What are the Pelvic Floor Muscles? And where they are in the body? Why it is so important to maintain them strong and flexible? Is it important for both men and women? And how we should keep them strong? Or-Yah Avni tells the story of this important muscle.

The pelvic floor is important for body centering, for maintaining a feeling of being carried, for the connection with gravity, and for our perception of the ground. An elastic, powerful pelvic floor has an important role in the health of the sexual organs. The free flow of their energy has essential effect on our well being and vitality, as well as on the way we our tackle daily lives.

Unless and until you have been pregnant, you had probably never given your Pelvic Floor Muscles a second thought. However, once you are pregnant, you start to hear words like – pelvic floor, kegels, perineum, and prolapsed organs to name a few.

The pelvic floor is made up of a layer of muscles and tendons forming a hammock that attaches to the bones of the pelvis in the front, back and sides and which supports the organs in the pelvic cavity. In women, these muscles actually encircle the 3 sphincters – the urethra, vagina and anus (The perineum is the area between the vagina and anus). Men have only two sphincters.

The Pelvic Floor Muscles have 2 main functions:

1. It supports the inner organs; and
2. Maintenance of continence as part of the urinary and anal sphincters.

The pelvic floor has other duties, too. It is the “antagonist” of the important breathing muscles (the diaphragm) and their functions support each other. In fact, the pelvic floor plays an important role for the coordinated triggering of almost all movements, as well as for balance and good body posture.

Like any other muscle in the body, the longer the muscle is, the weaker it gets, and therefore, weak Pelvic Floor Muscles will result in incontinence (eg. when we sneeze or cough), prolapsed organs , poor posture, back problems and imbalance.

For both man and women, the factors that may weaken the pelvic floor muscles are:
• Some prostate gland surgery;
• Continual straining to empty your bowels (constipation);
• Persistent heavy lifting;
• A chronic cough (such as smoker's cough or chronic bronchitis and asthma);
• Being overweight; and
• Lack of general fitness.
For women, there is another factor –when we become Pregnant, the problem increases ( …or I should say is ‘stretched’). During Pregnancy, these muscles bear considerable strain as the weight of the uterus grows. During delivery the muscles of the perineum stretch tremendously. A strong pelvic floor is more likely to stretch than tear, and release behind the baby‘s head during delivery. It will also return to its pre-pregnant state more quickly after birth.

How to exercise the pelvic floor muscles?

Where is it? As I had mentioned earlier, we are talking about the muscles that stop the flow of urine and bowel movement (by the way, these muscles also enhance sexual sensations!). They are internal, and when we exercise them, no muscle contraction should be observed in the body. The muscles of the abdominals, back and buttocks should be relaxed.
1. To find the muscles that control the urine flow: When you are passing urine, try to stop the flow mid-stream, then restart it. (Only do this to learn which muscles are the correct ones to use. )
2. To find the muscles that control your anal sphincter: Tighten the ring of muscles around the anus as if you are trying to control bowel movement. Then relax it.
3. (Women only) To find the muscles that control the vagina – concentrate on the vagina area (middle sphincters and try to contract and lift it as if you are closing the petals of a flower.
Practice these movements several times until you are sure you are exercising the correct muscles. Try not to squeeze your buttocks.
How? How often and how much?
Repeat each set twice a day.

Set 1:
• Tighten and draw in strongly the muscles around the anus and the urethra all at once. Lift them UP inside. Try and hold this contraction strongly as you count to three- five then release and relax. You should have a definite feeling of 'letting go'.
• Repeat ('squeeze and lift') and relax. It is important to rest for about 10 seconds in between each contraction. If you find it easy to hold for a count of five, try to hold for longer - up to ten seconds.
• Repeat this maximum of 10-15 squeezes.

Set 2:
• The Lift - imagine you have 3 floors in your body. First is the pelvic floor, second floor is above the pubic bone and your navel as the third floor. Start to activate the pelvic floor slowly, a little each time, and visualize the muscles and inner organs rising up, like an elevator, to your navel. Release the muscles gradually, going down to the second and then first floor.
And what about the breathe?
It is recommended to exhale and activate the pelvic floor muscles, as this will help to maintain the Intra-Abdominal Pressure, which helps to increase stability of the spine. However, you are welcome to inhale and activate the pelvic floor muscles as well, in fact, try to do both, to challenge your mind as well.
One important note – It is not good to have a pelvic floor that is too strong. The sphincter muscles will not be able to relax and release, and problems may arise, such as constipation and passing urine. So when you exercise, bring your awareness not only to contracting, but also to releasing the muscles.

You can exercise these muscles sitting, standing or in any other position such as when you sit at your desk, read a book, driving, or waiting for the train. No special room, equipment or time is required, so no excuses!!!!

Author's Bio: 

A former dancer, Or-Yah Avni (Ory) studied in NYC at the professional Trainee Program at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. She participated in dance projects as well as with her own choreography and performed in various projects including HATCH of Jennifer Muller, The Field, NYU andmore. Her deep interest in different body-mind techniques has led her to continue deepening her education and she completed her yoga training at the Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in NYC and her Gyrotonic certificate. In 2005 Ory founded the first Pilates studio in Thailand, bringing this wonderful method to the Thai people. Ory is a Pilates teacher trainer from the PhysicalMind Institute. The Institute has the distinction of being one of the world’s foremost authorities on Pilates. Or-Yah uses her deep knowledge of various dance and body-mind techniques to create well-structured and organized classes, emphasizing technique and art and incorporating flowing movement, breathing work, and fun. For the past 11 years, she has been teaching in New York, Tel-Aviv and Bangkok.