“Enough about kegels. How do I do a reverse kegel?”
Last week we talked all about how to do a kegel correctly. I outlined 3 super easy, at-home ways to tell if you got it, or you ain’t got it. However, the contraction is only one part of the equation. You also need to relax and release your pelvic floor.
Enter the reverse kegel!
I think the reverse kegel is the unsung hero of the pelvic floor. So much attention is placed on the kegel, pelvic floor exercises, and even kegel trainers to zap your pelvic floor at home. You’ll see plenty of information on how to strengthen and train your pelvic floor, but very little information about a reverse kegel, the relaxation part.
And honestly, the reverse kegel is just as important as the kegel!
Maybe the reverse kegel is not talked about much because relaxing a muscle is mostly second nature – you just let go. If you are making a fist, you open your hand; easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for the pelvic floor. And if you have a hypertonic pelvic floor you may be wondering, “What gives??”
Take a Chill Pill
People hold a lot of tension in their pelvic floor – like your shoulders or clenching your jaw. You don’t even realize you are grinding your teeth or your shoulders are hunched into your ears until you have pain or someone points it out. Then, you’re constantly noticing and actively telling yourself to relax. Relax. RELAX!
That’s the pelvic floor too.
But, it’s not often that someone says, “Hey, you’re clenching your pelvic floor – stop that!” No one can see your pelvic floor in day to day activity (insert cliche joke about nudity here), there aren’t any obvious outward signs of pelvic floor hypertonicity.
How Do I Know?
Often your first signal is pain. Pelvic pain can come in many different flavors – pain with intercourse, pain with orgasm, pain after intercourse, pain inserting a tampon, pain during exercise, pain at the end of a long day. Pelvic pain is different for everyone – sharp, dull, heaviness, stabbing, low level ache. Your pelvic pain is as unique as you are!
Other Signs Inlcude
Urinary incontinence: Unable to hold your bladder either with a sudden pressure on your pelvic floor (like a cough or laughing). Or unable to hold your bladder for any amount of time – when you gotta go, you gotta go now.
Usually, you think, “If I can’t hold my bladder then I need to strengthen my pelvic floor.” But, this can also happen when your pelvic floor is hypertonic.
Think about it – if your pelvic floor is already contracted and holding tension and then you need to hold a little stronger … there is nowhere for the muscles to go! If your shoulders are up into your ears from holding tension, and then you need to lift your shoulders more they have nowhere to go. You need your pelvic floor to hover somewhere in the middle – you want the natural tone of your pelvic floor for posture, holding waste, etc; not too tight, not too loose. (All muscles have a natural tone, a little buzz, that signals the muscle is alive and doing its job.)
Another great example if you’re still like… eh, this doesn’t make sense yet. Imagine Arnold Shwarzenegger (in his prime) trying to tie an apron behind his back. He’s having a really hard time tying the little strings. Should we tell him, “You’re too weak, keep working out. You’ll tie that apron eventually!” Or, maybe, his muscles are just too bulky and tight to reach behind his back and tie the apron. You should tell him “You need to loosen up! Don’t skip your cool down stretch, bro!” Your pelvic floor needs length as much as it does strength. (Side note: Sometimes power lifters will prioritize tight, bulky muscles over long, lean muscles because tight muscles can generate more power. So, to each their own. And I’m certainly not giving power lifting advice to Arnold.)
Even More Signs!
There can be other signs of pelvic floor tightness too: hip, low back, or tail bone pain, feeling like you have a UTI but you don’t (check out Interstitial Cystitis Solution, this is an Amazon affiliate link), constipation or really having to push to evacuate your bowels. This list isn’t exhaustive, how fun!
Okay, okay. You got it. The pelvic floor can be too tight instead of too weak.
So, how do you do a reverse kegel??
A reverse kegel is the lengthening of your pelvic floor (instead of a contraction, or the shortening of your pelvic floor muscles). In the same way you can feel a shortening, you can feel a lengthening.
Sitting upright on a chair (dining room chair will work) with your belly button like a flashlight in front of you and your vaginal opening pointing to the ground, take a deep breath in allowing your abdomen to relax. Focus on your breath moving into your pelvis. Sometimes you can feel your pelvic floor gently press into the chair – ding, ding, ding, a reverse kegel! You can also place your hand at your perineum (area between your vaginal opening and anus) or use the 3 finger method described last week, feeling for the lengthening of your pelvic floor into your hand/fingers.
Deep breathing – focusing on opening your rib cage, allowing your belly to relax, and noticing the gentle pressure into your pelvic floor (also called diaphragmatic breathing) – is an excellent “exercise” for pelvic floor relaxation and learning the reverse kegel. It’s a real exercise! While you won’t break a sweat with this one, it still takes work and practice.
Don’t Skip Stretch Day
There are also a few positions you can work into to stretch the pelvic floor.
Now, please enjoy this awkward stretching photo shoot I did with my photographer aka my husband…
Pushing your knees out to the side, instead of directly under your belly and chest, will increase the pelvic floor stretch.
Use your elbows to gently press your knees towards the ground. Can you tell one side is tighter than the other on me??
You may prefer sitting on a small pillow for support. Make sure you gently push out on your knees with your arms.
Possibly the most awkward photo of the sequence. Try pulling your knees closer into your sides versus further out – do what feels best for you.
I was over the paparazzi at this point, but trying to look *cool* as a cucumber. Make sure you are sitting with your vaginal opening over the foam roll, you may need to roll forward a little instead of sitting on your sitz bones.
Sitting on the foam roller was the most uncomfortable position for me out of these 5. If you notice one position just is not your cup of tea, then feel free to scrap it. Before you scrap it though, try to change your knee position or add a prop like a rolled blanket or pillow as needed. But, if nothing is working… don’t push it.
Again, with these stretches you want to focus on your breath moving into your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor will feel differently in these positions than in sitting – you may not notice or feel any lengthening at all. That’s because you are already stretching your pelvic floor in these positions. The diaphragmatic breathing will still work to decrease the stress on your central nervous system so that it feels “safe” to release the pelvic floor.
You may be wondering why your pelvic floor needs to feel “safe” to relax. Another post for another day! I’ll dust off my psych 101 notes and we’ll get into some interesting research surrounding the pelvic floor and safety.
That’s all for this week!