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To paraphrase Richard Feynman, “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.” Yet, to then paraphrase Temple Grandin, I think in pictures.
This provides a bit of a challenge to write about what I have learned this month. I can start off with sometimes generalizations and colloquialisms are not useful. Take the term I have been using for years, “pelvic floor”.
"Some sources do not consider "pelvic floor" and "pelvic diaphragm" to be identical, with the "diaphragm" consisting of only the levator ani and coccygeus, while the "floor" also includes the perineal membrane and deep perineal pouch. However, other sources include the fascia as part of the diaphragm. In practice, the two terms are often used interchangeably." - Wikipedia
I learned there is a difference between the pelvic floor and the pelvic diaphragm! I learned that what I had thought to be the skill of “pulling the blueberry up the straw, exhaling with the exertion” isn’t the whole story for most of us. I learned that frequently other muscles in the neighborhood are activating instead of the pelvic diaphragm and, in the process, preventing full range of motion of the body.
Why should you care about all this anatomy geek stuff? Because not a single one of you came to Aspiration Community Yoga for a playdate in the sandbox. To a person, you came with a complaint of something bugging you- usually physical body, a few emotional or mental processes that you heard yoga would help with, and some even recognizing the three are of one in your being.
Because with our current state of social distancing you need to practice on your own. As Denise Benitez once said during one of my teacher trainings, “in the privacy of your own pants”, this is a strength, breath and mental practice you can do LITERALLY anywhere, anytime. Well, maybe except when you’re asleep, unless you are really good at Yoga Nidra.
Although Kegel exercises themselves are simple, finding the right muscles to exercises isn't. One-third or more of women and men who do Kegels are actually working their abdominal, buttock, or inner thigh muscles. They don't reap the benefits of the exercises. – Health.Harvard.edu
In an effort to meet Feynman’s measure of understanding, I will use Grandin’s process with the intent of making corrections and refinements to what I’ve been teaching these past several years. Here are some pictures and specifics:
To paraphrase Anna B Hammond, PT and co-teacher of the course I am taking:
Do you feel like you bear down with that inhale? You want to make sure that only about 10% of your inhale is going down and the rest is going into your back and sides. If you feel too much breath going down into your pelvic diaphragm and not enough on your sides/back then you need to focus more on work to release sides/back to create a more balanced inhale. You can also feel the insides of your hip bones and try to direct the air out to the sides there rather than all down. If you don't feel your breath go down at all and have fear of breathing down, then it could be that you're actually constantly clenching your pelvic diaphragm to protect it which would put you in the tight but weak camp where you'll need to learn to let go first.
Even when we are breathing under a brace your belly will extend a little just like pelvic diaphragm will lengthen some but most of the breath going into back and sides. That’s when it’s fun to apply deep breathing to a plank and feel the quiver like you never have before.
Being able to breath under a brace which is our eventual goal. So, you will be eccentrically loading abs as they inhale to help make sure you don't let it all go and lose your support. Cueing to aim more breath into the back is great. If you don't get the 360 breath and send the breath down then, you will fall into a shallow breathing pattern which isn't sustainable or dynamic.
“The action of slowing or stopping the flow of urine may be used as a test of correct pelvic” floor exercise technique.”
For me what was most surprising and illuminating was the news that yes, this is nominally a Kegel exercise, whether you are male or female. I was surprised that done correctly allows the glutes to soften and lengthen, allows the hip flexors to soften and bend. Not surprising, is the activation does not happen in isolation. When the levator ani moves, the “abdominals” (ugh — using a general term here in the interest of not losing you in anatomy speak) also move, as do the shoulder blade stabilizers and the vertebral stabilizers. They, in turn…. You get the idea, I hope.
Under load– meaning when you are bent halfway over, lowering your body onto a chair or car seat, walking up or down stairs, lifting a heavy bag, placing a jar on the high shelf, being pulled by a critter at the other end of a line or leash, could you “stop the flow of urine” in all these activities?
You may sense that the pelvic diaphragm doesn’t move at all, or not much. It may be in a constant contraction– always tight. It may be super relaxed. It may even just be right in the middle, reluctant to either relax or tighten.
In the privacy of your own pants, get to know the sensation of activating those muscles with out any load, without needing to go pee. Then sense around the glutes, the hip flexors, the area below the belly button and above the pubic bone, from hip crests to the center, and from the lower front ribs to the hip crests. What else do you sense engaging and letting go? What doesn’t engage or let go?
There’s no magic yoga wand or fairy godmother that’s going to tap you and make your troubles go away. The something bugging you– whether the physical body, emotional or mental processes that you heard yoga would help with, will only get different by building awareness of what is currently happening in there. After that you can decide whether this offering was of benefit and to be pursued further or whether to set it aside. Let me know how it goes.