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  • Sami Cattach

Yoga and Pelvic Health

This week I went to a yoga class for the first time in a long while. While the class wasn't held on a deck in the middle of a pool, it was still awesome and very challenging.

In Grade 9 or 10 at school, I was getting disheartened by being one of the slower swimmers in my training squad. I told my Dad I didn't want to go anymore because I was the slowest and he said 'Well how are you going to get any better if you don't go'. I figured this made pretty good sense, so I kept at it, set some personal bests and his words have stuck with me ever since.

So for those who say they 'just aren't flexible' and 'never have been', how are you going to get any more flexible if you never do anything about it. Yoga isn't about being better than any one else in the class. It is simply a guided practice that you do for yourself.

Pelvic floor dysfunction is often related to the lack of pelvic movement in our daily repertoire of positions (sitting in chairs, standing, walking and lying). This limits the amount of movement in the pelvis and opening of the pelvic outlet for lengthening of the pelvic floor muscles. Our pelvis needs to be able to move for our pelvic floor muscles to function optimally. Adequate length of the muscles around the hips also play a huge role in pelvic alignment and mobility.

The relaxation and meditation component of yoga can also be helpful in conditions such as overactive bladder and persistent pelvic pain (including pain with intercourse) which are affected by emotional and physical stress.

I can appreciate that it may not be for everyone, however if you are interested or looking to do a class, here are some reasons to consider yoga for your pelvic and overall health.

  • Many yoga postures help to stretch and mobilise not only the muscles, but also the nerves that supply the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles - This particular class had a great focus on pelvic movement, tucking the tailbone and especially untucking to open the pelvic outlet. Amazing!

  • Adequate muscle length and flexibility helps to decrease the friction between joint surfaces and help preserve your joints over the years. Picture your knee or hip for example - the tighter/shorter the muscles that cross over the joint, the more compression and friction constantly wearing down the joint surfaces eg. Osteoarthritis.

  • Getting up and down off the floor in different ways. Unless you have young children, chances are you rarely get closer to the floor than your chair. This is a vital ability to maintain throughout our lifetime.

  • You don't have to wear shoes! I've never been much of a shoe person anyway, but being barefoot also allows for stretching of the toes and recruitment of the intrinsic muscles (important stabilisers) of the feet that don't get to do all that much when inhibited by socks and shoes.

  • Balance and proprioception training in so many different positions!

  • Focus on breath and relaxing into the postures (I'm not so good at the meditation part yet. The dim lighting, warm room and calm voice tend to send me to sleep... much like university lectures.)

  • Consciously and unconsciously engaging the core muscles of the pelvic floor, deep abdominals and diaphragm.

  • Hip stabilising and glute activation for control around the pelvis

  • Loading through the upper body and shoulders (When was the last time you supported own body weight with your arms?)

  • Whole spine mobility in every direction (rotation, side, forward and back bending)

When to be careful while doing yoga classes:

  • Generalised ligament laxity - If you have pretty flexible joints, it is important to protect the ligaments during your practice. Listen to your body and take care with technique avoid over-stretching the ligaments and damaging the joints.

  • Pregnancy - Stick to regular temperature classes and ensure the teacher is aware of how far along in you are in your pregnancy. It is also recommended to avoid prolong postures lying on your back and any upside-down (inverted) postures such as head and shoulder stands, the teacher can give you alternative poses. Ditto for ligament laxity due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, particularly if you are new to yoga since becoming pregnant. A lot of studios also offer specific pre-natal classes. (More posts to come on exercise and looking after your pelvic floor during pregnancy)

  • Previous or current injuries - Let your instructor know or any concerns and they will be able to give you options for modified postures while you are healing

  • In general - Listen to your body and to the teacher's cues. Begin at the level that challenges you but does not put your body at risk of injury. I found that using blocks for extra support was very helpful.

Yoga poses

Erin, Leah and myself working hard at the clinic in Calgary!

So if you're like me and need a bit of encouragement (such as 'I've already paid for this, I should probably go') to do your stretches and balance and strength exercises or guidance for safe technique and to hold the postures for a beneficial amount of time, then why not try out a yoga class.

* Thanks to Bodhi Tree Yoga Calgary for a great re-introduction and a welcoming environment *

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