The Pelvic Floor in Yoga Asanas
The pelvic floor is an important and often overlooked part of the body that holds the abdominal organs in place. Often times the pelvic floor can be chronically tight and as we age, these muscles may lose their elasticity (especially if they are held in chronic contraction for many years on end). A host of pelvic issues may result, including incontinence.
In this yoga practice, you will learn to access the pelvic floor from the lower belly and begin to feel how the movement of the pelvic floor mirrors another muscular wall in the body, the diaphragm.
Sit comfortably with the legs crossed. Begin to breathe into the lowest belly, way down to the area behind the pubic bone. As you exhale chant UUU in a low pitch to activate the pelvic floor, repeat for 1 minute.
Begin watching the breath and imagining that the breath is like an elevator car. Where it comes into the nose is the penthouse and the pelvic floor is the basement of our imaginary building.
As you inhale, feel the breath move down the elevator shaft in the center of the body from the penthouse (nose) to the basement (pelvic floor). As you exhale feel the breath move up the elevator shaft from the pelvic floor back up and out through the nose.
Repeat this for a few rounds until it becomes comfortable. Then begin to add a slight lower abdominal contraction on the exhale only and notice if there is a corresponding lift to the pelvic floor.
When you inhale, make sure to completely relax the belly. The pelvic floor muscles should mirror the movement of the diaphragm. When you inhale, the pelvic floor and diaphragm both dome downward, and when you exhale they both gently lift toward the crown of the head.
Reclining Vinyasa I
Begin lying on the back with the legs straight and arms extended over the head, take an inhale to prepare.
Exhale and draw the right knee into the chest, holding it with the right hand.
Inhale and draw the right knee out to the right side with the right hand, left hand in cactus on the floor.
Exhale and cross the right knee over to the left side of the body with the left hand, right hand in cactus on the floor.
Inhale back to the center and extend the right leg up toward the ceiling, holding behind the thigh with the clasped hands.
Exhale, draw the right knee to the chest.
Inhale, extend the leg to the floor and the arms overhead.
Exhale, and repeat the entire sequence with left leg.
Lie on the back with a folded blanket under the sacrum. Draw the wide knees into the chest and hold behind the knees, keeping the ankles flexed. Inhale and straighten one leg out to the side, exhale and bend that leg. Repeat alternating sides for about a minute.
Cow: Begin on the hands and knees, toes pointed. Inhale and lift the sternum forward and drop the pubic bone back between the legs to arch the spine. Feel how the pelvic floor opens in this position.
Cat: Exhale and round the back and drop the head and tail bone towards the floor. Feel how the pelvic floor tightens in this position. Repeat with your breath 10 times.
Lie on the belly with legs together and toes pointed back. Bring your forearms to the floor with the elbows aligned under shoulders and forearms parallel to each other, palms facing down. Lift the sternum forward and up through the crown of head. If your lower back feels vulnerable, engage the belly away from the floor.
Do not contract the pelvic floor. Instead, see if you can return to the sensation of the pelvic floor moving down in inhale and up on exhale. Hold 5-10 breaths and release chest to floor with hands under forehead.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Begin on all fours with hands slightly forward of shoulders. Turn toes under and lift knees off the floor. Keep the shoulders wide and palms flat, press thighs and sit bones back, scooping the belly in.
Feel how the four bones of the pelvic base, the two sit bones, the pubic bone and the tail bone all reach up toward the ceiling. Hold 1-3 minutes, then release onto the hands and knees.
Begin standing with feet wide apart. Inhale and raise arms out to sides of body.
Exhale and bring your left hand down to floor, block or chair as you twist the torso to the right, grounding the left sit bone back.
Inhale, return to standing with arms out to the sides of body.
Exhale, and bring right hand down to floor, block or chair as you twist the torso to the left, grounding the right sit bone back. Repeat 5 times.
Bring feet hip width apart and bend knees dropping hips down towards heels.
If your heels are not able to come to the floor, you can use a folded blanket under the heels. You may also sit on a block for added stability. Place palms together at the heart in Anjali Mudra.
Lift the chest and relax the tailbone, feel the opening of the entire pelvic floor. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Ardha Navasana (Half Boat)
Sit on the floor with a block behind you on the mat. Lean back on the edge of the block and bring the feet onto the floor in front of your pelvis. Hold behind the knees and lift the feet off the floor by engaging the belly strongly.
Stay here or extend one leg straight, then the other leg, then both legs. Keep lifting chest and drawing the belly up and in. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
Lie on the back with knees bent and feet hip width apart. Inhale and lift hips away from floor, rolling onto upper back.
Place a block under the pelvis and rest the sacrum on the block. Turn toes slightly in and rest arms on floor with palms up. Hold 5-15 breaths and release.
Legs up the Wall
Sit beside the wall. Swing the legs up the wall as you lay back on the mat. Rest hands on the lap or belly, or place arms out to sides with palms facing up.
Rest at least 10-15 minutes, then roll over to release. The back should be relatively flat on the floor and the legs can be slightly bent, especially if the hamstrings are tight.
Cheryl found yoga in 2001 as a way to ease chronic back pain and became instantly enchanted by the subtle connections between the breath, body, mind, and emotions. She has trained with master teachers from Piedmont Yoga Studio and the Integrative Yoga therapy schools and she blends both traditional Hatha teachings and alignment principles with subtle energy work and healing. As a Yoga Therapist, Cheryl sees clients privately and has taught over 2500 public classes and workshops in studios and cancer centers around the Bay Area. She serves on the faculty of the Niroga Institute’s Yoga Therapy teacher training program, offers workshops and retreats for cancer survivors. She also conducts research on the benefits of yoga for reducing side effects of cancer.