The Secrets of the Pelvic Floor
Originally Published: Goop.com, July 23, 2015
Author: Lauren Roxburgh/Goop.com
THE SECRETS OF THE PELVIC FLOOR
If you’ve never had your pelvic floor released, consider hunting down an integrative structural specialist: It’s a weird sensation, for sure, and generally reveals a shocking revelation. While you might assume that this muscle web that acts as a “hammock” for your undercarriage would be stretched out (particularly if you’ve had kids), it’s generally the opposite. “The pelvic floor is one of the body’s primary stress containers,” explains Lauren Roxburgh, our go-to fascia and structural integrative specialist. “That pit in the base of your stomach is your pelvic floor in permanent clutch.” Because so many of us have lost our connection to this web of muscles, we’ve also lost the ability to mindfully relax the area—and so over the years, it loses range of motion, tone, and flexibility. Getting reconnected is essential: “Adore your pelvic floor,” Roxburgh ads: “It’s the key to great sex, a flat tummy, and the key to never laying in a supply of Depends.”
So what exactly is the pelvic floor?
We’ve all probably once said: “I laughed so hard I nearly peed myself.” Well, for many women that isn’t a joke; it’s reality. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, about 25 to 45% of women suffered from urinary incontinence (also known as leakage) at least once in the past year.
There are a number of reasons for this. It can be caused by urinary tract infections or certain medicines, but the most common type of incontinence is called ‘stress incontinence,’ and happens when you laugh, cough, sneeze, jog, or do something that puts pressure on your bladder. The culprit? A little-known group of muscles called the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that attaches to the bones at the bottom of your pelvis. These muscles effectively form a hammock across the base of your pelvis that supports the internal organs above it. Having strong pelvic floor muscles gives you proper control over our bladder and bowels, but that’s not their only role. Strong pelvic floor muscles also improve sexual performance and orgasm, help stabilize the hip joints, and act as a lymphatic pump for the pelvis. You get the picture: They’re important.
There’s actually a pretty simple reason why so many women have issues with incontinence, low back pain, and not so much fun in the bedroom. It’s a lack of connection to the deep core muscles, thanks to the fact that the pelvic floor gets stuck, disconnected, weak, and loses tone because it is an area where we hold stress and tension. In Eastern traditions, the pelvic floor is known as the root chakra—it’s where we tend to literally “hold” fears, specifically fears around primary instincts such as our health, our family’s safety, and our financial security. It is a “stress container,” in that it’s where we process the emotion and house our fight or flight reactions. You know that feeling when you get cut off by someone while driving, get bad news, or are about to go into a high stress situation? This can cause you to clench your pelvic floor (i.e., it feels like a pit in your stomach).
When we lose the connection to those deep muscles, it becomes difficult to relax the area, meaning the pelvic floor becomes perma-flexed. Imagine flexing your bicep constantly and never fully letting go and you get the idea: After a while, this would cause your arm to lose flexibility, strength, and the ability to relax. That’s more or less what happens to the pelvic floor until you become aware of the stress and tension and do some work to alleviate it. Part of this is willfully relaxing and unclenching these muscles—and then directing energy to build strength.
How can you tell if you’re clutching your pelvic floor?
Here’s a way to do a quick alignment reboot. First, slightly squeeze your pelvic floor and take a few steps: Notice how this locks up your jaw and hips? Next, do a kegel, and the release the kegel. Stand down through your feet and notice how much more relaxed your face, jaw, and pelvis are…now take a few steps and feel how much more relaxed and calm you are! Also, watch how others walk, and notice if they look uptight. Another trick? As you drive, mindfully relax the pelvic floor every time you encounter a stop sign or stop light—locate it by concentrating on your lower gut. You’ll quickly become aware of the fact that you might keep it clenched all the time.
How does having a baby impact the pelvic floor?
Let’s face it: Pregnancy and the process of actually giving birth to that beautiful baby does a number on your body, and for many it can lead to incontinence problems, back aches, pain during sex, and even a pooched belly.
During pregnancy, you are awash in hormones and carrying considerable extra weight. Your body supports this extra burden by arching your spine, which tilts the pelvis forward. This anterior tilt and the extra weight and pressure downward stretch the muscles of the pelvic floor, and giving birth stretches them even more. After you have the baby, most healing will happen naturally. Being patient and aware of your body will help you get back to balance.
Give your body at least six weeks to heal. Once you get cleared by your doc or midwife, it’s important to start reconnecting to the base of your core.
These exercises will not only help with incontinence issues, but they’ll also bring back the balance and tone to make sex more enjoyable—for both partners! Doing these exercises also activates the deep abdominal muscles more efficiently which pulls the baby-belly back in and re-aligns the spine, alleviating back pain that is so common post-pregnancy. But whether you’ve had a baby or not, getting your pelvic floor back in shape has a ton of benefits.