Well, now that I’ve got your attention, I welcome you to this week’s installment of “ Breathe In, Work Out”.
I honestly thought that we were going to travel from the Pelvis down to the thighs… but my creative mind had other ideas, and by Wednesday of this week, all I was thinking about was that “ tent floor”, and colorful analogies for the various “goings on” that we have “down there”.
As I stated ( also in last week’s blog) I was raised a good Catholic girl, at a time when we used code names for anything that required a fabric covering when bathing in public. Even though I work in a field that could be hash tagged #coreexercise (then immediately subject to a nihilistic debate about what that really means) , and it would be absurd to explore the goings on within our body without taking a pause to hang out at the pelvic floor, I found myself slightly squeamish about breaking this all down for you.
So I drank some wine before settling down to write this.
To begin with, I’d like to establish what it takes to create muscular “ health” in the body. Muscular training can be broken down in to three tactics ; contraction, static, and extension. Contraction is when you use your muscles to shorten the distance between your bones, like doing a bicep curl, Static is where you use muscular tension to hold a specific space, otherwise known as isometric tension, and Extension is when you use your muscles to create more space in between the bones, such as in yawning or stretching. In order to create healthy muscle, and maintain circulation throughout the tissues, all three of these things need to happen. We readily do this with our limbs, and usually consider exercise as something that involves grand sweeping actions of the spindly bits that launch off of our essential body, but often neglect the parts that from the outside present as an individual unit. Tragically, the pelvis is usually stuck in a seated or standing position, being acted upon by outside forces or the parasympathetic systems of our body, with very little attention to the musculature itself.
In general, our proprioception of movement has to do with the transit of our bones in space, and so it makes sense that an area that gives relatively little of that in comparison to the parts that surround it would have its volume turned down, so to speak. As we discussed last week, in our more general introduction to the pelvis, we have three bones that make up this area, with the sacrum wedged somewhat like an arrowhead in between two “propellors” of the hips ( there is a twist about halfway up towards the hip bones from the sit bones, and it’s where your thigh intersects the two blades).
To briefly review last week's blog : The 3 Gluteal Amigos made up the outside back wall of the tent, the Illiacus spans the inner back wall, the Piriformis - ties in midway, and the Psoas, hangs from trees and swoops through the inside of the tent’s back wall before attaching down in to the rebar. Today, we are going to take a look inside this tent, getting a closer sense of the other structures that lie within, and change metaphors frequently. Because this tent is a portal to alternate dimensions.
Let’s go inside.
First of all, I’d like to present you with the image of a teacup and a saucer. Two separate containers, designed to work together with the express purpose of conveying liquid from one area to another. In a similar fashion, we have two pelvic floors, both in a muscular and a skeletal sense.
The Greater Pelvis, is bordered on either side by the upper blades of your hip propellors, flying high above their body of the sacrum. The deep notch in the back is filled in by lumbar fascia and various muscles, and in the front, the wings are connected by layers and layers of abdominal muscles, and their associated fascial sheaths. This is the teacup, which holds your lower abdominal organs.
The Lesser Pelvis sits below, bordered by the lower blades, made up of the pubic symphysis in front, the ischium ( sit bones) on the side, and in the back, the sacrum and coccyx. It contains your reproductive and eliminatory organs. Don’t you love how our body organizes tasks in to their separate compartments? It’s like we’ve got a kitchen, then a bed/bath combo! ). The muscles controlling this area look like a kite with an infinity symbol overlaid for some control over the currents that pass through. This, we can think of as the saucer, providing an additional layer of support for the tea, holding the cup and its contents as it projects through space.
As far as the muscles themselves, your abdominals insert themselves in to your pelvis. With the outside back and sides, we have the Transverse Abdominals, which embrace your sides before fascially encasing the Rectus Abdominus. The RA deserves its own sentence, originating up at your solar plexus, and attaching to your pubic bone before turning in to the Pubococcygeus muscle, which ( surprise!) connects the underside of your pubic bone to your coccyx ( your tailbone) Making up the inside back line are the Siamese Psoas twins, as they gracefully release your lumbar spine and slide diagonally forward towards the Pubic bone before slipping down and wrapping themselves around your thigh. The below picture gives a nice sense of the Psoas movement, but please do remember that the Rectus Abdominus has been removed here, in order for you to see inside.
Before getting in to the muscles of the lesser pelvis, it’s helpful to understand that there are two types of muscles that live there : striated and smooth. Striated muscle looks like it has stripes on it, and is usually attached via tendons to the bones. Movement control of striated muscle is voluntary ( i.e. you can think about it and make it move). Smooth muscles are under involuntary control, and have to do with parasympathetic function. They tend to surround your organs, in this case, the digestive, eliminatory and reproductive ones. When your body is stressed out, the striped muscles tend to tense up, but the smooth ones relax ( a common reaction to the “fight or flight” response in the body is to eliminate the bowels, which does make running away a lot easier if a big animal is chasing you). What’s the takeaway from this? If you want to have success mobilizing your pelvic floor, you’d better be relaxed first.
So you have muscles that surround your organs, and other ones that hold these lower bones of the pelvis together and control the entrance and exit of various substances/entities. If you consider the variance in size of what enters and exits, you can imagine the potential ability for movement that is available to us down there. Going back to our three qualities of muscular activity ( contraction, static, and extension), it may now seem more obvious why we might want to exercise all three when we get to the pelvis.
Misalignments are common in this area. One only has to imagine the parent with the 2 year old on their hip ( raises hand), the “ lounger” with one hip out and the other leg bent, or the golfer, rotating with impressive velocity consistently to one side to understand that one could ultimately “ train” the hip bones to have one forward and one back, and that the muscles would learn to isometrically hold the pelvis in that position. That, of course, affects everything connecting to it, which in this case would mean your torso and your legs. Your spine extends off of your pelvis and your shoulders also depend on its stability to balance themselves. Your legs come out of it, and for even gait ( balanced walking) rely on their pivot points ( the hip sockets) to anchor their movement. If you imagine the hip bones for a moment as two wheels, and then raise one up and push it forward, you could see that your car would have a hard time staying in it’s lane. Here is a simple exercise to see if this is you:
Stand up. Place your hands on your hips with your middle fingers on the front bones and your thumbs on the back part by the SI joint. Tilt one side forward in to your hand, return it back to center, and then repeat on the other side. If one side feels more comfortable moving in to that position than the other, then most likely your body is used to having that side forward. That will also mean that your spine is happier rotating to the opposite side. i.e. if your right hip is usually forward, your torso will tend to turn more to the left.
I’m going to give you another fun exercise to do while you’re sitting here and reading this. It’s best done on a firm surface for feedback, so if you’re lounging on an overstuffed chair, you’ll want to table this until you’re riding the bus ( or sitting on an equivalently unforgiving cushion).
Rock back and forward on your pelvis about 8 times. Do you feel movement on your sit bones? Try imagining that you are sitting on carbon paper, and look at the pattern your sit bones would be making on the seat beneath you. Are the lines equally dark? Is the pressure the same on both sides? Are the lines of equal length? Now lift one sit bone, then put it down and lift the other one. Repeat that pattern 8 times to let your brain familiarize itself with that pattern. Now stay on one sit bone, and lift the other one up in the air. Slowly swing the sit bone forward and back about 20 times. Then stand up and feel the difference between your two sides. You will most likely notice that standing feels firmer on the side you swung, and if you use your fingers to feel your lower abdominals, that they are tauter and flatter on the side you swung. Now sit down and repeat that on the other side.
As you see, movement is possible, and the more we know about our anatomy, the easier it is to create it. I wasn’t kidding when I called this area a “portal”. The Sacred Geometry going on here is astounding.
We’re going to start at the top, with concentric rings of the greater and lesser pelvis. The upper ring frames the abdominal muscles, which basically take the shape of an upside down pyramid, suspended in between the hip bones and pointing down towards your lower pelvic floor, which has a diamond like shape ( the four corners consisting of the pubis, ischium and coccyx) . Behind and beneath this pyramid lies a type of “ Fan with Slings”, that comprises a bunch of muscles that once upon a time helped you to articulate your tail, along with all of the functions they still perform today. There are actually three different “fans of the hip joint”, but for simplicity we are going to focus on only the one that extends from the inside of your pubic bone up towards the sacrum. As I mentioned before, the Pubococcyceus muscle joins the inner edge of your pubic bone to the coccyx. The Puborecalis stretches from the pubis to the rectum, twining itself around it, and helps to control the back opening of our pelvic floor. This is also attached via a ligament to the coccyx, so it’s braced both forwards and backwards, as well as in a circular fashion. The main “ Fan Muscle ( you could see the previous muscles as it’s exquisitely decorated handle) is called the Levator Ani ( delicately translated to English as “Anus lifter”), which should help you to figure out where that one is. If we examine this shape from the underside, what we would see would be a triangle of striped muscle extending from the pubic bone to each sit bone( the Urogenital Diaphragm), under which is overlaid a strip of muscle that resembling an infinity symbol in women, in men, the front comes together a little differently. The ring closest to the pubic bone helps to control the openings of the urethra and sexual organs, which are either packaged together ( in males) or given separate entrances ( in women) in the back, the second ring circles the anus, aiding in control towards the rear. In between the front and back rings, and located above that figure 8 ( when you’re looking up) is the mysterious Perineum, which one could imagine as an ethereal tower, extending from sit bone to sit bone, and swooping up in front of the Levator Ani, with a similar function of unifying and lifting both sides of the pelvis, as well as aiding in the parasympathetic function of the organs that are nestled within.
So yeah… it’s complicated, and beautiful, and you have been using yours from the moment you experienced air pressure whether you knew it or not.
To summarize, all of the aforementioned “fans” work together to allow both parasympathetic ( involuntary) and sympathetic ( voluntary) functions of the pelvis, allowing us to move through the world, stabilize our body, and keep our metabolic and evolutionary processes running smoothly. The more we are able to control our striped muscles, the happier the smooth muscles become, and your emotional state is a player in your ability to do this. Muscles need to be able to move closer together, hold static shapes, and to stretch. The easiest way to feel muscular activation is through shifting the bones.
So I created two different videos this week : One for the Greater Pelvis, and one for the two of them. You should definitely do the greater pelvis one first, and treat it as a warmup for the second video.
And yes. If you incorporate these sequences in to your daily routine, all that was promised in the blog title will happen for you.
Copyright Domini Anne 2017
The Body 3 - Tom Myers
Fitness for the Pelvic Floor - Beate Carriere
Pelvic Power - Eric Franklin
Anatomy of the Female Pelvis - Blandine Calais Germain
Pelvic Power - Eric Franklin
Sacred Geometry - Joma Sipe
Anatomy of Movement - Blandine Calais Germain
Fitness for the Pelvic Floor - Beate Carriere