Back to Basics: Toning the Pelvic Floor
Toning and activating the pelvic floor
By Sandra Anderson
The pelvic floor is an often neglected part of our anatomy. When well toned and activated, this wrap of muscle between the pubic bone and the tail bone supports a surprising range of health benefits: improved bladder functioning, regular bowel movements, prevention and alleviation of hemorrhoids, a balanced reproductive system, and a soothing of the sympathetic nervous system. But when the muscles of the pelvic floor grow weak, the forces of time and gravity take their toll, and we gradually fall prey to a host of problems.
A Simple Exercise
The muscles in the pelvic floor, like our other muscles, need to be strengthened and toned with regular, repetitive use. The following exercise does just that. To begin:
• Lie on your back with your feet on the floor near the pelvis. Relax the body and the breath and close your eyes.
• Bring your attention to the pelvic floor. Contract all the muscles between the pubic bone and the tail bone, including the urinary and anal sphincters, and the perineum, which lies between them. (For men, the contraction centers on the perineum; women should also experience the contraction at the cervix.) Inhale and relax.
• Exhale, then repeat the exercise: Tighten as deeply and strongly as possible. Inhale and release. Repeat 25 times. Make sure that the breath is not disturbed and the rest of the body—including the jaw, belly, and inner thighs—stays relaxed.
• Finish by holding the contraction for as long as possible, continuing to breathe normally.
• If the muscles fatigue, practice at your capacity, gradually increasing the number until you can easily complete 25 contractions.
When to Practice
To maintain your strength, practice at least four times a week. Once you have mastered the technique, you can practice during idle moments: waiting in the dentist’s office, sitting at a stoplight, or languishing in a boring meeting. Eventually you will be able to use the muscles of the pelvic floor to enhance your yoga postures, breath work, and meditation.
The Next Step
A strong and flexible pelvic floor is the root supporting the reservoir of vitality in the psychic and spiritual realms, as well as in the physical body. Yoga students will recognize this exercise as the preparation for mula bandha (root lock). Mula bandha is a subtle practice for controlling apana (the downward flow of vital energy in the body and mind). Mastery leads to inner stability and the awakening of intuition and creativity.
Yoga International senior editor Sandra Anderson is co-author of Yoga: Mastering the Basics and has taught yoga and meditation for over 25 years.