[Yoga Series #3] Engage the Pelvic Floor for Spinal Health

When we talk about pelvic floor muscles it is usually relating to urinary and sexual health, pregnancy or post-partum issues and problems. But actually the pelvic floor is also fundamental to our spinal health.

ID-100197696The deepest muscles of the pelvic diaphragm run from front to back (pubic joint to coccyx). The more superficial layers are those including the anal and urethral sphincters. During yoga the focus should be on engaging the deeper fibres which encourage an upward motion of energy, permitting the diaphragm to lift the base of the rib cage forward.

I have a tendency to over extend my lumbar spine and stick out my bottom: this isn’t good for spinal health, and my yoga journey is now showing me this.

To be able to flex the lumbar spine, the psoas, abs and pelvic floor must concentrically contract. So my natural tendency to over-extend, in combination with attempting postures of deep lumbar-flexion (for example a standing or seated forward bend) without engaging the core muscles properly will lead to pain. Combine this with other personal issues such as emotional stress and poor posture during work (treatments, sitting at desk, driving) has led to much discomfort.

In yoga there are three main diaphragms (pelvic, respiratory and vocal) which come together in movements that are coordinated with inhaling and exhaling. These coordinated actions of the diaphragms (in yoga these are known as “bandhas”) create more stability in the body, protecting it from injury by redistributing mechanical stress.

For example, when performing a forward bend, if the thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities are not supported with the breath, then there is no single centre of gravity. This puts extreme pressure on the posterior spinal muscles with a pivotal point in the lumbo-sacral junction, which is vulnerable to damage (exactly where my back pain has been!)

Have you ever reached or bent over to do something and automatically held your breath? The body does this to try and protect our spinal structures.

Actively employing the breath which engages all three diaphragms including the all important pelvic floor muscles, offers the spinal column complete support during a forward bend, by centering gravity in the pelvis, legs and feet, and allowing the spine to relax and allow in space. Remember – build the foundation! This is explained beautifully in [1].

In understanding this during the yoga practice, as well as daily activities, I have managed to reduce my lower back pain considerably. As always, stepping onto the yoga mat takes us on a journey inside the body.

For some fabulous diagrams of the pelvic floor muscles see [2].

[1] Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff, Amy Matthews

[2] http://www.dailybandha.com/2015/05/the-pelvic-floor.html

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist, promoter of healthy living and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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