We hear this term a lot, 'loose' to describe the pelvic floor, especially after women have babies. Vaginas and our pelvic floors are often likened to a rubber band, and once it looses its elasticity - game over. Maybe, just maybe you can regain a little bit of 'tightness' by doing thousands of kegels a day (hang in there, I'll for sure chat about kegels in an other post!).
What does 'loose' mean when it comes to talking about pelvic floors? Often, it is referring to several symptoms - incontinence (the inability to control your urine or defecation), heaviness in the pelvic floor, pain during sex, pelvic organ prolapse, etc. When the pelvic floor stops functioning, we start thinking that it must be too 'loose'.
So, if the problem is that our pelvic floor is "too loose" then do we want a 'tight' pelvic floor? Let's break it down. Squeeze your hand into a ball as tight as you can for me? Now, if I ask you to engage your hand even more, you don't have much more to give - do you? If a muscle is engaged all the time ('tight'), then there's not more muscular engagement possible - which can leave you in a position of weakness. When you go to ask that body part to participate it doesn't have much more room to engage. The flip side of too much tension is the inability to create tension. Now, if you asked your hand to squeeze into a ball and it struggled to go into a clenched position, this would be an example of not being able to create enough tension. If your musculature cannot engage properly because of either extra tension or the inability to create enough tension - both of these are examples of weak pelvic floor musculature.
What do we want if it's not a 'tight' or 'loose' pelvic floor? I would suggest that we want a functional and strong pelvic floor that can engage properly. If you want a strong arm - you want an arm that can lift a heavy bag of groceries, can lift a cup of water, and can swing gently as you take a stroll. All of these are levels of engagement that have different levels of output depending on what you're asking of your arm. A strong arm can do all those things without being super tense or tight all the time just waiting for that bag of groceries - this is function. We want the same thing for our pelvic floor (and core - I might add). We want the musculature to be able to engage heavy loads (jumping on a trampoline, running, sneezing) in a strong and reflexive way, but to also be able to relax and lengthen when you're going for a gentle stroll - this is also function.
So, how do we train our pelvic floor to engage properly without excess tension? One, knowing if you're a 'clencher'. Do feel like you need to always be tense to keep yourself from falling out or leaking? This is an understandable strategy but as we see it's also not a long term solution for a functional pelvic floor.
One really helpful tool I've found is this audio file called Know Your Pelvic Floor that walks you through the different layers of engagement, learning to control both the squeeze and release and how to feel all the different layers of your pelvic floor - not just the superficial layers.
How you position your body can help the muscles be in a neutral position which can allow the muscles to respond more reflexively. The two most helpful and common positions I see is where we carry our pelvis while we stand and while we sit.
Let's start with standing. Do you hip shift? Do you stand more heavily on one leg and then jut a hip out to the side? Think of how a woman holds a baby on her hip and uses the hip to help hold the weight of the baby. This is not ideal long term. No one position will 'break' your body or is bad; but, if we are habitually engaging in our body patterns than those patterns start to shape us as we spend more times in them. I'm guessing, if this is a position you assume, than you always tend towards one side over and over. Rather than switching sides, when you catch yourself using that same position again, center up! Stand with your weight equally in both legs and hips stacked over ankles rather than jutted out!
The other standing position takes a bit playing around to feel in your own body. Another body pattern I see surface often is standing with our hips out in front of us (more stacked over our toes than our heels). If you were to take a belt and put it on your hip about where your pant seam runs halfway between front and back, and allow the weighted side of the belt to fall straight down, where on your foot would it hit? The forefoot? The toes? If we want to be stacked where our bones are doing the work so that our muscles can be in a neutral place then we ideally want our weight coming down into our heels - not the front of our foot. Often people will have to bend forward with their upper body to get completely neutral. Don't worry. You don't have to walk around like that! But creating awareness and moving a bit more of your weight more toward your heels than not will start to shift your body and allow your pelvis, core and lower back (and all the rest of your body) to start being able to be in a more neutral place.
Now let's talk about sitting! We have these awesome bones in our pelvis called our sit bones! If you travel up your upper leg bone and feel where it attaches to your pelvis, right inside you'll feel these large nubs. There they are! Those are the bones that are designed to carry most of your weight while sitting - but often we shift back onto our tailbone. When we tuck our pelvis under to sit on our tailbone, we are placing our pelvic floor, core and lower back in less optimal positions. Again, no one position will wreck your body, but if you find yourself often sitting on your tailbone, I'd suggest trying to sit more on your sit bones and see how that changes your experience in your body, specifically your lower back.
And my favorite retraining your pelvic floor and core to fire optimally exercise - or, really a not exercise, exercise. Let me explain. As I stated above, a muscle that is constantly holding tension cannot respond reflexively and is a weak muscle. So try this: go on your hands and knees, or on your forearms and knees, on the floor or even on your bed. Get as comfortable as you can, and then bring your focus to your belly and pelvic floor. Breathe deep relaxing breaths and relaxing exhales - nothing forced. After that, all you have to do is to try and relax all the muscles in your belly and pelvic floor, not by pushing them out or down, but by simply releasing any tension you feel. Keep doing this with every breath, try and release a little more tension, I recommend doing this for at least a minute but try for a few!
These are just a few practical things you can do to start creating an environment for your pelvic floor to respond reflexively, but these over-arching principles can be applied to many areas of your movement practice and life.
I hope you've found this information helpful! What are somethings you've been told about your pelvic floor? What are tools you've found to be helpful in creating a pelvic floor that responds reflexively? Let me know in the comments below!
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