Women's pelvic health and yoga
The pelvis is...what?
Despite common misconceptions, the pelvis is responsible for a great deal of activity. The pelvic floor consists of the abdominal muscles and the muscles that attach to the pelvic bones. The pelvis and the organs located there are also influenced by the deep stability muscles that run through it. There's a lot to process and feel.
In addition to the two pubic bones (connected by a thick connective tissue called pubis synthesis), each human is born with two ilium bones and two ischium bones, for a total of six pelvic bones.
The pelvis, girdle, or bowl is made up of a total of six bones until puberty, at which point they all fuse together. The sacrum connects the appendicular skeleton to the axial skeleton (the skull, spine, sternum, and ribs). The five bones that are fused together to form the sacrum are situated between the coccyx/tailbone and the lumbar spine.
On average, the female sacrum is narrower and shorter than the male. Women typically have wider and larger pelvic bones than men. The male pelvis is higher and the male iliac crest is higher than the female pelvis. This explains why women generally have a lower centre of gravity, better ability to support a growing organism, and more propensity for sacroiliac joint instability. This lower pelvis can also contribute to the challenge of pelvic lift in arm balances and inversions in yoga.
The effects of tense hip muscles on sexual liberty
Most people's thoughts turn to the pelvic floor muscles when they think about pelvic muscles (see below). All the muscles attached to the bones of the pelvis* play an important role in stabilisation, support, and freedom — or, on the flip side, tightness, weakness, instability, discomfort, and/or pain — but we rarely investigate and gain a deeper understanding of this.
The illiacus, rectus abdominus, and transverse abdominis are the anterior abdominal muscles. Muscles of the sacrum, multifidus, quadratus lumborum, gluteus, adductors, and hamstrings are located at the back of the body.
The piriformis muscle is a common source of pelvic discomfort and instability. This external rotator of the hip originates in the sacrum and serves to connect the femur to the hip and pelvis. In its tightened state, it induces an external rotation of the femur. When the thighbone (femur) is set in a neutral position, the sacrum is pushed forward to accommodate it.
As a result of this constant tension on the sacrum, the SI joint can become unstable, resulting in discomfort and even pain. When this happens, the pelvis can rotate, and the opposing muscles can tighten and atrophy. The resulting chain reaction causes health problems both above and below the pelvis. The lumbar region, hip flexors and rotators, the abdominals, and other structures may be impacted.
Training the hip to externally rotate the femur at a young age, as seen in ballet, gymnastics, and soccer, can lead to tight piriformis muscles as an adult. Some other causes of a tight piriformis include pregnancy, childbirth, and the habit of favouring one leg over the other. Extremely deep knots and tension can be worked out with tennis ball massage or by folding forward in Pigeon posture.
Muscles of the pelvic floor
The female pelvic floor houses three orifices: the urethra, the vagina, and the anus. Men have two sexes. Women often have weaker pelvic floors and more unstable sacroiliac joints than men, and this is a major contributing factor. One anatomical difference between sexes is that women naturally have a larger, wider, and more oval pelvic inlet (the area between the pubis, the two ischium bones, and the coccyx). Males have a narrower, heart-shaped pelvic inlet and closer together ischium bones. As an additional factor, pregnancy and childbirth can weaken the muscles supporting the pelvic floor.
The reasons why we should take it easy when practising Mula Bandha
When we think of our pelvic floor muscles being weak, we are usually imagining them to be tight. This can happen for a variety of reasons, from a minor fall while riding a bike or on a see-saw as a child to a severe one involving menstruation, urination, or sexual assault.
Tight muscles, no matter where they are, need to be stretched and relaxed before they can be activated and engaged to strengthen them. For this reason, we shouldn't overuse the root lock (Mula Bandha), which involves a literal and metaphorical lifting of the pelvic floor. Instead, you should reserve Mula Bandha for times when you need to actively strengthen and elevate the muscles of your pelvic floor. If possible, do this after you've already tried out some yoga or other exercises that target the pelvic floor muscles and help to stretch and relax them.
Reconstruction of the Pelvis
Constructive resting position: lie on your back with your arms at your sides and your feet hip-width apart on the floor, knees sagging gently toward each other for comfort. Because the thigh bones are resting in an internally rotated position, the deep external rotators, of which the piriformis is one, can unwind. The sacrum slides into place between the ilium after the ischium bones gently spread apart to make room. Upon entering the position, it is time to engage the muscles at the base of your pelvis. Relax into each breath, gently expanding as you inhale and gently contracting as you exhale to bring your lungs closer to your body. No need to force or over-exaggerate the Mula Bandha; it occurs naturally and subtly with each exhale.
Supta Baddha Konasana: Bring the soles of your feet together and bend your knees so that your shins form a 90 degree angle with the floor. Feel free to place blocks under your knees for support. Tension and tightness in the inner thighs can be relieved by striking this pose (adductor group). Here, visualise the pelvic floor muscles opening and contracting gently, like a lotus flower that unfolds during the day and closes at night.
Bridge with block between the knees: Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Stick a cinderblock in the space between your thighs. Your arms are at your side, palms down, fingers pointed toward your heels. Press down through arms, hands and feet as you tuck your tailbone under and lift the hips up into bridge posture, keeping the block between your knees. Lift your hips with an inhalation, and then squeeze the block as you exhale. The inner thighs, lower abs, and pelvic floor muscles will all benefit from this exercise. Allow yourself to roll down one vertebra at a time after taking 5-10 deep breaths.
Wiper Blades: Holding the block between your knees, begin rocking your knees from side to side to wipe the windscreen (like windscreen wipers). The SI joint and outer hip muscles will receive a light massage, and the femur will be gently rotated internally and externally (thigh bone). At the same time that it gently activates the inner thighs and pelvic floor, it also relaxes and releases tension in the hips and buttocks. After 10 or 15 seconds, the rocks go back to being neutral. Take the weight off your back and get back into a Constructive Rest Posture or a Supine Bound Angle.
Happy Baby: Draw your knees up to your chest and squeeze them together for the "happy baby" position. Hold the outer or inner edges of your feet (or ankles/shins if that's more comfortable) and flex your feet so that the soles are facing up. Very slowly and gently, rock from side to side across your SI joint and buttocks. This position is excellent for massaging the pubis, ischium, and coccyx as well as opening the inner thighs. Your ischium bone attachment muscles can be stretched further by alternating between a straight and bent knee position (hamstrings and adductor magnus).