It begins with the breath…
Healing the pelvic floor and breath awareness are intimately related. All mindfulness practices begin with the simple return to conscious breath awareness for a VERY good reason. Breathing is one of the most affordable healing modalities that we have available and it is always there waiting for us when we need it. No appointment necessary! Until this year, I had NEVER been taught how my pelvic floor could move in relation to my breath. I understood my respiratory diaphragm and its movement beautifully in relation to inhale and exhale but I never knew how each breath I took could contribute to a healthy relaxed and responsive pelvic floor.
I have practiced yoga since 1998 and taught since 2003 and I have never witnessed the natural movement of a relaxed pelvic floor taught. In fact, through yoga I had learned how to squeeze, lifting my already too tight pelvic floor into mula bandha choking off unruly sexual energy? If I had a penny for every cultural lie I’ve been sold… Thanks to trauma, autoimmune disease (IC pelvic pain) and a fine type A personality, I had cultivated one of the tightest pelvic floors in the world and squeezing my pelvic floor each yoga practice only worsened my pelvic floor discomfort. I further exacerbated this issue for years in Pilates. I studied with a highly regarded/expensive teacher and developed beautiful core strength and NEVER ONCE did she talk to me about the relaxation of my pelvic floor and how it could contribute to my overall core power. Nope it was zip UP the lines of the leg and an ENGAGE the pelvic floor constantly for an hour of practice. One crazy ass type A leading another will only lead to more tension. I am here to save you all from a world of mess. This is simply, wrong, horrible bad uninformed teaching. If you are seeking help for your pelvic floor it is CRUCIAL to find a practitioner that understands the importance of pelvic floor relaxation and responsiveness.
Understanding the theory of sliding filaments of muscle contraction may help the analytical mind understand what I’m getting at here…the ability to relax is also our ability to fire up the muscles of the pelvic floor!
If you have a muscle in a constant state of contraction (i.e. a hyper contracted pelvic floor) there is no further path to shorten the muscle filaments and no further power available to squeeze! Another great example for my kinesthetic learners is flex your bicep, (make like your showing your guns) and just hold that flexed state for awhile and watch what happens to your power. In that flexed state you are eating up the energy needed to contract the muscle AND your ability to move anything, your moving power becomes relatively limited in that continued contracted state. And lets say you stood there showing your guns for a decade? maybe two decades? Guess what would happen to your ability to lengthen those same bicep muscles back out? The same is true for your pelvic floor basket. If we walk around with our pelvic floor constantly contracted, we lose power for when that big sneeze or cough comes to call.
So easy enough right? Just relax your pelvic floor and the let the breath massage your pelvic organs and everything will be unicorns and rainbows and the best orgasms of your life! If you haven’t been promised these things then you haven’t been advertised to like I have. Here’s the hard and ugly truth, it can take years. YEARS to soften a pelvic floor. Who wants to hear this? How many of us want a quick fix, to be done with pain, suffering immediately? I did. Now though, by route of real and lasting healing, I’ve learned what the road to healthy looks like. Healing looks like a lot of slow steady changes and occasionally beautiful leaps forward and then some back pedaling. Pelvic floor relaxation is my ongoing daily investigation. I cannot force my pelvic floor to relax. Nor can you. I can however create a mindfully lived experience in which my body feels safe enough to consider a completely different way of being. I promise that even the tiniest shifts in the pelvic floor can have incredible effects on our day to day lived experience of being in our bodies. I am not out of the woods yet myself. I write and teach from the woods!
So what I’m going to describe today is a sip from my own practice this morning! We are journeying together. Teaching pelvic floor healing has made me 90% more accountable to my own healing. So I thank you for your interest in this journey! Lets begin with a simple exploration in the yin posture Anahatasana. This posture was designed as a heart/chest opener and it is an excellent pelvic floor stretch and places your body in an a perfect position to sense the breath moving through the pelvic floor. For the purpose of pelvic floor exploration you can put a bolster under your chest or cross you arms into a basket to support your head. Most important for our exploration is that the hips are above the knees. Make sure the area under the knees is very well padded with a blanket. To find this position without the help of a mirror, you can rock your rear back to a child’s pose type position and then raise the hips slowly back up above the knees. As you do this keep your breath and attention on the pelvic floor. Like the animation above as I breathe in I look for a feeling of my pelvic floor filling. As I exhale I look for a feeling of my pelvic floor emptying. This exploration is best experienced for 2-3 minutes. Set an Insight Timer and wiggle as your body needs to and keep returning to sensation in the pelvic floor. Rest anytime you need to. As you transition to your day and begin to move and walk, occasionally drop back to that awareness and see if you can sense your pelvic floor respond to your breath!
As a trauma-informed teacher, I want to provide additional awareness on what can possibly arise in this position. For many women this position can feel extremely vulnerable. If you notice this and need to come down out of the posture into child’s pose, please do. Any gained awareness can become an incredible key stone to our healing. Please know that forcing the body into any position it doesn’t want to be in will result in tension rather than relaxation.