Here we go! Let’s explore that ‘other’ diaphragm, the Pelvic Floor!
Structure and Function of the Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor is also spoken of as the pelvic diaphragm, so please interchange these terms as you see fit. The pelvic floor spans the area at the bottom of the torso that acts as the muscular ‘floor’ of the pelvis to support its contents, including the bladder, uterus, bowel and intestines. The pelvic floor helps to maintain continence, as it comprises the urinary and anal sphincters. It provides coordinated core support, in concert with the deep abdominal and back muscles, and the movements of the thoracic diaphragm during respiration.
The pelvic floor attaches to four bony landmarks at the base of the pelvis: the internal surfaces of the pubic bone, sitting bones (i.e., ischial tuberosity), and sacrum. It is centrally organized like a starfish by the urethra, vagina or scrotum, and anus, and shaped like diamond, oval, or Easter egg,
Imagery and Movement
The pelvic floor is like a trampoline. Picture a child jumping down on a trampoline. Landing on the trampoline causes it to descend and widen towards the ground, like the pelvic floor on the inhalation phase, also mirroring the movement of the thoracic diaphragm. Jumping up off the trampoline causes the trampoline to ascend and narrow away from the ground, like the pelvic floor during the exhalation phase, again mirroring the rising thoracic diaphragm. The difference between the pelvic floor and thoracic diaphragm on each phase is that one contracts while the other expands. Upon inhalation, the pelvic floor expands eccentrically and the thoracic diaphragm contracts concentrically, and vice versa.
PELVIC FLOOR PLAY!
MOVEMENT SERIES #1
|1. ‘O’, Will the Real Body Landmarks Please Stand Up!
2. The Kegel
3. Pelvic Floor Play
4. Integrating the Pelvic and Thoracic Diaphragms through Respiration
5. Let’s Hop!
1) ‘O’, Will the Real Bony Landmarks Please Stand Up!
To help visualize the angle and shape of the sitting bones, join your thumb and first finger to create two circles, one for each hand. Then place both your thumbs and index fingers together so that you have two touching circles (the nails of these four fingers touch). The other fingers are extended to stay out of the way.
Then hold your finger circles up to your eyes, looking through the holes you have made, as if you have created owl eyes for yourself! Imagine these circles are your sitting bones, shaped like rings or O’s, with a hole through their middle, as this is the approximate shape of your sittingbones (see picture above). These holes are called the obturator foramen. You could blow bubbles through them! Imagine the contact point where your two hand-circles meet in the middle as the pubic bone and pubic symphysis.
While holding your finger rings together, point your elbows out and down along an oblique angle to the side. Imagine this inferolateral angle along your forearm to your elbow is the pubic ramus and the elbows are apex of your sitting bones. This is the real angle of your sitting bones (again glance at the picture). Notice that although you ‘sit’ on your sitting bones, they do not point straight done. First, they are angled outward, laterally. Second, rather than being little vertical nails or stilts, they are shaped like a rocking chair – sagittally – so that you can roll forward and back on them. (Between your two sitting bones at the back lies your triangular-shaped tiny tailbone.)
So let’s sit on our sitting bones on a firm chair…
- While sitting at the front of a firm chair, align your knees and feet with the approximate width of your pelvis or a bit narrower. Feet should be under your knees squarely on the floor so that your legs create an L-shape.
Sit ‘up’ on your sitting bones, rather than falling backwards. Now carefully pull the flesh of your buttock out to the sides. Then place your right palm on the back of the sacrum so that your third finger lies vertically down along your tailbone. Notice how small yet prominent your tail is! Then with your left other hand, place a few fingers on your belly button to slide down to the top ridge of your pubic bone. You have now located the four bony landmarks of the base of your pelvis and the attachments of your pelvic floor: two sitting bones, tailbone, and pubis. The pubis and tail an approximately level front to back, with the tailbone slightly lower.
- Now remove your hands to then place a few fingers under both sitting bones. Let your weight settle while seated. Remember, don’t fall back; sit ‘up’ on your sitting bones. Your fingers may be a bit tender so we won’t stay here long…
- Once you remover both hands, notice if one sitting bone feels more grounded and heavy in the chair than the other? Invite both sitting bones to spread and melt into the chair like soft goat cheese or warm water. Take a few large inhalations and let them out with a sigh, what we call a Ha Breath. (More on these wonder Ha breaths later!)
- From sitting up on your sitting bones, now begin to gently roll backwards towards the back end of the sitting bones, as if rocking backward on rocking chair legs. Then roll forward to the front of your sitting bones, gently forward and backward…forward and backward, a few times. Exhale backward; inhale forward. Notice the concurrent movement of your ‘entire’ spine. Gradually make the decision to find the middle point of this rocking so that you are up on your sitting bones and your lumbar spine has a gentle concave curve or lordosis.
- Can you now balance on top of your sitting bones with less effortless? Notice how in this ‘neutral’ position, some place, not too far behing or forward, that your spine lengths upward, ready for your day. Chest is light and open, eyes look forward. Imagine your upright spine as if it were the alert tail of a cat, naturally awake and suspended!
2) The Kegel: Finding Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
Perhaps the most familiar pelvic floor exercise is the Kegel contraction, which is taught to pregnant women and those with incontinence. For the following exercise, the feeling is one of “a gathering in and drawing up”, usually referred to as ‘squeeze and lift’. This activation is gently and sub-maximal effort so that only your pelvic floor muscles at the base of your pelvis contract.
*Avoid contracting your abdominal muscles, squeezing your legs together, tightening your buttocks and holding your breath. If any of these happen, start over and try again, with more subtly. Exhale to activate; inhale to release.
** You can play with these explorations from sitting or lying positions.
- Slow Contraction: Slowly contract in and pull up your pelvic floor as you exhale. Hold for a few seconds, then release slowly. Repeat a series of times.
- Fast Contraction: As you exhale, quickly contract your pelvic floor and then relax immediately. Repeat a series of times.
- Horizontal Components: On an exhalation, engage the horizontal components of the pelvic floor by gently gathering both sitting bones towards each other so that they press against the sides of the ball. Imagine ‘pinching’ the ball with your sitting bones as if you wanted to pick it up. Inhale to release and repeat this action a few times. Try to engage and release quickly, then do so slowing. Try a few each and then alternate them.
- Sagittal Components: Again on an exhalation, engage the sagittal components of the pelvic floor by gently gathering the public bone and tail towards each, decreasing the space between them. Imagine you are trying to stop yourself from passing wind and trying to stop your flow of urine mid-stream, at the same time.
- One Component at a Time: Try to activate only one component at a time. This exploration often exposes which area of your pelvic floor is weaker or stronger.
- The north aspect is the front part of the pelvic floor near the pubic bone. Imagine tying to stop your flow of urine mid-stream (front urethra component).
- The south aspect is the back component near the coccyx. Imagine trying to stop wind from passing (back/anus component).
Notice which one of these sagittal or north/south components are easier than the other. Now try once again to contract them simultaneously, activating them by thinking about gathering your front urethra/pubis area towards the back, and your back/anal area towards the front. Imagine shortening the distance between your pubic bone and tailbone.
- Try to contract only one side of the pelvic floor at a time. The left and right sides of the pelvic floor are next to each sitting bone. Then activate the left and right components simultaneoulsy, again to see if you feel any different.
- Whole Pelvic Floor: Finally, contract the north/south and east/west components of the pelvic floor simultaneously, drawing the pubis, tailbone and sitting bones towards centre as if puckering your lips!
By now, if you experimented with all or most of these above suggestions, so it really is time to take a break! It does not matter if you explore only some of the above suggestions, instead of them all. They are there to show you the possibilities available to you, and to help you become aware of the structure of the pelvic floor, as well as you ability to access it when needed. All mystery has been removed I hope! Feel just how large the base of your pelvis really is!
3) Connecting the thoracic and Pelvic Diaphragms through Respiration
Begin in Basic Starting Position: Lying on your back, bend your knees so that your feet are on the floor approximately sitting bone distance apart; arms by your side.
- Start with Just Breathing. Just a sit sounds, bring attention to your breath or notice that you are breathing. Sense how air travels through the nostrils, the two holes at the base of your nose. Concentrating on the sensation at the tip of your nose as the air enters and exits your body is one the easiest, most immediate and most powerful ways of initiating breath awareness.
Now sense how the air continues from the nasal holes along the nasal passages in your face, and then through your neck area, and into your chest. Sense/imagine the air moving deeply into the lungs and thorax as they expand like a balloon. Your ribcage will expand.
Feel and encourage the downward and outward movement of the diaphragm. Remember that as you inhale, your diaphragm will descend, widen and deepen.
- As your lungs fill, the diaphragm will gently compress the viscera (liver, stomach, kidneys, intestines, etc) below it. The ribcage will widen (horizontally; left and right), deepen (sagittally; front and back), and lengthen (vertically; up and down). We call this a Full-Body Breath or Three-Dimensional Breath (More on this later).
- As you exhale, let the air fall out, just send it out with a sigh, as if you are totally relaxed and just let go.
- Once you feel your nostrils tickle, lungs fill and diaphragm descend, bring your attention to your pelvic floor and sitting bones, way down there, at the base of your torso! Your pelvic floor and its four components will widen and descend as you inhale, and narrow and rise slightly as you exhale. See if you can synchronize and sense the coordinated movements of your diaphragm and pelvic floor!
- Now as you exhale, sense how the ribcage narrows when the diaphragm floats upward. Also notice how the pelvic floor narrows. Repeat this breath integration a number of times, sensing the movement inter-relationship between the thoracic and pelvic diaphragms.
From Just Standing (feet sitting bone distance apart, with arms hanging by your sides), imagine a long central energetic tube inside the length of your spine. There is one ring or circle at your pelvic floor, a second ring at your thoracic diaphragm, a third ring at your first rib (at the base of your neck). These imaginary rings co-relate with the three diaphragms of the body: 1) thoracic (respiratory) diaphragm 2) pelvic diaphragm, and 3) thoracic inlet. Add in a fourth ring at the top of your head, your crown and sixth chakra, to finish off the fullness of your vertical axis.
Now with your feet on the ground and head in the sky, let’s hop!
Clearly see and feel this tube inside your spine. Imagine the tube as air, energy, or light. Sense the inner rings traveling up and down the full length of your central axis as if massaging and shaping you with each breath.
- Now bend your knees so that your hips fold into flexion and your ankles fold into flexion as well. Make the knee bends small! Then extend your knees. Keep sensing the vertical streamline of your central tube.
- Try rising up on to the balls of your feet into relevé with knees extended, suspending for an instant on the balls of feet. Then come down, into a small knee bend again.
- Now visualize hopping, followed by just doing it. First visualize gently hopping off the floor a few times. With each hop, lift the four rings of your core upward with lightness. Feel how you are connecting your feet to the floor with each rhythmic hop, while also sensing the lightness of your hop as if lifting off the trampoline. Then try it!
- Eventually add a rhythmic ‘huh’ sound to each bounce as you land to help build in rhythmic breathing. Exhale to land inhale to hop. Connecting the movement to your breathing will help to activate and synchronize the diaphragm and pelvic floor movement.
- What is still missing? Well, with each hop think less about pushing your feet, in fact, do not push your feet into the floor (they will do anyway!). But instead bring all your attention to the base of your pelvis, the pelvic floor. Foat, lift, suspend your pelvic floor/pelvic base up to hop slightly off the floor, then land. See if ‘leading’ with your pelvic floor, as if a trampoline will help you lightly hop with ease.
Stop, stand, and Just Breath. Notice your enlivened Dynamic Stillness.
Gravity / Anti-Gravity Spring
We refer to the interplay between the downward force of gravity (i.e., receiving the weight of the body) and the upward impulse aka spring of the body (i.e., activating the weight of the body) as the Gravity/Anti Gravity Spring. ‘Grounding’ into the earth in order to ‘spring’ upward. p.s. the floor is your best friend!