Most of us start yoga to get more flexible but one area where I feel it really hits the spot is its ability to keep our pelvic floor and core strong and functional.
The Importance of a Strong Pelvic Floor and Core
Before delving into the benefits of yoga for the pelvic floor and core, let’s take a quick dive into why it is important to look after them both.
The Pelvic Floor: The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that form a hammock–like structure at the base of the pelvis. These muscles support important functions such as bladder and bowel control, sexual function, and stability of the pelvic organs.
Weakened slack pelvic floor muscles can lead to problems like urinary incontinence, constipation, pelvic organ prolapse, and sexual dysfunction. On the other side of the coin, too tight muscles (and often weak) can cause issues such as difficulty passing urine (and incontinence), bloating, constipation, painful sex and lower back pain.
The Core: The core is an umbrella term to describe any muscle that contributes to stabilising our trunk. We often think of the core as mainly our abdominal muscles. However, the core includes the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, deep muscles of the back and abdomen (known as the transverse abdominals) and many more besides.
All of them work together to make sure that we stay upright regardless of what we are doing.
A strong core is essential for maintaining good posture, preventing back pain, and stabilizing the spine. It plays a vital role in everyday movements and is essential for helping us to stay injury and pain–free.
My Pelvic Floor and Core Story
Before I found the ‘magic’ of yoga and its benefits for keeping the pelvic floor and core strong and functional, I spent a good many years suffering from stress incontinence, and back pain and for a while had to cope with a severe organ prolapse.
In fact, it got so bad that I couldn’t go anywhere without a TENA lady! I felt, frumpy and old.
Not only had my pelvic floor gone south but my abdominals were also a wreck.
Every single day the state of my non-existent pelvic floor was at the forefront of my mind. I always had to make sure that I was prepared for those accidental leaks. It was a horrible existence and really ruined my enjoyment and zest for life for a good while.
On top of my pelvic floor woes, I also noted that it didn’t take much for me to pick up an injury.
Trying to keep my gym life up and running felt like a constant battle uphill.
My pelvic floor and core issues arose from the after-effects of my 3 pregnancies.
For many women, our pelvic floor and core woes can often start here.
However, I must stress, that pelvic floor and core functionality are not just a problem for women who have been pregnant.
This is something that both men and women can suffer from especially as we get older.
It is also a common symptom of women going through perimenopause and menopause.
Going back to my story, by the time I had my third child I was really suffering. It didn’t matter how many KEGELS (pelvic floor exercises) I practised daily.
I ended up seeing a pelvic floor physio for a while and when that didn’t help, I was told that my only option was surgery.
The surgery worked, everything was tightened up and neatly sewn back together.
However, post-surgery, things still didn’t feel right.
Don’t get me wrong, I no longer leaked, and I could say goodbye to those wretched TENA ladies, but, my body didn’t feel like it was working as a cohesive whole, and I still had a tendency to injure myself quite easily.
I still suffered from back pain.
I didn’t feel strong in my body.
It was not until I started to train as a yoga teacher – a good 6 years – later that things changed for the better.
By the end of the first two years, I had a new body – I could connect to my abdominals and my pelvic floor with ease and I felt stronger. I could move in ways that I never thought was possible ever again.
I looked leaner, my tummy was finally flatter again and I felt amazing.
The cherry on the cake was my back pain and injuries completely resolved themselves.
Today I don’t need to think about my pelvic floor and core at all. It is happily working well for me in the background, and I am so ecstatic as a result.
Yoga for the Pelvic Floor and Core –Why is yoga so great for the pelvic floor and core?
Yoga is great for the pelvic floor and core because the practice’s foundation is the breath.
The ancient yogis knew a thing or two about body mechanics and the power of the breath is one of them.
Essentially our breathing system is the control centre of the body, and it is fundamental for a healthy and functional pelvic floor and core.
This is not just any old breathing though.
In yoga, we consciously breathe using the diaphragm – our main breathing muscle.
The diaphragm (a dome-shaped muscle that sits at the base of our rib cage) can be seen as the centre of our core system. This beautiful muscle works closely with the innermost abdominals (the transverse abdominals) and the pelvic floor.
You might be sitting there thinking – well Sarah, I breathe every day but I still have issues with my pelvic floor.
My answer to you, is that, yes we all breathe every day but how are you breathing?
When we rush about doing our day-to-day stuff many of us breathe higher up, using more of our accessory breathing muscles (the chest, shoulders and neck for example). It is quite hard to breathe with our diaphragm.
This is why a daily dose of yoga is great because it gives us a chance to pause, reconnect and breathe more efficiently.
Breathing diaphragmatically has many benefits including:
- Improving the function of our pelvic floor and core muscles
- Helping us to stand and move better – it improves our posture
- Strengthening our immunity
- Making us feel more confident and happier in ourselves
- Improving circulation and heart health
- Making us more injury resilient and helping us resolve ongoing ‘pain’ issues.
- Regulating our nervous system
The practice of yoga makes the most of diaphragmatic breathing in a number of ways:
1. We incorporate the breath in our movement practice
Many yoga poses naturally target our core muscles in different ways. When we connect diaphragmatic breathing with movement in and out of poses, we can effectively strengthen, release, and keep the muscles flexible and resilient.
Yoga poses are also amazing for helping us to become more self–aware. With practice, we can improve our posture and promote better mobility and flexibility.
2. Yoga Involves Specific Breathing Exercises that are great for the pelvic floor and core.
As well as our asana practice (yoga postures) we have a separate practice (called pranayama) that just focuses on breathing exercises. These help to improve the relationship between the diaphragm, pelvic floor and inner abdominals creating a functional dream team that can adapt to any situation from sitting, and running to jumping on a trampoline!
3. Yoga enhances the power of the breath with other practices including ‘The Bandhas.’
The definition of bandha is to ‘lock’ or ‘hold’. This refers to our ‘energy‘ or prana and this can be felt physically and emotionally.
The utilisation of Bandhas on a physical level enhances the effects of good diaphragmatic breathing. When we combine the two we have the perfect system to strengthen our core, improve our pelvic floor functionality and just feel good in our bodies full stop.
One bandha – mula bandha action is very much like a KEGEL but should not be equated with the latter.
KEGELS are a focused pelvic floor exercise that is designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. KEGELS alone have limitations when it comes to keeping our pelvic floor healthy.
Mula Bandha in comparison follows the natural working of the body; it follows the ebb and flow of the breath.
This helps the pelvic floor muscles work as nature intended.
Want to Learn More?
1. Practice With Me
Come Along to my Pelvic floor and Core Workshop on 18th November
In this workshop, I will dive deeper into how yoga can help keep your pelvic floor and core functioning at its best. Click here to find out more.
EARLY BIRD OFFER: If you book before November 5th you can get my self-study pelvic floor and core bootcamp course for half price. You can also buy the course alone. All the details including what is in the course and how to purchase are here
2. Start Your Pelvic Floor and Core Journey NOW
Get going today with my free video practice below on how to breathe with your diaphragm.👇👇👇