Incontinence is something we don’t like to talk about, and when we do, it is likely in a hushed tone, with accompanying giggles. Does that mean that incontinence is a joke? Well, hardly! Incontinence can lead to embarrassment and missed opportunities to work on physical health because we are afraid of what might happen if we run, or jump, or hop, or dance, or do any variety of physical movements.
There are three types of incontinence:
- Stress incontinence which is when you leak during a laugh, jump, orgasm, sneeze or cough.
- Urge incontinence is when the need to urinate is immediate. For example, the moment you get up from the dinner table..
- Mixed incontinence is a combination of both of the above types of incontinence.
Sometimes referred to as the “core 4”: the pelvic floor, diaphragm, multifidus and transversus abdominis are responsible for maintaining continence.
Pelvic floor muscles support the pelvic organs: bladder, bowel, and uterus. The diaphragm has respiratory functions, but also, it increases abdominal pressure to help the body release waste: urine, and feces. The multifidus is a deep muscle located along the back of the spine very close to the midline. Together with the transversus abdominis and pelvic floor muscles, the multifidus works to stabilize the low back and pelvis, raising intra-abdominal pressure.
Various yoga tools can help to strengthen those core muscles that are responsible for maintaining continence.
Pelvic floor muscles can become ‘hypertonic’ or too tight. Restorative yoga can help to relax pelvic floor muscles, allowing them to activate when needed, but also letting them relax and release when appropriate. Muscles that are too tight cannot operate optimally.
Pranayama, Meditation, and Gentle Yoga
All of the above help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the ‘relax and digest’ response. Someone who is dealing with urge incontinence can use these yoga tools to tap into their relaxation response.
Alignment and Posture
Having good alignment, which results in good posture, has a positive effect on how the core muscles function. Alignment is a major topic of importance and discussion when holding and moving through yoga poses.
During yoga practice the core 4 muscles can be activated and strengthened. Simply sitting in Easy Pose or Sukhasana can be an opportunity to engage and activate those muscles.
Yoga invites us to bring awareness to our practice and to our life. Incontinence sends the message that something in the body’s system is not functioning optimally. Yoga provides the opportunity to listen to that message and respond.