Pelvic floor awareness and exercises are important for bladder health and sexual health. They are vital when women are pregnant because of all the extra work that your muscles have to do when your baby is growing.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles that stretch from your tailbone (coccyx) to your pubic bone at the front and between the bones that you sit on from one side to the other.
What does it do?
They work like a trampoline. They can move up and down as needed, depending on what you are doing. They act like a hammock to support your pelvic organs. In women they are wrapped around the urethra, vagina and anus.
They are able to contract when you cough or sneeze to help prevent you from leaking and keep you continent.
With your conscious control they allow you to decide when to pass urine or open your bowels (or as I say, when we’re practising our exercises in class… not to fart in a room of celebrities!)
Why is it so important during pregnancy?
In pregnancy the pelvic floor holds your baby as it grows bigger and also helps you to give birth. And the pelvic floor plays an important roles in sexual function for both men and women.
It helps to increase sexual pleasure and contracts during orgasm in women and helps with erection and ejaculation for men.
The Pelvic Floor Muscles are made up of two types of muscle fibres:
Slow twitch muscle fibres – responsible for the resting tone of the pelvic floor.
Fast twitch muscle fibres – these work when a quick powerful contraction is needed. In my case a hearty laugh! Or a sneeze or cough.
So why don’t they get more attention? They’re so important.
Pelvic awareness is so important and studies have evolved. The good news is that our pelvic floor is activated by deep breathing. So as your diaphragm moves downwards, so does your pelvic floor and as it moves upwards your pelvic floor matches that action.
Previously it was thought that everyone needed to tone their pelvic floor. But now we are all encouraged to get a pelvic examination to determine the tone of our pelvic floor. Some women may in fact have a pelvic floor that is too tight. Perhaps through lots of core work and Mula Bunda in yoga. And some women won’t have enough tone. The only way to know for certain is to have an examination.
In my prenatal yoga classes we talk about pelvic floor awareness a lot.
So that women are aware that while they need to engage their pelvic floor to strengthen their muscles, they also will need to learn how to let go for birth.
Pelvic Floor exercises for women:
It is important to be able to isolate and use the right muscles. And then when you have that sorted it’s a good habit to make them part of your daily routine.
At first you might find it difficult not to just squeeze your buttocks or thighs together and that’s ok. It takes practise. As is your breathing.
Here is a suggestion on how to do them that you will also find in the book The Pelvic Floor Bible by Jane Simpson:
- Sit on an exercise ball or any hard surface with your feet flat on the floor.
- Lean slightly forward with your vulval areas in contact with the hard surface.
- With your hands on your on your thighs try to lift the area around your vagina and anus away from the surface you are sitting on.
Another way to really visualise how to access the muscles you need to engage is using your imagination:
- Pretend you are trying to stop yourself from farting.
- Pull up the muscles around your anus, squeeze, lift and hold.
- In class I often say… imagine yourself in a room full of celebrities and you are the host… and suddenly you need to fart…
- Engage that pelvic floor!
How to perform your Pelvic Floor Exercises?
In class I usually teach pelvic floor exercises when we are on all fours with our bum in the air and leaning on our forearms. I do this because there is no pressure on our pelvic floor in this position. It’s harder for our glutes to get involved in this position. Which helps women to isolate the muscles more easily.
- Start by beginning to notice your breathing and connecting to your pelvic floor.
- On the inhale soften your pelvic floor.
- On the exhale engage (like you are putting on a pair of jeans just out of the wash)
- Inhale to soften.
- Then exhale and draw up all the muscles at the same time, squeeze, lift and hold for a count of five (if you can).
- As you inhale gradually let go and soften and then start again.
- You might not be able to hold for five at first but practise every day until you can.
- Try to slowly build up how long you can hold for. Could you get to 7 seconds?
- Imagine eventually being able to exhale for 7 seconds and building that strength and then gently inhaling for a count of 5 and continuing this in a circular breath five times.
- It’s important to build this up gently overtime and not to overtire your muscles, especially when they are weakened at the beginning.
If you can build them into your day I recommend doing them as you get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night.
Once a day you should also do a series of ten short, sharp contractions.
These are done in a pattern of squeeze, let go, squeeze, let go and help when you need to suddenly sneeze or cough (or in my case laugh very hard!).
I recommend some books and articles on more pelvic floor awareness.
The Pelvic Floor Bible – Jane Simpson
Elaine Barry Physio – https://www.instagram.com/elainebarryphysio/
And one of my favourites https://www.instagram.com/mamastefit/