When it comes to pelvic floor health, popular culture focuses heavily on kegels. And for good reason! All human beings have pelvic floor muscles that stretch from your pubic bone to the tailbone, and encompass your sits bones, as well. For those with female sex organs, they also support the bladder, uterus, and bowel. Keeping this muscle group strong is important for a number of things, like improving core strength and stability (and posture), easing chronic back, hip, and neck pain, and helping you manage anxiety and stress (a major mood killer). And it can kick your sex life up a notch, because a stronger pelvic floor means stronger, more powerful orgasms.
But did you know kegels are only part of a pelvic floor training program? And that too much pelvic floor clenching can actually make your pelvic floor weaker? Being able to find a full relaxation of these muscles is just as important as finding a functional contraction (kegel) because our muscles are only as strong as they are pliable.
How To Properly Kegel
First things first, let’s make sure you’re executing your kegel in the most efficient way possible. Contrary to popular belief, a kegel is not just squeezing your pelvic floor, it’s also lifting it. Because this is such an internal muscle group, it’s not easy to understand what proper contraction is supposed to feel like. Knowing what it’s not can be helpful in your trial-and-error process of figuring it out.
A kegel is not squeezing your butt muscles or clenching your abs. Yes, there will be some co-contraction with the abs because your pelvic floor is actually your most important core muscle. But done correctly, you won’t feel a pushing out on your low belly when you draw the pelvic floor up and in; you’ll feel a subtle corseting sensation around the waist. Try laying a hand on your belly and hugging the abs away from your hand while lifting the belly button up towards the sternum. You also don’t want to squeeze your butt because then you’re compensating with your glutes and pelvic floor isn’t getting in on any of the action. It’ll take some practice, but see if you can flex through the sphincter without squeezing the cheeks themselves.
To find the right sensation, sit cross-legged on the floor, adding a cushion underneath your hips if they’re tight so that your knees are not higher than your hips and you’re able to sit comfortably on your sits bones. Visualize a tissue spread flat on the floor/cushion underneath the pelvic floor on the inhale, and as you exhale imagine drawing the tissue up inside you. For female genitalia, that will feel like you’re sucking it in with your vagina, and for male genitalia, it will feel like a “nuts to guts” lift. Another visual that works really well for those with vaginas, is to think of a straw in your vagina, and try to contract around the straw and also suck fluid up it at the same time. You can even build this practice into your self-pleasure time by experimenting with inserting a finger or your favorite Dame toy (I like the Arc!) and seeing if you can draw it inwards with the vaginal muscles.
Pelvic floor control helps you pay attention to your bodily sensations, which is a powerful sensual experience in and of itself.
To condition these muscles fully, you’ll want to practice quick pulses of contraction and slower holds so that you’re building strength in both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. This’ll improve not just your ability to manage urine urgency, but also prevent surprise leakage with laughter, sneezing, or high impact exercise.
How To Effectively Release The Pelvic Floor
In addition to engaging and lifting, the letting go portion of the exercise is crucial. Think of how your arm responds to a bicep curl: if you only pulsed in and never fully extended the arm straight, you’re missing the eccentric, or lengthening, portion of the movement entirely, and will end up with a charlie horse or lots of tension there. Your pelvic floor muscles are the same—too much squeezing or compensating with other muscle groups can build up tension that weakens the pelvic floor (and your orgasm) over time.
Thankfully, releasing your pelvic floor is as simple as taking a deep breath. I know we all love to brag about how stressed we are, but it’s not doing your body (or your mental health) any favors. Think of your pelvic floor as a very intuitive stress ball. We tend to hold our breath and grip our core when we get into the fight-or-flight state, because it feels protective over the most vulnerable region of our body. Three dimensional breathing not only loosens tension in the neck, back, and pelvis but it also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which makes us feel safe to relax.
To take a three dimensional breath, you want to imagine sending your inhale not just into your chest or belly, but also to the sides of the ribs and the backs of the ribs, so you’re not increasing intra abdominal pressure that pushes on the pelvic floor. In a seated position, close your eyes, place one hand on your low belly and one hand wrapped around your ribs so you have a thumb around the back and fingertips resting on the front ribs. As you inhale through your nostrils like you’re smelling a candle you enjoy, fill up the back and sides of your ribs and the low belly like a big balloon. See if you can get that inhale all the way down into the pelvic floor, so that you feel all contraction release.
Exhale out through the mouth while visualizing fogging up a mirror to imagine drawing the pelvic floor (or straw or tissue) up and in while narrowing around your abdominal canister, like a balloon letting air out. If you’re having trouble breathing into the back body, check out this video I made with some strategies to feel more expansive there. This gets your diaphragm and pelvic floor synced in a way that makes it stronger and more flexible.
Get to Know Your Own Body
Building your body awareness and pelvic floor control will improve blood circulation to the pelvic floor, helping female genitalia’s arousal response and lubrication, and can help people with male genitalia manage stress, gas and incontinence. Because this type of training requires focused attention and mindfulness, it’s also giving you space to pay attention to your bodily sensations, which is a powerful sensual experience in and of itself. Knowing your own body in this way can give you a firmer grasp of what you like and don’t like in the bedroom, too- as clocking out of your body is the quickest way to make sex feel like a chore.
I know self-care can feel like a full time job if you listen to wellness marketing these days, but the good news is that training your pelvic floor can be done anywhere (not that we have anywhere to be in 2020) and no one will even know you’re working out. I recommend spending some time every day to practice engaging and releasing and listening to your own body. You’ll be amazed what a little me time can do for your sex life, solo or partnered.