“Engage your pelvic floor. Engage Mula Bhanda. Pull everything from the pelvic floor up and in.” At some point or another, you may have heard your yoga teacher say one (or all) of these during class, leaving you to think to yourself… engage my mulawhatta? The pelvic floor is a group of muscle fibers that support your pelvis including your pelvic organs (such as your uterus, vagina, bowel, and bladder). They run from your pubic bone at the front of the base of your spine and control when you urinate.
Even though we tend to take these groups of muscles for granted, as we get older (or have children), our pelvic floor muscles can become weak. This can lead to urinary incontinence, irritable bowel syndrome, lower back pain, prostate problems, and even pelvic organ prolapse.
If you’re still a little unsure about what I’m talking about, try this: For women, contract the muscles behind the cervic at the bottom of your pelvis. For men, contract the area between the anus and the testes. Once you practice, you’ll be able to hone in on the pelvic floor muscles specifically.
So why do we need to pay attention to our pelvic floor, especially in yoga? As a yoga teacher and student, I am always attempting to bring awareness to my body, especially to regions of my body I may take for granted. During class, when I ask my students to focus on their pelvic floor, I’m giving them the same opportunity, allowing them to become fully aware of this often overlooked area.
Whether we’re in Goddess squat or Warrior II, engaging the pelvic floor is often implied when a yogi asks you to “engage Mula Bhanda,” aka “Root Lock.” One of the three Bandhas (or locks) in your body that all combine to form the fourth lock (Maha Bhanda aka “Great Lock”), these locks serve as a way to bring energy into your spine instead of flooding out. Engaging these muscles also makes poses feel a bit lighter, allowing you to establish yourself in the pose and thereby receive additional benefits. Practicing Mula Bhanda throughout your yoga practice will also help you to activate your pelvic floor muscles during regular activities, from sitting to running and even playing tennis, allowing you to develop stronger muscles.
To get started, try these yoga poses which will help you not only find your pelvic floor, but also learn how to activate and strengthen it:
Standing at the top of your mat, step your right foot back about 4-5 feet, enough to square your hips to the long side of your mat. Make sure your front foot is facing forward and your back toes are facing towards the side of the mat. Your left heel should be intersecting your right foot’s middle arch. Spread your arms out in a “T”, with your gaze over your left middle finger. Now, without moving your feet, attempt to scrape your heels toward each other. You’ll feel everything activating from your feet through your pelvis. Play around with letting that activation go and then re-energizing it to get used to engaging your pelvic floor.
Lay flat on your back, knees bent, heels close to your hips and hip width apart. Place a block, thin side, or a rolled up blanket between your inner thighs. Begin to tilt your pelvis back and forth like a bowl. Imagine you’re tilting your pelvis towards your face and then back away from your face.
Sitting in a comfortable seat (if your knees are above your hips or your spine is rounding, sit up on a block, blanket, or bolster), begin to relax the shoulders and face as you close the eyes and lengthen the torso. Bring your awareness to your breath for a few moments. Then begin to notice the connection between your breath and your pelvic floor. As you breathe in, your pelvic floor widens and relaxes and as you breathe out, your belly hugs into your spine as your pelvic floor engages and lifts up. Keep lengthening to breath, focusing on lengthening the contraction and relaxation of the pelvic floor.
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