Winter has arrived in Ireland: it’s been a week of mostly grey skies and whipping wind. There are lots of toasty days by the fire to be enjoyed now, listening rain lash against the roof as I watch the wild dance of the silver birch trees outside.
Turbulent weather does not last the full day, so there are plenty opportunities for walks too. I notice how some trees are shapeshifting into spindly, skeletal versions of themselves. Others still display of shock of mustard-yellow leaves that appear stark against the sky, especially on dull days.
This season is all about relaxation, melt in the mouth slow-cooked meals, and soothing the central nervous system. It is cold, of course, and in these temperatures some women feel that they need to use the loo more. In my yoga classes this week we focused on pelvic floor strengthening.
THE PELVIC FLOOR
The pelvic floor muscles span the bottom of the pelvis and support the pelvic organs (bladder, bowel, and uterus). These muscles control the release of urine, faeces, and flatus (wind). They also allow us to delay emptying until it is convenient.
Usually, the pelvic floor muscles wrap firmly around the passages to help keep them closed, and when we need to hold or ‘to go’ we can contract and relax the muscles. Controlling bladder and bowel movements is not the only purpose of this group of muscles: they also assist with sexual function. It is important that we exercise them.
If they are weakened, problems can occur with bladder and bowel control so it is crucial to tend to the pelvic floor muscles.
BENEFITS OF PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISE
- improving bladder and bowel control
- reducing the risk of prolapse (in women)
- increased social confidence and quality of life
- better recovery from childbirth and surgery (in women)
- better recovery after prostate surgery (in men)
- improved sex life.
In 2018, for the first time ever, the impact of yoga on women with a mild degree of prolapse was investigated. Researchers found that three months of certain yoga techniques reduced dependence on pessaries, surgical interventions, and its associated side effects. The women involved in the research were aged between 20 and 60 years of age. They stopped taking medication as part of the study.
It’s about time! Women deserve more focus when it comes to health. The history of medicine is a patriarchal cesspit. As just one small (but lethal) example, 70% of chronic pain sufferers are women, yet most of the studies on chronic pain have been conducted on men. And mice. In other words, women, when diagnosed correctly or incorrectly, have been given a lot of medication that was made for men.
If you have concerns about your pelvic floor or any other physical issues, see your doctor. Next I will share a list of symptoms that should not be ignored.
While it is true that stress is a major cause of discomfort, a woman’s pain can also be due to rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, chronic migraine, cervical cancer, or sex-specific diseases like endometriosis.
Do not put off seeing your GP to seek diagnosis and to put your mind at ease if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding. For example, bleeding between your periods, after sex or after the menopause
- Abnormal vaginal discharge that may have a foul smell
- Discomfort or pain in your pelvis
- Pain or discomfort during sex.
TO SUM UP…
To sum up, taking care of our pelvic floor muscles can support better bladder and bowel function and contribute to a more fulfilling sex life. Yoga supports a stronger pelvic floor and it helps in cases of mild prolapse. Pain or discomfort in the pelvis should not be ignored. It is super-important to see a doctor if you have ongoing pain or discomfort.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this post if you find it helpful. Wishing you well for Winter,
Hunskaar S et al (2000) ‘Epidemiology and natural history of urinary incontinence’. Int Urogynecol J Pelvic Floor Dysfunction.
Continence Foundation of Australia.
Laura Kiesel (2017), ‘Women and pain: Disparities in experience and treatment‘ Harvard Health Publishing.
‘Symptoms and diagnosis of cervical cancer‘, The Irish Cancer society.
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