Guest post by Tracy Mattox, Owner of Yoga For Pelvic Floor
Your pelvic floor is the group of muscles that support the organs below the belly button and is important to help you urinate, defecate, experience pleasure, and support a growing fetus. When these muscles are not functioning properly, you can experience incontinence, pain, discomfort with sex, erectile dysfunction, and more. Many people also experience pelvic organ prolapse, which is when the lower organs (bladder, rectum, and/or uterus) drop downward, resulting in discomfort and often impacting bodily functions. If you leak a little pee when you laugh or jump, you most likely have pelvic floor dysfunction.
Fortunately, as with any group of muscles in the body, it’s possible to strengthen and stretch the pelvic floor. Though there are cases when surgery is required to fix this muscle group, it’s often possible to get relief from your symptoms through physical therapy and the right kinds of exercise. This is where pelvic floor yoga comes in!
Pelvic floor yoga focuses on asanas (yoga poses) that offer stability to the body without increasing intra-abdominal pressure. It doesn’t involve headstands or moving the body into extreme positions but focuses on breathing and the position of the pelvis. In my classes, I use a mix of hatha yoga (tying breath to motion), yin yoga (holding postures for six breaths), and pilates (leg motion to work the core). This is not a common style of yoga, and every teacher has his/her own style. Though these classes are typically only offered as a specialty course or workshop, Yoga Below the Belt offers a regular class online to make this exercise more accessible.
There are two components that are crucial in this type of yoga practice, and that is the breath and the position of the pelvis. Let me give you a little more detail.
Most people who are stressed will breathe shallowly or pull their stomach inward when inhaling. This is a major contributor to pelvic floor dysfunction. When you don’t allow the belly to expand with an inhale, then you don’t breathe into the lower abdomen and allow the pelvic floor to expand. This means that you are not allowing the pelvic floor to experience its full range of motion. Over time, shortening the movement of the pelvic floor in this way creates tightness that may result in incontinence, pelvic pain, and more.
In many cases, you may improve your pelvic floor health simply by learning to breathe properly. There are three points that are made in every class when it comes to breathing: with every inhale 1) the chest should rise up, 2) the rib cage should expand, and 3) the belly should naturally fill with air to the point that the lower abdomen drops down. The breath is not forced, and over time, especially when incorporating specific asanas, will become deeper with consistent practice. Note that you will NEVER hold your breath in a pelvic floor yoga class!
#2. Pelvis Position
The bones of the pelvis naturally offer support to your organs, and it’s important to know how to find a neutral pelvis (keeping a natural curve in the lumbar spine) throughout your practice. A pelvic floor yoga class is dedicated to helping students position the body in a way that minimizes the pressure on the lower organs and pelvic floor. For example, when doing a standing forward fold, students are encouraged to bend their knees so that they have enough movement in the pelvis to pull the tailbone back. In this pose, students maintain a natural spine as they reach toward the ground. With the tailbone pulled back, the pubic bone (the point in front of the pelvis) becomes a natural support for the bladder, which reduces the pressure you would feel compared to rounding the spine to touch your toes.
Every pose in a pelvic floor yoga class works to adjust the hips and pelvis, and movement is often tied to the breath. Students learn how to inhale into the pelvic floor (as mentioned above) and how to exhale while moving the body. The exhale naturally lifts the pelvic floor up, so students exhale their breath in the more difficult motion. For example, a student who is lying prone on the floor may wish to move into a knee-to-chest pose. The student is asked to keep the spine neutral (the back comfortably touching the ground with the sacrum staying flat on the floor – which maintains the natural curve of the low/lumbar spine). With the leg extended, an inhale fills the belly and stretches the pelvic floor. On the exhale, the pelvic floor naturally moves upward and you move the leg toward the chest (keeping the sacrum flat).
Teaching group classes in this style is a unique challenge because the teacher must know how to modify postures for both stretching and strengthening the pelvic floor. The adjustments are subtle, and a group class with both types of muscle concerns must include very carefully selected poses that can be modified to accommodate everybody. Fortunately, it is possible to design classes that work for stretching and strengthening.
If you’re interested in learning more or want to see the current videos or group class schedule, you should check out the website:
You can also explore the blog for more tips:
Hi! I’m Tracy Mattox, a research chemist, and certified yoga instructor. In 2011, I was diagnosed with prolapse and spent many years feeling uncomfortable. I finally turned my research skills onto myself, discovered PT, and applied what I was learning to yoga. I reclaimed my active life, and the rest is history! Now, I offer online classes through Yoga Below the Belt and am on a mission to prevent others from suffering as long as I did.
Related Yoga Article You Might Like
Exploring the Divine Feminine: A Journey Through the 10 Goddesses in Yoga Practice.
Mindful Living: 54 Yoga Affirmations for a Conscious Mindset
Building Strength the Yogic Way: A Guide to Harnessing the Power of Yoga