A kegel exercise renaissance is underway. Except we aren’t calling it kegels anymore—too gauche. For the uninitiated, it’s now a “pelvic floor exercise.”
The notion that kegels—er, pelvic floor exercises—are a woman-only phenomenon, used for vaginal tightening to enhance sexual pleasure or to rejuvenate the area after giving birth, is dying out. Now, yogis and strongmen alike are joining the pelvic club—and enthusiasts are claiming that a strong pelvic floor is key to overall health.
“What society is starting to realize now is that the pelvic floor is the foundation of good breathing and works synergistically with your diaphragm. If your pelvic floor is too tight or loose, you are not breathing as well as you possibly could,” said Oakland-based pelvic floor yoga therapist Leslie Howard.
“The better you breathe, the better you live. It’s also the foundation for every movement of the body.”
And, let’s face it—a healthy bladder, which is another goal of pelvic floor exercises, makes for a happy person. In a recent study in the journal of the American Urogynecologic Society, 70 percent of women who participated in a yoga training program designed to improve their pelvic health were found to gain more control over their urination and avoid accidental urine leakage, versus 13 percent in the control group who did not undergo the yoga intervention.
As for men, no one wants to be that guy who can’t get his pee started at the urinals at a football game and has to use the stall to go number one. Thus, a growing number of books, research, journal articles, and companies, not to mention YouTube videos, are highlighting ways to tighten the pelvic muscles.
However, experts warn that pelvic floor exercises risk being too much of a good thing.
“Society and the fitness industry is all about ‘lift it up,’ ‘squeeze it,’ and ‘flex flex flex.’ But this can be detrimental to people. It’s what’s called hypertonicity, or too tight and toned of a pelvic floor. This too leads to health issues,” says Howard, the yoga therapist.
“Men generally have too much tightness, for instance. Their pelvic structure is more closed than females, so they may tend to have problems, like losing the strength of their urine stream. And it’s not an old man thing. It’s happening to men in their 30s.”
Still, it seems like we’re on the brink of a pelvic revolution. So why has it taken until 2015 to realize the pelvic floor is essential to our overall health?
“Our American culture has puritanical roots, an historically patriarchic medical system; and at the same time, when it comes to the workings of our pelvis, it has been only about having sex and babies.”
“For both men and women just now is the word pelvis being associated with its ability to improve breathing, mood, balance, movement and our overall well-being.”
And there you have it. The art of knowing thyself is truly rooted in the pelvic floor.