The Secrets of the Pelvic Floor
Written by: the Editors of goop
Updated: July 23, 2015
Reviewed by: Lauren Roxburgh
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 avoiding needing 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.
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.
Here are a few simple things you can do to help build awareness, tone, and strength in this magical little pelvic hammock!
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OPTP LOROX ALIGNED ROLLER
1. The Stress ON/OFF Button
It’s important to activate the muscles that you use cut your pee off mid-stream. To do this, contract, pull up, and hold. You should feel a tightening around your vagina, though try not to tighten your butt or upper belly muscles. Contrast this move by letting go of the muscles: Feel the base of the core relax, and then relax one more layer to fully surrender. If we learn to isolate these muscles with a neuromuscular or brain-body connection in order to activate and relax them then we have the power to control how we deal with stress and learn how to be calm more often which equals a sense of youthfulness.
Benefit: Empowers us to understand how our body deals with stress, and where and how we hold stress. It helps us to feel relaxed and calm. This will also help create more fluidity and flexibility in the hips and pelvis and connect you to the base of your core.
2. Inner Arch Foot Roll on Ball
Place the ball of your right foot on the ball about 6-10 inches in front of you while balancing on your left foot. Inhale as you press your right foot into the ball, rolling from your medial arch (inner arch) to the front of your heel. Apply as much pressure as you can, to the point where you feel that hurts-so-good sensation.
Repeat three sets of eight rolls on each side. The ball should be placed under the inner edge of the arch of the foot on each side.
Benefit: Helps activate and restore tone and connection in the feet. This also helps you connect to the median line of the body.
3. Lateral Lunge
Stand on your mat with your feet spread into a straddle position, about three to four feet apart. Stand the roller up vertically on the floor in front of you. Place your hands on top of the roller, with arms extended and spine straight. Inhale as you lean to the left, bending your left leg and extending your right leg. Exhale as you hold the stretch. Repeat this motion on the other side.
Repeat 8 times on each side.
Benefit: Helps clear any blockages in the attachments of the inner thighs to the pelvis.
4. Inner Thigh Roll
Come down to your forearms with your torso facing the mat, and place the roller under your right upper inner thigh. You will need to bend your right knee up and out to the side and place the foam roller up and under your groin. Taking care to keep your upper-body square to the ground as you move, use your forearms and left leg to power the motion as you slowly roll the roller down toward the knee (stopping just above it), and back up again. Breathe slowly and steadily throughout the move.
Repeat this motion six to eight times on each side.
Benefit: Creates circulation and blood flow to the upper inner thigh and inner thigh attachment to the pelvis. Helps activate and tone the inner thighs in a more efficient alignment.
5. Goddess Roll
Come down to your forearms with your belly facing the mat. Place the roller under your hips, with your feet together and knees wide. Keep your belly engaged to prevent overarching your lower back. Inhale as you slowly roll up to your pubic bone attachment. Exhale as you roll all the way down to your inner thighs toward your knees.
Repeat this movement eight times.
Benefit: Helps create openness and unwinding in the inner thighs and pelvis.
6. Pigeon Inner Thigh Roll
Place the roller about a foot in front of you and come down to your knees. Bring your left leg in front of the roller so that your left calf is parallel to the roller, and lean forward into a pigeon hip stretch, so that the roller is now at the inner edge of your sitz bone. Use your front foot to keep the roller stable and lift up into a tall spine. Keep your right leg long and straight back behind the roller. Breathing steadily, slowly roll front and back to smooth out the pelvic floor attachment.
Repeat eight times on each side, alternating sides.
Benefit: Helps create circulation and blood flow to the attachment tissue at the base of the sitz bones and pelvis.
The Triad Ball
7. Pelvis Decompression
Lay down on the mat face up with your knees bent and feet flat. Check in with the tilt of your lower back and see if you have any tense parts. Then lift your hips up into a bridge position and place the ball under your sacrum (mid-way between your tailbone and waistline).
Repeat eight times.
Benefit: The ball is an amazing prop because it helps elevate the pelvis and connect to the intrinsic and stabilizing muscles of the belly and pelvis. Helps improve posture. Plus it reduces tension in the hips and lower back while also decompressing the sacrum and lumbar spine.
8. Inverted Sacral Release
Lay down on the mat face up with your knees bent and feet flat. Lift your hips up into a bridge position and then place the ball under your sacrum (mid-way between your tailbone and waistline). Bring your knee over your hips and then inhale as you hug your knees into your chest and exhale as you hold and feel the bones and tissues of your sacrum soften and release. Inhale as you bring the knees back up over your hips and exhale as you balance.
Repeat eight times.
Benefit: Restores the balanced posture of the pelvis and frees up tension in the hips and lower back.
9. Inverted Core Series
Lay down on the mat and place the ball under your sacrum in an elevated bridge position while maintaining a neutral spine. Bring your knees over your hips and extend your legs up to a 90-degree angle so they’re pointing to the ceiling with your heels together and your toes apart. Place your arms long by your side to keep stable and connected. Note that your spine should remain stable and neutral for the duration of this exercise.
Inhale as you slowly lower your legs a few inches and then cross your left leg over your right, engaging your upper inner thighs and pelvic floor while also keeping your lower back relaxed. Keep breathing deeply and drawing the belly in and up throughout the move.
Repeat eight times on each side, alternating as you go.
Benefit: Lifts and tones the upper inner thighs and lower abs while also helping release tension in the sacrum and lower back.
10. Roll Over
Lie on the mat face up with your feet flexed and the ball between your ankles. Reach your arms long by your sides, palms pressing firmly on the ground. Bring your knees up over your hips and then extend your legs to a 90-degree angle. Inhale as you slowly lower legs to a 45-degree angle, engaging your deep low belly and pelvic floor. Then exhale as you roll your legs, hips, and spine up over your head until they’re parallel to the ground. Hold this inverted position and squeeze the ball 6 times with your pelvic belly and inner thighs breathing deeply. Inhale as you start rolling back down and exhale as you return to the start position.
Repeat eight times.
Benefit: Squeezing a ball activates your inner thighs, and helps lift and tone the deep core and pelvic floor muscles. This decompresses your entire spine and helps you look and feel taller.
1. Deep Squats with heel support
This type of squat is not really even a fitness “exercise”—it’s a basic human movement that we’ve stopped doing regularly. Getting in the habit of deep squatting (envision going to the bathroom in the woods) will actually help create proper alignment in the pelvis, raise pelvic awareness, and help lengthen an “uptight” pelvic floor. The benefits of these types of squats are healthy elimination, relief from constipation, and increase in connection and tone in the pelvic floor.
Try peeing in the shower squatting down. When you squat to pee as opposed to sitting up straight on the toilet, you automatically engage your pelvic floor and it naturally stretches and tones. Because your urethra is pointed straight down in this position all you have to do is relax for urine to flow out easily—as opposed to sitting up straight and having to strain to empty your bladder.
Benefit: Lengthens and tones the deep core and pelvic floor tissues and muscles, while also increasing circulation and blood flow.
Having sex is not only fun, but it’s great for your body, mind, spirit, and pelvic floor—and it helps you exist in the moment. Practice squeezes and letting go…your partner will love it!
This is a game changer! I’m so happy I found the rebounder after I had my first baby to help regenerate and rejuevenate. Now that we know that one out of every four women in the U.S. suffers from urinary incontinence (involuntary loss of bladder control while sneezing, coughing, having sex, or laughing), it’s time to start bouncing.
I’ve found that rebounding for five to ten minutes per day can have a dramatically positive impact on building healthy tone in the pelvic floor and core, repositioning the bladder, and helping to regulate minor incontinence by activating and toning the pelvic floor while bouncing or jumping. Empty your bladder right before your jumping session (and even during, take a quite break to pee if necessary). Little by little, the tone will build back up. The Bellicon makes my favorite rebounder. It’s the BOMB, as you can do so many moves on it.
Pelvic Diaphragm (Superior View)
Related: Foam Rolling Exercises