The act of releasing: Letting go of the pelvic floor

The pelvic floor is having a moment. People are talking about it more openly and it’s being addressed in fitness magazines, in yoga classes and maybe even prenatal workshops if you’re lucky. But truly, it deserves so much more attention. I feel so strongly about this topic because:

  1. I’ve struggled to find useful information.
  2. There are so many misconceptions about it.

One concept that totally changed my understanding of the pelvic floor is that you have to soften to strengthen.

Early on in my pelvic floor journey, the majority of advice I found was about strengthening the muscles – that learning how to clench them can prevent incontinence and other issues, particularly after childbirth. Great, sign me up! But as I did more research, I realized that most of us (women and men, believe it or not) actually clench our pelvic floor muscles too much.

“The pelvic floor is one of the body’s primary stress containers,” explains Lauren Roxburgh, a fascia and structural integrative specialist. “That pit in the base of your stomach is your pelvic floor in permanent clutch.”

Because most of us operate in a fairly consistent state of fight-or-flight, our pelvic floors are always on. And even worse, since most of us don’t regularly think about our pelvic floor, we certainly don’t know how to relax it. As a result, we have to find mindful ways to release that web of muscles and let it rest. Otherwise it becomes overworked and stressed to the point that it can’t do its job effectively. (Sounds like anyone you know?)

The first way to help release the pelvic floor is simply to find it. Karly Treacy is a Los Angeles–based vinyasa teacher, and her description of the right way to do a Kegel has been the only guide that worked for me:

Picture the pelvic floor muscles between your two sitting bones. Inhale, and as you exhale, draw the muscles together as if they were the two halves of an elevator door closing to meet in the middle. Once this door is closed, lift the elevator up and then release. Next, imagine the pelvic floor muscles between your pubic bone and tailbone. Inhale, and as you exhale, draw those muscles together in the same elevator-door fashion, lift the elevator, and then release. Now, draw all four elevator doors together at once, meeting at one point in the middle, then lift and release. Repeat 5 times, and rest. Aim to repeat this Kegel practice 2 to 3 times a week.

Once you’ve connected with your pelvic floor, I recommend checking in throughout the day to see if you notice any tension. The first few times I did this scan, I was SHOCKED. I was basically clenching any time I was in the car – whether I was driving or not. Work stress also triggered it.

Now, I do a quick body scan throughout the day and give myself permission to release my pelvic floor. (By the way, this applies to other stress centers, like the neck, too.) The simple act of reconnecting with the body and letting it release can have a profound effect on how you feel…physically and emotionally.

In the same way that deliberately slowing down your breath can have a measurable effect – like slowing your heart rate and helping you feel calmer – releasing your pelvic floor muscles can help let go of the lingering emotional fear and stress built up there. Try it and see what you think.

And if you want to get really crazy, this yoga sequence really helped me connect with my pelvic floor — especially feeling the difference between it and my abdominal muscles.

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