Understanding “down there”- Pelvic Floor 101 – the roadmap to your pelvic floor
We all have it, a pelvic floor that is, yet for so many they are not exactly sure how to use this area, or that it really even exists at all.
I have been teaching for over a decade and half of that time I have truly dedicated to understanding the core and with that comes the pelvic floor. In general cuing the core in fitness classes (and yoga is surely not exempt from this) I cringe when I hear cues like “activate your core” or “squeeze your bathroom muscles”. What does that mean? And the bigger picture is does the instructor really even know what that means? Sadly few do, and until the teacher and students really know about, ahem, down there, cues like the above can only create more confusion and misunderstanding.
Before I go any further contract your pelvic floor for me, however you feel you should. What just happened? Did anything happen? This is my point, when someone says for you to contract your bathroom muscles, a lot (or nothing) can happen with such a simple cue. Squeezing your buttocks does not ensure that your pelvic floor will contract and pulling your navel to your spine is not even close (and harmful to your spine in general).
As a teacher, we simply have to get use to cueing down there in order to increase the likelihood of our students finally tapping into a very vital area of the body. One that simply put keeps our insides from falling out. But this is only the start, our pelvic floors flexibility and strength is the leader in all movements, supports our organs, and is the base of our body, the support to all leakage, an energetic center and an area of pleasure. Moreover, I could overwhelm you with all the small strands of muscle fiber down there and confuse and frustrate you to the death with fancy terms, but that is not the point of this article or my teachings in general, let’s get to the bottom of things (pun intended).
To better serve you, draw a diamond out on a piece of paper, label one point the tail bone then the opposite the pubis and then the two others the sitting bones. These four points make up the bony landmarks of the pelvic floor. Like a trampoline these are the framework to which all tissues connect (not to mention tissues from the legs and other surrounding areas). Now feel these four point with your fingers (don’t be shy), take a moment and stand up and squat, flex and move and notice how the sitting bones move and how your tail and pubis feel in these various actions. What moves and what doesn’t. Let’s establish awareness to the fact that every time you move or don’t move the tissues below are stimulated or sabotaged.
When I teach pelvic floor awareness and contraction, at a beginner level, I go through the three points of contraction, and they are: back by the tail bone, just forward of it, is the anal sphincter, an orifice about two to three cm long. Next is the vaginal passage way for women or the soft tissue behind the scrotum for men, literally the center of the pelvic floor. And the third is the urethra appoint for women up near the pubis bone, which controls the bladder. This point coincides with stopping the flow of urine and establishes a lower abdomen contraction (interestingly enough the area many women complain of pouching out). If you go back to your diamond and draw three dots from pubis to tail you can see that these three point run back to front in the pelvic floor.
Creating a good visual is the first step in being able to successfully contract this vital area, and establish a good means of support will allow you the ability to say no to those overwhelming amounts of Depend® commercials on T.V. and the false truths that peeing your pants is normal and a part of growing old. When we establish a good mind-body connection we can begin to rewire our proprioceptors in the pelvic floor to help our brains tell these tissues to contract and support. Once we establish that (which might take time) making that action happen sitting, standing, squatting, lying down, in as many planes of motion, and vectors of height as possible can ensure good success.
Having lived in a third world country, I can say to almost certainty that very few people knew about their pelvic floor, but also few had problems, simply put our lack of support in a vital area like this is loaded with our sedentary lifestyles and then over compensation with aggressive exercise in the hopes to counter act such lifestyle. Something the people I lived with did not have to consider due to their constant activity in a very natural environment and way (something we sadly think needs fixing, but I have come to believe ours is the one that needs fixing, but that is for another article). And we do this all on manmade grounds, in only one plane of motion and barely a change in vector, not to mention in overly padded shoes and in very mindless ways. The Nigerians I got to meet and get to know had full use of their bodies and very few physical bodily ailments, I have learned a lot from them. And although we may never truly live like they do, understanding our pelvic floor is a great start in establishing a better foundation to a better functioning body.
So to help you have a better experience in understanding the bottom of your body here is a short video to help start you on your pelvic floor journey.