The pelvic floor is one of the most important muscle groups in the human body. It supports the base structures of the spine, the pelvic girdle and our urinary and defecating functions. Working with rehabilitating my own pelvic floor, after a life of struggling with Sacroiliac (joint that joins the Sacrum to the Pelvis) pain and incontinence, has inspired me to share what I have learned with others.
The pelvic floor plays an integral role in our metaphysical body. It is through understanding, perception, and engagement with the pelvic floor that we can learn to strengthen and relax these vital tissues as needed. Applying the skills of mindful movement, which is developed through Yoga practice, to pelvic floor engagement creates a profound affect for the practitioner beyond the physical benefits alone.
Learning how to direct my focus on the yoga mat and in daily life to consciously engage with my pelvic floor has completely eradicated my Sacroiliac instability and my incontinence.
This experience inspired me to dedicate myself to learning the physical and subtle anatomy of the pelvis. Problems such as back pain, incontinence, poor breathing patterns, and the plethora of other effects that a poorly functioning pelvic floor can contribute to can be eliminated with dedicated, focused pelvic floor practice. Teaching others what they can do to improve the functioning of their pelvic floor muscles, and seeing quality of lives improve, continues to inspire me.
The pelvic floor muscle group has two main functions: it acts as support for the inner organs and it contains a passage for the urethra, the sex organs, the rectum and for a baby during birth. A good floor is strong and solid; while a good passage is open and clear. Thus, the two tasks of the pelvic floor contain opposites that can only be resolved with elasticity and adaptability in the tissues.
The pelvic floor has other duties too. It is the antagonist of important breathing muscles and so helps with breathing coordination. In fact, the pelvic floor plays an important role for the coordinated triggering of almost all important movements as well as for balance, good posture, and overall vitality. Many neck, back, knee and foot problems can be effectively eradicated through conscious training of the pelvic floor.
With conscious training comes the challenge—we need to be able to perceive the pelvic floor in order to isolate it and thus consciously train it. We have to be able to FEEL it. To know that it is the pelvic floor we are feeling, we must be able to identify it in order to isolate then integrate it. Yoga teaches us how to improve our ability to perceive this reclusive muscle group.
To effectively train these muscles, first you must have perception of your pelvic floor. The next step is to determine if the pelvic floor muscles are chronically tight or slack. Ideally, we want relaxed and resilient muscles that can respond automatically as daily activities require. If t
hey are too tight, any effort to strengthen them will only build tension on top of tension. If they are nonresponsive or too weak, something else in the body will compensate, because the whole body acts together in all movements. The body will find a way to perform what is required, which leads to patterns of compensation that can cause all sorts of seemingly unrelated problems.
The function of muscle is to move bone. The bones that the muscles of the pelvic floor move are the pelvic bones, which are centrally located in the human system and thus have profound effect on the entire structure.
Strengthening muscles happens three ways:
- Isometrically (Kiegle). Tension is used to hold the bones in place, musculature contraction, muscles stay the same length and are just held still
- Concentrically. Brings bones together, muscles shorten
- Eccentrically. Muscles lengthening, muscles moving bones apart and acting like a brake. Strengthens and elongates (lowering vs. dropping)
The most effective training is a combination of 2 & 3.
Flexibility must come before strength. You must become aware of your pelvic floor in order to release and relax it. If the tissues do not relax they will only hold the bones in place, which is an isometric activity. With chronically tight muscles, any training will result in further isometric engagement, which simply builds tension on top of tension. This not only results in ineffective muscle engagement but can also cause compensatory patterns and tension in the whole system. Failure to relax is one of the greatest impediments to success in any training. Balance is the key. Sometimes what we might perceive as weak muscle tone is actually an overly contracted fatigued muscle.
Ideally a healthily active pelvic floor will engage and release as needed without external stimulus such as consciously focusing on the muscle group, which stimulates nerve innervation. To change from passive or isometric activity to active, dynamic functioning in pelvic floor training, we want to use the pelvic floor—not the nerves—as the trigger of the movement. By consciously training the pelvic floor in this way, we can begin to stimulate the process that will enable it to re-learn its job and thereby activate as required. We will no longer need compensating patterns that can cause many seemingly unrelated problems.
The fine-tuned mental focus and the calm smooth rhythmic breathing that Yoga practice requires is the added element that allows for effective training of the pelvic floor. Yoga practice that is focused on improving pelvic floor health integrates all aspects of what makes a Yoga practice so much more than stretching or simply physical activity. What may begin with a strong desire to eradicate the problems resulting from a poorly functioning pelvic floor soon develops into an overall experience of stability without tension or rigidity and a calmness and openness without laxity at all levels of our being.
The pelvic floor has a greater context then just the pelvis, it is the whole person.
To begin to strengthen and explore your own pelvic floor look into my upcoming workshops here. It is never to late to improve your pelvic floor health!