Do I have a weak pelvic floor or a strong pelvic floor?
And you might be surprised by the answer.
So let me start by explaining that there are actually two ways a pelvic floor can be weak.
Firstly, there is a loose pelvic floor.
It’s so loose that it’s lost the ability to naturally contract to perform some, or all, of its functions.
You may have heard this referred to as a hypotonic pelvic floor.
Maybe this weak pelvic floor (or hypotonic pelvic floor) has come about as a result of living a sedentary life, or because you’ve just never paid this area any real attention.
Or perhaps it became weak after a birth or multiple births.
In birth, everything can get stretched to the point that it loses its elasticity and has no bounce back, becoming rather lax.
Being overweight can also lead to a loose, weak pelvic floor.
The other type of weak pelvic floor – which might surprise you – is a tight pelvic floor.
This is commonly referred to as a hypertonic pelvic floor.
It’s where the muscles of the pelvic floor become so tense they’re unable to relax.
An overly tight pelvic floor can be considered a weak pelvic floor in disguise.
Yes, maybe you’ve devoted a lot of time to working out your lady parts, and it feels strong, but that supposed ‘strength’ is built on tension as opposed to healthy tone.
One of the things that creates this tightness – or tension – is working the pelvic floor in a really intense way, such as vaginal weight lifting, or doing lots of Kegels, or marrying strong Kegel-like exercises with strong full body workouts.
If you look at the anatomical structures of the pelvis, the vagina isn’t designed to be lifting weights!
It’s also not meant to be squeezed to the point of exhaustion.
These kinds of approaches can put so much load – so much pressure – on the internal structures, that they become weak and prolapse.
I see this happen all the time to clients who’ve taken a really strong approach to their pelvic strengthening practices.
If you wear a Jade Egg around, this can also build tension in the pelvis.
You see, if you already have tension in your pelvis – and just so you know, the majority of women are holding some degree of pelvic tension – you’re putting your vagina in a constant state of contraction.
Constant contraction builds more tension!
So wearing the Jade Egg – thinking this is helping you – in most cases, is counter productive.
At most you would want to wear the Jade Egg for an hour a day, and only after a committed practice where you’ve spent a significant amount of time releasing tension in the pelvic area, before starting your gentle vaginal strengthening exercises.
Otherwise you’re simply building tension upon tension.
That is really really important.
OK, so we know that a weak pelvic floor can come about in two different forms.
Let’s now look more deeply at the second one.
Why is a tight pelvic floor a weak pelvic floor?
Let me answer that for you, using the analogy of a skyscraper…
In order for a skyscraper to be a safe structure, it needs to be able to move.
It needs to be flexible enough to withstand high winds.
In a well designed, stable structure, the different parts work together to balance out the pressure.
If you have a rigid structure that has no give, then a few elements have to bear all the stress, eventually causing those elements to weaken.
The same principle applies to the vertical structure that is our body!
Ideally, our bodies are stable and flexible, but when certain muscles are too tense to do their job properly, other muscles are forced to pick up the slack.
You see, tense muscles – muscles that work hard without adequate rest and relaxation – are not strong muscles.
Tense muscles are weak muscles, especially when it comes to the pelvic floor.
Many women have been taught to do dozens upon dozens of pelvic squeezes – tightening tightening tightening – thinking they’re building strength, when what they’re really building, is tension.
They go to a pelvic expert and they’re told they have a hypertonic pelvic floor, which as I mentioned, is another word for an overly tight pelvic floor.
In order to tone your pelvic floor, you need to balance any contraction with a full release.
You can’t build strength in a tense muscle.
You need to start with a relaxed muscle.
Yet for most women, their muscles are already tense before they do the contractions, and then they start doing a million-and-one contractions only focusing on the ‘squeeze’.
You have a tense muscle.
You tense it more and more.
What do you get?
A super tense muscle.
Is that a strong muscle?
There is a misconception that a tight pelvic floor is a strong pelvic floor.
Just think about it for a moment.
If you’re really tense in an area of your body, it constricts your blood flow to that area.
Constricted blood flow leads to organs, muscles and connective tissues missing out on vital nutrients.
For it’s our blood that oxygenates and carries vital nutrients to all our organs, muscles and connective tissues.
If the blood can’t get to those organs, muscles and connective tissues, how do they stay healthy?
Their oxygen and nutrient supply has been cut off, or at best limited, and as a result, those organs, muscles and connective tissues start to weaken.
See how the tension creates weakness as opposed to strength?
If you’d like to learn more your connective tissues (or fascia) and how that is effected by the Jade Egg, you can read my blog: Fascia, Chi and the Jade Egg.
Ok, so you heard me mention how most women have some tension – some tightness – in their pelvic floor.
Why is this?
Because how we breathe is directly related to the health of our pelvic floor.
The diaphragm moves down, massaging the pelvic floor, helping to oxygenate it on the inhale, and then as we release the breath, the diaphragm moves out of the way, so the pelvic floor is free to move back up into its natural dome shape.
This is what happens when we breathe well.
But what happens when we hold our breath due to stress or anxiety?
The pelvic floor cannot perform this full movement that keeps it flexible, toned and active.
In Eastern traditions, the pelvic floor is known as the root chakra – it’s where we tend to hold fears – specifically fears around primary instincts such as our health, our family’s safety and our financial security.
It’s where we process emotion and it also houses our fight-or-flight reactions.
In this way, the pelvic floor is one of the body’s primary stress containers.
When you receive bad news for example, this can cause an unconscious reaction, where you clench your pelvic floor.
This keeps the pelvic floor in a permanent contraction.
Maybe you get cut off while driving on the way to work, and this causes you to unconsciously hold your breath.
You arrive at work and you have this urgent deadline you must meet and so you run around shallow breathing.
Then you need to pick up something heavy or do strenuous physical activity and you forget to breathe.
All this breath-holding and inability to breathe deeply enough to allow the pelvic floor to explore its full range of motion, impacts the pelvic floor.
It gets locked in contraction.
But the pelvic floor is NOT designed to remain in a constant state of contraction.
It’s designed to engage and release to support our movements, our breathing, our digestion, reproduction and so on.
If the pelvic floor remains contracted for long periods of time, this creates tension.
The tension grows.
And as a result, the pelvic structures grow weaker.
As the pelvic floor grows weaker it becomes unable to perform its important jobs.
Over the years the pelvic floor loses its range of motion, tone and flexibility, resulting in a weak pelvic floor.
It loses its ability to maintain stability in the body, it starts to struggle to open and close the sphincters at just the right time when we need to pee and poop (resulting in incontinence)..
Because it’s not performing its jobs properly, the other muscles and ligaments of the pelvis try to pick up the slack, and then they get worn out, leading to organs starting to fall out of place (what we call prolapse).
Sexual pleasure is also impacted.
Our body, now out of balance, starts to sustain little injuries.
Your back starts to hurt.
You get a bung ankle, because your alignment has been thrown off.
And so on it goes.
We exercise hard, we do our Kegels, thinking they will help, not realising that because there is no focus on releasing the tension, we’re actually doing ourself damage.
And so the side-effects of a weak pelvic floor get worse.
Your pelvic floor muscles should contract when you cough or bounce on a trampoline, to stop any leakage.
Ultimately any muscle that does not perform its job properly is a weak muscle.
It’s just that it may be weak because it’s too tight.
Not because it’s too loose.
Does that make sense?
Loose muscles and tight muscles are both weak muscles.
And you may be too tight on one side of your pelvic floor and really loose on the either side.
This can happen due to our cultures addiction with sitting on a chair with one leg crossed over the other!
If you have this habit, please stop!
You’re only hurting yourself (and your precious pelvic floor).
You’re creating an imbalance in how the structures of the pelvis interact with each other.
So stop sitting with one leg over the other, start breathing full breaths into your belly AND give up the Kegels.
Oh, and get your anxiety under control.
(If you need help on the anxiety front, check out my blog: Get rid fo anxiety in 2-minutes flat here).
If you’re experiencing pelvic and bodily issues it could be because you have a weak pelvic floor which has been disguising itself as a strong pelvic floor.
Tight doesn’t equal strong.
This is an important distinction.
The only way to get a strong pelvic floor, that has a healthy range of movement, is to begin by releasing the tension first, and only then, begin a practice that involves a gentle squeeze that’s married with the breath, and that’s followed up with a full release.
When you take this approach, then your pelvic floor can begin to recover.
Yes, what your pelvic floor needs, is some loving attention.
When we start to bring awareness to the pelvic floor, we can start to get a sense of what state it’s in.
And from there we can use the breath to lengthen the pelvic floor and let go of tension.
This often requires you embracing the idea that ‘letting go’ can create a different kind of strength.
A healthier kind of strength.
For instance, in childbirth yes you need a toned pelvic floor, but that tone needs to be elastic like a trampoline.
It needs to know how to completely release and let go.
There’s no way that you would get a baby through a super tight pelvic floor.
It’d kinda be like trying to get a baby through a brick wall!
Do you have a weak pelvic floor?
Well, only you can explore that.
But if you experience any pelvic pain, bodily issues, incontinence or the infamous fanny farts, then yeah, maybe you have a weak pelvic floor.
Yes, vagina farts are a sign of a lack of tone in the pelvis, just in case you were wondering 🙂
And if you tend to be anxious a lot, chances are there is some unconscious contracting going on, creating a tight, but weak pelvic floor.
Whether the tight pelvic floor is causing the anxiety, or vice versa, who knows!
But it’s known that women with tight pelvic floors tend to experience more anxiety.
If you’d like to learn how to release the tension from your pelvic floor while at the same time building healthy tone, so you can have a full functioning pelvic floor, then I invite you to join me in the Yoga for the Vagina online series.
You’ll learn how to activate your pelvic floor in a way that supports your whole being, so you can move through life with far more ease.
This is a brilliant program if you have pelvic floor issues, and especially so, if you have sustained post-birth injuries.
By the way, if you haven’t read my blog: The Pelvic Floor demystified, please check it out, as it will give you the foundational information you need to understand your pelvic floor.