Your body and your mind are not separate entities - they are you. So in order to relax the mind, noticing and allowing the body to relax is essential. In pregnancy yoga we're often focused on the journey towards birth; and rightly so as being mentally and physically prepared for labour has great benefits. Often yoga or antenatal teachers will talk about the importance of relaxing the pelvic floor - a place that we're more used to training to hold in, stopping us from going to the toilet* at unwanted points as well as during sex. These are useful bodily functions, but as with all muscles - a balance is what we need. Wouldn't it be tiring to go round with your biceps tight all day long?
So how can you learn to relax your pelvic floor? If you've heard a midwife or doula talk about the gloriously named 'Sphinter Law' (the name's Law, Sphincter Law) you might have got the idea that there's a connection between the jaw and the pelvic floor and that tension help in the one are affect the other. Here's what Ina May Gaskin says about what she (and many other midwives) have observed:
"The state of relaxation of the mouth and jaw is directly correlated to the ability of the cervix, the vagina, and the anus to open to full capacity. A relaxed and open mouth favours a more open vagina and cervix."
Now, there's some dispute as to whether the other factors she mentions; the need for privacy to function, not having voluntary control, the affect of mood extremes i.e. fear and laughter) actually apply to sphincters in general. Or if the cervix can be described as a sphincter? (If you're interested there's a great blog from obstetrician, Dr Amy Tuteur here) So why are midwives noticing this happening? And why? Recent research into anatomy has looked more deeply at fascia; the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, separating and joining different areas.
And here is what may be the connection: the deep front line of the fascia system attaches the following parts: temples, jaw, sternum, diaphragm, pelvic floor, psoas and hips. You've probably noticed at some point when you're stressed or anxious that your face tenses in jaw and temples, or that you feel it in your chest. Maybe you've felt the quality of your breathing change and get more shallow? Or done a stretch in yoga class and realised, that blimey - you were tighter in your hips than you realised. So tuning into the muscles in your face, softening down the midline, relaxing your breathing and hips could all help relax the pelvic floor because they are literally connected. Perhaps this can work the other way too - a more relaxed pelvic floor and deep core could mean a less tense head?
(We'll save the psoas for a whole new blog, because it deserves it).
* For more info on continence, sneezy pees and more hop over to this blog post here.
Emilie Joy Rowell is a yoga and antenatal teacher, doula and founder of motherslove. She's has taught yoga and birth preparation courses since 2008 and is currently based in Somerset. Passionate about humans, their bodies and minds she's blogging here to explore birth through anatomy and embodiment.
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