Having a tight or strong pelvic floor sounds like a good thing, right ?
For many women particularly during pregnancy, after childbirth and they age decide they have to give their pelvic floor additional attention either to prevent or fix concerns.
However recent research predicts that “80 percent of women over the age of 18 will have a pelvic floor dysfunction by 2050—regardless of how often they do their pelvic floor exercises.”
Unlearning the Kegel
For the majority of women I coach, I spend a considerable amount of time teaching them to “unlearn” the Kegel, as it the way they perform it is often not the most optimal way to engage or connect to the pelvic floor.
This begins with, learning exactly what the Pelvic Floor is, as many think the pelvic floor is, “some kind of muscle just near the cervix ?”
The pelvic floor, however, is the foundation of the total core, including a large hammock of muscles that attach the pubic bone, tail bone and sit bones, to the human body. These layers of muscles hold (a baby if pregnant) bladder, uterus, vagina, small bowel, and rectum in place.
Like any other muscle in our body, the pelvic floor also holds tension or stress, and if a muscle is overactivated or carrying too much stress (which can be both physical and mental) it becomes dysfunctional.
When women perform Kegels they are often taught with one goal and that is to contract. This can include cues such as “lift, squeeze the pelvic floor tight, 20 times or more” or “stop the flow of urine” or “draw belly button to spine and tighten your glutes”
But if you think about it, do we do this with any other muscle in our body?
Have you ever been told to contract your biceps with an “extra clench at the top” because it will make them stronger?
As every muscle in our body needs to work functionally in both directions – contracting and releasing.
This includes the pelvic floor.
Core Connect Breathing
Even in women who don’t have obvious pelvic floor concerns, most can no longer mindfully relax it. As chronic tension is extremely prevalent in our modern world which is not good for any group of muscles, and the pelvic floor is no exception. Being able to mindfully relax your pelvic floor muscles not only benefits the body physically, but can help immensely with releasing emotional stress, fear, and blockages that are held in the body.
I focus on teaching women how to release and feel the pelvic floor muscles “letting go”. This can be counter-intuitive for many who have spent years squeezing into skinny jeans, sucking their belly in, or are having incontinence issues. The best way to begin is finding length in the breath, which I call “Core Connect Breathing”.
As for most of us, our breathing pattern is short, it stops at our throat due to short quick or stressful breaths which also is challenged during pregnancy as the lungs become compressed with a baby in utero. However, when the breath is lengthened down past the throat to the space underneath the ribs, this is where the diaphragm is found.
Physiologically our diaphragm is connected to our inner core, including the pelvic floor. So, reprogramming our neural pathways to breathe correctly is a major step for an optimal and natural contraction and release of our pelvic floor. A bonus is it is also one of the best ways to calm down and relax as the vagus nerve is activated which helps to drop the nervous system into ‘rest and digest” or the parasympathetic nervous system
So in summary, it is not the actual Kegel that should be avoided but the cueing which is too often focused on lifting but never lowering. We need both actions, how to lift to build tension but also how to calm down and relax and release tension.
Once this is found it is important to tune into, not only when exercising but also when moving the whole body throughout the day.
Dahlas Fletcher is a pregnancy and women’s fitness specialist with over 20 years experience.
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