If you’ve ever experienced urinary incontinence (leaking urine), you are not alone. The National Association for Continence reports that over 25 million American adults experience bladder leakage every day.
While urinary incontinence is common, it is not normal. And it’s not something that you should “just live with.” This medical condition can often be resolved or improved with proper treatment.
In 2014, researchers from UCSF School of Medicine led a study looking at the effects of yoga on incontinence. They enrolled nineteen women who had been dealing with incontinence issues for at least three months. Half of the women did a six-week yoga program, while the other half did not. Those who were in the yoga group saw a 66% reduction in the frequency of urine leakage, while the non-yoga group saw a 13% improvement in urine leakage.
Each participant was also given a pamphlet outlining “standard behavioural self-management strategies for improving bladder control.” This highlights how important it is to continue to learn about pelvic health. Education is empowering and it can make a difference.
The research on yoga for incontinence is limited, but every week I see its impact on the students that I work with. Here are some of the yoga tools that I find helpful:
This may help relax pelvic floor muscles that are “too tight” (hypertonic). Think of the pelvic floor like a trampoline that provides support for the bladder. The tissue in the pelvic floor also closes the opening from the bladder, the urinary sphincter. The muscles of the pelvic floor have to activate when needed, but also release and relax at appropriate times. When the muscles are too tight, they can’t work optimally.
These can all activate the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system. What does this have to do with the bladder? Research shows that there is a direct link between our nervous system and bladder. If someone is dealing with urge incontinence, you can use the tools of yoga to tap into the relaxation response.
These are often mentioned during yoga classes. They can also have a big impact on the way you breathe and how the core 4 (pelvic floor, diaphragm, multifidus and transversus abdominis) work together.
During yoga, you can work to activate and strengthen the core 4 along with the other supporting muscles of the body.
When you bring more awareness to your yoga practice, you notice how you are feeling both physically and emotionally. You may also notice that you are holding tension or that your mind continues to whirl around a stressful event. Urinary incontinence is a message from the body that something in the system isn’t working. Yoga gives us time to listen.
If you have urinary incontinence, it is important to find a healthcare provider who specializes in this condition. This may be a family physician, general practitioner, Ob/Gyn or pelvic floor physical therapist. If you want to try yoga, try to find a yoga teacher who specializes in pelvic health.
Your treatment plan will depend on your diagnosis and your symptoms. You will know if it’s working, when your incontinence decreases or stops.
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