Updated: Aug 2, 2022
Mindful movement practices are important to maintain, balance and tone these very important muscles at the base of you. Let me shed some light on the topic and give you 4 ways to practice using your pelvic floor muscles in accessible ways.
If I hadn't gone down the pathways of teaching Yoga and Pilates I don't think I would have had my eyes opened to matters of the pelvic floor. My first real introduction to the pelvic floor was in yoga training. As any quality yoga training would teach you, I was taught about the bandhas. Mula- Bandha is the root lock, or pelvic floor. Again, I met the pelvic floor muscles in my Pilates training. As a Pilates practitioner, the pelvic floor is part of our "powerhouse"and inner core work. As a teacher of both modulates, I had sprinkles of wisdom that these important muscles need to be learned, learn awareness of them, and learn about their anatomical and energetic qualities. As much as folks are obsessed with their abs, my mind was blown away with the lack of information, and misguided info there is to support these very important muscles. Why are planks and crunches being sold as fixes when they can do more damage, especially after childbirth?
If they are so important, why don't they get the attention they deserve? So I started at the beginning. I googled pelvic floor. When I googled, "why are the pelvic floor muscles important?" the answer was:
"What do the pelvic floor muscles do? The main functions of the pelvic floor muscles include bladder and bowel control; supporting the growing weight of the fetus during pregnancy; facilitating the birthing process; and working as core muscles to support and stabilise the spine." (I added the bold and italics.)
Just like any other muscle in our body, they need to be worked. You won't be able to see your hard work toning them but, the overall health of your body will. This includes digestion, some types of lower back pain, deep core engagement, and more! One thing I have been astonished to learn is how many folks live with incontinence. That's right ladies! If you leak after a sneeze, laugh, cough, etc, that my friends is incontinence. We've normalized the abnormal. Then there are those that experience pain during sex, this too is something not to normalize.
Where is my Pelvic Floor?
Sitting on a big yoga ball can be useful for this. Sit nice and tall on the ball. Lean forward, find your pubic bone, lean to the right, find your right sit bone, lean to the left, find your left sit bone, tilt your pelvic backwards and find your tail. You just mapped on the diamond shape of your pelvic floor. The muscles are like a hammock at the base of you. Also, they wrap around your openings, thus giving the pelvic floor muscles the ability and influence sexual function, bowel movements, and urinary function.
Stress incontinence (leaking pee) rates are surprisingly high. So, if you relate you are by far not alone. One stat is that it effect over 50% of women over age 65. It's not just post baby! Here's another stat found on Parents.com about post baby stats: "Even a seemingly uneventful pregnancy and delivery can change urinary control for up to 50 percent of women" and continues:
"Most cases resolve in the first year after birth. However, five years after delivery, one-third to one-half of women report some degree of spritzing; 10 percent to 20 percent of women report having leakage that they consider "socially bothersome."
I think a common way of coping is telling ourselves, "I'll do some kegels". Most of us have heard that term before. Kegels are also thought more in terms of vaginally than the bigger view of the pelvic floor muscles. Let's define a Kegel. Kegel exercises that are described in my "Centering Pregnancy" book I received as I saw the wonderful midwives at Kiaser instructs this:
The Kegel exercise works the pelvic floor muscles, also called core muscles. They connect to the muscles that support the low back. These exercises have many benefits: easing back pain, preparing your body for labor, etc. Exercise these muscles whenever you can.
Your legs should be slightly apart- lying down, sitting or standing. Tighten and relax the muscles around your vagina. Do 10-20 repetitions 5 to 10 times each day. To get the feel for these muscles, try tightening while urinating. If you can stop the flow of urine, you're exercising these muscles. You can do these exercises anytime or anywhere.
Kegels only do so much. According to professionals, Kegels aren't done correctly most of the time. I also think the description above is lacking some helpful description. After having my first baby, I was a little obsessed with stopping the flow of pee. Stopping the flow of pee, or the control of the flow, uses pelvic floor muscles. No control, not enough tone in pelvic floor. I don't encourage you to do this too much as it can mess up your reflex but, it's a good test. Before baby, no problem. After 1st baby, it proved a challenge.
There are a range of treatment plans. I highly support seeing an internal PT to see if you need corrective movements or more invasive treatment. And internal PT can attach nodes to measure the strength of a muscle contraction and give you biofeedback on how and if you are using the muscles. They can also assess any prolapse. Some European countries have this as a normal course of action during post baby check ins. How empowering is that?! A check in, and education to make sure your muscles are healing. In my experience, I needed to tell my midwife I'd like to check in with one and she highly encouraged me to, although she didn't bring it to my attention. I found after seeing an awesome PT that time, ability to listen to my body to slow down (OMG this is the hardest for me) and dedication to pelvic floor exercises any leakage I had resolved itself.
Here are some of my favorites mindful movements to keep a mindful eye on recovery and to find them for the first time or rediscover them:
1. MINDFUL BREATHING
Sit in a quiet corner and breath. Notice on your inhale ribs draw up and out, pelvic floor releases to the earth, and on your exhale ribs draw in and down as pelvic floor lifts. Pelvic floor is a slow twitch muscle so slowly lower, and lift. This can be down with a normal breath, or with a little bit of effort. It's also helpful to have a theraband/yoga strap/blanket to wrap around your ribs to feel the expansion on the inhale, and the gathering toward center on the exhale.
2. BRIDGE POSE
I love utilizing a block in between inner thighs to active this deep facial line from big toe, inner thigh, pelvic floor, and to your transverse muscle. Inhale to rise, exhale squeeze the block, feel that interlacing of the ribs, inhale again as you are on the top of your bridge and then exhale, slowly release down, massaging the spine. Too much? You can do a passive bridge with the block underneath your sacrum. With the pelvis lifted, pelvic floor will be easier to access for most.
3. CHILD'S POSE
Child's pose is another great place to focus on breath, deep inner core muscles, and pelvic floor. It's also immensely calming, and most folks happy place.
4. PELVIC TILTS
I love this one for my low back! Lay on your back with feet on the floor. Use your exhale to imprint your low back to the floor and on your inhale allow your belly to move towards your thighs. Continue to move with your breath allowing focus to be on how the breath feels and on those exhales allowing pelvic floor to raise.
All of these movements are appropriate for pregnancy as well as great tools to have throughout your life.
MOVEMENTS TO AVOID
Planks and crunches! You want to make sure you are feeling a balanced gathering towards your center. If you are feeling too much downward pressure you've gone too far. If you are jumping rope, or running and leaking please see an internal PT or work with a knowledgable Pilates practitioner on your breathing.
Practice, practice! The effort you put into healing after your babies, or just being fully aware of your body throughout life, will help combat aging as well. The way you recovery from your births, will impact how you do during menopause. Remember that earlier stat? Let's put Poise out of business, shall we? And, let's not normalize the abnormal. Let's get help from professionals to stay strong and vibrant!
Notes: In this blog I focused on women's pelvic floor health but, men also have pelvic floors and need to maintain it's health. It's engagement is a little different in males than females. I'm also focusing on hypotonic tone vs hypertonic tone which can be common in the yoga and Pilates communities (or someone who is super fit) with over engagement. There needs to be balance, effort and ease, such is with most things in life, right?
Edited in July 2022
I want to thank Nicole from SolWellness for partnering up with me this fall (2019) for an evening dedicated to this topic! Meet your Daily Core! Nicole and I will also be sharing some everyday life movements and focus to keep you strong, healthy, and pain free. We will be going in depth on those inner core muscles, as the Kaiser quote suggested. It's all connected.