Today I went for my first Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy assessment.
I think the physiotherapist was a little curious as to why I was there. Usually she treats women who are pregnant, postpartum, having some sort of pelvic pain or a prolapse. I let her know that I had no children and was simply there to learn more about my pelvic health. I told her I was willing to bet that I had hypertonic or “tense” pelvic floor muscles because I’m always holding in my stomach muscles.
Here’s a little bit of background on myself. I grew up around artists. My parents are both singers and very creative individuals. Growing up I watched my dad sing on stage and my mom lead the soprano section in her choir. Seeing my parents perform instilled the performer in me, and for as long as I can remember I’ve been moving my body and speaking in front of crowds.
In high school I started to teach fitness classes, dance classes and off ice training to figure skaters for the Town of Georgina. I took this leadership/teaching role very seriously and thought (at 16 years old) if I didn’t “look the part”, nobody would want to learn from me. Insert my slight obsession with fitness and negative thoughts towards my body. This was the beginning of what I like to call my TIGHT TORSO PROBLEM. Having a “tight” and trim body is usually thought of as a fabulous thing. Turns out that’s not necessarily the case.
FUN FACT: I used to perform 1000 crunches before bed because I thought that having rock hard abs was the most important thing on earth. (I was inspired to do this because Usher did it while he went on tour, to keep fit.) Crazy, right?
Fast forward…to when I was accepted to York University’s BFA Dance program. It was during these 4 years that my “tight torso problems” got worse.
In an effort to “look good” in dance class, I’d pull my stomach in to hold myself together. I started to notice that breathing became a challenge – both in and outside of the studio.
My breathing felt limited, as if it was stuck and I could never understand why I couldn’t take a FULL breath. During class I could perform multiple pirouettes, do the splits, balance on one foot and have so much control over my body, yet I couldn’t figure out my damn breathing.
I felt restricted, as if I was trapped in a box and couldn’t get out.
Every day left me feeling frustrated, dizzy and constipated.
It wasn’t until I became a Pilates instructor that I really understood the mechanics of breathing.
When you inhale, your diaphragm should expand, dropping down towards the pelvic floor allowing air to fill your entire rib cage, and as you exhale the diaphragm should lift back to its resting position. If you constantly “suck in” your tight torso, these breathing mechanics can’t work properly.
Today my pelvic physiotherapist explained the importance of having a functional pelvic floor and asked me to breathe for her. This instantly triggered tension and anxiety in my body, as breathing has always been a very hard task.
She encouraged me to lift a raisin from my urethra, then a golf ball into my vagina and lastly a marble into my rectum (all common cues for contracting the pelvic floor muscles). We discovered that my PF muscles were working optimally, not too tight and not too weak (yay!) but my problem stemmed from the constant tightening, and ‘holding in’ of my abdominal muscles. I needed to learn how to let go. Tight doesn’t mean functional.
As I was laying on the exam table in my Pelvic Physiotherapist’s office, it hit me: The reason I’ve found it so hard to breathe all these years is because I’ve been pulling IN my abdominal muscles too much. Could it really be something as simple as this?
Was holding in my stomach, trying to “look the part” stopping me from getting a full breath?
I was tightening my abs so much that my diaphragm and pelvic floor couldn’t work together properly. I was squishing my internal organs, not giving them the room they need to function. Because of this I’ve had lower back pain, problems with constipation, mental issues, body issues and bloating.
Here’s what I learned from that pelvic physiotherapy assessment:
- You can’t fully contract a muscle, unless you can fully relax a muscle.
- You should be able to contract your pelvic floor without the help of your abdominal muscles.
- Sucking in, and wearing your pants too tight can do more damage than you think.
- Pelvic health means something different for everybody. Some women need to engage more, whereas I needed learn how to release the tension.
Pelvic floor physiotherapists are SO knowledgeable and I would highly recommend seeing one if you’d like to get to know your body and want to get serious about strengthening your core from the inside, out.
I left my appointment with some homework…(for my body and life)
LET GO (of my stomach, and the things that don’t matter)