Kegals, Constipation, Menstrual Pain, Yoga, and Painful Labor

 

No, this isn’t some random word association game. These practices and symptoms are all related.

 

Let’s start at the beginning: Kegals, or more accurately, kegal exercises. These exercises have almost mythic adoration in our culture. To perform a kegal exercise, people with a uterus contract their vagina and anal sphincter (the instruction is often to “feel like you’re picking a marble up off the floor with your vagina”). People with a penis create a movement that feels like lifting their penis up. The benefits of a kegal exercise? Better tone of the pelvic floor, which can prevent urinary and incontinence issues in later life. For women, the other major benefit of the kegal is toning the pelvic floor so it better returns to it’s natural shape after giving birth.

 

Kegal exercises are the most often recommended exercise for pregnant women (and they’re even encouraged to do “super kegals” – holding the contraction of the muscles for up to a minute!).

 

Kegals also show up under another name that you might be familiar with: mula bandha. In our yoga asana practice, there are three bandhas, or locks, that concentrate energy in specific areas. The lowest of the bandhas is “mula bandha” which is essentially doing and holding a Kegal.

 

This sounds great, right? Kegals are good for us, and more is better, so yogis should be in the best shape!

 

Not always the case. Big surprise, there’s such a thing as doing too many kegals, and it can result in major health issues. Let me explain.

 

When Kegal exercises aren’t good for you

In Ayurvedic theory, the body has vata, pitta, and kapha energies moving through the body. Let’s focus in on vata, which controls movement in the body. These vata energies move in multiple different directions in the body, and one of them, apana vayu, controls downward movement.

 

Apana vayu is the wind energy that rules defecation, menstruation, and childbirth, these forces that move something down and out of the body.

 

 

What apana vayu isn’t strong enough (or more likely) stagnates somewhere in the body, these downward functions don’t work correctly. When we don’t have sufficient downward force, defecation turns to constipation, menstruation becomes scanty and painful (or even reverses direction to become endometriosis), and labor is long and painful. We need our apana vayu.

 

If you’re experiencing painful/scanty periods, anxiety, or regular constipation, you may have stagnation in apana vayu.

 

This is particularly relevant for pregnant women, because this inability to relax mula bandha and the pelvic floor can prolong labor, make it more painful, and result in tears in the pelvic floor.

 

How Kegal exercises can interfere with apana vayu

When we do kegal exercises, we are pushing energy up. Look back at my original description, and you’ll see that a kegal exercise asks you to move energy upwards, the opposite direction of apana vayu. Now, in and of itself, this movement isn’t bad for you, and many people do need to increase their pelvic tone.

 

However, yogis know how to do kegals. And many of them are holding a kegal (or mula bandha) through a 60 minute or 90 minute class! When you hold on to that upward energy for long periods at a time, we can forget how to let it go.

 

Similarly, people with a lot of vata energy, fast-paced lives, anxiety, or stressful jobs, are often clenching their pelvic floor without realizing it. We don’t talk about relaxing your pelvic floor in polite conversation, and many people don’t even realize they’re doing it!

 

OK so let’s try it. Take a moment, check in, and see what’s happening at your pelvic floor. Are you contracting in your low belly? Do you feel an uplift or contraction in your pelvis/anus? These are signs that you might be holding on to your pelvic floor a little TOO tightly.

 

How to find out if you need more or less kegal exercises

The problem with kegal exercises is that they don’t focus on learning how to release the kegal, and I think that’s an equally important part to consider.

 

Here are some ways to know that you might need to focus on relaxing rather than strengthening the pelvic floor:

  • You regularly do yoga/hold mula bandha
  • You experience painful/scanty periods, constipation, anxiety, or had prolonged/painful childbirths
  • When we did our check, your were contracting mula bandha without consciously doing it.

 

Reasons you might need to focus on strengthening rather than relaxing the pelvic floor:

  • You do not exercise often or do yoga.
  • You don’t experience painful periods, constipation, anxiety, or painful/prolonged childbirth.
  • You have urinary or incontinence issues.
  • When we did our check, you were not contracting mula bandha.

 

A refined kegal exercise

 

If you need to focus on relaxing the pelvic floor:

  • Find a comfortable seat and close your eyes.
  • Take a deep breath in and contract mula bandha. Hold at the top of the inhale.
  • On the exhale, relax mula bandha.
  • Continue to relax mula bandha for 10 more breaths. You might even imagine a river or air flowing downward, reminding you to release and let go.
  • Repeat 3 times per day, or up to 5-10 if you’re experiencing painful periods or constipation.

 

If you need to focus on strengthening the pelvic floor:

  • Find a comfortable seat and close your eyes.
  • Take a deep breath in and contract mula bandha. Hold at the top of the inhale.
  • On the exhale, relax mula bandha.
  • Inhale to contract mula bandha, hold for an exhale and another inhale, and then relax mula bandha.
  • Continue with this pattern or contracting and relaxing mula bandha, each time holding an extra breath with mula bandha contracted before relaxing. Stop after you’re holding mula bandha for 10 breaths.
  • Repeat 3 times per day.

 

As you return the energy flow back to normal in your body, you’ll be able to move energy upwards or downwards based on the needs of the moment. These conscious movements are what will restore your optimal function and health!

 

  Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,   samantha attard sig

 

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samantha attard happy healthy humanSamantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.

 

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