Pulling into my driveway I often think of Pavlov's dog as I feel the urge to race into the house. But instead of the stimulus being a bell and the reward food, my stimulus is the house itself and my reward the bathroom. I have to stop, take some breaths and not respond immediately to that urge to pee. What saves me from embarrassing myself is a strong pelvic floor; one that has been strengthened through a regular yoga practice that targets those muscles, as well as a practice called mula bandha.
You don't have to be as old as I am to experience a weak pelvic floor, as it's not only aging that contributes to this issue. It's pregnancy and childbirth, bad posture, long hours of sitting, high impact sports, chronic coughs and carrying extra weight. Sometimes over exercising those muscles contribute to tighter, tenser muscles, which leads to weakness instead of strength. Kegels, that are supposed to help build those muscles are often done incorrectly, so instead of helping, they are contributing to tighter pelvic floor muscles.
What exactly is the pelvic floor, where is it located and why is it important? The pelvic floor is a set of hammock like muscles at the bottom of your pelvis. They support the organs and stabilize the hip joints, as well as acting as a lymphatic pump to release excess fluids from your body. This group of muscles supports the bladder, colon, rectum, vagina, cervix and uterus. They work with the hip muscles and spine to help us stand on two feet, walk and move with flexibility.
When the pelvic floor is strong, it supports balance, a healthy functioning bladder, better breathing patterns, sexual expression and stronger back muscles to support the spine. A weak pelvic floor isn't just a female issue, as it affects men as well. It can interfere with our sexuality, cause bladder and bowel leakage, back issues and organ prolapse. It is often a place where we hold stress, which contributes to a pelvic floor that is too tight.
When practicing yoga, notice a lifting of the pelvis from the inside, keeping both sides of the torso long, rather than a sinking into a pose. A good example of this can be found in Virabhadrasana 2 or Warrior 2, where the hips are squaring lengthwise. When sinking occurs in this pose, the lower back collapses creating hyper-extension. If the hips are not even, one hip drops lower than the other, which causes an imbalance in the pelvis. Correct engagement of the pelvis and activation in the hips, supports a strong core and educates the pelvic muscles to do the work they were meant to do.
Instead of kegels, which tend to tighten more than the targeted area, I like to practice mula bandha to strengthen the pelvic floor. Mula bandha is one of the energy locks that are practiced in yoga that works in combination with the breath and contraction of the pelvic floor muscles.
If you are interested in learning more about how to relax, strengthen and support the pelvic floor, I am offering a workshop on Saturday, June 16 at my North Amherst studio. Be sure to sign up early as space is limited.