I first became aware of the Pelvic Floor during my martial arts training over fifty years ago. I say aware because I was not quite sure what was happening when, during the kiai or ‘spirit shout’ (a shout that originates in the belly, using the force of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles and is intended to enhance the power and focus of a strike or kick), I often felt my anal sphincter tightening, like the passage was closing and momentarily locking up. In fact, the more my shout developed, the more I became aware of it.
I learned, many years later, that the anal sphincter is part of a group of muscles known as the pelvic floor, and this tightening and locking sensation was caused by the contraction of these muscles, due to the forced expulsion of air from my belly.
You may not even know you have this muscle, or more accurately, this hammock of muscles (19 small adjoining muscles), ligaments, nerves and tendons that attach to your sit bones (side to side) and join your pubic bone to your tailbone (front to back) while supporting the lower organs of your body, including the bladder, prostate and rectum in males, and the bladder, rectum, vagina and uterus in females.
And because the pelvic floor unites the front and rear of the body and joins the hip joints, it is vital to core stability.
The PF also acts as a lymphatic pump for the pelvis, helping to rid the body of cellular waste, toxins and cancer cells.
In many Eastern traditions, this area of the body is revered as the seat of spiritual and physical vitality. In yoga, it is part of the ‘root’ chakra, or central energy center.
In Western medicine, the pelvic floor is known to be responsible for continence — control of the bowels and bladder — and has a great deal to do with sexual function.
In men, PF contractions stimulate the muscle that allows the penis to engorge with blood and helps prevent erectile dysfunction: the same muscle that aids in the complete release of urine from the bladder, helping us to avoid getting up multiple times at night to urinate, causing broken sleep patterns.
In women, the pelvic floor muscles, when properly trained, not only control continence and prevent urinary leakage but also increase sensations of sexual arousal while improving the intensity of orgasm.
Age, lack of exercise and subsequent belly fat cause the pelvic floor to lose tone and become lax. Think of the aging PF as a neglected and sagging hammock.
Like any muscle or group of muscles, the PF requires exercise to maintain strength and tone, and this exercise must include a full range of motion, relaxation as well as contraction.
KEY POINTS: Understanding the Pelvic Floor.
- The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles that joins our pubic bone to our tailbone and hip joints. It is integral to the core of the body, aiding in balance and physical stability while helping with the release of toxins through the lymphatic system and improving sexual function and continence.
- Without exercise, the pelvic floor loses flexibility and tone and is unable to contract and relax properly. This causes multiple problems with health.
- By using a pelvic floor contraction (Kegel technique — contracting the PF while halting the flow or imaginary flow of urine) in conjunction with conscious breathing and exercise, the PF is moved through a complete range of motion — slow contraction on exhalation, slow release or relaxation on inhalation. This keeps the PF both toned and flexible.
- This method of complete and conscious breathing, including the exercise of the pelvic floor, may be applied to other basic movements, including walking.