Sorry if this title is a bit shocking to you, but we need to talk about the two of them. Vaginas and circus, that it.
For those of you who have a vagina, some of the following scenarios may have actually happened–and if they have, I want you to know that these sorts of incidents occur more often and to more people than you might think. So try not to feel bad about it.
I also want share some tips about how to train so that when you are in these kinds of situations, you will be less likely to have a repeat occurrence.
You’re jumping on a trampoline. It could be one of those super-bouncy Olympic-style trampolines. Or you could be in one of those new mini-trampoline fitness classes. And you pee yourself. It’s not like you completely wet yourself, but pee came out and you definitely noticed.
Or maybe you were doing some jumping jacks or burpees during the warm-up for class. And you’ve leaked a little. (Just as an FYI this particular phenomenon isn’t just a problem for people with vaginas…)
It is also possible to find yourself inverting on an apparatus, or into a handstand…Or even inverting as part of your Pilates or Yoga practice…and the next thing you know, you queef.
Sometimes also called a front fart or vart. These all refer to the sound of a trapped pocket of air being expelled from a vagina.
You’re not alone.
Normally, when someone passes some air (or gas) in class, I only acknowledge it as much as the student does: if they say nothing, I say nothing. If they decide to acknowledge it, then I will, too. And then we move on.
Many times, I’ve had someone tell me privately before class that they can’t jump around because they pee themselves. Then, I usually offer some non-jumpy options for the warm up.
As an instructor, I have been approached by students about both of these issues and both of them come down to the same thing: chances are you need to engage your pelvic floor (more).
For the students I work with on an ongoing basis, I offer ways to strengthen their pelvic floor so they can do these jumpy activities and now I would like to share them with you. Because let’s be clear: although these sorts of things are not going to totally ruin your day or your circus training, they may get in the way of you making progress and expressing your fullest potential… and leave you with some wet undies. Nobody likes wet undies.
The Pelvic Floor Muscles and Your Core
Your pelvic floor muscles lives at the very bottom of your pelvis. They are holding in some major organs and they’re the base of your core (see photo).
Think of your core like a canister: your diaphragm forms the top, your transverse abdominis (TA), multifdus and other ‘ab’ muscles are the cylinder’s sides and the pelvic floor is the bottom. They all work together to create a strong core.
However, too many people do not access all of these muscles when doing core work and many forget their pelvic floor muscles!
I hope by the end of this post you can use the exercises below to help you on your way to strengthening your pelvic floor muscles (and ultimately, a stronger core).
The Not-So-Good News
Weak or inactive pelvic floor muscles can result from pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, constipation (and straining to go), poor technique while lifting heavy items, muscle atrophy. You can even lose your cognitive-neurological connection to your pelvic floor from poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle!
A weak pelvic floor can cause bladder, urethra, vaginal or rectal prolapse, incontinence, low back pain and/or decreased sensation (or pain!) during sex.
[Again, it’s not just people with vaginas who can end up with a weak pelvic floor–and the health issues that can come with it. So if you’re reading this and you don’t have a vagina, this could be helpful for you, too].
The Good News
You can totally strengthen your pelvic floor!
But first, a disclaimer:
There are some exercises you can do, but I do want to say that even with guidance, some people still can’t access their pelvic floor muscles without the help of a physical therapist.
And some people think they are doing the exercises properly, but they are doing them incorrectly.
It is important to note that if you are experiencing either leaking during jumping/impact activities or some queefing while inverting, you could have weak pelvic floor muscles…
But you may also have tight pelvic floor muscles. This is also not good. When a muscle (any muscle) is chronically tight, it is rendered basically useless. It not only hurts, but it reduces the strength of the muscle. With tight pelvic floor muscles, you may experience some of the same symptoms from a weak pelvic floor, when in fact your muscles may actually be too tight.
If you are not sure, it is good to see a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor rehab.
That being said, there are some exercises you can start with and see if there is improvement and if so, Yay! You are on your way to a stronger pelvic floor and thus, a stronger core. But if after some work with these exercises, there is no improvement, then seeing a physical therapist would be a good idea. We want to make sure you are as healthy as possible.
Many people have heard of Kegels and some of you may have even performed these exercises, but they are so much more than just contract/relax, which is usually all that’s ever talked about. Also, many people have a hard time accessing their pelvic floor muscles while performing Kegel exercises, which is where some of these pointers below can be helpful or where the assistance of a professional may be needed.
- Ultimately, when performing a Kegel, no other muscles should move (like your glutes, inner thighs or quads).
- Your anus should not be clenching.
- It’s not all about the contraction. It’s also about the release. The release is just as important.
- You want to feel a lifting of your perineum, the space between your anus and your genitals.
- To help you locate the muscles needed for pelvic floor strengthening, it often helps to think of engaging the muscles you would use to stop the flow of pee.
- Sometimes squeezing a yoga block or small pilates ball between your legs can help activate your pelvic floor muscles. Eventually, however, you will want to develop the neurological connection to your pelvic floor area without needing to activate your inner thighs.
- Pelvic floor exercises can be done anywhere, sitting in your car, at your desk, standing around, ordering a coffee or lying down relaxing.
The Basic Kegel
A contract and relax exercise for the perineum. Ideally, each rep should be a 10 second contraction and a 10 second release, but this is actually quite a long time if you have never done this before, so start with a 2-3 second hold and a 8-10 second release. Release for 8-10 repetitions. Take a couple minutes each day to do this, once or twice a day. As you get more in tune with this contract/relax exercise, vary the strength of the contraction. Don’t make all of them maximum, vary them.
Slowly contract your perineum as if an elevator is slowly going up several flights. When you reach your top floor, or maximum contraction, slowly descend to the first floor. You can also take this a step further and ‘stop on floors’. This can be done during the lifting and the releasing phases. While lifting up, hold at a certain amount of contraction for a few seconds then continue to lift, maybe stop at another level of contraction or two (or other floors) and then on the release hold for a few seconds at different levels of contractions. This is a good exercise to add in after you have mastered the Basic Kegel. Add it into the mix of your training every day.
Mula Banda or Root Lock
This is the lifting of your perineum throughout your yoga practice, but this can be applied to your circus training. IMPORTANT: This is a subtle lift, not a clenching of the perineum.
I add this last exercise because you should contract your core before any physical action you are doing and your pelvic floor is part of your core. If you are currently pretty good at contracting your core before you try physical movement like inverting onto a trapeze or a handstand, but not in the habit of lifting your pelvic floor muscles, here’s me telling you to include this vital piece of your core into this pre-movement engagement. If you are not in the habit of contracting your core before physical movement then here’s your reminder to be doing that and including the lifting of your pelvic floor in this contraction, because, again, our pelvic floor is part of your core.
If you are experiencing any of the scenarios listed earlier and you start to incorporate the above exercises and practice for 8-10 weeks and your symptoms do no improve, then I suggest talking to your doctor and get a referral to a pelvic floor specialist or physical therapist. They will help you remedy any issue, even helping you to find your pelvic floor muscles.
And I just learned pelvic floor training is the new ‘IT’ thing in Hollywood! If you want your very own Elvie, you can have one too!
After publishing this, a friend of mine and a wonderful physical therapist, commented on Facebook that she highly recommends a course by Julie Wiebe. My friend has taken the one for professionals, but that Julie also offers a course for individuals. I am so excited to be looking into the course for professionals and how I can continue to learn and provide more to my clients and students.