Lift & Squeeze

One in three women will experience pelvic floor dysfunction at some point in their lives. This includes stress incontinence (either acute or chronic) and prolapse of the internal organs. So it is therefore of vital importance to strengthen and protect this area from weakness and collapse and the great news is that it is quite easy and accessible to do so.

Rest Not So Assured

Your pelvic floor acts like an elastic sling or hammock, supporting the abdominal organs and controlling the release of urine and faeces. This part is the same for both men and women although the added extra for some women is that it is of great use during childbirth. The floor itself is a webbing of muscle fibres, 70% of which are slow twitch fibres. This means that the priority of the pelvic floor is endurance or providing long term support. The 30% quick twitch fibres respond faster for shorter periods of time so provide back up in emergencies and enhance procreation (see below).

Image of the muscles of the pelvic floorThe muscles in the body that are under conscious control act to provide movement and take weight. Whilst the pelvic floor is under conscious control, most of the time it is left to its own devices. It consistently has to carry the weight of the abdominal organs especially if we spend a lot of our time standing or walking. Add to that equation high impact activities such as running, aerobics and weight training and it’s easy to see how the pelvic floor is under constant duress. However, it is not until there is a problem that our mind is alerted to the fact that we need to address our unseen weaknesses.

The Root Cause

The organs of the abdomen are directly responsible for the process of digestion; breaking down and processing ingested foodstuffs into molecules that can be stored as energy providers for future use. Your abdomen is your energy processing plant and your body relies on these efficient metabolic processes to supply it with sufficient energy in order for it to maintain a healthy internal environment. This area is boxed and protected on all sides by strong, muscular tissue; at the front by the abdominal wall, at the back by the back muscles, above by the diaphragm and below by the pelvic floor. Your body is protecting it’s ‘power plant’ and energy resource centre, but if the bottom of the box is ‘soggy’ (or saggy) then energy will escape, and there may be other leakages to deal with! One side effect of this situation is drinking less water to prevent embarrassing situations, but your body needs a regular supply of water to complete the metabolic process of converting the molecules into energy so you will only compromise your energy levels.

In the Yoga practice Mula or Moola Bandha is the name given to the bottom of the box; the pelvic floor, and it means ‘Root Lock’. There are 3 Bandhas located within the body and they are all recognised as energy locks; imagine a secure system of doors behind which your precious energy is resourced and stored. Energy can escape upwards but tends to escape at the base because of the constant gravitational pull. A strong pelvic floor will not only protect you from enbarrassing situations but also improve your energy levels.

The Gyn Gym

I admit that this title makes a greater reference to women’s pelvic floor health but these exercises are relevant to men as well.

The first thing to do is to locate the area you are going to work on. The easiest way to do this, especially if you already practice yoga is to use Downward Dog Pose with heels lifted to take the hip and pelvic area as high as possible. Being an inversion this posture will help you feel the pelvic floor as it falls away from the base of the torso. If  you do not practice yoga or are not comfortable in Downward Dog Pose then sit on a wooden or hard-surfaced chair and try to lift the genitals away from the surface of the chair. You are now engaging your pelvic floor. The ‘Lift and Squeeze’ refers to the action; first you lift then you squeeze as if you are drawing the sides of your pelvic bones inwards.

Exercise one: You will need a step or low chair or stool for this exercise. If your balance is poor then do the exercise near a wall to support yourself.
Place one foot on the step with the whole of the sole of the foot in contact with the step. Aim to keep both feet in line with their respective hips. Draw your attention to your breath and then wait for an exhalation to lift the pelvic floor. To work the slow twitch muscle fibres and increase the abdominal support capacity hold the lift through 5 complete breaths. You will notice that it is harder to hold the lift on an inhalation because the diaphragm under the lungs draws downwards, compressing the abdominal organs towards the lifted pelvic floor. Just keep lifting the pelvic floor higher each time your exhale. After 5 breaths on one leg change the foot on the step and repeat. Twice on each side for 5 complete breaths.

Exercise two: Chair Pose against a wall. Stand the distance of one of your own feet away from the wall with your back to the wall. The wall will take a little of the weight out of the posture so that your legs will not tire too quickly and distract you. Your feet should be hip width with a parallel stance. Wait for an exhalation and draw the pelvic floor up. Bend your knees and take your sitting bones to the wall so that your torso is bent forwards at an angle; you are now in a basic Chair Pose. You should aim to stay here for between 5 and 10 complete breaths again keeping the pelvic floor actively lifted, especially on the inhalation.

Exercise three: Kneeling and sitting on your heels, have your knees and your feet together. If your ankles are uncomfortable you should place a rolled blanket or towel underneath them. You are moving with the breath in this posture and you can use a block in each hand to take a little of the weight out of the posture.  As you inhale lift your hips away from your heels until you are in an upright kneeling posture. As you exhale draw the pelvic floor up and lower the hips or buttocks to the heels. Aim to keep the pelvic floor active on the inhalation as you lift up and squeeze even more on the exhalation as you lower down. Repeat for 5 complete breaths then rest in Child’s Pose.

There are also a variety of useful and imaginative weight bearing props available, aimed at the female market (sorry guys!):
The Pelvic Toner http://www.pelvictoner.co.uk
The Kegel8 http://www.kegel8.co.uk
Lelo Jiggle Balls http://www.annsummers.com/p/lelo-luna-pink-jiggle-balls/07egecas1029041

Oh (O) My Goodness!

Yes whilst I’d like to say that it goes without saying that a strong pelvic floor improves the sexual experience for both men and women clearly I should give it a mention, if only for the motivational factor! Enjoying sex and feeling that we’re in control of our own pleasure is of enormous importance to both our physical and mental health. It gives us a massive energy boost and releases endorphins, but for women the elusive orgasm sometimes hides like a deer in the woods! Stronger pelvic floor muscles up the anti on your chances of success and therefore boost your confidence all round. The purpose of sex is not only for procreation but also as a natural way of bonding through shared experience. So…

LIFT, SQUEEZE AND ENJOY!