Many women enjoy the benefits of yoga or other exercise during pregnancy, but then become inactive postpartum—perhaps because they don’t know which activities are safe or appropriate. Sadly, they miss the opportunity to restore a gateway to stability in the body, and later they may find themselves hampered by weaknesses in the pelvic floor and abdominal wall.
This article explores the components of a healthy pelvic floor and abdominal wall, examines sources of compensation in the body and suggests yoga poses and techniques for restoring healthy function. Even though many of these methods and inquiries are vital as soon as the postpartum client is ready to start exercising, they can still make a difference years later, even if the key areas have received no care or attention in the intervening period.
Retraining the pelvic floor starts with the diaphragm.
During pregnancy the uterus can press up against the diaphragm, the rib cage can change shape, and women may experience various breathing difficulties. As the roof of the inner core, the diaphragm is attached to the xyphoid process, the top of the transversus abdominis, the ribs and upper lumbar vertebrae, and the arcuate ligaments. The arcuate ligaments are commonly described as condensations of fascia covering the psoas and quadratus lumborum muscles (Kaminoff 2007).
These attachment sites, compounded with improper breathing practices common in our society, can lead the diaphragm to become tight and strong. When the diaphragm is firm and unyielding, the pelvic floor must move the abdominal contents against this brick wall. Unless the diaphragm releases, it will not matter how strong the pelvic floor is—it will never hold against the diaphragm’s strength, and the participant will experience a feeling of weakness and/or leaking. The following poses stretch and release the diaphragm, allowing it to move freely with core activation and breath.
Diaphragm Stretching and Release Poses
For more exercises and the full references, please see “Yoga as Therapy for Postpartum Clients” in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2013 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.