Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Bandhas

WARNING: Graphic anatomical discussion. (Translation: Might be more than you want to know.)

Yesterday, I felt my uterus! Such a statement is probably meaningless to a menstruating women (or to a guy), but to a post-menopausal woman like me, it's a pretty remarkable sensation. It happened at yoga when we were practicing Mula Bundha and Uddiyana Bundha, two interior body locks.

Let me give a little background: After three pregnancies and deliveries, my pelvic floor has seen better days. I'm one of those gals who crosses her legs when she sneezes or coughs. I can't run very far or play volleyball without leaking urine. I'm sure this breakdown of muscle tissue is hereditary as my mom had surgery to put things right again after six pregnancies. I sure don't want to resort to surgery, but after a recent bout with the flu, things got much worse. Three weeks of violent coughing completely thrashed my perineum so that I felt like the muscle was sagging like the belly of spayed female cat. It was so bad that I could not consciously contract the muscle at all. Most women know how to do a Kegel exercise-- where you contract and relax the pelvic floor. They are recommended during and after pregnancy to strengthen the very muscle I was having trouble with. Well, that exercise had become impossible for me to perform. I'd try, but I could not get engage muscle. It was like my brain sent a message that my body did not hear.

Fearing the surgery option and disliking the repercussions of not being able to contract this muscle, I consulted my yoga teacher. I was certain there had to be a way to reconnect the nerve impulse to my perineum. Cherie suggested several exercises but the one that worked was amusing and much harder than you can possibly imagine. Once a day, I practiced stopping the flow of urine midstream. At first, this was nearly impossible. My brain would send the signal but the muscle would not work. After several days of trying, I managed to stop the flow and within about 10 days, I was stopping and starting at will. (Warning: the "experts" suggest only doing this once a day.)

Meanwhile, at yoga class and at other times throughout the day (driving or standing at the sink), I began practicing Mula Bandha- isolating the perineum and drawing it up without holding my breath. At first, I had to simply concentrate on engaging this muscle, but once I had the nerve impulses making the connection again, I would engage and lock and then practice other movements like warrior pose or forearm plank or when I was out on my walk. This simple contraction is incredibly stabilizing, especially in combination with Uddiyana Bandha (drawing the belly button area back and up under the ribcage, again while continuing to breathe).

So yesterday during yoga class while practicing the two bandhas, I suddenly felt my uterus contract (it felt like a mild menstrual cramp). YEHAW! I never thought I'd welcome that sensation, but I knew it was a sign that my pelvic floor was getting as strong as the other muscles that are exercised during yoga. No surgery for me! Yoga class is the remedy.


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