The Pelvic Floor
In Core Yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we do pelvic floor exercises. A couple weeks ago someone asked me to clarify some things about the exercises. I find it easier to feel the pelvic floor muscles more clearly when I have visual aids. So I found a couple of animations to share! The illustrations do not look like real bodies, so they aren’t going to be too yucky.
That said, we will be talking about muscles in your nether region, so if you are going to be bothered by talking about private parts, here is the least you need to know: you can engage the pelvic floor muscles by imagining you are interrupting the flow of urine.
If that's all you want to know, you can stop reading now.
Still reading? Great!
So let’s go ahead and say all the embarrassing words right now. The pelvic floor helps support your bladder, uterus and intestines. It includes muscles that lift and contract your urethra, vagina and anus. If you have a penis and testicles, the pelvic floor has muscles that lift and contract them.
Just like all other muscles in the body, the pelvic floor needs to be exercised, but also relaxed. This will help improve continence, organ support, overall core strength and sexual function.
When I said you can engage them by imagining you are interrupting the flow of urine–that is a slight simplification. You can actually isolate the muscles around the urethra, vagina and anus independently! Likely, the other muscles will contract a little as well. But with practice, many people can really feel the difference.
The muscles that surround the urethra, vagina and anus are sphincter muscles, so they contract in a circle. But there are other muscles around those structures that are more linear and connect bones to bones. So you can contract those muscles to bring the pubic bone and tail bone towards one another, and the sits bones toward one another. You can also dome the entire pelvic floor up into the pelvic bones.
The thoracic diaphragm–our primary breathing muscle–connects to the pelvic diaphragm through connective tissues. So when we breathe and the thoracic diaphragm moves, it moves the pelvic floor as well! Everything is connected! Having a relaxed breathing practice is nourishing to the entire body!
In Hatha Yoga, engaging the pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles is called Mūla Bandha. Mūla means “Root” like the root of a tree. It is grounded and foundational. Bandha means “lock” as one locks a gate. Engaging the Mūla Bandha is thought to prevent the “loss” of vital energy out of the nether region, and also helps to draw it up towards the heart and mind. But remember, we don’t want to engage Mūla Bandha all day long! That can cause knots in our muscles. And I doubt you want to see a physical therapist to help get them out!
Ready for some visual aids?
This “educational” video has an animation of the pelvic floor muscles “lifting” and contracting that I thought helpful for visualization.
For more details take a peek at this next video.
This video is over 10 minutes long, but you don’t have to watch all of it to get a visual of the pelvic floor.
If you'd like to see an illustration of how the thoracic diaphragm is connected to the pelvic diaphragm by connective tissues, there is a famous image on this other site--just a heads up, it's slightly more realistic looking, so if you're sensitive to looking at images of human bodies you might skip it. Here is the site.
We'll be sure to do some pelvic floor exercises this week in class.
Image credit: The Key Poses of Yoga: Scientific Keys Volume II