Kegels- Common Myths & Best Exercises

People mistakenly believe that pelvic floor weakness only affects child-bearing women. However, women, men and even children can suffer from a weak pelvic floor!

Our current sedentary lifestyle is one cause of weak pelvic floors.

Since so many people suffer from weakness, it’s important that we learn how to strengthen the pelvic floor to prevent weak or hypotonic pelvic floor symptoms. However, when we complain of incontinence, we are given a simple prescription of kegels with no explanation or instruction.

KEGELS ARE NOT SIMPLE!

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Kegels are a complicated exercise. Done incorrectly, they can do more damage than good. And what’s worse, some people have TIGHT pelvic floors and shouldn’t do kegels at all! 

Basically, there are three types of pelvic floor dysfunction:

  1. Hypertonic – a TIGHT pelvic floor
  2. Hypotonic – a LOOSE pelvic floor
  3. Hypertonic AND hypotonic – One part of your pelvic floor may be too tight, while another part is too loose.

Before starting kegels, check out the symptoms below to determine if you have a weak or tight pelvic floor.

Hypertonic, Tight Pelvic Floor Symptoms

  • Most painful symptoms
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain during urination
  • Urge incontinence (difficulty urinating)
  • Difficulty initiating urination
  • Pelvic pain
  • Decreased libido due to pelvic floor tightness
  • Vaginal Pain
  • Difficulty with conception *this is a new finding and needs further research

Hypotonic, Weak Pelvic Floor Symptoms

  • Stress urinary incontinence (involuntary leakage)
  • Pelvic organ prolapse
  • Decreased libido due to weak pelvic floor muscles
  • Difficulty achieving orgasm due to weak pelvic floor muscles
  • Childbirth and a sedentary lifestyle can often lead to weak pelvic floor muscles, but not always! You can reverse this!

Remember, it’s first important that we end any pain symptoms before strengthening the pelvic floor. If you suffer from pain during sex or trouble urinating, you may have a tight pelvic floor. Check out this article on ways to end the pain and release your pelvic floor.

Once you’re pain free, start to strengthen the pelvic floor through various exercises and yoga poses.

Remember, a lot of people have hypertonic AND hypotonic pelvic floors. Your pelvic floor can be too tight in some areas and too loose in others. If this is the case, start with the pain free routine then add the strengthening exercises once you’re pain free.

If you suffer from severe pain, consult with a physical therapist that specializes in pelvic pain. She can perform massage and prescribe specific exercises tailored to your body.

3 MYTHS ABOUT KEGELS (and how to do them correctly)

MYTH: To perform a kegel, squeeze everything down there as hard as you can.

TRUTH: A kegel is much more complicated than this. To perform a kegel, sit down and visualize your pelvic floor as a bowl or sling. Just like in the picture below, gently pull this bowl up.

Gently pull up this bowl or your perineum (the place between the vagina and anus) and hold for 10 seconds. Release your pelvic floor for 10 seconds. Repeat 10x. If this is difficult at first, stick with the imagery and use your breath. Do not struggle and do not bear down. The releasing is just as important as the strengthening. You should never push down or hold your breath. Allow your breath to flow and engage just the pelvic floor.

MYTH: Everyone should do kegels.

TRUTH: NO! If you find that kegels cause pain or increased bladder or bowel frequency or urgency, stop! It may mean that the pelvic floor muscles are too tight. See a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor dysfunction and read this to gently relax your pelvic floor.

MYTH: To perform a kegel, act like you’re trying to stop the flow of urine.

TRUTH: Using the muscles to cut off the flow of urine only works ONE section of the pelvic floor, the urethral sphincter. If you’ve been practicing this way with no results, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Proper kegeling takes time, effort and a deeper understanding of the exercise. Read on to work the full pelvic floor.

HOW TO DO A PROPER KEGEL

Proper kegeling engages the pubococcygeous (PC) muscle. The PC is part of the levator ani which is part of the pelvic diaphragm. Basically, we are trying to engage all of the pelvic floor muscles, not just the urethral sphincter.

In yoga, we call this contraction mulabandha.

To perform mulabandha, lie or sit down. Then find your perineum, the area between your vaginal opening and anus.

Gently lift the perineum (the pelvic diaphragm), then lift the urethral sphincter (like you’re trying to hold your pee), then lift your anal sphincter (like you’re trying to hold your poop). Hold for 10 seconds, then release for 10 seconds. Repeat several times throughout the day.

This should all be very gentle. You shouldn’t be bearing down or gritting your teeth.

THIS IS NOT EASY!!!

It can be very difficult to control all three of these areas. It takes a lot of concentration, focus and visualization.

Don’t forget to release between sets! Doing too many kegels can lead to a tight or hypertonic pelvic floor.

As you become more proficient, advance to standing kegels. Then complete kegels while jumping, doing lunges, squats, etc.

BE PATIENT WITH YOUR BODY.

Your pelvic floor didn’t become weak overnight so it will take time to re-strengthen these muscles.

For you moms out there, your body is a miraculous vessel that created a human!!! That’s so freaking cool and amazing!! Don’t expect too much, rather stick with these exercises every day and notice how you slowly improve over time. Consistency is key!

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Yoga Teachers – Are you ready to help your yoga students Restore Their Pelvic Floor? Attend my online workshop – Teaching Yoga for the Pelvic Floor- to learn stretches and strengthening exercises for the pelvic floor. By the end of this workshop, you’ll have the tools to teach your own workshop or class series!

A Call for Change

Repost from Yoga International

Currently, instructors who lead Yoga Alliance 200-hour teacher trainings are not required to have any background in accessible yoga or adaptation. The only requirement is that the lead teacher trainer be a registered teacher with Yoga Alliance at the 200-hour experienced level (an E-RYT). This means that there are probably many yoga teacher trainers who lack knowledge in how to make yoga accessible.

At the present time, Yoga Alliance is undertaking a teacher training Standards Review Project. Many people within the accessible yoga community sincerely hope that Yoga Alliance will add the teaching of accessible yoga practice adaptations as a curriculum requirement for completing teacher training. The long overdue inclusion of this requirement is essential—not only to keep students safe, but to make practitioners of all abilities feel welcome in classes, both as students and as potential teachers of yoga.

Read the entire article here: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/the-need-for-accessible-yoga-in-yoga-teacher-trainings

Mandala Flow Yoga Sequence

As yoga teachers, we can get pretty burned out teaching the same flow over and over again. I mean, seriously, how many sun salutations can we teach in a day???? 

Our students can feel pretty burned out as well. Often, I see my students “going through the motions” rather than actually taking the time to mindfully move.

This Mandala Flow is super fun and breaks the rut for teachers and students!

HOW TO TEACH

This is a powerful sequence that you can teach as quickly or as slowly as you’d like.

I typically work through the full mandala (both sides) slowly the first round. This allows the students to learn what we’re doing, deepen into the poses and I can cue the kośa allowing them to experience more mental and emotional benefits (see below).

On the second round, we move faster, with our breath (see cues below). We may go through it 1-3 times depending on how everyone is feeling.

This sequence is challenging and powerful, not only for your students but for you as a teacher.

I usually demo while I teach this sequence to keep my Right and Left sides straight. On the first round, as you demo, move around the room so the class can see you. For example, if you ask your students to face the side wall, then you move to the side wall so they can see the next few moves. When they face the back wall, move to the back wall so they can see the form for a Warrior III.

On the faster rounds, you won’t have time to move around the room so keep it easy and demo and cue from the front of your mat. Make sure to keep your Right and Left sides straight!

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

Change up this mandala flow to make it your own. Sometimes, I add a Goddess pose instead of Wide Leg Forward Fold. Sometimes, I add a Balancing Half Moon or Warrior III squats to increase the intensity. The options are endless! Just make sure your sequence creates a circle around the mat.
When you teach this sequence in your next class, tell me how much your students love it by tagging me on Instagram! Have fun ya’ll!

As yoga teachers, we can get burned out teaching the same flow over and over again. This super fun Mandala Flow breaks the rut for teachers and students!

CUES WITH BREATH

*note: This is just an example. Feel free to move and cue with your own breath.

Mountain Pose

Inhale arms above head

Exhale Forward Fold

Inhale Half Lift

Exhale Forward Fold

Inhale step left leg back, pause for an exhale

Inhale rise up to High Lunge, pause for an exhale

Inhale straighten front leg

Exhale turn to the side into 5-pointed star

Inhale deeply and exhale into Wide Leg Forward Fold

Inhale twist to the right, exhale fold

Inhale twist to the left, exhale fold

Inhale rise up

Exhale twist to the back of your mat

Inhale arms up

Exhale Left High Lunge

Inhale fully

Exhale hands to heart

Inhale lift the back leg off the ground

Exhale Warrior III

Inhale fully

Exhale Forward Fold

Inhale step left leg straight back, pause for an exhale

Inhale rise up to High Lunge, pause for an exhale

Inhale straighten front leg

Exhale turn to the side into 5-pointed star

Inhale deeply and exhale into Wide Leg Forward Fold

Inhale rise up

Exhale twist to the front of your mat

Inhale Left Warrior II, exhale pause

Inhale Reverse Warrior II

Exhale flow through a vinyasa

Repeat on the other side

CUING THROUGH THE KOŚA’S

Allow your students to move beyond the poses and into the mental and emotional aspects of the practice by cuing through the kośa’s. Click here to learn about the kośa’s.

  • I love teaching this sequence because it allows the students to experience a change in perception. Have they ever noticed the back wall? What else are they missing in life that is “right behind them?”
  • People in the back row suddenly get to experience life in the front row (and your front row people learn about life in the back). Encourage your students to think about other areas of their life where they may need a change in perspective.
  • When your students turn to face the back wall, challenge them to listen to your cues rather than watch your demo. Ask them questions about how well they listen in life. Can they hear the cues or are they easily distracted?

What’s It All About?

Please note the ideas in the following article may not reflect the opinion of YTOC. These are my personal insights, shared by my dear friend Pat Hansen and other yoga teachers.

Yoga Teacher
Registered Teacher
Certified Teacher
Yoga Stretching

What is in the Name, the Words, the Essence of Yoga? ? ?

So much is currently happening in the yoga world. Studios are popping up all over the Denver Metro area. More and more people are becoming teachers. With all of the rapid growth, what is happening to Yoga?

Last year someone told me their girlfriend went to work at Recreational Center in Denver. Her first assignment was to teach a yoga class. When she responded that she had not studied yoga, the Director of the Center responded, “Go in and do some stretching, no one will know the difference.” I personally gasped at hearing this story.

A couple days ago, I received information on a program program offered in Denver that allows people to do a sixteen hour training, teach eight hours and receive a Yoga Teacher’s Certificate. I am very concerned.

The Yoga Alliance worked diligently for several years deciding on how to define “minimum standards” to be considered a Registered Yoga Teacher. Representatives from thirteen different schools and yoga organizations (including YTOC) gave input. The standards include study in the following areas: 30 hours in Yoga Philosophy and Lifestyle, 20 hours in Anatomy and Physiology , 20 hours of Teaching Methodology, 10 hours of Practice Teach, 30 Elective hours and most important 100 hours of Techniques which include asana, pranayama and meditation.

Can someone without this much training teach yoga? Yes. Should they be able to call themselves a “registered” teacher? No. Should they be able to call themselves “certified?” I don’t know. Certified has two meanings. The first is to “prove by certificate.” This the person has done — they have completed what the organizer presented. The second meaning of certified is “guaranteed, reliably endorsed.” Would I consider someone with a minimal amount of training “reliably endorsed?” No, I cannot say I would “reliably endorse” a teacher with only a sixteen hour training.

Why all the training hours? I feel there is a dramatic difference between yoga and just moving into the position of a pose (which I am going to language as stretching for this article). I feel in a short training, stretching is emphasized more than yoga. It is the position they are teaching. The difference in a yoga pose and merely stretching is more than the Spiritual component. It includes — well, let me be specific:

oYogasana focuses on a single, comparatively slow contraction of isolated muscles followed by relaxation. Stretching is often a repeated, sometimes vigorous succession of contractions and expansions.

oToning and strengthening in yogasana comes from the consciousness of working specific intrinsic muscle groups in a sustained manner. The purpose of stretching is more frequently used to balance an aerobic or weight workout or lengthen muscles after they have been challenged.

oYoga isolates muscle groups and draws the practitioners attention to relax muscles which do not pertain to the asana. Stretching is often more focused on the goal, rather than the details. How often in life do we flex into something we don’t need to be concerned about? Asana becomes a practice of identifying the priority muscles (life experience) and letting the other muscles(and life experience) go.

oStretching is not normally organized in a sequential format to balance the external and internal bodies. Yoga is taught in a format to work the body thoroughly, both externally and internally.

oThe slow gradual movements of yoga places no strain on the heart. Strenuous stretching can strain the heart.

oStretching focuses on attaining an external goal. Yoga is an experience of the journey. Often, when we attain the “goal,” we discover an internal fine tuning which invites us to explore the asana with a different perspective and alignment.

oYoga is as much about mobility as flexibility. Tuning into the interconnectedness of all parts of the body enhances both mobility and flexibility. Stretching, with the goal of only flexibility in a specific position, can compromise mobility in other movements. An example of this is working a forward bend to touch the toes, often straining the hamstrings and psoas, limiting motion in other movements. Yoga would explore the forward bend from the lengthening of the low back and gluteal muscles supporting the elongation of the psoas, creating a stable core and more mobility.

oYou can’t stretch and already tight muscle. In stretching, reaching for a goal creates a tightness of the muscle. Yoga uses the integration of breath to massage the muscles, softening the tissues of the body and inviting the continued elongation through gentleness. Our bodies like gentleness.

oStretching works the skeletal muscles. Yoga works the intrinsic muscles, organs and glands.

oStretching and exercise is often presented in a competitive format. Yoga emphasizes tranquility, harmony and no competition.

oStretching is designed to balance the physical. Yoga is designed to effect the mental and Spiritual.

oThe whole theory of yogic anatomy, balancing the nadis, chakras and the inner body is a concept foreign to the fitness world. The integration of inner flow of yoga empowers the asana practice.

oAsana is defined as “sthira sukham asanam,” a steady comfortable position. The definition includes a steadiness of body, breath and mind. Stretching does not include this perspective.

oBreathing practices, or for more advanced practitioners, pranayama, are integral to yogasana practice. I personally teach “breath proceeds movement.” The breath opens, massages and aligns the body, preparing it to move into expressing the asana. Stretching does not emphasize an integrated breath.

oYogasana is about accumulating energy rather than spending energy. A practice properly done allows a practitioner to walk away feeling like they have added energy. Stretching can leave a person feeling they have expended energy.

oRelaxed efficiency is another way to define the body process of a yogasana practice. Yoga is not about cooling down after a workout. It is more than an alternative to a workout. It is a practice for living life, relaxed and efficient.

oYoga is an analogy for living. If we are competitive on the mat, we are probably competitive in other areas of our life. If we are judging ourself, we probably do this in life. If we nitpicking our poses, we probably nitpick our life. Stretching misses the vital opportunity to enhance self awareness.

oRama Jyoti Vernon said, “When you put away your practice mat, your true yoga begins.” Yoga goes beyond the mat. It is more than stretching, it is an opportunity to gain tools to live your life fully. The other day a student came up to me to share how yoga made a difference. She realized she had a rock in her shoe. She was excited because she actually felt her feet. More important, rather than ignoring the rock (which she would have done at one time) she stopped and took the rock out! Silly? No. She was willing to honor her body! Do you? Do you even feel it? The awareness of yoga invites you to listen and take care of yourself so other things you do become an overflow.

Understanding how the body is impacted anatomically and in the subtle body are essential. Yogasana are powerful. I have made myself sick from improper choices of asana and pranayama. A teacher needs to be able to evaluate the students and adapt the class to create safety for the students. Stretching classes do not emphasize the power to honor the moment.

In the Puranas, it is said, “Shiva manipulated his body into 840,000 ways, each represented a different bird or beast. These asanas, energized the body, revealing the pulsating animal instincts within, the ones that have to be brought under control.” Merely moving into a position does not necessarily open the door for someone to bring their instincts under control.

The many points listed above are elements you can’t pick up in a short training. They come from learning to be present for yourself, practicing and fine tuning each asana until they become second nature. The many “hours” of training, whether done through a professional program, or through your own life experience are a key to Yoga.

Have you been inclusive of the “whole” of Yoga in your training and teaching experience? Are your students learning to stretch or are they learning the depth and breadth of yoga? How do you define yourself — a Teacher, Registered or Certified? How do you feel having people listed as Certified teachers with only a sixteen hour training plus eight hours of teaching?

How can we keep the integrity in Yoga?

 

This article was first published in 2010.

The Inner Process of Asana by Mukanda Tom Stiles

Yoga training is accomplished largely through repetition of poses. By going into and out of the same pose or motions within a single pose repeatedly, the spectrum of feelings that range from comfort to discomfort becomes sharper, clearer. Through developing discrimination to the subjective signs of comfort and steadiness, ones inner experience begins to reflect this during asana practice.

A deeper meaning of asana is through the contemplation of the root of the word. It can be broken down into three component parts — as “to breath”, sa “to put it together with” and na “eternal cosmic vibration”. Rama Jyoti Vernon, co-founder with Nancy Ford-Kohne and myself of American Yoga College, interprets this to mean “breathing and becoming one with the eternal cosmic vibration”. When directed in this manner, through the process of yoga posture with breathing a path to put yourself together with the Eternal becomes available.

At the same time the student trains herself to become aware of the external space the wave breath (Ujjaye Pranayama) is occupying. At this point we’re aiming for a breathing pattern that is becoming even between the upper torso and the abdomen. When true comfort and steadiness of the body posture is maintained, the breath will also be fully smooth and “comfortable and steady”. When the awareness can be held constantly during asana practice then the Classical Yoga training is beginning to unfold. It unfolds more easily provided the student and teacher spent time reflecting upon Patanjali’s chapter II sutra 46-47 which define yogasana. Each of Patanjali’s phrases is a practice which deepens what went before. My interpretation, recently published in India, is as follows :

46. Yoga pose is a steady and comfortable position.

47, Yoga pose is mastered by relaxation of effort, to create a lessening of the natural tendency for restlessness, and identification of oneself as living within the infinite stream of Life.

Out of this process, naturally the next phases begin. Provided the student is aware that this is the transition point to the inner yoga, that is. Often students make the mistake of being distracted into coming out of the poses too soon. What is the end of the asana training is the beginning of the next stage or limb (anga) of Classical Yoga. The next phase marks the transition to what is called the inner yoga or raja yoga. Provided the student has read thoroughly and understood the chapter on Classical Yoga, this instantly becomes a training of the senses (pratyahara) and mindfulness (dhyana). This point is the doorway to the inner yoga (called Raja Yoga), in that the senses are being focused to a point which in turn reins in the wandering nature of the mind.

At the second level of training the student is becoming steady at holding a posture and learning cues of how they become stressed uncomfortable or unstable. Success is not about ending this cycle but rather to lessen the natural tendency for instability and restlessness. Using the steady rhythmic motions of a vinyasa sequence can modify this training. At the same time the breath is being trained to maintain an even rhythm (sama vritti pranayama). In this phase of training, the force and duration of the inhale is equal to that of the exhale. The sensory and mental training can be steadied through focus on one sense, such as in the method of fixing the eye gaze (see the chapter on purification exercises) upon an attractive external object such as an attractive tree, picture, or yogic art (yantra).

On the third level the theme is “relaxation of effort”. The student is asked to discriminate between overexertion and lethargy to discover the sense of “right effort”. This is in keeping with the philosophy of the sister science of yoga, Ayurveda.

“Ayurveda’s rule is that you should never exert more than half your capacity.” Robert Svoboda, Prakruti, pg. 107)

At the same time in breath training the student is learning to define her capacity, the quantity of deep breathing sustainable without stress to the heart, so that heart rate and blood pressure remain fairly constant. Through this process the senses and mind is brought to a point sharp attention so that their duality can be perceived. They are indeed separate and distinct functions, though for the untrained they appear to be simultaneous. Through this training the mind is beginning to be held by the attraction to the object of focus while the sensory input is re-directed, withdrawn from outer objects.

The fourth level is characterized by contemplating the stream of inner bodily sensations. Through this process what begins as isolated places of feelings, such as the contrast between warm hands and cool feet, begins to move into a sense of the body as having tides or streams. Through practice the sense of the body as a series of streamlets becoming ponds becoming streams becoming lakes becoming rivers becoming a sea becoming an ocean until there is a continuum. The result is an awareness of no distinctions within or without, a state of serenity yet detachment. In this stage, the breath spontaneously becomes still. No effort is made to quiet the breath nor is there anxiety about it becoming still. The senses melt into the inner sensations of connectedness that may be flowing outward to the perceptions of the world. The inner world’s connectedness may also be seen in the external world. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm.

In my practice of yoga I direct my awareness to either the specific naturally arising place of feeling or if I’m working with the Structural Yoga process of correcting my imbalances then I hold my body in such a manner that stretches a specific muscle. Either method acts to take me through the sequence of inner events described by Patanjali.

When I hold a pose too long I will tend toward experiencing a trance and may become “spaced out”. Holding the pose for the subjective feeling of a “right” amount of time, it produces a state of mindfulness, characterized by alertness and insight. I find that if I go too much to either extreme of stretching a clearly defined muscle too long or not enough then I loose the “relaxation reflex” . The same is true if I’m focused upon strengthening a muscle.

By contemplating the ideals of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, I find that disciplining for a specific point of concentration leads naturally to a doorway into whole body awareness. A sense of feeling myself evenly in all places simultaneously. This process creates a harmony that lingers for sometime even if only one pose is practiced. It is of much greater duration with regular practice and continuous contemplation of the Sutras with asana practice. This leads to a natural spontaneous mindfulness meditation. By encouraging this process in myself and in other yoga students, I’ve found a clarification of formerly puzzling sections of Patanjali’s Classical Yoga guidelines. Through regular practice of this process I’ve experienced abundant insights into myself. I find that this has been the key for my daily learning from my practice. I keep a journal beside me as I practice to save the insights that arise.

Experiences of this depth remind me that the body-mind is meant to be trained as a vehicle for experiencing the connection between not only the separate parts of myself and also provides a way to open insight into the connectedness of all life.

Namaste
Mukunda

 

This article was first published in 2009 and is still relevant today.