Updated: Nov 24, 2022
A healthy pelvic floor is what we all would like to have. Usually many think that a healthy pelvic floor means a strong pelvic floor and doing Kegel exercises. This is not always true and beneficial for everyone, because many problems actually arise from a too tight or strong pelvic floor. Like for example having trouble with the bladder (urgency), is usually considered as a problem of too loose and weak pelvic floor muscles, but this can actually be because the pelvis is too tensed and tight and when we go to the bathroom we can’t hold the urine because we can’t tighten more. Our pelvic floor is only healthy and functioning properly when the muscles can relax and contract, so that there is a control in both.
There can also be a lot of tension held in the pelvic floor, that we unconsciously hold onto. It’s known to be our favorite storage place for traumatic or stressful experiences. Before we can learn the muscles to contract, we need to first learn to let go and soften, so that we can release this tension. Many of us can probably relate to the feeling of having this continues tension in the root or pelvic floor muscles, that only when you consciously think about it you can actually relax it. Or maybe you always have the feeling there is a certain tightness in your hips or pelvis that just doesn’t seem to get better, no matter how much yoga we do. Many standing yoga postures are actually making our pelvic floor muscles work more and become tighter and tighter.
Also, in your postpartum stage, it’s often advised to start with Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles again. Sometimes we don’t know if we are doing the right thing and are strengthening the right muscles, we just squeeze in the hope that we are squeezing the right muscle. When the pelvic floor muscle is not relaxed and always in a state of contraction and holding, these Kegel exercises won’t work, because a tightened muscle can’t tighten even more (just like any muscle in our body). First it needs to remember how to be in a relaxed state, before it can contract again.
So it’s clear we have a set of very subtle muscles in our pelvic floor, that we can’t see or feel in the same way as other muscles in our body. It’s a beautiful journey to connect with them and discover for yourself what the places are you are holding tension and learn to release it. When you are connected to your pelvic floor and she is in a healthy and soft state, you will know you are contracting the right muscle and in this state you can work on toning and bringing in the Kegel exercises.
How do I find out whether I have tightness or tension in my pelvic floor?
A good way to discover this for yourself is a self massage. This can be easily done by touching on top of the clothes, in a seated position or laying down on your side body. Start by entering yourself in a comfortable seat and observing your starting point, your baseline. How does your breath feel? How easily does it flow, how deep are you breathing? Then bring one leg in front and one leg bended in front of you, lean to one side so you can start with massaging the area along the sitting bone. Touch lightly and keep on breathing deeply. Wherever you feel some pain, tenderness or discomfort, is a part of the pelvic floor muscle (the most superficial one just beneath the skin) being overly tight. When you have done one side, center yourself and feel the difference on both sides. The side you have touched and massaged will feel much lower, more grounded and maybe more connected. Repeat on the other side and then centre yourself in the middle again.
After having done both sides, you might be able to feel more movement within when you breath, on the inhale a slight downwards movement, pelvic floor descending down (opening). On the exhale a slight lifting movement, the pelvic floor lifting in and upwards (closing).
There is also ways to massage internally, that you can learn yourself as well. In this way you can access the deepest layer of the pelvic floor and you can massage the even deeper tender spots.
When the pelvic floor muscles, or any of the other surrounding muscles is short or tight (like for example the psoas muscle), it can be more difficult to breath deeply. There is a good way to check this for yourself by laying down on your back body, bring a pillow under your head and a bolster/pillow under your knees. Bring a strap or shawl (anything you can tie your legs with) around the upper legs, so that the legs are held hip distance apart without you having to do anything (this will make you relax deeper in the pelvis). You can place your hands on your hips and lower belly and breath into your hands.
Tune into the very subtle sensation of your breath and how deep it is flowing. How many seconds does it take you to inhale, and how many to exhale? Is there any obstruction that you can feel on one side? Do you feel like it's easier to breathe deep on one side more than the other? If you feel a difference, you can bring a heavier weight on the side that feels more challenging, like a hot water bottle or 1kg bag of rice for example. Place the weight on the upper leg, just below the pubic bone. This lengthens the psoas muscle and can make it easier to breath deeper instantly. Try and feel the difference. Count again how long it takes for your to inhale and exhale.
Another way to feel tightness and possible differences between one side and the other is to use movement or yoga postures specifically to address tightness in the pelvis. One awareness exercise you can try is by coming into a low lunge (front foot on the outside of hand), with hands on blocks if desired. Start to circle very slowly, only move the hips and pelvis. You will feel corners where it's more challenging to circle smoothly. When you have done one side for a few minutes, come back into a child's pose and feel the difference in circulation. Change for the other side. If there was one side that felt more challenging, go back into that side and give it some extra attention, so you can start to slowly even out the pelvis and bring into symmetry.
From here you can already tell a bit more for yourself about the state of your pelvic floor. Did you experience any pain or tenderness in the massage and touch? Was this just on one side or on both? How was your breathing? With tightness in your pelvis it's more difficult to breathe deeply. And with movement, once you start paying attention to movement in a way to understand our imbalances, your body will tell you what it needs more.
Do you feel inspired to be guided to explore more?
Much more exploration and awareness exercises, ways to release tension and learn to soften your muscles in the areas that you need it the most, are to be found in our pelvic yoga course. After the release has happened, we will slowly start to tone the pelvic floor, but in a safe way with more connection to and control over our pelvic floor. New neural patterns to be created so that in our daily life, we are relaxed in our pelvic floor when we can and contract when we need to.