The muscles that make up our pelvic floors are often forgotten, overshadowed by training aesthetic muscles like the abdominals, quadriceps, pectorals, and biceps.
But while we might overlook these muscles when they’re plenty strong, they’re hard to forget about when they’re a bit weaker than usual.
So, how do you train the pelvic floor muscles? Will yoga help? It can, and a few key poses can send you in the right direction. This article offers a quick look into the pelvic floor muscles and how yoga can help, so continue reading to learn more!
Muscles of the Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor consists of a few main muscles, primarily the levator ani muscles. These muscles create a broad expanse, including three paired muscles: the pubococcygeus, puborectalis, and iliococcygeus.
These muscles consist of type I and II muscle fibers and are essential to the pelvic floor support issue. They feature staggered attachments to the pelvis, working in tandem with various tissues to secure the bladder, uterus, and rectum within the pelvic cavity.
Importance of a Strong Pelvic Floor
The urethra, vagina, and rectum pass through the pelvic floor tissue, so strong pelvic muscles are essential in supporting these organs. Weak muscles in this area can lead to an array of issues throughout life, from incontinence of the bladder and bowel to prolapses and problems with sexual function.
These muscles work with your abdominal and back muscles to create a stable area for the organs in that area, including your reproductive organs. They aid in controlling abdominal pressure while lifting and straining, such as during exercise or when completing everyday tasks, like lifting a heavy box.
A strong pelvic floor affects everyday life, so it’s essential to strengthen these muscles. For example, it isn’t uncommon for female lifters who have had children to experience urinary incontinence during heavy lifts.
Of course, it can happen to anyone with weaker pelvic floor muscles, as any physical activity can lead to issues in that region of the body.
Causes of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Numerous things can cause pelvic floor dysfunction, so many individuals experience symptoms of a weak pelvic floor. Here are a few common conditions that may lead to pelvic floor pain and dysfunction:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Chron’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Kidney stones
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy
- Pregnancy and childbirth
Benefits of Strengthening the Pelvic Floor
Many people deal with losing strength in the pelvic floor, so if you’re contending with weak muscles in the area, you’re not alone. Working to strengthen these muscles is well worth the effort, as the benefits of a strong pelvic floor are extensive:
- Reduced pelvic floor pain
- Regained control over urinary functions
- Reduced risk of pelvic organ prolapse
- Improved recovery following childbirth
- Improved recovery following gynecological surgery
- Increased sexual sensation
Will Yoga Actually Help Strengthen The Pelvic Floor?
According to an NIH study on the effects of yoga on pelvic floor rehabilitation, yoga can work wonders for strengthening these muscles. The study specifically studied the effects of yoga on postpartum women, as the pelvic floor muscles and fascia are excessively stretched during pregnancy and childbirth.
The study evaluated 120 women, split into a postpartum yoga group and a puerperal exercise group. Each group underwent 12 weeks of rehabilitation training targeting the pelvic floor muscles. The results demonstrated the efficacy of yoga for this purpose, as women in the yoga group improved drastically compared to the opposite group.
The findings of this study showed that yoga exercises aid in strengthening the elasticity of the perineum muscles, prevent symptoms of lower urinary tract prolapse, and enhance the function of contraction of the uterus.
In another study, which examined the preventative effect of postpartum yoga on postpartum female urinary incontinence, the results looked much the same. This study found that with postpartum yoga, in combination with pelvic floor muscle training, the chances of postpartum urinary incontinence dropped substantially.
So, in other words, yoga can be highly beneficial for training and strengthening the pelvic floor.
Which Yoga Is Best For Pelvic Floor Exercise?
Nearly every yoga pose demands core engagement of some sort, which often requires tightening the pelvic floor. That said, some poses are better than others. Here are a few excellent yoga poses that help target the pelvic floor muscles:
Also known as the bridge pose, this pose is a strong pick for training the pelvic floor muscles. While this pose is often known for its booty-burning nature, it works well for the core and pelvic floor, forcing them to work and grow stronger. Incorporate a small fitness ball or a soft yoga block for added benefit.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie on your back on a yoga mat, with your knees bent and feet resting flat on the floor. Let your arms relax at your sides, palms flat on the floor.
- Place a small fitness ball or a soft yoga block between your thighs, around a few inches above your knees.
- When you’re ready, push through your heels and raise your hips from the floor, keeping the ball snugly between your thighs by engaging your adductor muscles (inner thighs).
- Hold the pose for a few breaths, focusing on maintaining good form and breathing before lowering your hips to exit the pose.
Bird dog pose, or Parsva Balasana, is an excellent way to target the core muscles, glutes, and pelvic floor muscles. The pose demands balance, requiring participants to engage muscles throughout the body. Here’s how to do it:
- Start in a tabletop position on your yoga mat, with your knees directly beneath your hips and your shoulders, wrists, and elbows stacked.
- When you’re ready, engage your abs and pelvic muscles. Extend your right arm in front of you and your left leg behind you, keeping your foot dorsiflexed with your toes pointed toward the floor. Imagine pushing your heel into the air behind you, as this will help keep your foot actively engaged in the pose and deepen the stretch.
- Hold the pose for three to five breaths, keeping your head and neck neutral.
- Lower your arm and leg to exit the pose, then repeat it on the opposite side. Repeat the switch for up to 8 reps.
Mountain pose (Tadasana) is a staple in many yoga flows, acting as a foundation for all standing postures. If you incorporate a yoga block, you can work on strengthening the muscles throughout your pelvic floor. Here’s how to do it:
- Start by standing on your yoga mat with your feet about hip-width apart. Allow your hands to fall to your sides, with your hands resting near your thighs.
- Place a yoga block (or a substitute) between your thighs, an inch or two about your knees. If your yoga block is made of wood, you might want to substitute a softer prop.
- Gently squeeze your adductor muscles (inner thighs) to hold the block in place. Hold the block between your thighs for a few breaths, relaxing the muscles as needed. Repeat the cycle of engaging your inner thighs and resting a couple of times over one or two minutes.
Gently flowing in and out of the chair pose, or Utkatasana is an excellent way to stretch and strengthen the pelvic floor. As you sink into the pose, the muscles stretch, but they lift and contract when you rise.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start on your yoga mat, standing with your arms out in front of you, parallel to the floor.
- Sink into the pose by softly bending your knees and lowering your body into a squat. Your hips should go back like you’re trying to sit in a chair. Don’t lower your hips past your knees.
- Gently flow in and out of the chair pose, holding at the bottom and top of the pose for a few seconds or as long as you’re comfortable. Repeat for 30 seconds to one minute, or as long as you’re comfortable.
This pose, better known as happy baby, is a great way to stretch the pelvic floor muscles. Remember, stretching is equally crucial as strengthening those muscles, as both are essential in a well-rounded routine.
Place something under your head, like a rolled blanket or foam roller, to feel a deeper stretch through the pelvic floor. Many folks make the mistake of rounding their backs to achieve this pose, preventing deep stretch through the pelvic floor muscles.
So, by placing something under the head, you can achieve a deeper stretch without curving your spine.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lay on your back on a soft surface, like your yoga mat or a bed, with something under your head for a deeper stretch.
- Bend your knees to 90 degrees and bring them toward your chest. As you bring your knees to your chest, open each knee wide, gently guiding them toward your armpits.
- Keep your shins perpendicular to the floor and ankles in line with your knees. Grasp the outer edges of your feet with each hand and softly push into each hand with your foot. As you push with your feet, pull with your arms.
- Hold the pose for several breaths or as long as you feel comfortable, then gently release your hands and feet to exit the pose.