Loss of bladder control is a common problem, particularly for women, and with it comes involuntary urination, also known as urinary incontinence (UI). Affecting as many as one-third of women over the age of 40, it's a condition that can range from mildly annoying to seriously debilitating. Heredity, injury, obesity and weak pelvic muscles are all possible causes. While UI may be treated with surgery, medical device implantation or medication, many cases can be controlled by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, which are the muscles that connect to the front, back, and sides of the pelvic bone.
Evidence for Yoga
Many doctors recommend Kegel Exercises to gain more control over pelvic floor muscles. However, yoga is increasingly considered a viable alternative or supplement to Kegel. A 2014 randomized pilot trial reported in Female Pelvic and Reconstructive Surgery found that women who did three sessions of yoga weekly for 6 weeks experienced a dramatic improvement in their UI symptoms. They experienced a 66 percent decrease in frequency of urination, while stress incontinence frequency decreased by a 85 percent. The researchers concluded that yoga could be a viable alternative for women who preferred to avoid surgery, medication or other clinical therapies.
Postures for UI
Yoga classes administered during the study were based on the Iyengar style of yoga, which emphasizes mindfulness while holding postures rather than cycling through them rapidly. The classes focused on eight poses that specifically strengthen or stretch pelvic floor muscles. Instructors also emphasized mental awareness of the pelvic floor structures to increase control over muscles related to UI.
Begin by standing with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Tuck your tailbone slightly inward, drawing your shoulders back. Flex your thigh muscles and inner ankles, then visualize a rod of energy running from your inner thighs to your pelvis, up through your core and to the crown. Bring your your spine, torso and crown into alignment with the center of your pelvic floor. Inhale and raise your arms over your head with palms facing each other. Hold the position for several breathes then release forward and touch your toes.
From Mountain pose, bend your knees until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor, or as close as you can manage. Your knees will extend a bit beyond your feet and your torso will hover somewhat over your thighs. The inner thighs are parallel to each other, and the heads of your thigh bones press downward toward the heels. Retract your shoulder blades and tuck your tailbone downward in toward your pubis, keeping the lower back long.
Lying on your back with your legs and arms fully extended and your eyes closed, turn your arms in an outward position with the palms facing upward and the backs of your hands resting on the floor. Allow your upper torso to spread out evenly across the floor and your pelvic area to relax along with the arch in your lower back. Stay in the pose 5 minutes or more.
In addition to the poses listed above, participants in the study also did Triangle pose, Squat pose, Reclined Cobbler's pose and Legs Up the Wall pose. They also were encouraged to improve general fitness and engage in breathing exercises and other mindfulness practices.