Before I get into discussing yoga postures, I want to offer up a couple of guidelines and a couple of disclaimers. First, the disclaimers: I am not a health care professional, nor do I have any formal yoga teacher training. Please treat these posts as coming from a student of yoga and a patient receiving pelvic floor physical therapy. As such, there will be limitations to the questions I can answer and the information I can provide. If you have a situation that goes outside the scope of the posts and comments here, I'd encourage you, if possible, to contact a qualified professional.
- Be Mindful -- One key concept when moving into, holding, or moving out of these asanas is the idea of being mindful. Just as you'd probably not want to perform bicep curls by yanking a dumbbell with your arm, jerking it to your shoulder, and dropping it down, it's also helpful to move into and out of yoga poses carefully, paying attention to your body's reactions.
You may also find that entering and exiting the poses in a controlled (i.e., relatively slow) manner engages the muscles over a longer period of time and a wider range of motion.
- Visualize -- If you're not used to isolating your pelvic floor muscles, it can feel a little weird at first. It can also be difficult to tell if what you're doing is "working." Visualizing the pelvic floor muscles engaging can help make a mind-body connection.
- Honor Your Body. -- When you do new things with your body, it may feel weird or even a little uncomfortable. Generally speaking, sensations that feel broad, gradual, stretching, or opening are okay. Sensations that feel sharp or pinching are more likely to be a sign of ungoodness. If something hurts, it's okay to back off or stop altogether.
- Modify -- There is a huge variation in individual anatomies, and what works for my body may not work for your body. When I describe a pose, I'm likely to be explaining how I do it because that's my frame of reference. I'll include modifications when I know them, but just because I don't explain a modification doesn't mean there isn't one.
Right. So I know that's already a lot of dense background, but I'm going to add one more note: I'm going to start with asanas that tend to relax and stretch the pelvic floor, saving more "strengthening"** exercises for later posts. The idea behind that is that if you stretch muscles (pelvic floor or otherwise) before you contract them, that is generally a good thing. However, if you attempt to flex or contract inadequately stretched muscles, that is sometimes an injury in the making. And I'm not sure I want to be the catalyst for an urgent care visit that starts, "I was exercising my vagina, and..." ;)
(Dang. I did not mean to spend so long typing out all the background info. I had meant to talk about a couple of poses today. But maybe only one now.)
Malasana / Squat Pose
See it here on Yoga Journal.
This is probably the asana where the pelvic floor muscles are broadest, most open, and most relaxed. (Which probably explains why it is used not infrequently for peeing, pooping, and giving birth. I am also a fan of using it for menstrual cup and diaphragm removal.) To enter into it:
- Start standing with your feet hip width or a little wider. Your toes may be more or less forward, or they may be angled out toward the side. You can always adjust your feet as you're moving into the squat.
- Squat down slowly, letting your butt lead the way. You will likely feel some opening in your inner thighs and groin. If you feel a pinching in your knees, you will probably want to modify (adjust foot/thigh position, use a prop, etc.) to alleviate that.</il>
- Bring your upper arms inside your thighs. You may choose to place your hands on the floor or on a chair for support or balance. Or you may choose to press your upper arms out into your thighs and your thighs in toward your arms; joining your palms together at the heart may give you leverage and make this more accessible.
- Wherever your hands are, think about relaxing in your hips and groins and lengthening your spine. If you're having trouble relaxing in this part of your anatomy, taking a deep inhale and exhaling through the mouth, with a sigh, can help.
- I tend to hold this pose for 6-12 breaths, mindfully stand up or sit on my bum, and then repeat a time or two. How long you stay in the pose is going to depend on what you feel as you're in it.
A couple of videos so you can see the posture in action. (I tried to take video of myself doing the pose. Then I realized that I could not be both squatting in the middle of the room and in front of the computer at the same time. Go me.)
This one shows a couple of slight variations, depending on knee bend and torso angle:
This one shows a modification using a rolled blanket under the hips. You can also use a blanket/towel/whatever under your heels if your heels don't reach the ground and want support:
Even though the video title says "prenatal," if squatting on the floor is inaccessible to you for any reason, using the wall as a prop may be an appropriate modification:
Okay, off to let the dog -- a champion squatter in her own right -- outside before she practices this pose on the rug! Happy squatting!
** I put "strengthening" in quotation marks because a fair number of people subscribe to the idea that a "tight" pelvic floor is "strong" while a "loose" pelvic floor is "weak." Personally, I find that definition limiting because it doesn't acknowledge that "contracted" and "relaxed" are part of a continuum, and it doesn't acknowledge that there are plenty of times when a relaxed pelvic floor is a good thing. (Think about it: How hard would it suck if your heart muscles did not both contract and relax?) There are people -- and I am one of them -- who prefer to define "strong" pelvic floor muscles as ones that do what you want them to when you want them to do it. On account of that, I tend to see both pelvic floor contracting and relaxing as equal parts of the toning process.