Breathwork is finally coming into its own. But many people like myself have known its many benefits for years. Let me paint you a picture, one that coincides with the creation of May Babes, our breeches and why we talk a lot about riding apparel being comfortable.
During my second postpartum experience and the ensuing recovery, I not only needed something to focus on that was outside of my new baby and family but one that also made me feel like I was moving the needle toward my goals of healing and getting back to intentional movement. The movement I happened to love was riding, and I knew if I was going to get back into the saddle I had to take my recovery seriously. This is where breathwork entered the picture.
After endless searching of what I thought my body needed, I found a breathing technique called Hypopressives. It was and has been a game changer for me. I took one-on-one lessons from various teachers, (I am more than happy to share contact information, if you reach out to me here: firstname.lastname@example.org) and learned proper form and practices. I still practice to this day.
The definition of Hypopressives from the Hypopressives Canada website states: “The term ‘HYPOpressive’ refers to a decrease or reduction in pressure. This form of exercise reduces pressure to the thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities, where traditional exercises, abdominal training, gravity, as well as the majority of our daily activities are HYPERpressive – they increase intra-abdominal pressure. It is not to say that doing these everyday activities are bad for us, in fact most of what we do - even walking - increases this internal pressure. What we need to address is how well our bodies are able to manage these pressures and prevent the onset of injury/dysfunction.”
Now, I was not dealing with pelvic floor dysfunction, but rather the recovery of a very long and arduous labor that left me feeling detached from my core, like my pelvis and core didn’t know one another and the natural reflexes that happen with things like breathing and engaging my pelvic floor were just not tracking. The breath practice of Hypopressives changed my entire healing process and connection to my body. It is a short practice of what is called apnea, or false breath combined with specific postures. All of these things leave you feeling energized, more aligned and I felt like my physical abilities were magnified just from a single thing. It actually helped me to move forward and have a way to function through all the basic physical therapy movements I was given to work on before returning to exercise after baby.
After I had been working on Hypopressives for about a month, I came across the work of physical therapists Julie Weibe and Dr. Sarah Duvall. Both were instrumental in helping me navigate returning to exercise post baby. For whatever it is worth, Sarah has an amazing all encompassing program called Core Exercise Solutions that is by far the most comprehensive program for moms who want to return to exercise after baby better than they left it.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that both PT’s highlight the importance of breathing in their work. Our breath controls our core, and in so many ways that affects everything we do in the saddle.Nervous before a show? Breathing affects that. Stamina during long bouts of trotting? Breathing. Engaging your seat or lack thereof? Breathing. Trap muscles hanging out where your ears are? Check your breathing!
Other ways breathing impacts your riding-bracing or clenching your legs, arms or shoulders often means you're breath holding. Not into your seat as much as you would like? That is pelvic floor, the spring in your pelvis that expands and contracts and helps your seat give the aids you need. Remember our blog post and interview with Pelvic floor PT Kailie Denham? She mentioned breath quite a bit when it comes to incontinence or leaking while riding.
BREATH IS EVERYTHING.I do my own breath work prior to working with one of my baby horses because for one reason or another, we have better sessions together when I use my breath to center myself before I engage. I believe breath work is that powerful.
So where does clothing come into play here?
We are meant to use our breath, and the sooner you see it as a tool that is beyond useful in the saddle, the better rider you will be. I had put in all of this work to breathe better but then I noticed it was harder to apply when riding.
Riding postpartum and how apparel plays into that could be considered the Magnum Opus of my life.
This is where our motto of comfort comes in and why I talk about it incessantly.
The extremely tight clothes we often see riders wearing is not always optimal for our bellies and lungs. Often tight clothes send a message, and that message can be constriction, it can mean altered breathing because we are uncomfortable or it can be the feelings of being self conscious of how we look or feel. It can actually remove how safe we feel in our bodies and our surroundings. We need to be able to fully utilize our bodies when we are participating in an athletic endeavor and riding is one of those endeavors! So why on earth do we just wear whatever everyone else is wearing and accept that our bodies require or should do the same?
We need comfort and functionality, first and foremost.
The nuances of comfort and safety when it comes to riding clothes is not lost on me, which is why certain fabrics and fit are important and design details matter when it comes to tops and bottoms in garments. It is why good products take time to develop.
One thing that is very unique to our Bella leggings is the waistband. The waistband is made with a very large panel that doesn’t constrict the main area of the belly, while the low seam that attaches the waistband is actually strategically placed so it doesnt rub on an area that is common to have a c-section scar from birth (and is, in turn, a sensitive area). When developing our Off Course and Ges breeches, we wanted to shorten the waistband since there are some riders who prefer a moderate rise to a high rise. We made sure that the waistband was flared out just a tiny amount more than industry standard measurements, in a very particular way, to keep from pinching your body’s canister-something we find is important physically as well as aesthetically. Mid-rise pants are particularly hard to make and not do this because of course, they are mid-rise. The band hits the middle of your canister. We made the thighs and through the hips slightly more compressive, to allow for the top of the waistband to have some give without making the breeches fall down.
Next up on the list is belts. Oh belts…you make us look so polished and professional. And yet, when cinched so tight we cannot breathe correctly you take away our athleticism! So, the same way you would adjust your stirrups when you realize they will impede your ride, please do so with your belt. No one benefits from a too tight belt and when you’re already nervous or taking shallow breaths during a show or lesson, honestly the belt makes it worse. Added to that is the desire to constantly want to brace or “suck in” our stomachs and that piles layers upon layers of work de-conditioning that from our mind-body connection. Ask me how I know ;)
While shirts play a lesser role than say, sports bras-it is still important that your shirts not be so constricting that it leads to a similar scenario as above-not so tight your body thinks it’s being encased in a recycled polyester wrapper and also so that you are comfortable from a feelings standpoint. I am not saying that a super loose top is always the best, particularly if you are trail or could get hung up on something, but the benefit of a bit less fitted top is huge. Our GG turtleneck was meant to be worn relaxed, as are our Sun Shirts. Technical fabric of course is a modern invention with advantages aplenty, one of which is spandex or stretch material. This gives some range in fit, and is helpful in shirts being less restrictive than fabrics-wovens and knits without stretch. All of that being said, we find that offering many sizes allows customers to size up or down to determine the fit that they prefer. We also made the arms of our newest shirt just slightly (slightly) fitted. This means the arms look tailored, while the body area can remain a little looser without taking away the polish of the top.
The trend that every body type has to or needs to be in clothing that might not make them feel good about themselves is a particular rub of mine. Like tight clothing? Does it make you feel good? Then wear what makes you feel YOUR BEST. But don’t shy away from what makes you most comfortable.
So with all that being said, make sure you shop for your body, and your own athleticism when buying riding clothes. We often look for things seasonally-be it breathable or moisture wicking or even purchase based on color or story of the particular item-by have you ever considered buying for how it will function when it comes to fit and movement? Or how your body will move AND breath in it?
When you can breathe better, whether it be through breath practice or through better clothing, your riding will improve.
I hope to do some more writing on breath work and practices in the future. In the meantime, feel free to reach out if you have any questions about anyone I mentioned in this post.
****None of this blog constitutes medical advice so please seek out a qualified trainer, PT or Dr. or health professional when considering taking on a breath work practice. All of my experience is my own, and does not represent anyone listed on this blog or qualify as medical advice from them.