Working your pelvic floor: three things to know.
The uncomfortable stare you get back, when during your yoga class you utter the words “anal sphincter” or “vaginal passage way”… or worst yet “soft tissue behind the scrotum”.
This is the initial middle-schooler-discomfort my studio room usually filled with when I would connect the exercise or request with a direct body part. You could just feel the air get thick with discomfort. But why? These are body parts like any other. So why not the bicep? Or the glute? The thigh or abdomen? Taboo that lurked in the shadows around such body parts soon became my mission to bust through. Not for my sake as a teacher, but for my students’ bodies.
About 15 years ago I started questioning my grounds for being a teacher. I started questioning the ‘whys’ behind the movements and when my students were complaining things hurt or felt funny and my trained response was “that’s normal” or “it will get better”. I began to soon realize that it wasn’t my students who had to change, it was me and how and why I was doing what I was doing in the class. Because truth be told… I didn’t even really know!
I had completed my 500 hours for yoga and had taken almost a dozen training’s in the Pilates arena, but I still felt unequipped to explain the why’s and how’s to my students. And I could perform some fairly complicated postures, and was able to guide students though amazing classes and posture progression. But lacked one very important skill, the ability to take them deep into their body and see for themselves what should be going on. What should be happening. What should be firing or not firing in order to have the best experience possible in the pose and class.
At that time it became very clear to me I wasn’t going to find that in the yoga arena and decided to step outside the yoga box and start to study the body and how it moves in real time, and specifically how it relates to the core.
And when I came back, it was go time to re-educate, re-inspire, and re-focus my students so they could heal their bodies, and take back their lives. Starting with the pelvic floor.
3 Things You Should Know about Working your Pelvic Floor:
1. Your Pelvic floor is located at the bottom of your torso
ONE: When working your pelvic floor, you should know that your pelvic floor is located at the bottom of your torso, and refers to the numerous muscles that attach to your pelvic and thigh bones. These muscles need to be located directly below you, so like a houses foundation they can appropriately support what is above. So if you have poor misguided posture you could surely find yourself with pelvic floor pain, back pain, hip flexor strain or injury, or lack of good core (even glutes) strength. I often guide my students to what is sometimes called “pelvic neutral”. This serves as a “home base” in that like anything, where should I start. This is essential in assisting other muscles to begin to do their jobs as well. It doesn’t mean you walk around like a robot, but rather if your body is out of alignment, getting back there will surely serve in healthy recruiting of all muscles-pelvic floor included.
TIP: Place your hands on your (front) hip bones and pubic bone and work to align this structure to be parallel with the wall, ceiling or floor you are facing. This may seem off if you are not use to this type of posture. Start here, and try to find this posture during the day to help your body find it’s home base again. Putting your pelvic floor back underneath you and core back inside of you.
2. Incontinence is not a normal part of aging
TWO: When working your pelvic floor, many women (and men) believe that incontinence is a “normal” part of aging. However, at no point is incontinence a part of the aging process in reflection to your pelvic floor. And what has become very clear to me is very few (even the most “fit”) don’t really understand how to contract the pelvic floor, in that they bear down rather than contract up and in. If you have incontinence issues and have had a child, endured some sort of trauma, or injury, neuromuscular retraining may be in your future.
TIP: I tell all my students: “first you have to understand it, then you have to visualize it (or at least be able to guide yourself there if you are not one who can visualize), then feel and perform to truly create that new fully functioning pathway. Being anywhere on that path is a successful step in the right direction. And being told to “contract your pelvic floor” (unless you know the where’s and how’s of those muscles) is not enough.
3. Squeezing doesn’t get the job done
THREE: When working your pelvic floor, many people believe that just squeezing “down there” gets the job done. However that could not be farther from the truth. For many squeezing what they believe to be the pelvic floor is only the engagement of the glutes or hip flexors, or even just part of the pelvic floor. This is exactly why it is vital to invest time in feeling out these parts of the body upon engagement. I work to explain to my students that when one area of the body isn’t cooperating or maybe can’t hear or understand the command, other neighboring body parts step up and say “I got this”. Except the body can only do “other” jobs that aren’t that area’s for so long. Eventually you will feel pain, dysfunction, or experience injury – many times in the form of a random occurrence that has no trailing back to the how or why.
TIP: During your yoga or exercise class slow it down and ask yourself “what muscle(s), what body parts (think locations, no need to know exact names) are getting the job done? Most just do and never slow down to see. When you can see what’s going on you can change it’s course. You will then find a huge improvement in how you move and the quality of movement as well.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is a real thing and not just a title deemed for those who have experienced a large physical trauma or have had a baby. Our sedentary culture obsessed with extreme movement is a cocktail that can and is wrecking havoc on our bodies with no bridge to fill the gap between no movement and extreme variations of.
Consider a class, session or guide who can take you through the exercises with an understanding and education so you can start to better understand both how your body moves and how it currently does not. Learn what to focus on and what to do or not do to begin to heal the areas of concern, one being the pelvic floor. Because if they don’t talk about it, is it fair to assume they don’t understand it. And if they don’t understand it, how will you?
“Take care of your body, it’s the only one you have and replacement parts are never as good as the originals” ~ Hope Zvara