Restore Your Core How to Relax Pelvic Floor Muscles: Proven Techniques and Exercises

How to Relax Pelvic Floor Muscles: Proven Techniques and Exercises

Restore Your Core Promotion

How to Relax Pelvic Floor Muscles: Proven Techniques and Exercises

By Lauren Ohayon RYC® 02/06/2024

4 Min Read

Today, I’d like to share some effective techniques and exercises for relaxing your pelvic floor muscles, along with guidance on integrating these practices into daily life for optimal pelvic health.

Why Relax the Pelvic Floor Muscles?

Pelvic floor issues are incredibly common, and nonrelaxing pelvic floor muscles can be a factor in many of these issues. Take a moment to check in with your body right now. Is your left arm relaxed? How about your right calf? And your pelvic floor muscles? For many people, the pelvic floor muscles are much harder to perceive than something like an arm or a leg. Yet your pelvic floor muscles need to be able to relax just as much as the rest of your body. 

Imagine trying to do a biceps curl with your arm already in a curled position – it’s the movement from relaxed to engaged that is important in a biceps curl. Similarly, an overactive pelvic floor can’t do the work of yielding when it needs to yield (e.g., for bowel movements) and staying firm when it needs to stay firm (e.g. when jumping or sneezing). In other words, for your pelvic floor to effectively respond to load, it needs to be able to both relax and engage.

What are the Pelvic Floor Muscles, and Why Do They Matter? 

The pelvic floor muscles are essential to much of what your body does every day, including breathing, elimination, pregnancy, birth, and sexual activity. Your pelvic floor muscles both provide a base of support for the organs in the pelvis, and are an integral part of the core. We often think of the core as just the abs that are visible on people with very low body fat. In fact, the core is a system of muscles surrounding the torso and working together to support the body as it moves. This system includes, but is not limited to the diaphragm and the pelvic floor.

Pelvic Floor Muscles

As you can see from the image above, your pelvic floor muscles are connected to the bones of the pelvis; they also connect to the muscle systems above and below the pelvis. Because of this interconnectedness, the pelvic floor muscles are both influenced by and have an influence on the whole body. 

Some symptoms of excessive pelvic floor muscle tension include:

  • Leaking urine, especially under higher load, such as sneezing, jumping, or running (stress incontinence)
  • Urge incontinence, feeling like you won’t make it to the toilet in time
  • Pain during and after intercourse
  • Constipation or difficulty feeling a bowel movement is complete
  • Low back pain
  • Generalized pelvic pain, often felt in the hips, buttocks and deep in the abdomen

The Impact of Pelvic Floor Muscle Tension

Pelvic floor muscle tension can affect many aspects of your health and sense of well-being. Since your pelvic floor is involved in so many of the activities of daily life, having tight pelvic floor muscles can impede the quality of your life in multiple ways:

  • Pain can cause you to participate less frequently in many physical activities, including both athletic pursuits and leisure activities like gardening or caregiving tasks like taking your kids to a park
  • Difficulty with urination and defecation can limit your comfort level with being away from a toilet or a away from home
  • Pelvic floor tension can negatively affect your sex life by causing pain during sex and difficulty experiencing orgasm 
  • The additional symptoms (e.g., stress urinary incontinence) of a too-tight pelvic floor can be inconvenient for some, demoralizing for many
  • Your mental health can be affected by all of the above.

The Importance of Relaxing Pelvic Floor Muscles

As I discussed above, the pelvic floor muscles need to be able both to relax and to engage in response to the varied loads they encounter. Learning exercises to relax your pelvic floor muscles helps your body learn that doing so is safe. One of the patterns I see often in my clients is a too-tight pelvic floor that has developed as a protective mechanism, often in response to some kind of trauma or from being under chronic stress. When we practice pelvic floor muscle relaxation techniques, we’re teaching the body that it can feel safe with a relaxed pelvic floor, too. You may find it difficult at first to let go of excess pelvic floor tension–but patience and practice will help.

There are many health benefits of relaxed pelvic floor muscles

Relaxation of these muscles contributes to your overall pelvic health by making it easier for the organs contained in your pelvis to function. But the influence of your pelvic floor muscles extends beyond the pelvis to the rest of the body. You may find that learning to release tension in your pelvic floor muscles leads to fewer episodes of low back pain, for example, or that you’re more comfortable walking, standing, and lifting. When moving is easier, most of life feels better.

Exercises to Relax Pelvic Floor Muscles:

One of the best ways to learn how to relax tight pelvic floor muscles is by practicing exercises that encourage your pelvic floor to respond reflexively. This kind of exercise requires practicing a bit of mindful awareness of how your body is reacting to what you’re doing. Slow down and don’t feel bad if it’s hard at first. Your body loves to learn new things, but it takes time. In general, practicing 3-5 days per week is helpful to retrain movement patterns. As always, it is important to check in with your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program.

Here are some exercises targeted at relaxing the pelvic floor:

1. Three-dimensional Breathing: 

You may have been instructed to practice “diaphragmatic breathing” or a “belly breath”  to help relax your body. However, all breathing is diaphragmatic breathing, since your diaphragm must move in order for your lungs to fill with air. Breathing is shape change. We breathe. Air goes into the lungs. As that happens, we also need to change shape to help pull air in.

A three-dimensional breathing technique involves gentle movement throughout the entire torso. During inhalation, the diaphragm contracts concentrically, lowering the pressure in the chest cavity, which pulls air into the lungs and prompts rib movement. Simultaneously, this diaphragmatic action causes the contents of the abdomen to move downward, ideally reaching the pelvic floor. A hypertonic pelvic floor can inhibit this movement. Exhalation reverses this process: the diaphragm eccentrically contracts, increasing thoracic pressure, which pushes air out of the lungs. This triggers coordinated movement in the ribs, abdomen, and pelvic floor.

Here’s how to practice a three-dimensional breath:

  • Lie on the floor.
  • Place your hands around your ribs on each side and calmly explore your breath:
    • On the inhale, your ribs rise a bit upwards
    • They widen a bit outwards
    • And at the very end of the breath, your belly rises a bit too
  • Notice if your default is no rib movement, just belly. See if you can switch patterns. It might take time and feel difficult at first, but practicing regularly in a relaxed position will help your body learn the new pattern.

2. Pelvic Floor Stretches

They are great to perform when you need a quick break from your day: 

  • Lie across a bed so that your feet can dangle off the side.
  • Stretch your right leg straight, not off to the side.
  • Bend your left leg and place your left foot on the bed, slightly to the side.
  • Side bend to the left and do not twist your ribs off the bed.
  • Let your right hand dangle off the bed above your head–imagine it is super heavy.
  • Place the back of your left hand across your forehead and use it to turn your head left and right.
  • Repeat 5-8 times
  • Then hold your head to the left, breathe gently, and press your left foot into the bed to twist your pelvis to the right.
  • Be intentional and mindful in your approach, not tense and driven
  • Then windshield wiper your left knee back and forth.
  • Repeat to the other side.

3. Yoga Poses like Happy Baby, Cat-Cow, and Pigeon Pose

They can all be incorporated into a regular movement routine as pelvic floor muscle relaxation exercises. Use them as you warm-up or cool down, if you’re heading out on a walk or going to the gym, or work out at home. 

Happy Baby:

  • Begin by lying down on your back with your knees bent
  • Bring your knees in toward your chest
  • Hold onto your lower legs, ankles, or feet to help your body relax into this position
  • Bring some attention to your pelvic floor, and observe how it feels as you inhale and exhale.
  • Hold for as long as feels comfortable.

Cat-Cow:

  • Come onto all fours with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Pelvis is neutral.
  • Slowly tuck your pubic bone toward your nose, allowing the movement to begin at the tailbone and move all the way up your spine until your head hangs
  • Untuck your pelvis as if you’re reaching your sitbones toward the wall behind you; move one vertebra at a time until your spine is fully extended. Think about lifting your collarbones instead of your chin.
  • Alternate flexing and extending your spine in this slow, mindful way a few times, then return to neutral.

Pigeon Pose:

  • Begin from a downward-facing dog position. 
  • Step one leg forward as if into a lunge, but place the side of the shin on the mat, so that your front shin is roughly parallel to the front of the mat. If this angle is too much for your hips, bring your front foot closer to your body. 
  • Let the back knee come to the floor, and place the top of your foot on the mat. (it’s ok to tuck your toes under instead, if this is your preference)
  • Make sure that your front foot is lined up with your shin, not twisted.
  • Your pelvis should be relatively even, not dropping off to the side.
  • Support some of your weight with your hands alongside your body, or use blocks under your hands to help. 
  • Imagine that you’re trying to draw your legs toward each other.
  • After a few breaths in this upright position, slowly walk your hands forward and let your weight sink a bit more toward the floor.
  • Slowly come out of the stretch in any way that feels good to your body.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Here’s a video with a sequence of moves that might also feel great on those tight pelvic floor muscles. 

4. Pelvic Tilts

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor about pelvis-width apart.
  • Tuck and untuck your pelvis several times.
  • See if you can isolate the movement from your pelvis, not just pushing with your feet.
  • A fun variation on this can be to place your pelvis on a pillow or a pilates ball and play with moving the pelvis in an elevated position.

5. Kegel Exercises with Emphasis on Relaxation

While many people think Kegel exercises are the solution to all pelvic floor issues, the truth is that Kegels are not always the best solution. For people with tight pelvic floor muscles, Kegels can actually make things worse. Most people think of a Kegel as a squeeze of the vagina–we’ve all heard the advice to do 100 kegels at a traffic light. However, there is also a relaxation phase to the exercise that can be helpful for learning how to relax pelvic floor muscles. 

  • Find a comfortable seated position, ideally with your weight resting on your sitbones.
  • Imagine that you’ve got a marble at the entrance to your vagina (please do NOT use a real marble). 
  • As you exhale, imagine slowly drawing that marble up and in–you may find you need several breaths for this. 
  • Imagine the marble reaching your belly button and pause.
  • Now slowly let the marble descend, gradually relaxing all the way down. With your last inhale let all of the tension go and allow the marble to rest on your chair.
  • Repeat a few times until you can really feel the relaxation of your pelvic floor.

Other Techniques to Relax Pelvic Floor Muscles:

Using both exercise and some of these techniques may make it easier to encourage your pelvic floor muscles to relax.

  1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation involves systematically tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. This technique can provide physical relaxation, reduce muscle tension, alleviate stress, and increase awareness of bodily sensations. It’s a great practice to do before going to sleep. A quick search will turn up loads of recordings to guide you.
  2. Guided imagery and visualization can evoke specific sensory experiences, emotions, or states of mind. For example: You can imagine yourself in a place that makes you feel comfortable or safe and let your body fully relax into being in that place–what are the sounds, textures, colors, smells of that place? How does your body feel when it’s there? Spend some time imagining that place, then come back into the space you’re in and notice how you body feels after the visualization. You might also try visualizing what it feels like to have a body that feels calm and relaxed–how does it feel to move through your day?
  3. Biofeedback therapy is a therapeutic technique that uses electronic monitoring devices to provide you and your practitioner with real-time feedback about physiological processes in your body, such as muscle tension, heart rate, skin temperature, or brainwave activity. Your practitioner can help you tune into these signals so you can gain greater awareness of your bodily sensations and functions.
  4. Mindfulness and meditation practices involve cultivating awareness and nonjudgmental attention to your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings. Mindfulness meditation techniques typically involve focusing on the breath, bodily sensations, or a specific object of meditation while maintaining an open and accepting attitude toward whatever arises in the present moment. You can also bring mindfulness to your movement practice by focusing on how you feel as you move, instead of thinking about the goals you have for the practice.
  5. Massage therapy involves the manipulation of soft tissues in the body, including muscles, connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, and skin, using varying degrees of pressure and movement techniques. Some massage therapists and physical therapists are trained to do massage that is specifically designed to alleviate pelvic floor tension and pain. Both internal and external massage can be used; the approach your practitioner uses will depend on the scope of their practice.
Relaxing Pelvic Floor Muscles

Integrating Relaxation into Your Daily Routine

It might be tempting to put “exercises to relax tight pelvic floor muscles” as the next big thing on your to-do list. Instead of adding more stress and pressure to your list, think about ways you can incorporate a few of the elements I’ve discussed in this article into your daily life.

You might decide that every night before you go to bed, you’ll take three mindful 3D breaths. Or you could add cat/cow to your regular exercise routine. Take a quick movement break at work to slide your hips side-to-side. Use a stop light to check in with the tension in your body: is there too much or is it just right for the traffic conditions that day? Above all, take time to let yourself enjoy having a body–everything you experience happens through the body. Can you find a few minutes to notice something that delights you? That’s going to relax your pelvic floor muscles too.

If you need a more directed plan for pelvic health, our 12-week Restore Your Core® program is designed to bring your muscles into better coordination, and helps you learn to move mindfully. It’s a great place to begin your journey toward more relaxed pelvic floor muscles.

Final Thoughts

As always when it comes to the body, there are times when professional medical advice is needed. Seek the advice of a physician before you begin any exercise program. Any sudden, intense pain that does not subside quickly is worth getting checked out, as is persistent discomfort that worsens during activity. Unexplained bleeding or changes in bowel or urinary health are also flags to seek help. You know your body best–but asking for help is usually a good idea.

If you’ve read this far, you know that your pelvic health is important to your overall well-being. Beginning with small, doable steps can make big, positive changes happen over time. You deserve to feel good in your body.

FAQ

1. Can relaxing pelvic floor muscles improve sexual health?

Yes, relaxing pelvic floor muscles can potentially improve sexual health. When pelvic floor muscles are overly tense or tight, it can lead to discomfort or pain during or after intercourse and may contribute to sexual dysfunction. Engaging in pelvic floor relaxation techniques can help alleviate muscle tension, increase blood flow to the pelvic region, and enhance sexual pleasure and satisfaction.

2. Are there any risks associated with pelvic floor relaxation techniques?

Generally, pelvic floor relaxation techniques are safe when practiced correctly and under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional. However, there may be rare cases where some people experience discomfort or worsening of symptoms during relaxation exercises. It’s essential to listen to your body, start gradually, and seek guidance from a pelvic floor specialist if you have any concerns or pre-existing medical conditions.

3. How long does it take to see results from pelvic floor relaxation exercises?

The timeline for experiencing results from pelvic floor relaxation exercises can vary depending on individual factors such as the severity of muscle tension and consistency of practice. Some people report results in weeks; for others, it may take months. Patience and persistence are key.

4. Can stress affect the tension in pelvic floor muscles?

Yes, stress can contribute to increased tension in pelvic floor muscles. When the body is under stress, it may trigger a “fight or flight” response, leading to muscle tension and tightening throughout the body, including the pelvic floor. Finding ways to reduce the stressors and manage the stress may be helpful as part of a program like Restore Your Core® to reduce pelvic floor muscle tension.

5. Is it possible to relax pelvic floor muscles too much?

While it’s essential to reduce excessive tension or tightness in pelvic floor muscles, it’s also important to maintain a balance of muscle tone and support to prevent pelvic floor weakness or dysfunction. The exercises I’ve shared here, and that are in RYC®, are designed to promote balance, not laxity.

6. How can I incorporate pelvic floor relaxation into a busy schedule?

Incorporating pelvic floor relaxation into a busy schedule can be challenging but is achievable with some creativity and commitment. Consider integrating short relaxation exercises into your daily routine, such as 3D breathing or progressive muscle relaxation during moments of downtime, such as before bed or during a lunch break. Use relaxation apps or audio recordings for guided sessions that you can listen to while commuting or during household chores.