Updated: Jun 1, 2022
What? Relax my pelvic floor? All I hear is "squeeze and lift" that pelvic floor! Why would I want to relax it?
Understanding what to do with our pelvic floor theses days can be confusing! The pelvic floor, like all of our muscles, needs to relax for optimal function, but many of us may sit with a really tight and tense core and pelvic floor without knowing... The pelvic floor muscles form the base of the group of muscles commonly called the ‘core’. These muscles work with the deep abdominal (tummy) and back muscles and the diaphragm (breathing muscle) to support the spine and control the pressure inside the tummy. Yes, everything is connected in our bodies!
Elasticity is a word that describes the distance that a muscle goes from being relaxed to being completely engaged, the greater that distance the stronger the muscle. It is important to state that strong does NOT equal tight. There is difference between strength, tightening versus relaxation and opening. A tight muscle is a weak muscle.
But what has been done over the last decade in the fitness industry is tell people to keep strengthening, engaging, holding and tightening the muscles over and over and therefore reducing muscle elasticity. What can happen then is when they need the muscle to perform something like holding in urine and can't, they feel weak and go back to a core or pelvic floor strengthening practice and continue to reduce the ability of those muscles to contract and release optimally.
A strong muscle is a long muscle!
We've done a real disservice to women in particular who have been fed the wrong idea that they need to constantly engage their abdominal and pelvic floor, suck everything in at all times or something horrible might happen. Even our clothes reflect that idea by always being tight and holding us in... It's a highly stress based perspective and it adds just another extra thing on our to do list, wallets and emotional health. What we are doing is causing more weakness, more imbalance and stress. Movement is great for the muscles, it's a whole other thing to suck in your belly and squeeze the pelvic floor all day long for dear life!
Usually, lengthening and relaxing the pelvic floor proves to be the most challenging for many of us! Specially if you are a long time yoga practitioner. Let’s break down three ways we can approach relaxing the pelvic floor below:
1) Release the Jaw, Release the Pelvic Floor
The jaw and the pelvic floor are connected to one another! This connection develops when we are an embryo. Tension or relaxation in either end can influence the other. Try to grit your teeth and clench your jaw; then pay attention to your pelvic floor. Do you feel your pelvic floor clench too? What if you blow out air with horse lips? Do you feel your jaw and pelvic floor release? Focus on releasing tension in our jaw, so we can find some release in our pelvic floor too! So, relax your jaw out, bring the tongue to the roof of the mouth, and let go.
2) Take a Deep Breath, Release the Pelvic Floor
Another technique that we can focus on that could release the pelvic floor is diaphragmatic breathing! Deep inhales down your lower belly stretch and lengthen the abdominal cavity. We inhale, and the diaphragm moves down and flattens, increasing pressure on the abdominal cavity. This lengthening stretches the pelvic floor and lengthen the ab muscles. Sometimes, we tend to clench our abs without realising it. If we tend to grip our abs, we may find this also affects the pelvic floor tension or inability to release! So, if we take a deep inhale, feeling our core and pelvic floor expand outwards, we could release tension in our core and pelvic floor. You can place a book on top of your lower belly and practice a few diaphragmatic breathing while laying down. The block should move up and down as you inhale/exhale.
3) Make deep, low noises for pelvic floor relaxation
The pitch of the sounds we make can influence the tension in our pelvic floor... Try this: make a high, pitched screaming-type noise. How does your pelvic floor feel? Likely clenched and lifted upwards. Now, make a deep, low growl or hum-type noise. How does your pelvic floor feel here? Likely, you felt it move down and releeeaaaseeee. High pitched noises tend to clench our pelvic floor, while deep, low noises tend to relax it! This could be a helpful tool to use when doing your breathing exercises and during labor and pushing! Take a deep inhale and feel everything stretch. Then exhale to make a deep, low noise and relax.
I hope these practices can help you feel more confident and connected to your body!
* Always, always consult a trusted professional if you are in pain, feeling uncomfortable or are experiencing any symptoms in your body. The text above is for educational purposes only as I am not a doctor. Thank you!