The practice of yoga could well be an answer to the problem of a weak pelvic floor – and this is great news for the 37 per cent of Australian women who report issues with incontinence, and the many new mums who find their pelvic floor and core strength compromised after giving birth.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Francisco discovered that specifically designed yoga programs can assist women in controlling the embarrassing problem of urinary incontinence. The women who took part in the study’s yoga therapy program reported an overall 70 per cent improvement or reduction in the frequency of their urine leakage, compared with the control group who didn’t do the yoga.
But these findings are nothing new, says co-director of Yoga Flame, Emma Moulday.
“For thousands of years the tradition of hatha yoga has used ‘mula bandha’, or the 'root lock' to move energy and develop strength in the pelvic floor,” says Emma, who is also a mum. “This is done by contracting and releasing the ‘hammock’ of muscles that make up the pelvic floor.”
Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder is essential to controlling any involuntary leaks many women experience, especially during those early months after giving birth. But it is a twofold approach, says Emma.
“Yoga helps us to be present and to be accepting with what is, and also teaches you discipline. So while we are working on the physical strength we are also developing a stronger mind, which will reduce our anxiety and embarrassment.”
Kylie, mum of 18-month-old Harry, believes yoga was the key factor in dealing with her leakage issues. “After giving birth I found I lost all muscle strength in my core and pelvic floor muscles. I mentioned it to a friend and she recommended I come along to her postnatal yoga class," she says. "After four weeks I was amazed. I was able to control those little leaks when I sneezed and now I feel as strong as ever.”
But what if there are no specific postnatal yoga classes in your area? Emma says many will find benefit from attending any regular yoga class.
“The great news is 'mula bandha' is an integral part of any yoga class. This means that anyone suffering from urinary incontinence could step on the yoga mat in any class, in any studio, and be taught how to strengthen the pelvic floor without anyone needing to know about their ‘little secret’.”
Yoga, of course, isn't the only answer. Natalie, a mum of an eight-month-old, can’t speak highly enough of the benefits of Pilates in assisting in her weak pelvic floor.
“I have always had a weak pelvic floor and bladder, with many near misses of nearly wetting my pants,” Natalie says. After having a bladder ultrasound come back showing no issues, Natalie decided to head along to her husband’s Pilates classes to help strengthen her core and pelvic floor. She says it worked wonders.
Natalie took three months off from her Pilates after giving birth via caesarean with her second child, and says that "after not doing anything much" during those three months she found herself again confronting incontinence issues. She focused on her Pilates once more to rebuild her pelvic floor strength, and reports she is now back in control.
“I feel the benefits have been huge,” Natalie says. "I can hold my bladder much longer and I hardly ever leak when exercising or laughing. I also find it’s a great way to manage stress and anxiety.”
Learn more about pelvic strengthening exercises, and download the Pelvic Floor First app, at the Continence Foundation of Australia.