Breast and colon cancer screening begins at age 50. I'd like to add one more thing to that list: check your core strength. When functioning properly, these muscles of the low back, abdomen, pelvis and hips, provide a stable center from which to move, stand, sit and recover from falls and jostles. By age 50 these muscles are weakened by injuries, overall decrease in physical condition (being out of shape) and childbirth for women. This leads to urine loss and pain, but commonly in the neck, shoulders, and low back.
Some of you may know I have had a long recovery from a seemingly nothing car accident. In retrospect it was because I lost too much core strength. Physical therapy helped but I still had flares. Pilates took me quite a few step forwards, but I still had issues. Then I made a huge a discovery. The key to core strength lies in the pelvic floor, the muscles between our legs. Perhaps because this is a “private area,” my physical therapist, pilates and yoga teachers aren’t talking it. However, my physical therapist explained why strengthening the pelvic floor is working so well for me: all the core muscles join there. The pelvic floor is a direct link to all the core muscles.
How to Work with the Pelvic Floor
Forget crunches and Kegels, at least for now. Start by standing with a yoga block between your upper thighs, squeeze it and hold. This will begin to lift the pelvic floor into its optimal upside down bowl shape. You will likely feel other muscles in your pelvis engage, too. If your pelvis is tipped forward or back, it will begin to move it into a more neutral position. Once you mastered this, bend your knees and bend forward. The goal is to lay your chest on your thighs. However, go only as far as you can maintain the lift in the pelvic floor. Once you’ve accomplished that, straighten your legs, but again, only as much as you can maintain the lift in the pelvic floor.
Lay on your back with your legs straight in the air above your hips with the yoga block between your upper thighs. Squeeze the block and feel the lift of the pelvic floor. Work toward 10 repetitions for 10 seconds each. When you have mastered that, try raising and lowering your legs, but only as far as you can maintain the lift in the pelvic floor. The neck shoulders and back should not strain. You are essentially raising and lowering your legs with your pelvic floor and the associated core muscles.
You might also try using the block in Pilates and yoga classes when the legs are in parallel. I have found this very effective. It’s allowed me to do sit-ups without aggravation and the yoga pose Chataranga, which I had previously avoided.
For most of the day, you won’t have the advantage of a block to help you lift the pelvic floor. A Kundalini yoga teacher of mine used to direct the class to “tighten the area between the Anus and the Sex Organ” to get us to lift our pelvic floor. That direction didn’t work for me because I’d tighten my buttock muscles. But, if I substitute the word “lift” for “tighten,” it works. So now when I’m walking or sitting in a chair, I remember “ASO!” I shared this with hubby who found it takes the strain off his neck and back, plus I see a visible improvement in his rather slouchy posture.
Try working with your pelvic floor in this way and let me know how it works for you.