Did I Just Pee My Pants? The Truth About the Pelvic Floor
While doing yoga or other activities, we often hear teachers and even doctors tell us, “now use your pelvic floor.” Or, my favorite line I’ve heard from a yoga teacher is, “activate your pelvic floor”, like it’s an assumed, all-knowing action as simple as turning on your blender and mixing a cake!
As the creator of Core Functional Fitness and a yoga teacher (and prenatal/postnatal teacher) this is an area we as teachers and students to commonly feel a bit weird talking about, avoid talking about, or only explain it half way. This is likely because we are uncomfortable saying certain words in class or to friends like, “anal sphincter” or “vaginal passageway”, or possibly because we just don’t know how to refer to certain areas.
Regardless, this is an area of the body we need to talk about – a lot! For starters, our root chakra is located in the pelvic area, and is our area of grounding and rooting. Just above is our sacral or sex chakra dealing with our reproductive organs and sexuality. Both are areas of deep connection with us and this earth.
Both women and men need to work on the pelvic floor (and pelvic bowl) regularly, and this sacred area needs to be better understood not only in yoga classes, but even in activities like Zumba, aerobics, running, and activities with(pelvic floor) impact (such as sneezing). And I don’t know about you, but I’d like to not pee my pants at any sudden moment, be able to keep my organs in place, support and protect my back, and offer some energetic support to my body.
Here are some key facts you need to know about the pelvic floor:
1. Understand that there are three openings (or orifices) for women and two orifices for men. For women, this includes the anal sphincter (or anal canal), vaginal passageway (birth canal). These two openings are connected by the central tendon of the perineum this is what is often cut during an episiotomy. And finally, the urethra (clitoris area). For men, the two openings include the anal sphincter and the urethra.
2. There are four cornerstones that make up the pelvic floor and end up making four small triangles: pubic bone to sit bone (tuberosity) to tail bone (coccyx) to sit bone to pubic bone again. (Draw out these four points on paper and then connect the dots to help you visualize this sectioning.)
3. Know that the pelvic floor has a main superficial layer of large thick fibrous muscles called the perineum (many simply call the pelvic floor). In addition to the perineum is the deep layer called the pelvic diaphragm, here, a layer of large thick muscles, sitting above the superficial layer, perineum. These areas are important to find and understand how to use as they are the base for your inner organs and a key muscle in many other body functions, as well as the main grouping of muscles for women to have a successful delivery and postpartum recovery. Think of the perineum as the hammock and above the hammock is the pelvic diaphragm, which is opposite of the diaphragm, making it the pelvic diaphragm.
The Pelvic Floor has three purposes:
- To support the inner organs,
- To serve as the passageway for the urethra and sex organs, rectum and birth passage.
- To coordinate almost all triggering of all movements and body balance
We talk a lot about this assumed area with not much understanding. Someone with a weak (or slack) pelvic floor (which we often assume is the case) may be having symptoms such as incontinence (this includes men), involuntary urination (woops), and issues in the overall function of the physical body and movement. Often this energetically correlates to a lack of “chi” which equals a weakened control on bodily functions. I can relate to this importance! Just a few months after our first child was born, my husband and I visited New York for an anniversary trip. Wearing a skirt walking the hot streets of NYC, I sneezed, stopped in my tracks, and started laughing. My husband looked at me and I replied, “I just peed and now it’s running down my legs.” This is embarrassing, yes, but the truth is involuntary urination happens to many women and men.
What about someone with a tight pelvic floor? They too can have issues, including constipation and major rigidity of the spine and legs. Foot, knee and back problem can also occur, and can be significantly helped through proper pelvic floor training with an experienced teacher or possibly cranial sacral therapy as well.
With all this being said, here are a few guided self-imagery practices to bring more awareness to your pelvic area. Note that this is just the beginning to this very sacred and important area, and there is more to it, as you will notice working this into your practice and everyday life.
1. In a comfortable space, bring yourself into a High Squat (about feet 3” apart), place one hand over your anal sphincter. Close your eyes and take a few breaths, notice the breath move into that area, the inhale should allow a gentle pressure into your hand and the exhale a gentle pulling away. Do not get frustrated if you cannot feel this, trauma, energetic or emotional blockage or a lack of body awareness may make this difficult. It is then a good idea to work on this regularly until you become more comfortable and notice this gentle action. If you are struggling to feel any sensation try blowing up a balloon while using this method, don’t worry about which direction the pressure goes when, you do not need to always have to have a proper exhale or inhale with a particular feeling, just gain sensation.
2. Now in the same position (High Squat) place a hand over your pubis bone, hand angling to the urethra and half way point between that and the anus; continue the same action. Do not get frustrated if you don’t notice anything, the development of the sensation is half the action.
3. Continuing in the High Squat or an upright sitting position keep the awareness of the pelvic floor, focus solely on the point behind the pubis bone, the urethra, this is the action of stopping the flow of urine. This feels very frontal on the pelvis, and fairly subtle. Work on contracting this area for a ten second hold and work up to a minute, inhale and exhaling regularly.
4. Relax the previous and shift your focus to the space between the pubis and coccyx, for women this is the vaginal canal. Inhale completely and then exhale and work to contract just this area upward and inward. I often get very frank with students and for women suggest the action of holding up a tampon or the contraction acted on during intercourse. And for men it’s the same action of flexing an erection. Instead of pulsing this area consider a longer hold, try ten seconds to start then work your way up to 30 seconds and then to a minute, just this area.
5. Finally, focus on the rectal area. This for, many confuse it with a buttocks squeeze, as the pelvic floor activation is often misinterpreted as a buttocks squeeze and it is not. Inhale and feel breath go into this area and exhale without a buttocks squeeze, activate the anal sphincter wall (which is actually 2-3 cm long). Repeat this trying to hold for ten seconds, then 30 seconds, and working up to one minute.
6. In any position, with a good awareness of these three points together, exhale and activate all three points without clenching the jaw or the buttocks. Try to hold all three areas, working up to a minute long hold.
7. Now see if you can individually turn these three areas on and off from front to back and back to front, working on control and deep body awareness.
I want to encourage you to consider regularly working on this area of the body. Not only will it increase how your body functions and feels, but it will also improve your energetic components in this area of the body. Again, as a yoga teacher and the creator of Core Functional Fitness, I believe this is an assumed area that needs more focus -- it’s for your own health.
Yoga is incredible for keeping your body & mind healthy. Ready to learn about how the power of food can also create a sound body & mind? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.