why addressing pelvic floor dysfunction is beneficial for women with penetration problems.
Breathwork helps to reduce and relieve tension in the pelvic floor – and that is good news for women experiencing penetration pain. Use simple controlled breathing techniques if you are struggling to experience pleasure and arousal or have difficulty with that third orgasmic phase.
“It can be difficult for women to achieve any stage of the female sexual response cycle when they live with prolonged stress and tension…“
For women who experience that initial pain on penetration, use your breathing to connect with the body and be mindful if you are actually ready for any vulva touch or penetration; take your time and use breathing to relax into intimacy, whatever pleasure and intimacy mean for you.
It can be difficult for women to achieve any stage of the female sexual response cycle when they live with prolonged stress and tension, experiencing anxiety and depression or pain such as endometriosis or chronic pain.
‘For many women, managing stress is the key to improving their sexual desire.’
– Dr. Lori Brotto author of Better Sex Through Mindfulness
Low libido may be due to many of these factors. Use your breathing to connect with your body in a compassionate way to identify what your needs are around general well-being – this will positively impact your sexual well-being.
You might like to read... [The Pelvic Floor Connection with Lorraine Boyce aka The Down Below Physio]
Breathwork is an excellent strategy for women who experience anxiety and stress symptoms and women experiencing vaginismus, including psychological symptoms such as pain, fear and avoidance of thinking. Practice it before, during and even after dilator training, intimacy, tampon use and sensate touch to help you feel grounded, calmer and more in control. In fact, breathing exercises are also used as a common pain management intervention.
Breathwork and relaxation exercises are referred to often in research that identifies successful interventions and outcomes for overcoming and resolving vaginismus as part of a holistic intervention approach.
You might like to read...[Simple Breathwork for Stress Relief & Two Techniques to Get You Started]
A great time to practice breathwork can be anytime during your day, going to sleep at night, stretching and doing yoga, taking a bath or listening to a guided visualisation or relaxation music. Practice it in segments of between three and ten minutes as often as possible, or consider power breathing for 2-minute intervals throughout the day.
In my psychosexual therapy practice, when women are working towards resolving vaginismus symptoms or are experiencing painful intimacy, we continually explore the role of breathwork, mindfulness, and stress management as part of her holistic and integrative approach.