Have you ever experienced any form of pelvic floor dysfunction? The most common one being incontinence due to pregnancy or “stress incontinence.” This is so common that society has normalized the fact that after baby comes you need to cross your legs when you sneeze and basically can not be expected to do any form of jumping around without leaking urine. This is NOT normal and there ARE things you can do to help prevent or treat pelvic floor dysfunction, yoga being one of those things.
First I want to mention that you should always consult with a physician before starting any new regime that you are not use to doing. There are also pelvic floor physical therapists that can help if symptoms are severe.
Before jumping into how yoga can help with your pelvic floor dysfunction, let’s talk pelvic floor, like what is it? The pelvic floor is similar to a diaphragm for your lower organs. It’s a group of muscles that help support the pelvis and the organs above, it helps you urinate and defecate, give birth, and is important for overall health. I like to consider it a “hammock” that runs from the tailbone to where your pelvic bones meet. So just like a brand new hammock when it’s new it’s supportive and tight, but if additional weight is put on it from pregnancy and hormones like relaxin are present, the hammock begins to stretch and lengthen. If you keep your muscles strong by using yoga and mindfulness, you can prevent the hammock from stretching too much. But just like any muscle in the body it can become too tight as well. These symptoms showing up like painful intercourse, constipation, or tightness in jaw, neck, or shoulders. It’s common to hold emotions like stress or tension, or even trauma, in your pelvic floor resulting in it becoming too tight. It’s important to know what type of pelvic floor dysfunction you are dealing with before figuring out which yoga poses to do to treat it.
One of the biggest factors to pelvic floor dysfunction is that we have lost the connection to the area of muscles. When we lose the connection, it becomes difficult to relax the area or it can become difficult to clench when we are supposed to be clenching like when you bend down to pick something up or jump around. Mindfulness during yoga helps you connect to your body and those muscles. You can use yoga poses to enhance your awareness.
Another very important part of your pelvic floor is your Transvers Abdominus. This is the deepest set of core muscles. Think of this muscle like your corset of your abdomen keeping it all tied together. This muscle is responsible for the major expulsion, which can greatly help during the pushing phase of labor. It being the deepest abdominal muscle in your abdomen it is also the hardest to strengthen before and after pregnancy. When this muscle is loose, it can cause that “pooching” effect in your lower abdomen and also result in a lose pelvic floor.
So how do you find out if you are suffering from a tight or lose (or both) pelvic floor? There are a couple things you can do. You can go to a pelvic floor masseuse. Yes they do exist. They will massage you and let you know if one side or the other is tight or loose or both. You can also do whole body breaths.
Start by finding a quiet room you can lie down in. Place your hands on your chest. Begin to focus on widening your breath in all directions of your lungs. Start to pay close attention to the sensations of your left lung…then your right. Notice as your lungs expand while you inhale and contract as you exhale. After a few moments ask yourself, “Does one lung expand more easily than the other? Can you feel restrictions or tightness in one side over the other?”
Take a few more deep breaths before sliding your hands down to your belly putting them on either side of the navel. Start to bring your breath into your belly and pelvis. Moving your breath deeper into your body. Can you sense any difference from one side over the other side? How far down do you feel the inhale? Is your belly inflating? Can you feel any movement created by breath near the pubic bone?
Now expand breath awareness to include your limbs, paying attention to fingers and toes. Can you notice any difference on the effect of the body between the inhalation and exhalation?
Now let your awareness open up to fill your entire body with your breath, gently rocking from the motion of your inhales and exhales. Sit in this breath for a few moments before asking, “Does the movement of your breath flow smoothly or does it feel obstructed? Does the breath touch the body evenly or does it feel forced in some areas? Can you sense the breath easier in one side over the other?”
This exercise should give you a pretty good idea if one side feels tight or if one feels lose. It also starts that mind body connection to your pelvic floor.
If you find that you have a loose pelvic floor, then Kegels is one of the best things you can do to strengthen it. There are some great yoga exercises that are offered in my class that help you heighten awareness during Kegels but they can be done on your own as well. First let’s talk about some key points to keep in mind. When doing Kegels, it’s important to know how to use your breath during the exercise. Like I mentioned before, the pelvic floor is like a diaphragm. When you breath in, your lungs expand pushing your organs down and expanding the pelvic floor to a dome shape. When you exhale everything lifts back up and the pelvic floor becomes more of a flat line. When you do any type of pelvic floor exercise you always want to do the contracting on the exhale. Another thing you need to be aware of is to try and keep the rest of your body relaxed like your jaw and forehead as well as the buttock. When you activate your glute or hamstring muscles, your pelvic floor can become more slack. Try to think about stopping your flow of urine without clenching the glutes. There are two sides to the pelvic floor and a front and a back so sometimes just focusing on stopping the flow of urine will end up leaving parts of the pelvic floor out. Some like to think about picking up a raisin or blueberry with your lady bits and sucking it up and in. Whatever visualization you use is fine as long as it works for you in the proper way.
Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor
There are two different exercises you can do to strengthen your pelvic floor. One is a quick release or a “quick flick”. This is when you tighten and lift the pelvic floor muscles as high as possible in one quick contraction. The other is a slow release. This is where you hold the contraction for a length of time.
To perform a quick flick sit in a comfortable position. You can start in a chair where you may be able to feel a little more of what’s going on down there, or you can sit cross-legged. If you are postpartum you can even lay down with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Take one deep inhale in and on your exhale tighten and lift the pelvic floor muscles as high as possible for one quick contraction. Then release immediately. Do as many of these quick flicks as you can to start and work your way up to 10 in a row.
To perform a slow release, find a comfortable seated position either in a chair, seated, or lying on your back. Take a deep inhale in with a full belly breath and on the exhale draw your pelvic floor muscles together from the left and right and engage around the front area. Lift up and inside. Hold for few moments while holding your breath and then slowly release and lower. Do as many of these as you can and work your way up to 10 in a row.
Yoga Poses for Help
If you are dealing with a tight pelvic floor, you can experience a long drawn out or traumatic birth. Using breath, body awareness, and yoga poses to allow those muscles to loosen will help you prepare for birth and result in a quicker recovery. A good pose to bring awareness to the area while allowing it to relax, is a yoga squat also called Malasana. This pose allows release through the hips and groin area, stretches through the hamstrings, ankles, back and neck, it is also a great pose for birth preparation. If you are 32 weeks pregnant or later with a breached baby do not do this pose. Another great pose to bring awareness to the pelvic floor and allow both tightening and relaxation is the Cat/Cow combination. This pose also stretches and strengthens the spine and neck and stretches through the abdominal wall. If you are pregnant, be sure to keep your focus more on your chest and not rotating your pelvis. Give baby a “hug” with belly when doing cat pose and allow belly to hang in cow pose.
Prenatal yoga uses poses that are held for 5-10 breaths at a time to help strengthen, build stamina, and use breath work to get you ready for labor. These same poses are used postpartum to ease you back into movement and heal your body from the inside out as well as release stress that new baby can cause. There are two things that are considered when you are postpartum if you are ready to start yoga. One being if you have abdominal separation or Diastases Recti you should work on strengthening those muscles and closing that gap before starting any rigorous exercise and the other is your connection to your pelvic floor. Meditation, awareness through breath, and pelvic floor exercises can be continued through or started immediately post birth. When you are ready to practice or use yoga for recovery is entirely up to you. You know your body best and should listen to those little cues that say to push harder or hold back when something is too much.
Amy offers self improvement through asana yoga, meditation, inspiration, and relatability. She is a wife and a mom to 3 beautiful children and who incorporates yoga into everyday life. Amy is 200-Hour Certified and is a Green Lotus certified kid yoga instructor.
You can find Amy at her website (www.amybizalwellness.com), on Facebook (Amy Bizal Wellness), Pinterest (Amy Bizal Wellness), or Instagram (@amybizalwellness). You can also watch Amy’s video tips on YouTube (AmyBizalWellness).