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The link between stress, trauma, emotions and pelvic floor health

Now if you are a woman who has either prepared for childbirth or have had children you have more than likely heard something about the pelvic floor.

Or if you have read the “sex advice” section in popular women’s (or men’s) health magazines, you will undoubtedly have heard about the pelvic floor.

Kegels have been touted as the go-to exercise for a variety of common women’s health conditions “down there”

Strengthening your pelvic floor through kegels can help to:

  • improve sex

  • reduce urinary leakage with coughing, sneezing, or athletic activities

  • reduce urge incontinence and make it to the bathroom without leaking

  • help you have the strength to push during childbirth

  • Improve symptoms of lower back and hip pain

  • Improve symptoms of prolapse

This strengthening of the pelvic floor is great, for both women and men (yes, for the men reading this, you are not exempt from the benefits of a healthy pelvic floor) because you need both good strength and good endurance to have healthy pelvic floor function.

But...mainstream education around kegels has actually done us women a huge disservice in that there is SO MUCH MORE to the pelvic floor than just strength.

Many women actually carry too much tone, or muscle tightness within their pelvic floor. This tightness can be caused by stress, unresolved emotions, and trauma.

Tightness of the pelvic floor can lead to:

  • Pain with intercourse

  • Increased urinary leakage both stress and urge incontinence

  • Difficulty pushing your baby out during childbirth

  • Difficulty with constipation

  • Symptoms of vaginal heaviness or prolapse

  • Pain in the low back, hips, neck, jaw

So how can this be? How can kegels both help with urinary leakage but also cause urinary leakage? Help with childbirth but also hinder childbirth? Help with pain but also cause pain?

The three biggest misconceptions about the pelvic floor are that:

  1. Kegels are the end all be all for everything pelvic floor related.

  2. After vaginal birth all pelvic floor muscles will be weak and lengthened due to the baby stretching the muscles during labor.

  3. Following a cesarean section women don't need to worry about their pelvic floor health

For the purpose of our topic today, let's dive into this first misconception:

"Kegals are the end all be all for everything pelvic floor related".

This couldn't be more false.

The problem with kegels is that they help shorten and strengthen the muscles, when many women are already walking around with tight pelvic floors. Especially women who are struggling with anxiety, depression, pelvic pain conditions, PTSD, and many pain conditions.

Not only does the pelvic floor need strength and endurance, but it also, and almost more importantly needs length. And the ability of the pelvic floor to lengthen and release tension is not just a physical issue, the pelvic floor is intimately linked to our emotional wellness.

The pelvic floor is an emotional storage house for all our unprocessed stressors, traumas, and emotions. This happens on both an energetic and physical level. It's instinctual reaction is to tighten when we are faced with stress or threat. The imprints of these stressors or traumas get held within our bodies tissues, and often within the pelvic floor.

The link between the pelvic floor and the root chakra

If we look energetically from an eastern yogic viewpoint, the pelvic floor is associated with the root chakra. The root chakra or “muladhara” which lies at the base of the tailbone and perineum holds energy related to safety and security. This is the foundation from which we live our lives and when balanced helps you feel grounded and safe.

Physically the chakras are associated with nerve ganglia that emanate from the spinal column. The sacral plexus is the nerve bundle associated with the root chakra. The sacral plexus also controls pelvic floor muscles via the Pudendal Nerve. In addition to your pelvic floor, the sacral plexus also is correlated with function of the final ⅓ of the large intestine, rectum and anus. So if your nervous system is holding tension due to stress (physical, emotional, or energetic) you can have symptoms in these areas associated with pelvic floor tightness. (Think bowl dysfunction: IBS, constipation, loose stools, pain)

I highlight this to show you both the physical and energetic maps of how our nervous system connects to the pelvic floor. Especially as it pertains to feeling safe and at home in your body.

Speaking of safety- it is the role of the nervous system to determine if you feel safe or under threat. Your nervous system is constantly attuned to your environment and is looking for either signs of safety, or signs of danger. So when your safety and security is threatened, you can see how your pelvic floor will be the first to respond. When your resilience is lower or you have unprocessed stress and trauma you nervous system's resilience is lowered, meaning it takes less of a threat to disrupt your sense of safety.

For example, it's easier for you to snap at your husband or kids when they push your buttons when you are severely sleep deprived or feeling stuck in a hamster wheel with never ending to-do's.

Is your pelvic floor stuck in fight, flight, or freeze?

This also correlates with the physiologic changes of the fight and flight response that allows your breathing patterns and rate to change and blood flow to move into the muscles in order to escape from that “tiger”. And your nervous system doesn't know the difference between that “tiger” or the birth trauma, for example, that you experienced during your labour.

In addition, as women, we have suffered years of shame and trauma around our female anatomy. Whether that from a lack of proper sex education, body shame around image or weight, or more series traumas such as rape or abuse. These trauma’s get recorded and stored in the pelvic floor.

The beliefs and feelings that you carry contribute to your felt sense of safety and security, therefore also play into how you may hold tension in your pelvic floor. These beliefs and feelings can be passed down from generation, they could be yours, or they could be someone else's entirely. This is where the patterns of intergenerational trauma intertwines with pelvic floor health. These patterns too can be encoded in the tension patterns within your pelvic floor.

Your Pelvic floor health determines your whole woman health

As you can see, the health and vitality of your pelvic floor is essential for many aspects of our well being.

From physiologic processes such as peeing, pooping, and childbirth, to emotional states such as anxiety and depression, to physical states such as pelvic pain conditions, lower back, hip, neck, or TMJ pain, to your ability to feel pleasure and orgasm.

The health of your pelvic floor is a reflection of your embodied wholeness, your ability to connect to your feminine flow. It is a reflection of your family line, your past, and your present. And it holds the key to feeling like you are on firm and solid ground.

This is essential meditation for any woman preparing for childbirth, recovering from childbirth, or for anyone who feels disconnected from “down there”.

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