Yoga has a great way of bringing self-awareness to our bodies. But did you know that a mind-body connection is key to having optimal pelvic floor health? Just as we need a mind-body connection for exercise and yoga, we also need it for our pelvic floor, so it makes sense yoga would be the best place to become more mindful of this practice. Strong pelvic muscles aren’t just built by doing your occasional Kegels and along with strength, you need stability and softening, the trifecta of a healthy pelvic floor. Based on research, yoga is considered a great option for strengthening, softening and stabilizing these muscles.
Since the pelvic floor isn’t widely talked about, let’s talk about the specifics.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor refers to all of the muscles at the base of the pelvis, creating a hammock shape. These muscles cover the opening of pelvic boney structures, supporting our reproductive organs, bowel and urinary organs. These muscles might be small, but they have some big jobs to excel at keeping our bodies functioning well. The pelvic floor is the foundation to our whole-body structure. So, any issue with the pelvic floor can cause some major problems to our bodies.
Pelvic Floor Jobs:
- Provides support for pelvic organs
- Facilitates birth
- Maintains optimal intra-abdominal pressure
- Assists in stabilizing the body, along with, the core, hip and back muscles
- Plays an integral role in sexual health
Pelvic Floor Issues/Disorders:
- Urinary Incontinence
- Fecal Incontinence
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Pelvic spasms
- Painful Intercourse
Causes of PF Issues/Disorders:
- Vaginal childbirth
- Constant Coughing
- Some surgeries that might require cutting
- Lower levels of oestrogen after menopause
Nearly 24 percent of US women are affected with one or more pelvic floor disorders, according to research done by National Institutes of Health It also showed that the frequency of pelvic floor disorders increases with age, affecting more than 40 percent of women from 60-79, and about 50 percent of women 80 years of age and older. The prevalence of pelvic floor disorders increases with the number of times a woman has given birth.
The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AJOG) conducted a research study to assess the changes a yoga class could make to a group of women with urinary incontinence in 3 months. In that 3 months, there was a 76% decrease in the frequency of their incontinence and a 61% decrease in stress incontinence. There are definitely no losses in adding yoga to your new routine.
So, in other words, any woman can be affected by a pelvic floor disorder but there are ways you can be proactive in prevention and recovery.
Do you think you might have an issue?
Talk to your provider or a physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor, to assist in diagnosing and treating any pelvic issues you might be experiencing.
Exercise! The pelvic floor is the foundation of our center so a full body workout is indirectly, positively, affecting the pelvic floor.
Add in some yoga, core, pelvic floor, and breathing exercises to your health regimen. Most of the appropriate exercises can be done daily in the luxury of your own home.
Yogic Practices that can help Strengthen, Stabilize and Soften the Pelvic Floor
The diaphragm and the pelvic floor are synergists, they work together with inhalation and exhalation. They are both hammock like muscles that do the same thing at the same time. So with inhalation, the diaphragm and the pelvic floor both drop creating space in both the lungs and the pelvis. With exhalation these muscles lift with the vacuum effect that takes place in the body.
These two important muscles work best when aligned properly over each other. So this is where posture becomes important and where yoga can help. Tadasana (Mountain pose) with head over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over feet with pelvis slightly tucked in a neutral position. Or you can try lying with knees bent and a neutral pelvis slightly tucked.
- Breathing deep and slow, focusing on filling up the lower part of the lungs (belly will expand but it’s not the focus here) immediately triggers the vagas nerve which is directly related to our parasympathetic nervous system. Then exhale completely drawing the navel toward the spine to help empty completely. This can be done at any time of the day just to relax and center yourself.
- You can take it a step further, try connecting with the pelvic floor and doing a kegel (a gentle squeezing/lifting action of the pelvic floor as if you were trying to stop urinating) on the exhale. With a kegel, you want to isolate the pelvic floor and keep glutes, hip and legs soft.
- Once you have felt that contraction, reverse it and try contracting a kegel on the inhale, much harder.
- Note that kegels should be practiced for the fast twitch muscles and the endurance muscles within the pelvic floor so you can try doing a lift and release with diaphragmatic breathing like explained, lift and release 1 second hold to 1 second full release while breathing normally, and a lift and release building up to 10 second hold while breathing normally.
Diaphragmatic breathing can…
- improve the pelvic floor musculature.
- Lower stress responses associated with “fight or flight” mechanism
- Improves heart rate variability- which is the measurement of variations between beat-to-beat intervals.
- This is great to do anytime, anywhere for any amount of emotion, anxiety, stress, or irritability- because life.
Bandhas are energy locks that are engaged during certain asanas or postures. Bandhas help regulate and flow energy through the body. There are three bandhas that can be engaged together or independently from one another, the Mula Bandha or root lock, Uddiyana Bandha or abdominal lock, and Jalandhara Bandha or throat lock. When all three are engaged it is the Maha Bandha
Muscularly, the Mula Bandha or Root lock, is similar to a kegel with a more complete engagement of the pelvic floor. Kegels focus primarily on the muscles that control urination. This certain engagement, draws the levator ani muscle up into the body for added strength and toning of the pelvic floor. A yoga class can keep the mula bandha engaged the whole time with a sequence focused on postures that energetically engage this lock. The poses below focus on this.
Engaging the Uddiyana Bandha or the abdominal lock, takes your pelvic floor engagement to another level by involving the core. Having strong deep core muscles (transverse abdominis muscles) also helps to improve pelvic floor health.
To engage the Uddiyana Bandha…
- Start with diaphragmatic breathing.
- On the exhale, engage those deep core muscles by drawing them in like a corset, simultaneously, engaging the mula bandha, lifting the pelvic floor. You can place your hands on your belly to help feel the contraction of the transverse abdominis muscles. Your belly should not buldge here, it should draw in creating a more flat contraction.
The asanas listed below are postures that will help you put this all into action. If this all seems overwhelming to do on your own, start with one thing at a time. Master it and move forward. I also plan on starting a weekly Women’s Health Yoga class that will focus on all of this. The postures listed below are a good place to start that will naturally engage this area.
- Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana or Chakrasana)
- Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
- Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)
- Chair Pose (Utkanasana)
- Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
- Bird Dog Pose (Dandayamana Bharmanasana)
- Extended hand to big toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana)
Softening or Stretching Poses
- Malasana (Squat) Pose
- Child Pose (Balasana)
- Lunge Pose (Anjaneyasana)
- Cow Pose (Bitilasana)
The pelvic floor is widely unknow yet such an important part of keeping our bodies healthy and running at optimal performance. It is never too late to start!