“I can’t feel a thing”,
“I am not sure I am doing them right”,
“I don’t know if anything is happening”
These are common responses I get from women when asking them about their pelvic floor muscle exercises. Although we can’t see them, the pelvic floor muscles play a number of vital roles in women’s everyday health and wellbeing. They supports the organs that rest on them (bladder, bowel and uterus) and having strong and responsive pelvic floor muscles is essential in maintaining continence. They also play an important role in sexual function and orgasm (another great reason to do the exercises).
Most women do not think about their pelvic floor until something goes wrong and many accept pelvic floor dysfunction as part of being a woman. Even though you constantly hear about the importance of doing pelvic floor exercises many women just don’t know how to find them.
Muscles you cannot see moving are always going to be more challenging to have full conscious awareness of and control over. This coupled with the stretch weakness that occurs with pregnancy makes it very difficult to connect to the pelvic floor muscles after birth. Add a challenging birth to this and the pelvic floor muscles become really difficult locate and exercise correctly. Many women really struggle to consciously find, engage and release this important muscle group after childbirth.
Pelvic floor exercises are essential after carrying a baby for 9 months, regardless of how you delivered your baby. There will be automatically some stretch weakness of the pelvic floor after pregnancy, and though this may not always cause symptoms for women, but waiting until you have a problem before starting pelvic floor exercises is not a good strategy as it leaves you with more work to do.
I have created a 4 part blog series on the pelvic floor muscle, to help you all to become confident in firstly locating the pelvic floor muscles, and then how to exercise and train them so you can get back full strength in your pelvic floor and get back to whatever you enjoy doing most.
Part 1: Pelvic Floor Awareness
In this first part of the pelvic floor muscle blog I want you all to become more in tune your pelvic floor muscles.
Your pelvic floor is a platform of muscles and sphincters supporting and controlling your bladder, vagina and back passage. Your pelvic floor muscles attach onto the coccyx bone at the base of your spine, at the back, and run underneath your body like a supporting hammock to your pubic bone at the front. They are also anchored to the sides of the pelvis at your two sitting bones (left and right). As you are thinking about the pelvic floor attachment points, it may be helpful to visualise a diamond shape connecting these four anchor points (diamonds are a girls best friend).
When everything is functioning well these muscles should contract and work automatically when you squat, sneeze, run or lift, however this automatic action does not always restore after childbirth.
You cannot strengthen what you cannot connect to so in this first part of my pelvic floor blog, I have included a visualisation/meditation which will help you improve your awareness and connection to your pelvic floor muscles. This is especially helpful for women who have had a difficult birth experience or a long labour, as women can feel so disconnected from the pelvic floor muscles.
One of the keys in the process of healing is awareness. When we are aware of what a structure is or is not doing, we can begin to resolve its imbalances. There tends to be much confusion amongst women. Is my pelvic floor too tight? Not tight enough? How can I tell the resting tension? How can I fix it? Before we set out to resolve/fix our pelvic floor dysfunction we need to first “know” our pelvic floor. Know what engaging it feels like, what releasing it feels like, and how to control both contracting and releasing it. I made this audio to give you the tools you need to become familiar with your pelvic floor. Many women struggle at first and find that they have little to no awareness of the muscles. Over time and with regular practice, this often changes.
I have attached an audio version which you can listen along to as you visualise or you can follow the script below.
Pelvic Floor Visualisation/Meditation
- Begin by lying down in a comfortable position. Allow you eyes to close.
- Take your awareness to your breath. There is no need to change anything just feel the cold air coming in through your nose and warmer air releasing as you exhale. Listen for a few more breaths.
- Now notice for any areas of tension in your body. Is there anywhere you can let go just a little?
- Soften your jaw creating space between your back teeth.
- Let your cheeks and face relax.
- Allow your shoulders to fall away from your ears. You will find you are breathing a little deeper now.
- Take your focus now to your belly. Feel the sensation of your belly rising and falling as you breathe in and out. Notice your tummy expanding as you breathe in and relaxing as you let go. If your mind begins to wander during this exercise just gently bring it back to your breath.
- When you are ready bring your awareness to your pelvis.
- Imagine creating space between the two bones at the front of your hips.
- Allow your hips to fall into their sockets.
- Soften any tension in your inner thighs.
- Notice your two sitting bones in your bottom. Can you create space between your left and right sitting bone as you inhale? Focus on this for a few more breaths.
- Imagine a diamond shape connecting your pubic bone to your left sitting bone, your tailbone at the back, your right sitting bone and back to the pubic bone.
- As you breathe in, visualise this diamond shape expanding and opening.
- As you breathe out, imagine this diamond shape drawing in.
- Breathe in, soften and open. Breathe out, draw in. Focus on this for a few breaths.
- Allow you attention to expand out to include your entire body as a whole. Bring into your awareness the top of your head down to your toes.
- Take a full deep breath, Taking in all the energy from this practice.
- Exhale fully.
- And when you are ready, open your eyes and return your attention to the room.
Consider doing this practice daily until you feel more connected to your pelvic floor muscles.
The Connection Breath
If meditation and visualisation is not your thing then working on the connection between your diaphragm and pelvic floor is a great place to start.
The pelvic floor is part of your core system, but does not work in isolation. As you breathe in, the diaphragm moves down and draws air in. The diaphragm’s best friend is the pelvic floor (they’ve been besties since birth!) so they go everywhere together. As the diaphragm moves down, so does the pelvic floor.
I will talk you through the instructions in the video below.
Connection Breath in Wide-Leg Child’s Pose
For another variation, which takes out the influence of gravity and can be relaxing and restorative, take the Connection Breath to a wide-leg child’s pose.
Move into wide-leg child’s pose. Keep your toes together and your knees wide to the sides of the mat. Relax and just breathe for a few moments.
Now bring your awareness to the inflow of your breath. As you bring air into your body, feel and visualize the expansion allowing maximum oxygen intake. Breathe into your sides, your belly, your back, your pelvic floor. Inhale to expand as you fill your body with air. Breathe slowly, breathe deeply.
Bring your attention to your pelvic floor. As you inhale to expand, feel space, openness and expansion between your sitting bones, feel fullness in your perineum. Enjoy a few breaths with this awareness.
Now turn your awareness to emptying your breath. Feel the fullness leave your perineum, feel your floor lift, feel the tummy move inwards and feel the ribs soften.
Spend a few minutes enjoying this connection and practice daily. Take the awareness of your breath, of your core, and of your floor with you throughout your day. It is this natural ebb and flow of the breath that brings tone, strength and length to the muscles of your core.
Practicing one of these techniques will improve your pelvic floor awareness.