Written by: Allison Oswald, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board Certified Pelvic Health Specialist
Creating a connection with your pelvic floor has many incredible benefits, and these are not just for those with an issue. Connecting with this area of the body will benefit anyone with their overall health, wellness and even prevention of pelvic floor dysfunctions down the road.
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles and connective tissue that lay at the base of the pelvic outlet. Physically, they provide support and stability of the pelvis, hips and internal organs. They also allow you to go to the bathroom when you wish and are a big part of sexual function. Neurologically they are partially innervated by our autonomic nervous system, which means they are influenced by things such as stress and fear. These muscles clench when our sympathetic nervous system is triggered, and become more relaxed when the parasympathetic is activated. Therefore finding a connection here will improve the functions of the pelvic floor, increase your awareness to know when something might not be functioning optimally (think pain, incontinence, pressure, etc..) and have the potential to help regulate your nervous system.
Because the pelvic floor functions as part of a bigger system, finding a connection here is not all about isolated pelvic floor contractions (aka “kegels”). I approach it from a more functional lens and incorporate healthy pelvic floor awareness with daily tasks and activities. Here are five ways that you might be able to connect more deeply with yours.
- Stack Up:
When you’re able to, standing or sitting with your ribcage balanced over your pelvis will help manage the pressure on your pelvic floor. Leaning back with your knees locked out, places an increase in pressure on your pelvic floor that could cause pelvic floor symptoms over time. And hunching forward can do the same. So use a mirror for feedback or ask a friend to help you find this more “neutral” spine. If you’re postpartum, this can be especially challenging, as your body has slowly shifted into a new “pregnant posture”. This takes practice and time to become your new normal, try not to hold tension in this new stacked posture, knowing that rigidity is not the goal either.
- Breathe All Around:
The diaphragm and pelvic floor are a team and we want to keep it that way. Movement with breathing should take place a majority of the time 360 degrees around the lower ribcage where the diaphragm lives. Breathing here will allow the diaphragm to descend down during the inhalation, and the pelvic floor to lengthen down as well. On the exhale the diaphragm moves back up and so does the pelvic floor…this is why you often kegel on the exhale if you’re doing a kegel program. I teach this by tying a gentle elastic band around the lower ribs to improve the rib expansion on the inhale and the rib recoil on the exhale. Just 10 breaths with this focus everyday will be enough to create new patterns. But since things like stress, pain and less than optimal posture can reverse this, the practice needs to be consistent and regular.
- Bathroom Habits:
When peeing or having a bowel movement, the pelvic floor needs to lengthen down and open up around the appropriate sphincters. This occurs when the pelvic floor is relaxed and not contracting. One way to improve this coordination is to not push with your pelvic floor muscles in order to go to the bathroom, the internal organs and abdominal wall are doing most of the work here. So sit, breathe, relax and let go while on the toilet.
- Let Your Belly Go:
I know this can be a difficult one for some, but constantly sucking your belly in can impact your pelvic floor negatively (even tight pants can do this too). Think of the center of your body like a tube of toothpaste. If you’re constantly squeezing at the middle of that tube (sucking your belly button in), there will be a lot of pressure coming down on the pelvic floor. Over time this can cause some issues and stress on the core system.
- Unclench Your Tush:
So often I find that women unconsciously tuck or clench their tush. This in turn tightens and shortens the pelvic floor muscles, which you have now hopefully come to realize need to be able to lengthen and relax fully to function most optimally. Just start to bring awareness to letting go of squeezing your bum, perhaps crossing your legs less will help, and really starting to sit on your sitz bones when you can.
By practicing some of the exercises we’ve outlined and by being more mindful of our pelvic floor muscles, you can enjoy the benefits that come with having a healthy pelvic floor. The benefits are many, and it is a practice that can be done anywhere at any time.
For more amazing information on pelvic health be sure to follow Allison on Instagram at @allisonoswald and be sure to listen to our podcast episode with Allison on what we need to know about our pelvic floor.