When I think about when and how my “pelvic floor journey” began, I laugh…because THAT is exactly what I was doing when I truly knew that something was not right ‘down there’.
My two daughters and I were visiting some friends and having a ball jumping on their trampoline when I noticed that I was peeing myself a little. This was common. I normally peed a little when I coughed, when I sneezed, when I jumped…
I ignored it and called my friend up to join. “Are you kidding?”, she replied indignantly. “My kids wrecked me! There is NO WAY you would ever get me to jump or I’d be in a puddle!”
I paused and felt a wave of sadness. She would never get to jump with her children and experience the feeling of flying through the air and hearing her kids laughter simply because of the fear of peeing herself!
It was a call to action. I needed to investigate. Something was seriously wrong and she/we couldn’t be alone. How many other moms (or anyone else) out there were missing out? Or, like myself, choosing to join in at the cost of wetting themselves?
I must now let you in on a little secret. I am a Pilates teacher and had been teaching by that point for three years. I decided to enroll in a post-natal teacher training workshop at Body Harmonics where I learned that Diastasis Recti, a “separation of the abdominal walls”, could be one of the causes for incontenence and pelvic floor dysfunction. It turns out that I had one left over from the births of my children. I was alarmed and ashamed.
My next step? I decided to see a Pelvic Floor Specialist at the Proactive Pelvic Health Centre in Toronto. It was here that I learned to “deconstruct” and slow down my current, full-speed-ahead Pilates cues and pay attention to the muscles at work (or not at work!)
I learned that there are “hypertonic” (too toned) and “hypotonic” (not toned enough) Pelvic Floor muscles.
I learned that some women (myself included) LOSE the usually-instinctive pelvic floor contraction called “The Knack”.
She taught me how to consciously engage my Pelvic Floor muscles (“Think of your vaginal walls like an elevator stopping at the “8th floor”, hold, then fully release…”).
She reminded me of the “inner unit” muscles that I learned about in my training at Body Harmonics (diaphragm, multifidus, and transversus abdominis) and working them “in conjunction” with the Pelvic Floor muscles.
She guided me through the foundational Pilates exercises and manually palpated (internally) to check the level of engagement my muscles were making while performing them.
It was painfully-slow work. And very, very intimate…
I transferred my findings into my classes both as a student and a teacher. About a year later, I found that I was “leak-free” because of the following actions:
1) I slowed down my thought processes in my classes to allow space for me to recruit the “inner unit” muscles to the best of my ability. The Pelvic-Tilting warm-ups are great to awaken these, as well as the breath cues.
2) I read Katy Bowman’s book “Diastasis Recti: The Whole-Body Solution to Abdominal Weakness and Separation”. I learned that rib- popping is a major contributor and applied the cues “Puff out the back ribs” and “Anchor the ribs on the carriage” whole-heartedly into my Mat and Reformer practices. I still do and always will.
3) After I “lift my Pelvic Floor”, I try to remember to always “fully release”, as it is just as important.
4) I always back off of Ab Curls and/or Planking if I feel any tugging or discomfort from my diastasis recti. They need to be “worked up to”.
5) And of course, I always pause before I sneeze, tell myself to “hike up my Pelvic Floor” and then fully release. It works. For coughing too. And trampolining.
And the journey of discovery continues.