We’ve all heard the term pelvic floor, but does anybody really know what the pelvic floor is and why it is important?
What is the pelvic floor?
In the most general terms the pelvic floor is made up of all the muscles, ligaments, connective tissue, and nerves that support the uterus, vagina, rectum, and bladder. And for men its the same but supports the rectum, bladder, and other pelvic organs. Yes, these are muscles we have voluntary control over. We’ve all experienced the ability to stop urinating midstream and even the ability to tighten up our vaginal walls. Yes, this post if going to be female specific, the pelvic floor is important for males too.
I recently attended Leslie Howard’s Pelvic Revolution: Yoga, Breath, and the Female Pelvis workshop. I recommend all women to take it with or without pelvic dysfunction and all yoga teachers because we are all poorly educated on this vital part of our body. I personally took interest in the pelvic floor because while I’ve been working with adolescent females who have cystic fibrosis I’ve learned due to the persistent coughing they struggle with stress urinary incontinence.
Why is the pelvic floor important?
There are many pelvic floor disorders and are not limited to urinary incontinence. Generalized pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse after childbirth, chronic constipation, interstitial cystitis all involve the pelvic floor.
Treatment is not the same for everyone. You need to figure out if the muscles are over working (hypertonic) or under working (hypotonic) and if the right and left side are the same or different. In order to determine this it has to be palpated.
Get more in touch with your pelvic floor
- Lie on your back with the natural lumbar curve lifted off the mat slightly
- Feet are placed flat on the ground
- Take your right hand feel for the right ischial tuberosity (aka “sit bone”)
- move just slightly over the bone toward the perineum and perform a gentle massage
- Notice what the muscles feel like and how it makes you feel.
- Is it tender? Tight? Loose? Normal tone?
- Now switch and do the other side. Is it the same or different?
This will start to give you an idea of where you are at. Also, your story is important here. Did you previously have an injury to your left jaw or right shoulder, pelvic pain, or history of sexual abuse?
The muscles have been conditioned over years and they tell a story whether they are over compensating to protect you of if they have been over used and loss the ability to successfully contract.
There is not a one size fix all. And one of my biggest take-aways from Leslie Howard’s workshop is that in our yoga classes we often hear or teach “engage your mula bhanda or tuck your tail bone under” when in fact for someone who has over-working pelvic muscles this will just continue to promote that dysfunction.
The respiratory system is a huge part of the pelvic floor that if also not open can add to blockages.
Remember to fill your belly up with air as you inhale and let if float back down as your exhale.
For us beginners when trying to activate your pelvic floor muscles and even more specifically your perineum other muscles will try to engage too like your rectus and transverse abdominals. Or you will feel your anal sphincter tighten when you’re trying to lift your perineum. This takes practice so don’t feel discouraged if this doesn’t click right now. But first lets bring attention and stretch the pelvic floor.
Do you stretch your pelvic floor?
One thing we all can do is stretch our pelvic floor and this is felt mostly at our perineum (the space between your vulva and anus.)
1.Put your body in your normal downward facing dog position
2. Apply a generous bend to your knees to take the hamstrings out of the equation
3. Reach your hips/anus up toward the sky
4. Externally rotate thighs
5. Continue to reach heels down (feet should be greater than hip distance apart)
6. You should feel an gentle stretch/opening at your perineum.
If you are having persistent problems and are not seeing any improvement seek out at occupational or physical therapist that specialized in pelvic floor.
Continue paying attention to your pelvic floor and talk to others about it! Tell me about your experience and knowledge.
There’s No Better Time Than Now,