In the last post, we discussed mula bandha and the importance of having proper tone in the pelvic floor. As mentioned also in the last post, the pelvic floor, or pelvic diaphragm, is a group of muscles that includes the 3 muscles of your levator ani (pubococcygeus, puborectalis, and iliococcygeus.), the coccygeus and the connective tissue that complete the diaphragm. These muscles form somewhat of a sheet with open spaces for the urethra, the vagina and the anus. Sometimes the muscles can interdigitate with some of these other structures, which is perhaps why in some cases stopping the flow of urine may cause these muscles to contract for some people. BUT, since we now know that stopping the flow of urine DOES NOT necessarily cause these muscles to contract… then what do we do to tone these muscles?
First of all, we have to identify these muscles and be sure that we are contracting them. One of the easiest ways to do this is to familiarize ourselves with their attachment points, the tailbone and the ischial tuberosities (sitz bones). If you are not sure where these places are in your body, sit on a hard surface and rock side to side. Those bony things are your ischial tuberosities. If you lean back far enough and roll behind those guys (as long as you are not clenching your glutes to do so), you should feel a singular pointy bone (that may be rather uncomfortable to roll over) somewhere near the center (or slightly off to one side for some people). This is your tailbone (hopefully). In your mind draw and imaginary diamond between your ischial tuberosities, your tailbone and your pubis (the hard thing at the front of your pelvis). When you contract the muscles of the pelvic floor properly, it may feel like the center of this diamond is lifting upwards towards your head. Since the muscles are on the inside of your pelvic bowl, if you feel muscles contract on the outside of your pelvis (outside of this diamond), like the glutes or adductors, you are not doing it correctly. Sometimes, just like any other deep skeletal muscle, if you are not familiar with this area, these muscles may not be easy to access. You can try a more subtle and concentrated contraction. Or if this is WAY too subtle for you, sit on a golf ball. I’m not kidding. Make sure you are wearing comfortable pants, place a golf ball on a hard surface and sit on it so that it is between your genitals and your anus (yes, this works for dudes too and is REALLY IMPORTANT for you guys). Try to physically squeeze and lift the ball to feel like you are drawing it upwards towards your head. If all of this is gross to you, incontinence is a lot grosser, so keep that in mind… If you need a better motivator than that, it will make your sex life better. There, we said it.
Once you figure out how to contract these muscles, you can start toning them. Here are 3 different pelvic floor exercises that I learned from my birth educator, Sandra Jamrog, when I was pregnant. They are in the order of least difficult to most difficult (sort of… if you know anything about muscle mechanics, you will know it is more complicated than this, but I am not getting into that now…). During my pregnancy and post-natal, I did these exercises every day. I still do them about 3 times a week for maintenance (yes… they are skeletal muscles and need to be maintained, especially if you pushed a baby through there). This is NOT to say that this is the ONLY kind of muscle work you need to be doing to keep this all intact. Deep squatting is also nice as well as lunges, etc.
1) Sit on a hard surface in a comfortable position (cross legged or sitting on a wooden chair) as long as you can feel your bones on the seat. Contract the muscles and release. Then contract and release again. Keep doing so and see how quickly you can contract and how quickly you can release. Once you can get a pretty good rhythm, see if you can do 10 contractions. Then next time 20. Then 30. Once you can do this for about a minute, make this your regimen. After doing so, to “stretch” these muscles (which is equally as important), lie on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent and breathe in such a way that your belly protrudes outward. Try to breathe lower and lower until you can feel your breath push on your pelvic floor. Take 5 or 6 breaths like this and then relax.
2) Sit on a hard surface in a comfortable position. See how intensely you can contract these muscles without compensating outside the pelvis (make sure that you can breathe while doing so…). Once you figure out your threshold, contract and hold for as long as you can keep it up. Try to increase the time and intensity each day. Repeat the breathing “stretch” from step 1.
3) Now for the fun part, see if you can differentiate the 3 different muscles of the levator ani (or at least pretend to). By now you should have a pretty strong sense of how this contraction feels and where it takes place. Now imagine that the center where the contractions take place is an elevator shaft with 3 floors. You may be able to differentiate 3 different levels of contraction. Imagine the elevator can lift from the first floor to the second, second to third, third down to second, and second down to first. Try to stay at each of these levels for a second or two before moving on to the next. This one is very subtle, but once you can do it, you will understand it better.
That’s all for now. If you have any more questions about any of this, please feel free to contact us or comment below.