If you take any one of my yoga classes you will always hear me say, “widen the breath.” While there are so many breath cues out there, why do I focus on “widening”? Because I care about your pelvic floor, that’s why!
The muscles of your pelvic floor are responsible for many important functions (such as urinating, bowel movements, orgasms) and support your pelvic organs (such as bladder, uterus, colon). Therefore, a healthy pelvic floor protects us from incontinence, bladder/urinary tract infections, painful intercourse, prolapse of pelvic organs, low back pain … just to name a few things.
During pregnancy, there is increased weight and pressure on the pelvic floor, and during labour things get stretched out. Unfortunately, after giving birth, many people struggle for years and years with serious and/or uncomfortable issues related to the pelvic floor. This makes it critically important to make pelvic floor exercises part of your regular routine – before, after and during pregnancy.
So what can you do?
Yoga provides a fantastic opportunity to tune into those pelvic floor muscles. One simple way to do this is by going back to the cue of “widening the breath.” This is what is known as the “core breath.” In very simple terms, our pelvic floor and diaphragm work together. When we inhale, our pelvic floor drops and when we exhale our pelvic floor lifts. So when we “widen” the breath, we are inhaling and expanding the rib cage from side to side (to lower the pelvic floor) and exhaling to bring the rib cage back together (to lift the pelvic floor). Try it with your hands on your ribcage (fingers forward, thumbs behind) or imagine you’re wearing a corset and someone is loosening it on the inhale, and tightening it on the exhale.
In order to really feel how this affects your pelvic floor, do this breath while sitting on a stability ball (click here to order**) and focus your attention on your perineum. On an inhale, try to feel a sense of fullness or expansion of your perineum on the ball, and when exhale try to feel a lifting of the perineum or feeling less surface area on the ball.
If you want to layer on even more, you can also play around with visualizations to lift and contract the muscles. Some examples:
- Imagine your vagina is a flower that opens with the inhale, and then closes and retracts with the exhale
- On the exhale, pretend you are lifting a jellybean up and into your vagina
- On the exhale, lift your pelvic floor up to the crown of your head. If you are familiar with “bandhas” in yoga, then this cue is similar to those given to engage “mula bandha”
**FYI: The traditional cue of “stop the flow of urine” isn’t always helpful because while it may get you to contract the muscles, it doesn’t also focus on lifting the muscles.**
For an amazing and informative video demo of the core breath, check out Kim Yopni’s video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gyVREUFO68
I also like this article for simple info and tips related to the pelvic floor: https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/well/health/what-your-pelvic-floor-and-why-should-you-care
Last but not least: I advise all of my pre/post natal Yoga and Doula clients to see a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist during and after pregnancy. Whether you are having any symptoms or not, they can assess your pelvic floor muscles and give you personalized feedback on how to keep those muscles working effectively for the long run. Email me here for recommendations.
It’s never too late to get your pelvic floor in tip-top shape!
Interested in strengthening your pelvic floor with prenatal or postnatal yoga? Check out my Yoga offerings here.
(**Yes – this is an affiliate link, and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please know that I only endorse products that I truly believe will make a difference in your journey of pregnancy, birth and beyond!)