Exercises and Strategies to Relax the Pelvic Floor
While pelvic floor strengthening is an important concept we teach clients, it may not be the best option for everyone. Many of our clients present with tension in their pelvic floor, which often develops from over activity of a muscle group. This lack of balance between contracting and relaxing results in a muscle functioning in its inner range of motion. The first step to achieving optimal pelvic health function for someone who presents with over recruitment is to teach them how to lengthen their pelvic floor muscles. There are several exercises and strategies that your therapist may suggest for a client who needs to relax their pelvic floor.
One of the most vital components of promoting movement in the pelvic floor is using the diaphragm. When using our diaphragm to breath, the abdomen inflates with air as both the diaphragm and pelvic floor lengthen down towards our feet. As we exhale, there is a subtle natural recoil of our diaphragm and pelvic floor upwards towards our head. When teaching someone to relax these muscles, it is important to focus on cueing them in certain ways to release their pelvic floor on their inhale. Some cues that are effective include “thinking about starting the stream of urine” or “releasing gas”. Visualization cues may also be helpful ie. “visualize your sit bones moving wider apart”.
Once a patient connects with their breath and cues, you can then apply diaphragmatic breathing into specific stretches. Positions that promote widening of the ischial tuberosities will physically lengthen the pelvic floor. However, it is vital to incorporate your breath and visualizations in order to decrease muscle tone and achieve the full benefits of the stretch. Some helpful stretches to try out include: cat/cow, child’s pose, happy baby and a supported deep squat stretch.
Lastly, we can’t talk about relaxing the pelvic floor without discussing the nervous system. The nervous system is what controls our muscle function. When our nervous system is in sympathetic overdrive, it means that our body is in a state of “fight or flight”. This results in tension in many muscle groups, particularly the pelvic floor. For some people, no matter how much stretching and breathing they do, their pelvic floor muscles may remain over recruited. It is very important to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system in order to restore normal recruitment and activity of the pelvic floor. Some strategies that your therapist may suggest include: breathing exercises, guided meditation, mindfulness, body scans, and qi gong.
Trying some of these exercises and strategies can help relax the pelvic floor and improve your overall pelvic health and function. If you need some extra guidance, see one of our expert pelvic health practitioners.