Yoga has become a popular form of exercise for people of all fitness levels. One area of focus in yoga that is gaining attention is the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles are vital to the body’s health and function. We discuss with a Yoga expert what the pelvic floor is, why it’s essential to keep it healthy, and how yoga can help strengthen and tone the pelvic floor muscles.
What is the pelvic floor?
A group of muscles known as the pelvic floor supports the pelvic organs (bladder, uterus, and rectum). These muscles can become weak due to various factors such as pregnancy, childbirth, aging, and lack of exercise. Weak pelvic floor muscles can lead to pelvic pain, urinary incontinence, and other issues. Fortunately, yoga can help strengthen and tone these muscles.
The pelvic floor muscles are essential for both men and women, but they tend to be weaker in women due to childbirth and hormonal changes. A weak pelvic floor can lead to various health issues, including urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, prolapse, and sexual dysfunction. In men, a weak pelvic floor can lead to urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction.
Why is it important to keep the pelvic floor healthy?
The pelvic floor comprises the most important muscle groups in the body. It supports the bladder, uterus, and rectum, helps maintain good posture, and supports the spine. A weak pelvic floor can lead to a range of health issues, including urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, prolapse, and sexual dysfunction.
Urinary incontinence is common among women, especially those who have given birth. The pelvic floor muscles can become weak and stretched during childbirth, leading to urine leakage when coughing, sneezing, or exercising. A strong pelvic floor can help prevent this type of incontinence by supporting the bladder.
Fecal incontinence is another common issue caused by a weak pelvic floor, resulting in the inability to control bowel movements. A strong pelvic floor can help prevent fecal incontinence by supporting the rectum.
Prolapse is a condition when the pelvic organs (e.g., bladder, uterus, or rectum) slip out of their normal place and protrude into the vagina. This condition is common in women who have given birth or gone through menopause. A strong pelvic floor can help prevent prolapse by supporting the pelvic organs.
A weak pelvic floor can also cause sexual dysfunction. Women with weak pelvic floor muscles may experience difficulty achieving orgasm or feel pain during sex. A strong pelvic floor can help enhance sexual function by improving blood flow and sensitivity in the genital area.
Yoga Poses To Strengthen Pelvic Floor
Yoga is an excellent exercise for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. Many yoga poses target the pelvic floor muscles, helping to strengthen them over time. Some yoga poses that can help women strengthen their pelvic floor include:
- Malasana (Garland Pose)
Malasana, also known as Garland Pose or Yogic Squat, is a great pose to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Start by standing with your feet more than hip-distance apart to do this pose. Bend your knees and lower your hips towards the ground, coming into a squatting position. Your feet should be pointing outwards, and your heels should be on the ground. Bring your palms together at your heart center, and press your elbows against your inner thighs. Hold this pose for 30 seconds to one minute, breathing deeply.
- Baddha Konasana (Butterfly Pose)
Baddha Konasana, also known as Butterfly Pose or Bound Angle Pose, is another great pose for the pelvic floor muscles. To do this pose:
Start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.
Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, allowing your knees to drop out to the sides.
Hold onto your ankles or feet with your hands, and use your elbows to press your knees towards the ground gently.
Keep your spine straight and breathe deeply for 30 seconds to one minute.
- Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose)
Utkata Konasana, also known as Goddess Pose, is a powerful pose that strengthens the pelvic floor muscles, thighs, and glutes. To do this pose:
Stand with your feet more than a hip distance apart, with your toes pointing outwards.
Bend your knees while lowering your hips towards the ground, entering a wide-legged squat.
Bring your arms out to the sides, with your palms facing down.
Hold this pose for 30-45 seconds, breathing deeply.
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
Setu Bandhasana, also known as Bridge Pose, is a gentle backbend that can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. To do this pose:
Lie on your back, and bend your knees while keeping your feet flat on the ground.
Keep your arms at your sides and your palms facing down.
On an inhale, lift your hips towards the ceiling, pressing your feet and shoulders into the ground.
Hold this pose for 30-45 seconds, breathing deeply.
- Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Bhujangasana is a great pose for the pelvic floor muscles and the entire core.
Start by lying on your stomach, your hands under the shoulders, and your elbows close to your sides.
On an inhale, lift your chest up off the ground with your elbows close to your sides.
Press your pubic bone into the ground to engage your pelvic floor muscles.
Hold this pose for 30-45 seconds, breathing deeply.
NourishDoc: Yoga therapy for pelvic health to all the women out there, and there is a difference between yoga and yoga therapy, of you, I did not understand, but yoga therapy addresses the whole person’s mind, body, and soul. That is the difference, and we have Jessica right now, a yoga therapist. Yoga therapists go through 500 hours of training instead of 200 hours, so I want you to know the difference between yoga and yoga therapy so hang on for one second. Jessica is going to join me for one minute. All right, Jessica should be here. We will talk about how yoga therapy helps pelvic health; all right, there you are, Jessica; hi, how are you?
Yoga Therapist Jessica: Hi, good; how are you?
NourishDoc: I told the viewers there’s a difference between yoga and yoga therapy. You can elaborate a little bit. Jessica is a yoga therapist because yoga therapists go through 500 hours instead of 200 hours. Can you elaborate?
Yoga Therapist Jessica: Yeah, many yoga therapists, it’s more like six to eight hundred hours minimum that they go through, so I did a 500-hour program. Then the yoga therapy was an additional amount of hours, so yes, much additional training. We can work with more specific concerns that people have. So we’re a yoga teacher; if someone said, ” Well, I’m having back pain well, ” then a yoga teacher could say, ” Hey, here are some poses that typically help strengthen the back, stretch the back, whatever but a yoga therapist. At the same time, they cannot diagnose; we can look into more profound reasons for what’s going on with the back; if you tell me you have a specific back concern, then I can work with that specific concern.
So many times, we also work with physical therapists, chiropractors, or doctors to come up with a plan of care together to help that person. Also, when we work with a client, we give them a particular customized plan of care so that they can do things on their own between sessions; many people still choose to work together long term, but I know with my clients, after the first three sessions they have something if they never wanted to work together again or maybe they couldn’t afford it or whatever they have a complete plan of care that they could do on their own forever and so it’s empowering yes it’s empowering.
NourishDoc: That’s great, and that’s what I want to emphasize because we’re bringing a yoga therapist. Then people should know, and many people need help understanding the difference between yoga and yoga therapy. We are talking about yoga therapy for pelvic health. Explain a little bit about this particular one. Are these particular asanas combined with breathing, and does the most challenging mental yoga therapy help explicitly with pelvic health?
Yoga Therapist Jessica: Yes. So we do look at the whole person. I’m not going to give someone asana; I’m not going to give someone pranayama. However, instead, I’m going to look at everything about them. I’m going to look at their lifestyle; I’m going to look at their breathing, all this kind of stuff so that I can curate this program for them. So usually, in that care plan, they will have a specific asana that helps them with specific pranayama and breathing practices to help. But then we can also look at their diet, or at least I can. I don’t think every yoga therapist has that training, but you can look at different aspects to give them a whole person. Does that answer the question, or do you want to get more specific about pelvic health?
NourishDoc: Sure. So let’s walk through some small routines on pelvic health as you talked about the asanas, breathing, and whole person, but can you give an example of what that would look like?
Yoga Therapist Jessica: Yeah. So it depends on what’s going on. However, it would help anybody as long as they can get into this position to lie down and elevate their legs. So ideally, lie on the floor and elevate your legs in a chair because your legs are up the wall. In contrast, it can be restorative for some people. It can cause tension for others because you want to hold your legs in a particular position, but if you lie in a chair. You put the backs of your knees up against the edge of the chair. You let your feet relax then you can start to go through and relax all the muscles of the pelvis of the legs because, many times, there’s pelvic tension holding the legs in a specific position.
So when you fully support the legs in this way, it allows you to relax fully and then focus on breathing, especially into the belly and rib cage, so that it helps to reach the diaphragm and reach the pelvic floor so that it’s able to relax correctly if you breathe shallowly, then the diaphragm and pelvic floor are not typically moving in the way that they need to to be able to do their job. So deep breathing legs in the chair would be a good start.
Deep Breathing Benefits
NourishDoc: Can you give us a demo?
Yoga Therapist Jessica: Oh, sure. So something that you can do is you can take your hands and place them on your belly or your ribcage or both and focus on relaxing the breath and then just seeing if you even breathe into the belly or if it’s all up in the chest and shoulders. I like to do an affirmation as a reminder over and over of low, slow, and slow breathing so that you can remember to breathe low into the belly and a slow breath back out.
Some people cannot breathe into the belly; this might be available immediately. So they can do something called candle breath, where they breathe as usual. However, when they breathe out, they curse their lips and breathe out like you’re blowing on a candle enough to make it flicker but not go out. You blow until all the air is gone, so at a certain point, you’ll feel the muscles contract in your belly and then breathe back in as usual. Once you do this a few times, it forces the breath into the belly. So it helps to sort of make that connection between the breath and the belly, so that’s what I can offer people that can’t seem to make that connection; they try to breathe into the belly, and it just doesn’t happen, but if that is available to you just stopping and focusing on breathing into the belly and breathing into the ribcage.
Yoga For Pelvic Pain & Urinary Incontinence
NourishDoc: Yeah. Let’s explain a little about what happens, like the issues you’ve seen with pelvic health in your clients and how yoga therapy balances that.
Yoga Therapist Jessica: So, a lot of what I see is incontinence. So urinary is typically the most common urinary leakage. Whether it be just when you cough or sneeze or stress incontinence where you’re on your way to the bathroom, or you get home in the afternoon, you stick your key in the door. All of a sudden, like you, I can’t wait for another second; it’s happening. I see that a lot, and then I also see sexual concerns, so pain with intercourse. I see painful menstruation, pelvic floor prolapse, and digestive issues. Now, I primarily work with women; in men, it typically manifests as low back pain and hip pain, which can be for women as well sexual concerns and digestive issues.
NourishDoc: So how long do they have to go through the therapy before they can say, let’s say, someone’s having pain when they’re doing intercourse, for example? So what would be some routine like an example like a couple of asanas or breathing? What would be that?
Yoga Therapist Jessica: I would still give them the same thing, legs in the chair to focus because so the reason why I have this specific thing is that what I think many people don’t realize is that most pelvic floor concerns come from hypertonicity; it comes from the muscles being too tight, and you’re being tensed up. So if you think of when you’re stressed out, and you like clench your jaw or shrug your shoulders, the same thing is happening in the pelvic floor; as a matter of fact, there’s a connection between the jaw and the pelvic floor usually if you’re clenching your jaw you’re tightening up down there as well. So a lot of these issues and concerns come from people being the muscles being too tense. They don’t know how or can’t seem to release them.
So if you think about it, if you have a tight, sore muscle, if you’ve ever gotten a massage and someone starts poking on it, it doesn’t feel that good not until it releases, so it’s a similar concept except you’re in a more vulnerable position and then often what happens is if you’ve had painful intercourse for a while then it changes your libido because it doesn’t feel that good. So if you’re not prepared, it will feel even worse. It’s a pattern, so I focus on relaxing and releasing the pelvic floor; that’s my main concern. I know most people it’s sort of in our society tell us that we’re too loose or too blue, to put it bluntly, and when in reality, it’s often the opposite.
So I feel like most people need that opportunity to learn to relax and release the muscles to ease a lot of the issues because even with incontinence, what ends up happening is an actual test of a muscle isn’t how strong it is it’s how much movement it is correct like can you relax the muscle and can you fully engage the muscle and if it’s constantly tense. Then you sneeze; this happens, which isn’t much you need to be able to contract it thoroughly, and so many people are walking around like this, and they don’t know it. So I focus on trying to relax and release so that they can get that full range of mobility back, if you will.
NourishDoc: The tightening of the pelvic muscle is likely significantly correlated with the person’s mental health. This is all collected because then you would work with some breath work at the same time as some, like the yoga asanas. Would that be the routine for how you would work it out?
Yoga Therapist Jessica: Absolutely, and again, I customize my sequences, so I’m giving you a general idea. But I do look at the whole person’s lifestyle. Hence, if they are, many of the people I work with are very type and hard workers. They have kids, so they work hard all day, then they come and see me and don’t understand they’re so stressed out and tense.
Many times when they first reached out to me, they heard that yoga is excellent, and that’s all they know. So they reach out, and they’re like, well, I want to strengthen, and I want to tone, and then I start talking to them about what it is that I do, and that’s not my focus, and they’re like oh wait, no, I need that. So yeah, usually the breath work that I give them is specific to them, but it’s all about relaxing them; the asana that I give them is again typically about relaxing, and it may be a specific area that I’m working with based on whatever they’re going through and then many times I give yoga Nidra which not sure if your audience is familiar. However, it’s like guided relaxation, like Shavasana it’s a guided relaxation that really takes them into a lovely deep state of relaxation and sometimes even sleeps itself, and that can often help because you can access that total relaxation that may not be as accessible when you’re conscious of this. So I do that a lot with folks as well.
Yoga Nidra & Soham Mantra For Pelvic Floor
NourishDoc: So what about sound healing, like mantra chanting? Yoga encompasses many other things you also incorporate; we talked about the Yoga Nidra, a guided meditation; the asanas; breathing, and so what about the mantra chanting, the sound of Om? It comes as a fantastic feeling.
Yoga Therapist Jessica: Yes, I don’t do as much of that. I do it a lot in my personal practice, and I will when I’ve worked with someone for a while. I focus on the Soham mantra, which is usually put along with a sort of soulma release, a nectar release that my mentor taught me. As they start to learn the Soham with the breath, then we can start to visualize the soulma going from the center of the head to the tailbone and the Agni coming back up, so I do that a little bit that’s the main thing that I use as far as mantra though occasionally I do other things I also sometimes use mudra.
NourishDoc: Okay, any other feedback? I see many people join. I know it’s the middle of the day today, but I still see many people join if they need feedback comments, and if you can’t think of the comments right now, you’re welcome to DM us later. But anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up today?
Yoga Therapist Jessica: So much that I could, I don’t know. My biggest challenge is having people look and see if they have these concerns. Do they have a very stressful act of life like who of us doesn’t? But are they walking around very tense are they able to relax? Have them lie down, put their legs in a chair and see if you can relax; if not, that might be very telling for you; that might be something you need to work with because, again, our society rewards activity.
We will even sometimes brag about oh, I only need four hours of sleep; no, you don’t biologically; you need seven to nine hours of sleep. However, it’s like we prize we I don’t know; we just love saying how hard we can work. However, we don’t see all these things happening, especially with the pelvic floor and hips related to this over-activity. So I encourage you to sit down, relax, breathe, and spend just a few minutes daily chilling, focusing on your breath and relaxing your muscles.
NourishDoc: I want to emphasize that yoga therapy is not only physical but also emotional and mental. Most of us don’t understand that we love to wear a little lemon and shake our booties out there; what I mean and not paying attention to what yoga therapy can do for us, that’s all right?
Yoga Therapist Jessica: Yeah, and I always have my clients at the beginning of class i’ll usually have them lie down in Shavasana and do check-in. I will tell them to check and see how you’re feeling physically, notice where you’re tight and where your tents and then i’ll have them check in emotionally. I will have them check in energetically in a way to see like, on a physical level are feeling very sluggish, very lazy, very heavy do you feel like you could jog a few miles around the building, or where on that spectrum are you and then mentally in that same way where are you on that spectrum are you feeling very foggy, very sleepy are you feeling very restless and do these things match up because sometimes that disconnect comes from our mind is very active and restless and wants to do all these things and our bodies are just exhausted. So I have them check in on all this because sometimes that alone can be profound for someone.
NourishDoc: Well, thank you so much for educating us about the benefits of yoga therapy and to everyone else; learn about yoga therapy heart can help you; yoga therapy is much more than yoga; that’s what we wanted to bring today, and we wanted to bring a yoga therapist. She specializes in pelvic health. We have had some issues with that pelvic health; we are too shy to talk about it but try yoga therapy. With that, thank you so much, Jessica, for being with us, and to all the viewers, thank you for supporting us every day bye bye.