The answer, in two parts:
- The pelvic floor is not just the vagina.
- A lot.
I mean, vaginae are great and all -- I'm a fan! -- but the pelvic floor muscles support and connect to all sorts of other "down there" fun (the bladder, the uterus, the low back, etc.). And just like elements of easy pose can be incorporated whenever we're sitting, so can elements of tadasana be incorporated whenever we're standing. And on any given day, I am probably on my feet as much as I am on my butt.
It's also worth noting that there are some societal forces/pressures/factors/whatever that can lead us away from a balanced tadasana, which may then create pain and pelvic floor weakness.
Tadasana / Mountain Pose:
See it here on Yoga Journal.
- You can start with your feet together or with your feet about hip distance apart. In this case, "hip distance" means with your feet below your hip points, which is often narrower than a lot of people picture it to be.
- This gets its own number because it is important: Stand so that you are balanced on your feet, with weight in the inner ball of your foot, the outer ball of your foot, and the center of your heel. You will find people who say this is done by making the insides of the feet parallel, the outsides of the feet parallel, the midlines of the feet parallel, and/or the second toes of the feet parallel. Clearly, this is one of those times where different things work for different people. My "thing" is that I like to lift up my toes for a second, spread them, and place them back down because that helps my feet find where they want to be. I also find that when my feet are balanced, it's really easy for the rest of my body to enter its correct alignment, which is why I say to stand so that you are balanced on your feet, however you achieve that balance.
- Lightly engage through your legs, lifting up through your thighs and making sure your knees aren't locked. You will probably find that the fronts of your thighs are rotating internally at least a little.
- Balance your pelvis (look! it gets bolded too!) on top of your thighs. This means finding a place where it's not tipped forward (which would result in your butt sticking out behind you and an unnaturally arched lower spine) or tipped back (which would result in your butt tucked under you and an unnaturally flattened lower spine). If you feel like your lower spine is relaxed, that's a good indicator that your pelvis is in its neutral position.
- Lengthen your spine by stacking the vertebrae on top of one another. Lightly engage your abdominal muscles to support your spine.
- Mindfully open through your heart space -- draw up through your sternum and widen through your collarbones -- and allow your shoulders to slide down your back. I say "mindfully" here because making this too large a motion can cause the back to arch unnaturally, which throws the pelvis out of whack, which is sort of the opposite of what we're going for.
- Allow your head to rest on top of your neck in its neutral position. Probably this means lifting up through the crown of the head. If you find that your forehead and/or chin are tilting up and you're "cranking" into the back of your neck, draw your chin down slightly to lengthen the back of the neck.
- Rest your arms in a place that allows you to maintain this balance and engagement. At your sides, palms forward and/or in prayer position over the heart are two possibilities.
See it in action here:
Also, if standing is not accessible for you, but sitting with your feet on the floor is, this modification may be particularly helpful:
And a tadasana flow, if that is what floats your boat (FYI, it is from a series on low back pain, so that is what references to chronic pain are about there):
Now that I've thoroughly bored you with a detailed analysis of "standing," I'm going to ask you to go back and reread Step 4 in the list so we can talk about it in yet more detail. In this position -- when your thighs are rotating internally, your pelvis is balanced, and your low back is relaxed -- your pelvic floor muscles are lightly engaged (compare it to the pronounced pelvic tilt in cow pose) but they are, for the most part, more relaxed than not. While some yogis talk about a drawing down of the tailbone or sit bones, think of it more as a lengthening down and less as a tucking under. Double-check: If you get into tadasana and discover that there is some pubic/vaginal/butt clenching going on, modify -- lengthen -- to alleviate that tightness.
Though it is long-ish, uncaptioned, and with not-so-great audio quality, this video does a good job of illustrating neutral back and pelvic position. Keep in mind, though, that since bodies vary, your "neutral" may not look like someone else's "neutral." Honor your body's feeling of relaxed and balanced over someone else's look.
Speaking of butt clenching and looks, I would like to make a confession. I am on a journey of loving my body, but there are days and situations in which I am way self-conscious about my belly fat. Sometimes when I am out in public, I suck it in -- a lot, to the extent that I clench my butt and put strain on my low back and constriction n my pelvic floor muscles. I am not about to make this claim for anybody else, but:
- I have a deep pelvic floor dysfunction.
- I have body fears and insecurities that cause me to, voluntarily or not, tighten muscles in my pelvic region.
- I don't think it's out of line to suspect that the second plays into the first.
And I don't totally know what to do with that. I'd like to say that I will never feel self-conscious about my belly again and will never clench or suck in order to imperfectly cram myself into an artificially narrow and exclusive ideal of beauty. But if I did say it, it would be a load of horse shit. Because the reality is that I'll probably find myself in public pelvic clench-and-tuck sometime in the next day or two. At the same time, though, studying the anatomical portion of it has brought me some small moment of consciousness. Because if I can recognize how and when this societal construct is bringing unwanted tension to my body, I can more often choose to engage my body in a way that serves me best.
Aaaannnnnddddd.... done with the enlightenment. Now I want to talk about shoes. High heels, specifically.
But first I want to preface: This next section is not about me saying that some clothing is good while other clothing is bad. It is not about my saying what other people should or should not wear. I can't accurately make those judgments in the contexts of other people's lives, nor do I want to try. This is about presenting anatomical information so people can make informed choices for their own lives.
Now. Go back to tadasana and that neutral pelvis. Then rise up onto the balls of your feet as if you were wearing high heels. What happens to your pelvis, low back, and butt?
Okay, to be honest, when I first tried this, what happened to my low back and butt was that they wound up on the floor because I lost my balance and fell -- not gracefully -- on my arse. But. When I could do this with my toes grounded, I found that my pelvis tipped forward, my low back overarched, and my butt stuck out behind me. Which, in addition to the lumbar compression, means those lightly engaged pelvic floor muscles? A little less engaged. For a single evening out, I don't think it's likely to make a significant difference on my body. But wearing heels all day, every day, I imagine the impact would be greater:
Again, not that I am trying to say, "Don't do this thing!" But I do think it makes sense to know about heels and their potential effects up the body. Just like I also think it makes sense to know about some quick, easy, and probably convenient stretches for your feet. :)