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What Are The Pelvic Floor Muscles?
- 3 layers of muscle that hold up organs and hold bones of pelvis together.
- Also includes the muscles of orifices: urethra, anus and vagina
- The pelvic diaphragm is the deep, large and thick layer of muscles in the pelvis
The pelvic floor muscles are a web, with tons of blood vessels and nerve fibers running through them.
Why Relax The Pelvic Floor?
We all carry way too much tension in our gluteal muscles and the pelvic floor. We sit for too many hours and don’t get enough exercise. We also have so much sexual shame and tension that causes chronic constriction in this area. Simply put, we are a tight assed culture.
Constrictions in the muscle can pinch off blood flow or interrupt the function of nerve endings. Both of these symptoms of tight muscles will limit arousal, erection and orgasm.
Too much tension in the pelvic floor does way more than weaken our sexual response. Over time, it can lead to stagnation in the vital organs of the pelvis. Too weak muscles can lead to conditions like vaginal prolapse. Incontinence and constipation are also related to the pelvic muscles. For pelvic health and optimal sexual functioning, we all need to pay attention to the pelvic floor and use simple practices to release chronic constriction, increase strength and improve flexibility.
Are Kegels The Right Pelvic Floor Exercises?
Katy Bowman calls for an end to the obsession with kegels.
In graduate school (where I was getting my MS in Biomechanics) I focused my studies on “where pelvic floor disorders come from.” I found this important because in math and engineering fields, where I came from, you can’t work on a problem’s solution until the problem is well defined. In disease research, however, there isn’t really research into the why or the how – only on trying to figure out the remedy. In doing my research on the physics of the pelvis, movement, and how the pelvic floor works, it became clear that while the pelvic floor’s problem was weakness, it was weakness that is the result of too much tension – not weakness that comes from flopping around.
The ultimate goal is to develop both strength and flexibility in the pelvic floor. This goes for both men and women.
Kegels, a term coined by Arnold Kegel in 1948, were once taught to women as part of preparing for childbirth. Then they became trendy to recommend to everyone to improve orgasm. The idea was stronger muscles would lead to stronger orgasms. Now we know better, and recognize that you need both strength and flexibility. Clenches alone can reinforce the tension that is already there, leading to more constriction.
How Do I Begin Exploring Pelvic Floor Exercises?
One easy way to assess the strength of your pelvic floor muscles is to blow up a balloon while noticing the sensations in the pelvic floor area. If you feel sensations like you have to pee, this might mean weak pelvic floor muscles.
A great way to get a sense of the pelvic floor is to look at it with a mirror. You can either use a hand mirror or lie in front of a full length mirror and prop up your head so you can see. Take a look around, and then start clenching and releasing your pelvic muscles and notice the movement.
One of the selling points of kegels is that you can do them anywhere and no one will know. The truth is, a full pelvic health practice requires a bit more time and attention. But we all sit around too much anyway, so what if your television time worked double time as your pelvic power time? A few simple stretches and strengthening exercises go a long way towards pelvic health, even if it is just a few minutes a few times a week.
To release chronic constriction, add a few stretches into your life. Check out the videos below for some great pelvic floor exercises to relax your pelvic muscles.
To strengthen your pelvic muscles, add in pelvic floor exercises like squats and lunges.
Squats might be hard at first, but stick with it and over time you’ll be able to squat deeper and hold it for longer. Squat just a little at first, only going down as far as you can, and make a mental note of how deep you can go. Check in week after week and you’ll begin to notice big changes! Remember that humans are designed to squat, we just have lost the habit so have to retrain the body to get back into this very natural position.
Use Pelvic Massage To Complement Pelvic Floor Exercises
It is important to get a hands-on sense of how tight your pelvic floor is. To get a benchmark feel, press into your perineum (the area between your genitals and anus) and see if it feels tight, loose or in between. The ideal state is a bit like a trampoline: taut but supple. Perineal and anal massage is a great practice for both men and women. External massage in this area is incredibly relaxing and deeply pleasurable, and can be done solo or partnered. Check out podcast episode #153 for a full discussion of anal and perineal massage.
As promised, here is a photo of Chris’ pelvic floor muscle tattoos!
Pelvic Floor Exercises: Books and Websites
Pelvic Power: Mind/Body Exercises for Strength, Flexibility, Posture, and Balance for Men and Women by Eric Franklin
The Female Pelvis Anatomy & Exercises by Blandine Calais-Germain
Katy Bowman Pelvic Stretching DVD