The Pelvic Diaphragm

I’ve been in bed with the flu for the past couple of weeks. When it turned into bronchitis, I went to the doctor and started a round of antibiotics. Back home on the couch, I lay down and waited for the drugs to take effect.

And they did. Suddenly, I began to vomit. At the same time, my hacking cough was trying to clear out my lungs. Have you ever tried to vomit and cough at the same time? It’s not fun. I’m not even sure it’s physically possible, but my body was trying. And as if that wasn’t enough, my bowels began to evacuate. In my haste to get up quickly off the couch and into the bathroom, I felt a wrenching pain in my lower back.

When my gut settled down, I could hardly move. I had an excruciating pain in my low back near the sacrum and even the tiniest movement caused me to shriek with pain. I literally crawled back to the couch, where I hoped someone would come along soon and put me out of my misery.

The next day I managed to get to my chiropractor and described what happened. “Sounds like both your diaphragms went into spasm during your little adventure,” he said. I nodded mutely. Wait, diaphragms? I thought I only had one diaphragm, the one under the ribs that helps you breathe.

The Pelvic Diaphragm

The Pelvic Diaphragm

But actually, the pelvic floor functions as a second diaphragm. The pelvic floor consists of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues that support the pelvic organs against gravity and  pressure from the abdomen. The pelvic floor must be able to relax this support when you urinate or void your bowels.

Imagine me doubled over, contracting my upper diaphragm while retching and coughing, while the pelvic diaphragm is trying to relax enough to void the bowels, except that I won’t let it. Something, somewhere, had to give. And so my pelvic diaphragm went into spasm, causing the pain in my lower back.

My chiropractor massaged the tissues of both my diaphragms–extremely uncomfortable but for a good cause. He also adjusted my spinal vertebrae. Afterwards he asked me to bend forward and I was able to get into Uttanasana for the first time in over a week. I had tears in my eyes when I straightened up, I was so grateful to get back into a yoga pose.

I am slowly getting over the bronchitis, and the back pain is better but not gone. I attempted a full practice this morning and was astonished at how difficult it felt after a couple of weeks of inactivity and injury. What I noticed most was how weak my core felt, as if my guts could just spill out.

What can you do to maintain the tone of the pelvic diaphragm? Good ol’ Kegel exercises are a good place to start, especially for women, but practicing mula bandha, or “root lock”, will help strengthen the deepest pelvic muscles.

Stand in Tadasana-Mountain Pose with your pelvis anteriorly tilted, then lightly lift first the pubic bone and then the pelvic floor as you lengthen the groins—this is Mula Bandha. To find it from the posterior position, draw your hips slightly back until the buttocks relax and the lumbar spine regains its natural curve. As you do this, lift the pelvic floor and lengthen the waist and groins—again, this is Mula Bandha.

There is much more to be said about Mula Bandha, but we’ll save it for another post.

Be well!

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