I had my mind blown at a pelvic floor workshop with Leslie Howard a couple of weekends ago. Now I can’t stop thinking about pelvic floors. (So much so that I’ve decided to train with her to become a pelvic floor yoga therapist, a workshop is in the works, and I’m tailoring next week’s practices around it.) It’s an amazing collection of muscles, easily misunderstood and even more easily ignored or forgotten. It’s a significant part of our ability to breathe deeply and openly. And it’s key in protecting the lower back and using the transverse abdominus more efficiently in abdominal work.
Yet it usually takes an injury, accidental incontinence (yikes!), or a major event like birth to make you aware that something may have gone awry and the pelvic floor needs a little love and attention. Culturally we focus on weak pelvic floor muscles. Problems with incontinence? Kegels! Just had a baby? Kegels! Never mind that the popular rule of thumb on how to do a kegel – stopping the flow of pee – actually does little to strengthen pelvic floor muscles; we’re fixated on making most parts of our body “tight.” But what you may not know is that a pelvic floor that is too tight, or hypertonic, is just as capable of creating pain and incontinence as a pelvic floor that is too weak, or hypotonic. And that the pelvic floor can be both hypertonic and hypotonic because it consists of layers of individual muscles. Mind blown.
The kind of suppleness we seek for our pelvic floor muscles is the same kind of physical and mental suppleness we seek in our yoga practices. It’s what I like to think of as the “Goldilocks’ principle:” not too tight, not too weak, but just right. Finding that balance is key to our health. Or, as Rumi states it more poetically,
“Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.”
“Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding.” What point in our body feels deeper and more intimate than our pelvic girdle? We might root our emotions in our hearts and our thoughts in our minds, but it is the pelvis that is the bedrock for our sexuality and our transitions from infancy to childhood and from childhood to adulthood. If we’re mothers, it is the house in which our children first grew and from which they came into our arms. It is, quite literally, the seat of our movements and our lives.
Asana, the sanskrit term for yoga postures, can be translated as “seat.” When we move into our postures – when we hold them steady – we are “taking our seats” to explore that yogic balance of effort and ease. Lately the image of my seat has shifted. Whereas before I envisioned the sit bones and the structural elegance of the bony pelvic girdle, I now see that muscular hammock that resides within it, cradling our organs and moving with our breath. I want health to live there.