By Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiology, C-IAYT Yoga Therapist
During my over 20 years helping people get out of pain, I have seen many trends in yoga and therapeutic yoga practice come and go. Some, which were based in organic principles have stuck and have since integrated into our collective understanding and wisdom of how the body works. There are others that were less sticky and don’t or didn’t quite integrate into the general school of thinking. Their time, so to speak, hadn’t, or hasn’t yet come. The pelvic floor and how we engage it, falls into this latter category, and is only now just starting to emerge into our understanding as an integrated part of our practice.
I remember when the pelvic floor started to become a focal point in rehabilitation. It was 1995, about the same time that the transversus abdominus was also being highlighted in the fitness and rehab industries and together it was found that co-contraction was needed between the transversus abs, multifidus and pelvic floor in order to re-create the stability that is vital for managing or overcoming back pain.
This insight and understanding, however, led to a bit of a myopic focus on the pelvic floor. Instruction and cueing from a “global focus” of the co-contraction, was shifted to “lift and engage”, and for men, “pull the boys up”. When this instruction entered into the yoga world, engaging “mula bandha” became the go-to translation for lifting the pelvic floor.
I’ll happily admit that for many this worked – their back pain went down. There was also a massive number of people, though, for whom it didn’t work. Their back pain continued to manifest, and in many cases became worse. As time went on, it became clear that more and more yoga, pilates and fitness practitioners were over contracting their pelvic floor. This was leading to orthopaedic issues in the hip, SI joint, back, knees, feet, shoulders, neck and jaw; as well as digestive and sexual health issues.
So, as we grow our knowledge of how the pelvic floor works, especially in conjunction with all the other components of the body, the question remains, “what to do we with this, and how can we improve the health and wellbeing of the pelvic floor while also improving overall health and well-being?” Here is one way to explore.
Exploring the Pelvic Floor
The Pelvic Floor quite literally forms the floor of the torso. It also provides for the passage of fluid and matter. It needs to be both strong and supple. The orifices need to be able to contract and release. We want them to experience “openness”
One the most effective ways I have found to help students experience this is the following:
- Lay down on the floor – whether on your back or front.
- Feel for your pubic bone, sitting bones and coccyx. They create the boney “diamond shape” that outlines the pelvic floor.
- Feel the orifices of your pelvic floor – anus and urethra; or anus, vagina and urethra. Imagine that you can breathe through them. Don’t try to force this, nor try to lift on either phase of breath. Just imagine breathing in and out through the pelvic floor.
- If you are having trouble with this, try changing your position, lay on your back with soles of feet touching, or come into table top.
- Let your jaw and mouth relax, let your breathing relax – allow it to lengthen. As this happens, does anything new arise in your pelvic floor awareness? What do you feel? Now relax your glutes, inner thighs, feet. Anything new arise? Next focus on your face…relax there too 🙂 What do you notice.
Here are some tips while working with this exploration:
– Notice how the diaphragm and pelvic floor form the top and bottom of the inner core container, respectively. There is a connection, and both impact the other.
– If you find that you are thinking or working too hard trying to make any part of the exploration happen, consider sitting on an exercise ball with a heating pad. Sometimes warmth helps bring focus to the pelvic region.
– Many people over contract when they do this exercise. Relax and breathe. Just think pelvic floor awareness and easy breathing. No glutes, no adductors, nothing else! 🙂
If you want to take this exploration further, I am running the Female Core and Pelvic Floor Online Conference on March 1 and 2, 2017. To register, visit this page – https://www.functionalsynergy.com/product/female-core-pelvic-floor-online-conference/ We have a great line up of experts who also have compassionate hearts. Each has at least 10 years of experience working with women, and most have well over that. It will be a great session.
Have fun exploring,