There are many of us out there with pelvic floor issues.
Clients may or may not share the details of the state of their pelvic floor with you but you can get an idea of what’s happening down there for them….
…just by watching how they breathe.
If you see that they are holding their breath, or inhaling while “sucking” in their stomach muscles (and puffing out their belly while exhaling), working on their breathing pattern is the first step towards recruiting the pelvic floor muscles correctly.
In Pilates teacher training, I was never taught to cue or specifically use the pelvic floor.
Honestly I never thought much about it until I had kids and my pelvic floor needed some serious healing and re-training.
Of course I had heard about Kegels but it turns out those are useless unless you do them correctly.
Now we know (and research has shown) that when you contract the TA muscle (when you pull your navel to spine, or cough or sneeze) the pelvic floor fires automatically. At least it’s supposed to. If/when it doesn’t (for whatever reason) you get leaking.
This is where the retraining comes in.
This happens because the pelvic floor muscles are a sort of diaphragm, just like the thoracic diaphragm. Both diaphragms move at the same time, in the same direction. So when you inhale, notice how as you take in air, both your thoracic diaphragm and pelvic floor descend. In other words they move down to make room for the organs as air fills the lungs. It’s not that easy to notice in the pelvic floor but if you do this a few times you might be able to feel this happening.
Then when you exhale, both diaphragms rise as the air exits the lungs.
This is what gets confusingÃ¢â‚¬¦.because we think of exhaling as relaxing, which usually we associate with letting go, lowering, releasing down. But it’s just the oppositeÃ¢â‚¬¦.on the inhale is when the diaphragms (thoracic and pelvic floor) lower against pressure.
In many cases, (I’m talking about mostly women here) leaking can ironically be a sign that the pelvic floor is too tight and/or contracted.
If a pelvic floor (or any) muscle is chronically contracted or tight (for whatever reason: stress, overwork, strength imbalances etc) it loses the elasticity it needs in order to fully function in it’s full range of motion.
So in other words, tightness can be the reason for weakness. We don’t always need to “tighten up” weak muscles. Sometimes we need to relax them, release them, so that they can do their job as they are supposed to do.
In my case, I realized I was unconsciously using my pelvic floor and abdominal muscles all day as I was teaching my students. I was unconsciously doing what I was teaching them to do….but for hours at a time. I worked with a PT on relaxing my pelvic floor and TA in order to get the elasticity back to normal. But as I mentioned above, lots of people hold stress in those muscles too and relaxing down there can actually require some effort!
Julie Weibe, PT explains it beautifully in this video below:
So as you can see, the pelvic floor is part of your “core”. You can’t work just abdominal muscles in isolation – and its not helpful to strengthen the pelvic floor in isolation either. All the muscles work together to breathe, move and hold you together.
Which is why the famous Kegel exercises done alone will make you feel like you are working, but without any coordination of abdominal recruitment or breath won’t really strengthen anything.
In most cases there is no need to overcorrect the breathing or cue anything about the pelvic floor because in most people it will happen naturally. If I see a student breathing “backwards” it’s usually because they are trying too hard and overthinking it. Usually I have them lay on the mat with their knees bent and just relax with the hands on their belly. When they just breathe normally they can feel the rise and fall of the abdomen and get a sense of the movement of the diaphragms.
If a student shares with you that they have issues (leaking or weakness) it helps to at least help them understand how it all works. It might also be a good idea to have a network that includes a few good pelvic floor physical therapists that you can refer out to.
Want to learn more about breathing and the pelvic floor?
Julie offers online training courses on exactly this topic that I highly recommend for any movement teachers, especially Pilates. Click here to visit Julie Wiebe, PT. to check it out.
Until next time!