Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Many of us hear about strengthening the pelvic floor, but not so much about relaxing it. When in fact many of us have what is called an 'overactive' pelvic floor. This means your pelvic floor muscles are tight, clenched and working pretty much all of the time and just can't relax. This can make them sore and tight, and you may feel pain in your stomach, pelvis, lower back and bottom. It also means you're unlikely to be able to work your pelvic floor in its full range of movement, and therefore, unable to work it properly. This may lead to issues such as pain, constipation and incontinence. A women's health physio can tell you if your pelvic floor is overactive. But I like to think that like any other muscle that we stretch, we should allow the pelvic floor to relax and stretch whether we have an overactive pelvic floor or not. Following on from my blog about core breathing - this is a really simple way to de-stress and relax the pelvic floor at the same time:
Lying down on your back is usually the easiest way to start. But it may not always be convenient to just lie down, so practice this in standing and sitting too.
Start by focusing on your breathing and try to breathe into your tummy and lower ribs. You want to feel expansion in your tummy and your ribs, both at the sides and the back. You need to release the tension in your tummy to let this happen. Let it all hang out!
Now, focus on your pelvic floor muscles – these are the ones you would use to stop yourself doing a wee or a fart
As you breathe out, gently draw-up your muscles a little bit (imagine lifting either through your back passage or vagina or think about pulling your coccyx forward towards your pubic bone). This is just a small lift, not a big clench!
Then as you breathe in, allow your pelvic floor to relax and drop down fully. But make sure you are not pushing down. Does it feel like it drops fully on just a little way? Can you relax it even more?
I find a good way to help the muscles relax even more is from lying on my back, lift my knees up towards my chest. Reach forward, through my legs and grab my feet (or lower leg if flexibility is a challenge), and let the knees drop out to the side (bit like a frog). Imagine a lengthening down of your tailbone. Ensure upper body is relaxed down on the floor. This opening up of the pelvis helps relax the pelvic floor.
Relaxing the pelvic floor always needs to happen on the breath in. This is because the diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles are linked by connective tissue called fascia. Therefore whatever the diaphragm is doing, the pelvic floor is doing the same. This is why we link it to a good breathing pattern first. So as the diaphragm drops and expands to let the air in, the pelvic floor also drops and can relax.
Practice this as often as you can throughout the day. It’s not easy at first to link the mind and body but even visualising it relaxing can be beneficial. I do this after exercise too, particularly running. I stretch my legs, hips etc, so also give my pelvic floor some time off too.
If you are really strugglng to feel a drop of the pelvic floor or feel there isn't much movement, it would be a great idea to see a women's health physiotherapist who can help you.