You may have heard of the pelvic floor. It may or may not have seemed mysterious, sexual, or even elusive. Maybe you wondered: Can we feel it? Is it bone, organs, tissue? What even is it? Well, the pelvic floor is actually muscular: It’s a sling of muscles in the shape of a hammock, running from the front of the pubic bone to the tailbone in back.
Contrary to the current vernacular around the pelvic floor, not only women have it. Men also have a pelvic floor — but it serves a little more of an intensive purpose for women. In women, the pelvic floor supports our womb, bladder, and colon, while in men, it supports the prostate and bowels. Both men and women tighten the pelvic floor muscles to hold in waste, only really releasing them to go release bowel movements and urine.
Most of us hold stress in our bodies — like in our jaw, neck, and shoulders — and for many of us, that includes our pelvic floor muscles. The Continence Foundation suggests that this may be an attempt at control in the face of stress. We don’t need to have them tightened so intensely, but high levels of fear, stress, and anxiety can cause these muscles to stay tense.
When our pelvic floors remain tense, we suffer something called a “hypertonic pelvic floor.” This means that the pelvic floor muscles have become so tense that we are unable to relax them. This can result in constipation, painful sex, pelvic pain, trouble urinating, and even frequent UTIs.
On the other hand, women can have unreliable pelvic floor control post-birth due to the muscles relaxing and dropping. This can result in incontinence (accidental peepee slips!) and even a stubborn lower abdominal pooch that is visible and not so simply worked from regular ab exercises. It’s crucial to know when to relax our pelvic floor, as well as when to strengthen it.
If we are holding tension, relaxing our pelvic floor muscles starts first with relaxing our bodies. Rely on relaxing herbs and adaptogens, like Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, lemon balm, passion flower, taken in capsule form, powder, or tinctures.
To target the area, diaphragmatic breathing can help relax the muscle sling. The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle below the lungs, and works synergistically with the pelvic floor. Breathing mindfully can relax these tightened muscles.
First, lay on your back on a mat or flat surface on which you feel comfortable.
Place your right hand on your belly, and your left hand on your heart.
Take a deep breath in for 3 counts, feeling your belly expand, followed by your ribs. Exhale for 4 counts, feeling your ribs, and then belly, contract.
When we do this diaphragmatic breathing, we are actively causing the pelvic floor muscles to relax. Try and do this breathing for 5-10 minutes a day, and reap the benefits of whole body relaxation.
Most pelvic floor exercises are geared towards post-birth women, as men do not have to undergo any sort of natural trauma to their pelvic floor and thus only need to relax the area. Therefore, many pelvic floor exercises are centered around kegels.
A simple kegel exercise is to contract and release the kegel muscles. If you’re unsure which muscles are your kegels, try stopping mid-urination: The muscles that hold it in are your kegels. Contract and hold for 5 seconds, and release for 5 seconds. Repeat this at least 10 times a day, and up to 30 times throughout the day.
In yoga, both bridge pose and cat-cow poses are also excellent for strengthening the pelvic floor — especially when paired with diaphragmatic breathing and synchronized with your kegel exercises. If this sounds like a confusing amalgamation of all 3, that’s because it is. But it doesn’t have to be complex!
Lay on your back with your feet flat on the floor, about a palm’s distance from your bum and with your knees bent. As you rise to lift your buttocks and lower back, contract the kegel muscles and release your breath. As you lower back down, fully relax your kegel muscles and inhale simultaneously. Do this 10-15 times.
In cat-cow, breathe as one normally would in this pose for yoga. When dropping into cow and arching the back, inhale; when rounding the back and tucking tummy under, exhale. Contract the kegels on the exhale, and relax the kegels on the inhale. Do this 10-15 times per day.
At the end of the day, understanding and feeling connected to your pelvic floor is a lot of tuning in and listening to your body. When we tune into our body, our tension becomes much more apparent — and when we become aware of our tension, or even our atrophy, our bodies naturally know how to respond. This is how we become aligned. Now go do a kegel!