Your pelvic floor refers to the set of muscles around your bladder, bottom, and vagina or penis. They form a sling which supports your pelvic organs.
To feel your pelvic floor muscles, imagine that you are trying to stop the flow of urine (although to avoid bladder problems, you should not actually do this regularly). You can also try sucking your thumb!
Strengthening these muscles can help with incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and improve sex. Pelvic floor exercises are recommended throughout pregnancy and postnatally. We can all benefit by exercising our pelvic floors.
It’s not all about strengthening. We also need to be able to release our pelvic floor muscles to achieve balance. However, we don’t usually emphasise the release aspect in Pilates classes.
To introduce and practice the overall action of centring in which your pelvic floor plays a part, I often use the pelvic elevator exercise (available as an MP3 on my downloads page).
As you become stronger and more proficient at centring, you may find that the coordination of breathing, centring and movement while exercising, happens subconsciously. This is a learned skill, akin to the mirror-signal-manoeuvre sequence that seemed impossible when we first learnt to drive. In Pilates our aim is to for our muscles to work as much as needed but as little as possible. When you arrive at this stage, you should change your focus to reduce the conscious effort you make, so as to avoid overworking your pelvic floor, or any other set of muscles.
Doing Pilates exercises will help to strengthen your pelvic floor, but if you have a dysfunction, such as a prolapse or pelvic pain, you may need to do more. Create a daily routine to do your exercises at regular times, or link them to a task, such as boiling the kettle.
The NHS website has a page with some pelvic floor exercises. The NHS has also developed apps for women and men to get reminders and help with doing pelvic floor exercises.
Nuffield Health recommend the Squeezy app.
There is an excellent pelvic physiotherapy website at pelvicphysiotherapy.com which covers exercises for both release and strengthening.
There are gadgets available for women to help, try a search for ‘pelvic floor app and device‘.
To find out more, I suggest that you do an online search for #pelvicfloor (women), #nutstoguts (men).