Yoga and Your Pelvic Floor

PELVIC FLOOR PART ONE fall '14 imageLast summer, I attended Leslie Howard’s amazing Yoga for the Pelvic Floor Teacher Training, and though I knew it would be inspiring, I didn’t realize how the training would completely change the way I think about the pelvic floor and it’s context, the greater body and self. Most current cultural beliefs on pelvic floor –and even the attitude of many yoga teachers and practitioners–  are based along some level of assumption that this area is weak, and needs more tone.

The “pelvic floor” (although truly, it is more of a “dome” than a floor; only cadavers have hammock shaped pelvic floors…!) refers to the dynamic layers of muscle which span the inner pelvis. Pop culture would have most women believe that ladies are too “loose,” and need more tone in the pelvic floor, but that’s not true. This patriarchal belief system would also would have men think it’s better not to relate to -much less discuss and learn to sense- the pelvic floor, unless they have learned about Mula Bhanda, which is often misunderstood as “squeeze everything down below,” which for many folks means tightening an already gripped up area. (Mula Bandha (“root lock”) is an ancient, powerful, esoteric yogic technique aimed at containing and lifting kundalini energy through the central channel, or sushumna nadi. For most people, if this were actually to occur it would probably result in a psychological breakdown. In some modern yoga classes Mula Bhanda is taught casually and interchangeable with lifting the pelvic floor muscles.) But I digress. We want to have healthy tone, of course, but in the context of healthy skeletal support, through functional posture and position in the pelvis, where the pelvic floor muscles can relax, receive good circulation, and when needed, contract effectively.

While some people have hypotonic pelvic floor muscles, where lack of tone and postural misalignment cause issues, many people (even postpartum moms!) have too much tone in the pelvic floor muscles, and because of that tightness, the pelvic muscles are weak. When this area is not able to be both strong and relaxed, serious health issues can develop. 

What about Kegels?  Leslie says, kegels are “urethra-sphincter-centric, 60 years old, and named after a guy.” When people try to do Kegels they are usually indiscriminately gripping, often focussed on the action of “stopping pee,” constricting the urethra. Pelvic floor yoga is focussed more on learning to sense the 3 layers of muscle that make up the pelvic floor, create functional alignment in our structure to support this area, and then using specific actions, poses, and breath work to release and/or tone those muscles so that they can function optimally, with good circulation, strength, and the ability to be very strong AND relax fully as appropriate.

We can practice yoga for the pelvic floor in nearly every pose…

But wait, which poses are the right ones for you? If Leslie’s hypertonicity/ hypotonicity approach rings true to you, as you may have guessed, if you are on the tighter side, or looser side, (and this may change depending on which layer of muscle you are focussing on) your work will be quite different depending on what you need, since you have a specific goal, in any given pose. When we practice specifically for our body’s needs to address the challenges and asymmetries that have developed, then our yoga practice can truly become transformative and healing.

The first step to pelvic floor yoga is to deepen you relationship with your own pelvis and pelvic floor muscles. Being able to sense the area is key. So let’s take a quick look at anatomy.

pelvis-e1375218459750Imagine the pelvic floor as a diamond shape. Feeling down to the sitting bones, also called the ischial tuberosities, will give you a sense of the sides of your diamond. The bottom tip of the tailbone in back (the coccyx) and the public bone in front (the pubic syphisis) create the back and front of your diamond.

The first (outermost, or bottom) layer of the pelvic floor muscles are called the bulbospongiosus muscle in men, and the bulbocavernosis muscle in women, although both terms have been used in the past for either gender. This beautiful figure-eight shaped muscle attaches to the pubic symphisis in front, loops around the front opening where the genitals are, connects to the perineum, and then loops around the anal sphincter in back where it attaches to the coccyx. The perineum acts as an anchoring point to all three layers of muscle.from http://chestofbooks.com/health/anatomy/Human-Body-Construction/The-Female-Perineum.html#.UWRdX6u4Hyc

 The second layer the transverse perineal muscles. These 2 muscles span the lateral dimension left and right, attaching to the perineum (or “central tendon,” located right in the middle of the diamond) to the sitting bones on either side.

pelvic floorThe third, inner most layer is called the levator ani, which is made up of different bundles, woven together to create a broad sheet, or “parachute” shape which, when healthy, moves with the breath between a mild concave and convex position, mirroring the dome of the diaphragm below the lungs, and the soft the palette in the back of the throat.  The levator ani attaches at the front, inside the pubic symphisis, then by the obturator faschia, it connects to the inner surface of the spine of the ishium, or, the surface of the inner circle of the pelvis, and in back, it connects to the bottom two “segments” (remember, the coccyx is fused into one bone) of the tailbone.

Feeling down to the pelvic floor with your awareness and your hands is a good way to start. (At the bottom of this post is instruction for self massage.) In my pelvic floor workshop, we spend a lot of time learning how to sense the 3 layers and get a feel for where these muscles are on the hypotonic-hypertonic continuum. Just like in the the rest of the body, many folks have a combination of gripping and laxity.

HYPERTONICITY: Too much gripping. If you have urge incontinence (where you feel like you have to pee all the time but not much comes out), pelvic pain in men (pain may stem from tight pelvic floor muscles as well as issues in the prostate) and women — vulvadinia (external pain) or vaginal pain, vaginismus (where the first 2 layers of the pelvic floor get so tight penetration is impossible), lichen sclerosus (an autoimmune disease that creates scar tissue around the genitals in men and women), irritable bowel syndrome, or interstitial cystitis, you most likely tend towards some hypertonicity. Although there have been no studies I know of on the subject, there may even be a link between gripping in the pelvic floor and prostate cancer.

HYPOTONICITY: Not enough tone. If you have stress incontinence (where pee leaks out when you don’t have a full bladder and need to pee, such as on a trampoline or when you cough… this can also happen with poo…), or prolapsed organs (where the pelvic organs, most commonly the uterus, press down and sometimes fall through the vagina or anus) this means you need more strength. Many women who have had babies experience issues from underactive pelvic floor muscles. Learning how to sense and strengthen these muscles, and have a healthy anterior tilt (not tucking the tail under) in the pelvis is key to avoid these issues becoming exacerbated later in life.

Here is an example of two different ways of working with one pose; the first version for releasing, softening, and inviting breath through the inner pelvis, the other is for increasing tone. Consider studying with Leslie or me if you are want more hands on experience… this is just the tip of the iceberg.

 As an example, lets explore Bound Angle Pose.

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Avery in Supta Badha Konasana with 3 blankets, a bolster, and 2 sandbags.

For Relaxing: Supta Badha Konasana: With a bolster to support the spine and head, pillow under the head, rolled blanket to support each leg, sandbag on each upper thigh.

Important Cues: Take time to allow yourself to settle, spread out completely, and shift away from thought, and in to feel the body from the inside. Watch how easily the mind becomes distracted, critical, or analytical, and keep returning to the breath, and the feeling of it’s nurturing, effortless rhythm. Soften the root of the tongue, so that it becomes more fluid and passive, allow the throat to become round, relaxed, spacious, and release the soft pallet. This will assist the lower belly and inner pelvis to relax and receive the breath, so that the inhalations can descend, broadening and expanding, down through the lower belly, and down into the inner pelvis, all the way in to the layers of the pelvic floor. Exhaling, allow everything to relax in towards the naval center. Over time, allow the pelvic floor to become more and more receptive to the effortless, smooth, easy movement of the inner breath. Fully receive the cleansing, gentle inner massage of the breath, the irrigation of fresh circulation flooding the vital organs. Keep exploring what else can let go. 

How it helps: Softening the throat and the soft pallet helps release the visceral body, the tongue particularly relates to the lower belly and pelvic organs. Feeling down into the pelvis to invite softening and receptivity can help this area relax and increase awareness of what is happening in the pelvic floor. One of the specific gifts of this pose, when we use props to fully support the yielding of the body,  is the increase of breath and movement to the abdominal and pelvic region. Restorative poses are important for  establishing relaxation in the nervous system, which gives us a doorway inward to sense the subtler layers of our being.  As BKS Iyengar says, “We can rise above our own limitations, only once we recognize them.”

For Toning: Badha Konasana: Sitting at a wall, use a rolled blanket support wedged firmly behind the sacrum. As needed, give support to the outer legs with blankets, wedges, or blocks.

 FullSizeRender  Important cues: Strongly press the heels together. As the inner thighs extend outward, from the pubic symphysis towards the inner knees, draw the out thighs in towards the out hips, creating a conveyer belt effect of muscular external rotation. Bring the awareness down to the inner pelvis, sensing the 4 corners of the “diamond:” the pelvic floor attaches to the sitting bones on the side, the pubic bone on front, and the coccyx in back…and the perineum serves as an anchor for all the layers of pelvic floor muscle at the center of the diamond. Explore receiving the breath into the pelvic floor on the inhalations, and then as you exhale, draw the sides of the diamond, the sitting bones, muscularly IN towards the perineum. Imagine the line between the sitting bones becoming thicker and shorter. Repeat for several breaths, releasing on the inhales, engaging on the exhales. Then try the 2nd layer: Draw the front and back of the diamond in towards the center. After several cycles, try all 4 corners at once. Where they meet in the middle lift upwards, as though you could lift along a central channel that extends up through the body, all the way through the crown of the head. Lastly, if this is going well, explore a few rounds holding this tone through an inhalation and exhalation, releasing in between rounds to let any habitual tension. Especially watch for the belly, keep it relaxed! It will try to ump on board to hep, but that will only create compression and tuck the pelvis.  Explore lifting the pelvic floor while keeping the jaw and inner organs soft. The anal sphincter may come along for the ride, but specify the origin of the action in the muscles and perineum. 

How it helps: Using the blanket supports the untucked position of the pelvis, the stability of the sacrum, and gives feedback if the pelvis is tucking instead of the pelvic floor muscles engaging, which is common amongst beginners; if the pelvic floor is engaging students may be able to sense the sacrum pulling into the body, not pushing towards the wall. Pressing the heels awakens strength and stability, while exploring these incremental pelvic floor exercises builds tone, as well as awareness in layers one and two of the pelvic floor. This pose increases circulation to the pelvic organs and pelvic floor, and the action of externally rotating the legs predisposes the strength in the pelvic floor.

I hope you these poses give some insight to your practice. If you have any questions, answers, revelations, let me know! I love learning about how yoga practice can nourish us.

Pelvic Floor Self Massage

Massage is a great way to gain awareness, and relax pelvic floor muscles. Here are some tips.

Make sure you are warm, can relax, and won’t be disturbed. Lube or oil may help increase comfort, especially if you are exploring inside the anus. Where ever you are going to massage, it’s a good idea to gently touch around the external body first, to warm up your hands, hone your awareness, and relax the pelvic area. External massage for the inner sitting bones can be a nice place to start. Relax the jaw, tongue, throat, to help release down below. Remember you are receiving a massage: shift into receptivity, relaxation.

Find the perineum, and explore it’s soft texture, before increasing pressure. Establish an attitude of reverent curiosity, rather than trying to push towards some end result. Remain receptive to your body’s feedback.

If you are massaging inside the anus, massage the anal sphincter to help it relax, and once it softens, entrance will be much easier. If it feels tight or painful, don’t force it, but massage more externally, while softening and relaxing the body with your exhalations. Once the anal sphincter releases enter slowly. Press the finger around the inner curve, feeling the flu 360 degree area. There is much you can feel through the soft, thin wall of the anus.

If you are massaging inside a vagina, use your thumb to find layer one, since the fingers can get lost in the many different areas and textures.

Feel the inner perineum, then see if you can locate layer one, the figure 8 loop, and layer two, the transverse perineal muscles, on either side. See if they feel tight, or soft. Compare left and right. Pressing into the muscle and releasing, move from the center out to the sides, and back in. Notice if working on one side for a minute effects it compared to the other side. See if you can feel the inner shape of the pelvis, and the ischial tuberosities from the inside. Feel towards the back of the inner anal sphincter, and along the labia, or around the base of the penis. Look at anatomy drawings to help you visualize the layers of muscle. Fingers can reach deeper into either opening. Explore circular motions, to sense the different areas. Notice which parts feel restricted or resistant, and which areas feel soft. Make a note of how this changes day to day, week to week. Mull over what activities and life experiences are affecting your pelvic floor muscles.

At the end of your exploration, take some time to hold your hands softly over this area and let that warmth of your hands help you to emanate gratitude and healing to the inner pelvis: organs, muscles, genitals. Thank yourself for taking time for this important self care.

Benefits of Prenatal Partner Yoga and a Special Opportunity to Explore It!

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Prenatal Yoga is one of the most effective, safe, and enjoyable ways to increase comfort during pregnancy and prepare for an empowered birth. Partner Yoga offers a uniquely nurturing way to experience deeper awareness, strength, stability, and release. These two practices combine gracefully and can help to ease discomfort during pregnancy and prepare both mom and partner for birth.

Some Benefits of Partner Yoga as Birth Preparation:

~Increase body awareness, and the ability to breathe through the moment.

~Helps increase confidence in birth partners and their ability to support the birthing Mom.

~Partner assists allow for deeper release and organization in yoga poses, allowing for more effective relief from common issues that arise in the pregnant body, such as back pain, sciatica, leg cramps, leg swelling, acid reflux, exhaustion, stiff muscles, and/or insomnia.

~Explores touch as a gateway for the focus to move away from the mind (where fear resides) and into embodied presence.

~Releases Oxytocin, which assists in shifting out of fight/flight mode and into the parasympathetic mode, thus increasing feelings of safety, relaxation, pleasure, and connection. This shift is essential for labor hormones to be released and allow for the deepening intensity of contractions to build. Oxytocin is released in large amounts after distension of the cervix and uterus during labor, facilitating birthmaternal bonding, and, after birth, stimulation of the nipples, and lactation.

~Brings awareness to multiple areas of the body at once, helping to diffuse mental tension and refresh the nervous system.

~Allows for increased attention, insight, compassion, and gentle encouragement from the helping partner, which often allows the person performing the asana to feel safe to go deeper, gain new understanding on their alignment, or be able to experience subtle but key actions in the pose.

~Creates a fun, expressive experience of unity and trust between partners, and creates a nurturing time and space to connect with your new baby!

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Want to learn more? Join Emily and Avery for an upcoming Prenatal Partner Yoga Workshop Sunday, Feb 23, 2-5 pm at High Desert Yoga in Nob Hill, Albuquerque NM.  Both mom and partner will experience all poses, so that both can benefit from -and enjoy- dynamic active poses followed by gentle restorative poses. The workshop will include guided partner relaxation, focused connection with each other and your sweet baby, and experiential education about anatomy, the breath, and techniques you can use together to ease labor. Experience the healing, relaxing power of touch. Open to moms and any birth partner – husbands, dads, doulas, midwives, sisters, wives, etc. A great way to honor your journey together! Also open to birth professionals, yoga teachers, and yoga teacher trainees, who are looking for more hands on experience with safe techniques and assisted poses from pregnant moms. 

Register at High Desert Yoga.

PRENATAL partner yoga flier 2:14

Yoga for Hot Sex // Relaxation for Pleasure and Orgasm

Join me for 2 special mini-workshops at Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center!

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Wed Oct 30, 2013: YOGA FOR HOT SEX

Wed Nov 13, 2013: RELAXATION FOR PLEASURE & ORGASM

Both classes are 7:30-9pm at the Self Serve Store in Nob Hill, Albuquerque. Preregister HERE or call 505-265-5815.

avery blissed....

Yoga practice can create access to your ability to feel what is happening in the body, strengthen your confidence in your body/ mind ability, balance hormones, build awareness, tone, and ability to relax the pelvic floor muscles and pelvic & abdominal organs, increase circulation and oxygen to various vital systems, including the endocrine and sexual/ reproductive systems, neutralize the nervous system, which enables increase of both mental/ physical/ emotional relaxation (parasympathetic nervous system response) and simultaneously, sexual excitement/ tension (sympathetic nervous system response), build emotional stability, give insight to what and where are your “edges,” increase feelings of vitality, vigor, and enthusiasm to experience new things, and help support feelings of gratitude, selflove, compassion, and connection, and creativity.

Guiding Principles

Relaxation opens the gateway to pleasure and orgasm.

Mental Distraction takes us away from our bodily awareness, out of the present moment, and dilutes the intensity and availability of feeling turned on/ pleasure, and challenges out ability to connect with intuition, and our partner(s). The mind habitually will wander; Focus/ Awareness takes practice. Be compassionate with yourself and, as possible, be entertained by the mind, rather than get critical/ frustrated with it.

Sound (especially when long and low toned) helps release the throat/pelvic floor, lengthens exhalation and therefore quiets the nervous system, channels focus/ energy, intensifies pleasure sensations, helps release endorphins, and can assist orgasmic release. Also great for claiming space and giving positive feedback to partners!

Playful Curiosity is a great way to deepen into sexual discovery. Don’t confuse Sincerity with Seriousness. Let what feels good and fun guide you. Keep shifting back into the body’s feedback loop and away from the narrative of the mind.

Stability and Freedom are 2 sides of 1 coin. The more we feel stable, safe, organized, and grounded, the more we can truly let go, get vulnerable, expand, and get ecstatic.

~Stabilize with:

~ Presence building practices, Yoga practice, and physical support (inside: strength, body awareness. outside: props, pillows, walls…)

~ Pelvic Floor Work: healthy tone, awareness and strength

~ Femur grounding to support gentle release of the psoas, pelvic organs, and pelvic floor muscles.

~ Alignment (in our bodies, as well as with our partners)

~ Slowing down to feel what is there.

~ Good, Clear Boundaries and Agreements

Ahisma: Non violence Santosha: Contentment

Bramacharya: Respectful, Healthy Utilization of Sexual Energy

Svadyaya: Self Study (internal learning) Samadhi: Total Freedom/ Bliss/ Self Realization

(from Yamas & Niyamas, the foundations of yoga: in our minds, bodies, and with others)

Exploring embodied sexuality may bring up fears or triggers, yet the very techniques of presence, breath, and feeling through what is there, can be effective ways to release layers of tension, trauma, heavy emotionality, or resistance.

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Here is a drawing I created for the class. Enjoy!
#yogaforhotsex #yoga #queeryoga #averykalapa

Fall News: Partner Yoga and Some New Classes!

Emily and I will be teaching a fun, playful, yummy Partner Yoga Workshop Saturday, Oct 19th 2-5pm at High Desert Yoga. P1060399_3What could be a better way to spend an afternoon than with nourishing, grounding, playful, delicious assisted poses? Practicing with a partner is one of the most effective ways to experience the aim and meaning of yoga – union – union of mind and body, of self and others, and with the eternal Self that resides in each of us.

In this playful workshop, partners will learn to assist each other in going more deeply into a variety of asana, including standing postures, forward folds, backbends, and twists. The practice will be at turns invigorating, playful, and restorative. Find a partner at the workshop or bring your friend, lover, or yoga buddy. Expect to challenge your limits, connect with your inner self, and connect with the people around you as we continue together on the path to unity.

A partner’s touch can provide strength, awaken insight, invite release, or simply bring a deeper awareness of the present moment – awareness of breath, body, and mind; awareness of habitual patterns, attitudes, and emotions. You and your partner will help each other expand beyond the limits of habit, challenge assumptions, and perhaps move into postures that might otherwise seem inaccessible. Working together, we will cultivate compassionate trust in ourselves and each other. All levels and body types welcome, queer friendly, beginner friendly. Ages 12 to 102!

Price options: Pre-registered: $35 per person, $65 for two. Day of: $40 per person, $75 for two.  Preregister in person at the studio, call 505 232 9642 or at highdesertyoga.com

 

Check out the flier with all the info here: partner yoga flier 

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HDY UNM:CNM flier 2013_2Also, I am teaching a NEW CLASS!! … Starting next week, I will be teaching an ALIGNMENT based VINYASA class at High Desert Yoga 10$, one hour. Rich, deep, muscular, lots of pelvic floor work! Plus a nourishing, full savasana. Thursdays 5:30-6:30pm. AND! North Valley students please note: My 5:30-6:30 Wed Level One class at Dragonfly Yoga will be shifting to be on Mondays. Two great evening classes… hope to see you soon!!

Urdva Hastasana Saves the Day

Delightful, today, to feel the upward rise, like the reach of a candle flame, so deep in my center. I was practicing Urdva Hastasana, or “Upward arms pose.” Tadasana, with arms raised high, heads of the humerus (upper arm bones), outer heads of the femurs, or greater trochanters (top of the thigh bones) and center heels all stacked tall in a line atop the earth’s center of gravity.

The simultaneous rising up of my perineum, the inner heads of the humerus, and the base of my skull created this profound feeling of inner body length – an integrated from of Uddiyana. In this pose, the arms lifted feeds the extension bias to the spine, and this often challenges the length of the kidney area, around the junction of T12, and L1, where the thoracic spine meets the lumber spine. The perineum, that apex of strength at the center of the pelvic floor, which gathers in the core of the figure 8 shaped bands of muscles around the front and back openings, made of connective tissue to which the bands of muscle anchor, can lift here to create the internal physiological and energetic support to lengthen the kidney area. As the kidney area lengthens, the lowest lumbar vertebra actually draw in deeper, while T1, at the base of the neck, also releases in, freeing the neck to lengthen as the inner armpits deepen into the back body.

from http://chestofbooks.com/health/anatomy/Human-Body-Construction/The-Female-Perineum.html#.UWRdX6u4Hyc

(Image taken from this article on The Female Perineum.)

This is just one example of how pelvic floor strength can support the total integrity and alignment in an asana. However the real gift of this experience of alignment was the profound feeling of freedom and pleasure in the body… and through this pleasure, a new reference created for what is possible.

The body will choose comfort, even when comfort simply means familiar and is degenerative. As I practice, I give my body a chance to experience new reference points for what is comfortable, for what is “home.” This experience of the triplicity lifting length in Urvda Hastasana while my heels anchored deep gave me a renewed sense of where my body can live. And as an encouraging sidenote, this release of the inner body through organization and pelvic floor power has given relief from pain. Today I was moving slow, due to being on the first day of my period, and feeling crampy and low energy. By unloading the visceral body though this work, however, my belly now feels spacious and relaxed; the cramping sensation have disappeared, miraculously.

And here is Mr. BKA Iyengar, in hanumanasana.... The torso doing the same work as in Urva Hastasana. Note the deeply grounded humerous and exquisite kidney length!  I am willing to bet his perineum is working enthusiastically, to support this much organization.

And here is Mr. BKS Iyengar, in hanumanasana…. his torso is doing the same pose as in Urva Hastasana, (which is why I using this image here to discuss the actions in the article. Apparently Iyengar’s Urdva Hastasana isn’t exotic enough to merit pictures online yet! And instead of scanning one in from Light On Yoga I am using this one to illustrate the similar work. Note, amazingly, how even with the legs in Hanumanasana the powerful Tadasana spine!) Also, see the deeply grounded humerous and exquisite kidney length. I am willing to bet his perineum is working enthusiastically, to support this much organization.

Free Prenatal Class for New Students to High Desert Yoga

prenatal flier

Feel free print this coupon, share it, and bring it in to High Desert Yoga for a free prenatal class with Avery. This is a great opportunity for pregnant mothers to get an experiential taste of the benefits of prenatal yoga both for comfort during pregnancy, and as embodied birth preparation. In addition, the evolving  community of pregnant women in these classes creates a wonderful support network. This special offer is ongoing through the entire year of 2013. Join us!