• Amy Samantha, Editor

How to improve your pelvic floor with yoga

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles located in your pelvis that stretch from the pubic bone to the tailbone and from side to side. These muscles work to support our bladder, uterus and bowel. When they’re working efficiently, your pelvic floor prevents problems like incontinence and can also improve your sex life.

We often think of the pelvic floor in relation to strengthening exercises but, as Leslie Howard, a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specialising in pelvic floor health explains, we need to take a more balanced approach.

“There’s often a lot of focus on the pelvic floor being too loose, but not so much on it being too tight,” she says. “For a long time I couldn’t tolerate tampons and I didn’t know why. It was because my pelvic floor was too tight.


“We all need a strong pelvic floor, but we need to pay attention to stretching and releasing it too.”


Causes of pelvic floor imbalance


As with many things, we often only recognise our body is out of balance when we experience pain, or notice things aren’t working as they should.


“We’re usually born with healthy pelvic floors,” says Leslie. “It’s what we do after that that can affect the health of our pelvic floor. Postural habits is actually one of the main culprits of pelvic floor dysfunction.”


Along with poor posture, other life experiences such as exercise, pregnancy, injury, surgery and advancing age can all impact on the health of our pelvic floor. Incontinence is often a common sign of a weak pelvic floor, but being too tight in this region can impact our health too.


“Urge incontinence where you feel like you need to pee all the time, any kind of pain – for example during intercourse, using tampons or even sitting, could be a sign of a tight pelvic floor,” says Leslie. “Also constipation – while this is often related to diet, it can also be a sign of a tight pelvic floor.”


Tightness in the pelvic floor is often seen in athletes and people who regularly exercise. However, it’s not uncommon for those who have experienced trauma to have a tight pelvic floor too.


“I often say that pelvic floor problems are built in layers,” says Leslie. “For example, perhaps someone has had surgery, or a difficult labour, or suffered sexual abuse. All of these things build up and cause us to tighten our pelvic floor.


“Any time we’re afraid we brace and engage our pelvic floor. And right now there’s a lot of things that can cause us tension and stress. A pandemic. The earth being on fire. Our global leaders. An election – Donald Trump makes my pelvic floor tight!”


This tension causes the muscles to shorten, making the pelvic floor too tight. It’s important to take the time to lengthen and stretch the muscles there.


How to bring balance back


Whether you need to strengthen or stretch your pelvic floor, establishing a well-rounded yoga practice can help to bring balance back.


“You need poses that stretch the pelvic floor, and others that engage it too,” says Leslie. “If too tight, I’d recommend doing stretches first as you need to get your pelvic floor to let go, and vice versa for a loose pelvic floor.”


It’s also important not to overlook the importance of the breath in your yoga practice - especially if you struggle with tightness.


“I always like to start a session with breathing exercises,” explains Leslie. “When we’re tense, we take short sharp breaths. I want to encourage students to breathe deep and into their pelvis.


“It’s also important to breath correctly. If someone has been through a lot of trauma, they’re likely to do a lot of reverse breathing. This is where you draw your belly button in towards your spine as you inhale, rather than the opposite. This creates a tension pattern with every breath you take."


To improve your pelvic floor through breath work, focus on expanding your stomach on inhalation, and drawing your belly button back towards your spine on exhalation. On inhalation, the pelvic floor responds to breathing by stretching. On proper exhale, the pelvic floor gently lifts in response to the lungs and diaphragm.


A yoga pose to balance the pelvic floor


One pose that Leslie recommends to bring balance back to the pelvic floor is Goddess pose.


To strengthen a loose pelvic floor:

  • Begin in a wide-legged standing position, toes turned outwards to externally rotate the femur bones.

  • While in this position squeeze your heels towards each other to engage the pelvic floor.

  • On an inhale, stretch through the legs to straighten the legs.

  • On exhale, lower deeper back into Goddess pose.

  • Repeat.

To release a tight pelvic floor

  • Begin in a wide-legged standing position, toes turned outwards to externally rotate the femur bones.

  • Lower into a squatting position (Goddess pose) to widen the pelvic floor, making sure the tail bone sticks out.

  • Stretch here for a few moments, relaxing into the pelvis.

About Leslie Howard


Leslie is a yoga teacher and certified yoga therapist, specialising in the use of yoga for pelvic floor problems. She has taught yoga for more than 20 years and dedicated more than 3500 hours to yoga study.


Find out more at lesliehowardyoga.com

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