When I was offered the opportunity to participate in a postpartum/pelvic floor yoga class presented by The Iyengar Yoga Center of Vermont, a little voice inside told me to DO IT.
I have never been to a formal yoga class, aside from maybe one or two here or there in college. I tend to be a homebody and am introverted by nature, so committing to a weekly class for eight weeks felt like a big deal to me. I didn’t know what to expect from the class either. Would everyone else have more experience with yoga, specifically Iyengar yoga, than me? I had never even heard of Iyengar Yoga until I learned of this class. The class immediately spoke to me, however, being that it was targeted towards postpartum health and people hoping to strengthen their pelvic floor.
Not only did I learn all about Iyengar Yoga and countless new techniques to help relax my pelvic floor, but I also felt empowered because I could do some of the poses that I didn’t think I would be able to achieve. I also met, and immediately connected with, an amazing person, the instructor, Rebecca Weisman.
After being pregnant and giving birth to two kids in less than two years, my pelvic floor was suffering.
Pain during intercourse and incontinence/leaking of urine when I coughed or sneezed were my biggest clues that my pelvic floor needed attention. Through my own exploration, I also discovered I have something called Diastasis Recti, which is a separation of your abdominal muscles that commonly happens during pregnancy. You may not know this, but your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are key to your core and can impact nearly every movement of your body. Given all of the post-pregnancy and childbirth symptoms I experienced, I opted to pursue pelvic floor physical therapy. Over the course of a year, PT helped me “get to know” my pelvic floor and identify areas that needed attention. I learned that my pelvic floor is incredibly tight (very common in those of us in the medical field or who are busy moms and have to hold our urine for long periods of time!) Since I had “graduated” PT (for the time being at least!) I was eager for the opportunity to try another way to explore and support my pelvic floor health.
Being a doula and a nurse, I feel very strongly that the pelvic floor is not discussed or addressed enough. I feel that everyone should be taught about their pelvic floor and the important role it plays in our day-to-day lives.
The pelvic floor is essentially a diamond-shaped bowl of muscles that span the bottom of your pelvis. This complex weave of muscles and tissue supports your internal organs as well as controls your sphincters that are critical for urination and bowel movements. It plays an important role in sexual activity and childbirth. The pelvic floor is similar to other muscles in your body in that you can, with practice, consciously control it and “train” it, as you can an arm or leg muscle.
The pelvic floor is crucial when it comes to pregnancy and the postpartum period.
One of the other things that drew me to the Iyengar Yoga class was the use of props, including (but not limited to) blankets, bolsters, blocks, belts, and ropes. I liked the idea of having these tools to help support me in my poses, as opposed to just needing to hold myself up. This isn’t to say Iyengar Yoga can’t be practiced without any of these things, it was just one of the things that appealed to me personally when exploring pictures on the Iyengar Yoga Center of Vermont’s website.
Iyengar Yoga focuses on uniting the body, breath, and mind through attention to alignment both inner and outer and the therapeutic application of yoga asanas (postures)… a safe practice that is appropriate for any body, regardless of age or condition.” The class description itself, “an 8-week course exploring the pelvic floor and gaining awareness, strength, relaxation, and healing…
When I arrived at my first Iyengar Yoga class, I didn’t know what to expect.
I always get a little nervous going somewhere new and needing to find parking and the correct room. (I know I must not be alone in this feeling!) Thankfully parking was easy and there were signs that directed me to the studio location upstairs. Upon entering the studio space, you remove your coat and shoes and leave them outside the classroom. A water carafe is available, as well as a locked storage cabinet to store any of your belongings you don’t want to bring into class with you.
When you enter the classroom, you are greeted by cheerful yellow walls and warm wood floors. Organized sticky mats, blocks, blankets, and bolsters make up one wall, while the other is lined with ropes suspended from the top of the wall. The class number is small and you sit in a circle, each on your own blanket topped mat. Sitting in a circle very much makes you feel equal and a part of the group, regardless of background or skill.
The main instructor, and Director of the Center, Rebecca, put together a wonderful packet of information to accompany/compliment the pelvic floor Iyengar Yoga class. The packet includes a bit of background about Iyengar Yoga and then covers numerous sequences of asanas (poses). Being one who has never liked exercise, and who is still sleep deprived from parenthood and busy life, the first set of asanas, “Restorative Asanas” is my absolute favorite. They focus on your breath, tuning in to awareness of your pelvic floor, restoration, and relaxation.
This concept is critical when exploring the pelvic floor and incorporating yoga into your support of your pelvic floor. My absolute favorite Iyengar Yoga asana (pose) is Supta Baddha Konasana. In this pose, you lay on your back with your arms relaxed out at your sides and the soles of your feet together. For me, with my super tight pelvic floor, this pose has helped me immensely in tuning in to relaxing my pelvic floor and incorporating my breath into aiding that relaxation. At the end of every class, we would be given “homework” or suggestions of things to work on. I have always been absolutely terrible with following through on non-mandatory homework, especially when it comes to things such as physical therapy exercises, or any exercise for that matter! There is just never enough time in the day (which I thought even before having kids -facepalm emoji-).
Supta Baddha Konasana (or variations of it) has ended up being one of the only poses I have been able to incorporate into my daily life (so far). My favorite time to practice this pose is at bedtime while I’m waiting for my kids to fall asleep. I lay in bed with a child on each outstretched arm and bring the soles of my feet together, taking slow deep breaths and focusing on the subtle movement, and relaxation of my pelvic floor.
Have you ever practiced Kegels?
This relaxing of the pelvic floor is essentially the release after you tighten your pelvic floor during a kegel. Kegels don’t work for everyone, including me, as they can make the pelvic floor less able to relax (which is my case- think of a really tired muscle, if overused and then triggered into use again, how that reaction time tends to be much slower. My pelvic floor stays tighter after a kegel and can’t fully relax without deep concentration and focused breaths).
The other thing I noticed with this pose isn’t directly related to the pelvic floor but has been a powerful mindfulness activity for me all the same.
Experiment by lying on your back (if you are pregnant take care to make sure you are comfortable, which may mean not being completely flat on your back) and bring the soles of your feet together. Relax back into the bed or whatever surface you are lying on and let your arms rest out to your sides, palms up. What do you feel in the soles of your feet? For me, I realized there is a particular heat and energy focused there. It has been interesting trying this with and without socks on. This sensation has been a neat bonus to discover, in addition to the ongoing relaxation efforts of my pelvic floor. The other sensation I feel when doing this pose is the spreading, opening, and relaxing of my pelvic floor, which is exactly what I am trying to achieve.
Throughout this 8-week Iyengar Yoga Postpartum and Pelvic Floor Yoga course, we slowly made our way through all of the different sequences of poses in the class packet. Along with the Restorative Asanas mentioned above, there are also Asanas for Pelvic Alignment, Pelvic Floor Tonifying Asanas and Pranayama, Standing and Seated Asanas, Standing and Beginning Abdominal Asanas, Abdominal Asanas, and Twisting and Backward Extension Asanas.
The different poses may sound confusing, but Rebecca guides you through each asana (pose) slowly and thoroughly and with great insight and compassion. It doesn’t matter what your experience level is or what the current state your body is. Rebecca meets you where you are at and is incredibly intuitive about your body’s unique needs. She can quickly identify areas of issue in your body by simply observing you move. I was blown away by her knowledge and intuition. I often found myself laughing out loud at some of her descriptive words (“puffing” and “pontoons” to name a couple) and her gentle adjustments to my poses made such a difference.
This class was a great learning opportunity in that it truly showed the meaning of meeting someone where they are at, which is key in all of my roles in life (mother, wife, doula, nurse).
Every participant in the class was able to achieve each asana regardless of ability, experience, or length of time postpartum. Rebecca helped each participant individually to modify and adjust their body as necessary.
It was empowering to be with the same group of women for the 8 weeks as each person’s strengths and weaknesses came out. Some asanas that were easy for some were not so easy for others, and vice versa.
This course was a great experience in pushing my body to do something that I hadn’t done before or even thought I was capable of doing.
One example of this was the first time I did an inversion. I had doubts that I would be able to do it and KNEW I wouldn’t have been able to do it a year ago when I was more freshly postpartum and my abdominal muscles were weaker. The moment I succeeded in doing it was awesome and I felt overjoyed to be able to do something with my body that I knew wouldn’t have been possible just months earlier.
Most days when I left the 2-hour class, I felt awake, alert, and mentally sharp. You don’t realize how fuzzy your brain is at times until you experience that alert awareness. My body would often be humming with a feeling of lightness, tingling, and warmth. This must equate to a “runner’s high” when all of the endorphins are circulating in your blood. I have felt this very few times in my life, so it was really interesting to walk out of this class experiencing these tremendous responses.
Another aspect of the class that I appreciated was learning about the actual anatomy and physiology of the pelvis and pelvic floor and how those relate to the rest of your body.
Meagen Satinsky, a pelvic floor physical therapist, joined us for several of the classes to help us understand the inner workings of our bodies. I appreciated this given my medical and birth work background. Handouts and hands-on exploration of our own bodies further enhanced our learnings of Iyengar Yoga and the pelvic floor.
If you have the opportunity to take this class, I would encourage anybody to do so- regardless of age, gender, athletic ability, or number of years postpartum.
Every single one of us has a pelvic floor and can benefit from getting to know it a bit better.
Rebecca and The Iyengar Yoga Center of Vermont meet everyone where they are at, not just in class, but also by offering financial assistance for those who may experience the cost of an 8-week course as a barrier. Her next Pelvic Floor and Postpartum Yoga class begin next week! It will run weekly on Thursdays 2-4pm, from March 5- April 30th. If you are interested in enrolling or would like more information, please contact Rebecca at [email protected]. I will be recommending her course to all of my clients from here on out.