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Oasis Magazine Articles

The Pelvic Floor - Don’t Be Too Shy To Discuss It!

By Kim Hampton

Typically, for both women and men, anything in reference to “between our legs”, “under the belt”, or “where babies come from” has gained so much of a social stigma that I was almost too embarrassed to write about it.  However, with the encouragement from a colleague and knowing the importance of this topic I decided to write this in hopes that it can help to shed light and crush any negativity surrounding it.

If you haven’t already figured it out, your pelvic floor is in the area located between your legs.  It is referred to as a “floor” as it lies at the bottom of the pelvic region and is made up of a series of small muscles.  It is just as important as any other part of your body.  Together with surrounding fascia (connective tissue), the pelvic floor helps to support your abdominal organs, including your rectum, bladder, intestines, and specifically in women the reproductive organs.  Contrary to what you may think, these muscles exist in both men and women.  

The pelvic floor muscles work together with the abdominal, back and breathing muscles to help regulate the internal pressure in the core region of your body.  These internal pressures are constantly changing when you apply a load (or weight) to the body.  Once you drop the load, the pressure normalizes.  Most of the time these pressure regulations happen automatically, without you knowing.  If pelvic floor or abdominal muscles are weak or injured, then the action becomes altered, putting added strain on other parts of your body, such as your back or hips.  A strong pelvic floor gives the body a good foundation to function and also allows for adequate range of motion in the hips and lower back.  

The pelvic floor area is vital to your health.  It is vulnerable to injury via pregnancy, child birth, lifting heavy objects, occupational stress, and even being kicked between the legs.  Yet, saying all that, how can we protect this part of our body and keep it healthy?

For starters, it is very hard to locate the pelvic floor and understand this part of the body, as there is no visual feedback that you gain from engaging your pelvic floor muscles.  However, to better locate the area simply sit and rock your body from side to side.  This will help you to locate your sit bones (one on each side).  Then locate your pubic bone (in the front), and the coccyx bone (tail bone).  Then draw a diamond shape between these bony landmarks.  The pelvic floor is located in the space between these bones.  To activate the pelvic floor muscles, just imagine that these bones are coming closer together and with your breathing, exhale and try to draw this muscle upward like a small elevator.  A light engagement is preferred to help stimulate other supporting muscles in the correct way.

As a fitness instructor and teacher of Pilates, we are always asking our clients to start their exercise with breathing followed by “engaging their pelvic floor.”   It is not always easy for the client to locate and feel this area of their body.  We often use analogies to assist trainees to feel this engagement.  For women, we ask them to imagine that they are holding a small ball inside their vagina and to squeeze this ball.  For men we ask them to lift their testicles.  These verbal cues receive a lot of laughs and giggles, but they in turn assist the client in imagery and thus, create a connection between mind and body to get the most out of their exercise.  

Keeping your pelvic floor strong and knowing how to engage it can assist you in more ways than you can imagine.  Being aware of how to activate these delicate muscles, over time, can help with incontinence, improve your posture, and strengthen your core. Pregnant and post-natal women are always reminded by their doctors to perform Kegel exercises, (which are similar to pelvic floor engagement exercises) to either keep their pelvic floor strong during pregnancy and/or to additionally strengthen it after giving birth.
Learning how to engage your pelvic floor, along with stabilizing other parts of your body and increasing your body awareness in general is a valuable asset in pursuing a healthy life style.  If you are just getting back into an exercise routine or have been practicing one for a long time, whatever the case, a Pilates class that addresses pelvic floor engagement during exercising along with the other principles to stabilize and protect the area will be of great value and one that you not only utilize in exercise class, but in daily life as a whole.

Trail Guide to the Body – 4th Addition (Andrew Biel) 

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