What is your pelvic floor (and why you should care)?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles and connective tissue that attach to the bones in the pelvis. They create a kind of hammock or basket at the bottom of the pelvis and keep your bladder, bowel, uterus, and other abdominal organs where they’re supposed to be. The pelvic floor muscles are part of your core muscle group, working in conjunction with your abdominals, diaphragm, and the muscles of the hip to provide strength and stability.
The pelvic floor muscles are made up of a superficial and deep layer. Most of us are familiar with the superficial layer – we engage it when we try to stop a pee. The deeper muscles may be harder to connect to as we’re not used to consciously engaging them.
The functions of the pelvic floor
Women who have given birth may be all too familiar with the symptoms of a weak pelvic floor. Coughing and sneezing become a risky affair and trampolining is less fun than it used to be.
Because the pelvic floor is a group of core muscles, it has a wide range of important functions:
A strong pelvic floor keeps our bladder and bowel functioning optimally. When these muscles are weak, we can experience incontinence of these two areas.
In more severe conditions, bladder prolapse can occur which may require surgery. The symptoms of bladder prolapse include pain, an urge to urinate but with poor flow, and frequent urinary tract infections.
A well-functioning pelvic floor is important for healthy labour and childbirth in women of childbearing age.
One of the jobs of the pelvic floor is to provide support for the uterus, so if the muscles are weak, a uterine prolapse can occur. This causes pain, especially during intercourse or walking, and a feeling of pressure in the pelvic region. Surgery is often required.
Healthy muscles have a good blood flow, and in the case of your pelvis, this can mean better sexual arousal, stronger orgasms and better general vaginal health.
The pelvic floor muscles work in conjunction with your hip muscles and the muscles of the abdomen. They get involved in walking, sitting, standing, lifting, and even breathing. They play an active role in stabilising the hips and providing core structural support to the body.
What causes a weak pelvic floor?
As we age, we naturally lose muscle tone in our bodies. Our collagen production decreases which means our pelvic floor (along with our other muscles) can become less flexible and resilient.
Prolonged sitting can have a detrimental effect on the pelvis. When we sit for too long our hip flexors become tight which can pull the pelvis out of alignment and affect the other muscles in the area. Lack of movement also reduces blood flow which, in turn, reduces muscle tone, creating a vicious cycle.
Situations that increase the load on the pelvic floor muscles can also create weakness in the long term. Pregnancy is the most obvious, but obesity and repeated heavy lifting can also cause this to happen.
Stress is another important contributing factor to pelvic floor dysfunction. When we’re stressed, we often contract certain muscles without being aware. When muscles are continually switched on and not allowed to rest, they become tighter and weaker. Because many of us don’t have awareness of what our pelvic floors are doing, we may not realise they’re in a chronic pattern of tensing, which makes them tight and weak at the same time.
How to strengthen your pelvic floor
Traditionally, we’re told to do our Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor. However, these exercises often only target the superficial muscles that we use to stop peeing. We may still be unaware of, and unable to feel movement in, the deeper muscles.
When you’re able to bring awareness to these deeper muscles, you begin to improve blood flow to them. This improves their function and flexibility, improving their relationship with the muscles around them.
Feldenkrais encourages bringing awareness to parts of the body that you may currently have no conscious connection to. Using the breath, you can bring feeling and conscious awareness to these deep, internal pelvic floor muscles.
Another fun way to encourage movement, flexibility and blood flow to this area is to dance (especially belly-dancing).
Improving the function of your pelvic floor muscles can lead to a greater feeling of empowerment. Reducing pain and leaks while increasing strength, flexibility and sensation builds self-confidence and can introduce a deeper sense of joy into your life.
Are you ready to reconnect with your pelvic floor? Find out when the next Pelvic Potency workshop is (add link to calendar/booking page/mailing list)!
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