If anyone’s ever told you, “Just relax!” in response to stress, you know how, well, stressful those instructions can be. Indeed, figuring out how to “relax” when we are in a tense state can feel impossible, unless explicit instructions are given. Now, imagine you are told to relax muscles you didn’t even know existed. This is the reality for approximately 1 in 3 women in the US who will experience some form of pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) in their lifetime. Tight, overly contracted pelvic floor muscles can lead to painful spasms. The solution — to relax those muscles — sounds easy enough, but the practical steps are more elusive. So let’s break it down.
Note: In this article, we’ll be talking about how to relax your pelvic floor muscles. However, there are pelvic floor conditions, such as certain types of incontinence, that require strengthening of the pelvic floor. Ask your doctor what you should be focusing on for your health.
The first step in relaxing your pelvic floor is understanding what your pelvic floor is! So, before diving into these exercises, please take a moment to read our post on pelvic floor muscles and orient yourself with the diagram provided.
Ok, now that we’ve all gotten to know each other, let’s take a breath, literally.
Diaphragmatic breathing for pelvic floor relaxation:
As you breathe throughout the day, you are probably not aware of every single breath you take. That would be exhausting. Your chest simply rises and falls, rises and falls. But if you DO bring attention to your breath, you are able to consciously engage your diaphragm, the dome-like muscle that separates your abdomen from your chest.
In doing so, something magical happens. Not only does your heart rate slow down and you feel more relaxed, your pelvic muscles automatically relax on their own. See, as your diaphragm flattens with each conscious breath, it pushes down into your tummy and your pelvic muscles relax in response.
Find some time to do this every day: lie down somewhere comfortable and place your hand over your belly. Breathe in and feel your abdomen bulge out on each inhale and sink inward with each exhale. Start small, maybe with 10 deep belly breaths and slowly work up to more each day.
Stretching for pelvic floor relaxation:
Like all muscles in your body, your pelvic floor needs to be stretched! Certain positions can help alleviate tension in those crucial pelvic floor muscles and allow for more flexibility and less pain.
Wide legged child’s pose
Start on your hands and knees. Spread your knees wide while keeping your big toes together. Gently bring your head to the floor, moving your torso downward between your thighs. Your arms should be stretched out long and in front of you. Stay in this position and breathe, feeling your pelvic girdle widen and relax.
Lie on your back. Exhale and bend your knees into your belly. Inhale and grip the outsides of your feet with your hands. Open your knees a little wider than your torso and pull legs slightly towards your armpits. Again, feel your pelvic girdle opening and relaxing and you gently rock from side to side.
Lie on your back. Let your knees fall to the sides and have the soles of your feet touching. Push gently down on your knees for more resistance. If this causes any pain, you can place a pillow under your knees for support. Breathe and let your knees sink deeper towards the floor.
Finally, if you have been diagnosed with vaginismus, dilator therapy is another option for relieving painful symptoms. Just like a massage to your neck, applying gentle pressure to your vaginal wall can help relax overly contracted pelvic floor muscles. Vaginal dilators, like Milli, are gently inserted into your vagina to help alleviate painful spasms.
Dilators increase in size to fit your body’s needs and can include vibration to further relax your pelvic floor area. Lubrication is encouraged to facilitate passage of the dilator into the vaginal wall. Dilators can be used on your own, as foreplay or moments before intercourse. The goal is to figure out what is most comfortable for YOU.