Reflections was able to get some time in Leslie Howard’s busy schedule to ask her a few questions about her “Yoga for the Pelvic Floor” workshop that she presents at yoga studios across the world, and will present at Reflections Center for Conscious Living on March 9 & 10, 2013.
Leslie Howard has been teaching yoga for over 15 years. She has studied intensively with top-tier teachers in the Iyengar school: Manouso Manos, Ramanand Patel, Tony Briggs, Patricia Walden, and others. Each year, she gives presentations to hundreds of women on anatomy, physiology, posture, proper breathing techniques, and asanas (poses) as relates to the pelvic floor. As a result many women have reported significant alleviation of symptoms including a decrease in pelvic floor issues thus lessening or eliminating the need for surgery and/or medication
Below is a bit more information on what will happen in the workshop, and why learning about your pelvic floor is so important.
Reflections: Who should attend this workshop?
Leslie: Any woman who has a pelvis! (laughs) This is stuff we should have been taught in school. A lot of women are cut off from their pelvic floor. In our country, we have some unfortunate statistics: we have the highest rate of C-section and hysterectomy in the world; 1 in 3 women are sexually abused in their lifetime. We’re a culture where a flat stomach is a prized object, and many of us are in a continued state of gripping in our abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. This workshop is about reconnecting to this area. It is experiential and anatomical in nature.
Reflections: Can you speak about hyper- and hypo-tonicity?
Leslie: These two states, of too much tone (hypertonicity) or too little tone (hypotonicity) affect the pelvic floor in different ways. You work lack of tone differently from how you would too little tone. If you feel urge incontinence, painful sex, or can’t use a tampon, you may hypotonicity. You need to learn how to relax the muscles of the pelvic floor. If you had a traumatic or difficult labor, there’s a good chance you have hypertonicity. If the muscles of the pelvic floor are weak, it can lead to hypotonicity, which can lead to prolapsed uterus or other organ problems. If you’re hypotonic, you need to commit to doing the work to make internal changes.
There are some physical therapists who specialize in internal work. The physical therapy world is dominated by women, and some of these women are teaching other women how to get more connected to their pelvic floors. For those of us who can’t find a physical therapist like this, we can take a workshop like mine to learn how to work with their own specific state.
Reflections: How can I find out if I have hyper- or hypotonicity?
Leslie: Attend the workshop. I bring a 3D model of the musculature of the pelvic floor to the training. It’s about the size of a petite woman’s pelvis. We learn to differentiate the muscles of the pelvic floor using exercises and visual models – the pelvis model and some slide presentations I’ve developed – then on the Saturday night of the weekend workshop, I’ll ask you to go home and do your own exploration to determine your particular state. On Sunday, we’ll work with the findings.
Reflections: Is there a connection between pelvic floor health and fertility?
Leslie: I’ve trained many teachers who specialize in this sort of work. A lot of women need to learn how to relax. They’ve been told to have a tight stomach, a tight body, but many women conceive when they lighten up on their yoga practice and take on a restorative yoga practice. “Doing” is masculine energy. “Receiving” is considered classically more feminine. Many women have it twisted in their minds and feel they have to work so hard to achieve anything. We need to balance out energetically, and discern that “soften” does not mean “give up” or “get lazy.” Hardening the pelvic floor with techniques like mula bandha does not create an optimal environment for conception!
Reflections: You say you teach “what mula bandha is, and is not.” Can you speak about this a bit?
Leslie: I have researched mula bandha a lot. Mula bandha is an esoteric practice for pranayama and is supposed to be used while seated. In a lot of yoga classes today, mula bandha is taught during asana practice, but most people are not connected enough in their own bodies to engage mula bandha correctly while moving. Many people shouldn’t do mula bandha because they are already too tight in the pelvic floor. Mula bandha is an energetic thing, not a muscular thing. There is a lot of misinformation around this. Also, most of the ancient writings of yoga were written by men for the male body.
Reflections: Have you noticed a difference when you offer your workshop in urban environments, like NYC, and in places that are a little less stressful?
Leslie: (Laughs) Well, the stressful lifestyle is just about everywhere now. Women have no option but to work. They can’t stay home and take care of their kids while their men work. Nowadays, there are more men out of work than women. Women are stepping up at all levels. But to answer your question, I’ve given this workshop in NYC many times. In other places, on Sundays, after the Saturday night exploration, I ask “did you find out you were tight last night?” Usually, about one-third of the class raises their hand, but in NYC, it’s usually at least half. The lifestyle in NYC is fight or flight all the time. It’s very stressful. Just going to get lunch can be stressful. The pace of life here is very fast. There’s a higher incidence of hypertonicity here.
Reflections: Why doesn’t the medical community talk about pelvic floor health?
Leslie: In general, the medical community is a patriarchal institution. It’s changing, but it’s behind on women’s health. Physical therapists are leading the charge in pelvic health, as the physical therapy world is dominated by women. The medical establishment looks at the body as individual parts, not as a whole body. If you’re having problems in your pelvis, you need to look at what else is happening in your life. There may be nothing wrong with your pelvis per se, it could be something else that is manifesting as a condition in the pelvis. I want to increase women’s awareness about their pelvic floor health so they can start to make more informed choices.
Reflections: What is your intention in offering this workshop?
Leslie: To have a happy, healthy pelvis! (Laughs) I want women to have an intimate, not necessarily sexual, relationship with their intimate selves. The only time we talk about the pelvis in our culture is in the subjects of sex and birth. What about menopause? What about women who choose not to have children? There’s a huge gap of knowledge here. Some women never look at their vulvas. I have a joke in my newsletter: “would you recognize your vulva in a lineup?” It changes over the years. I had a participant in my workshop who, after the Saturday night exploratory exercises, tell me she hadn’t seen her vulva in over 10 years! I like to do the workshop on weekends so women can go home on Saturday nights, taking in what they learned, connect, and feel, and come back on Sunday with more information about themselves. The workshop is totally experiential.
Check out Leslie on YouTube:
What is the importance of practice?
As our lives progress we find that too often the same old story keeps recurring. Like a bad re-run, you can't seem to
change the channel, yet you know that the story will not have the hap
piest of endings. How can this be so when we want a new ending so badly. We want it with our whole heart from the deepest part of our souls!. Perhaps the answer in not in the wanting, but in the action.
In many cases, I see the clients that come to me for spiritual development over several years. In the best case they come, we work on the places they desire to change, they work deeply on their practice and something changes. More often they come, we work on the places they desire to change, they don't practice and they return with the same old story weeks, months or even years later. How can this be so? They showed up yearning for change!
The question is – were they ready, truly ready, to do the work that is required to create such change?
The ancient sage Pantanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras that "Practice creates change when well attended to, for a long time,
without break and in all earnestness". The Sutras are a guide to life, so how does this play out in our lives on and off the mat? Let's see…
Our life is a system of reactions or responses to recurring situations. If we want to change a reaction into a response we must sit with it deeply and work on the new, desired plan of action every day without fail! It is like learning anything, it takes practice. Learning to live the life we would like to live takes practice as well. IT WON'T JUST HAPPEN! You must be an active participant in life. If you want things to change you must be dedicated to creating what it is you want. It is easy really. You just need to show up without fail or, as Pantanjali would say, without break.
When the old habit rises up we must see it as that. We must stand firm and grounded in our new desire to live the life we want and the desire to live in a conscious response to the world around us. Now we are taking control and releasing the victim that we have created by our own acceptance of un-checked reactions or in my mind a life not fully lived.
We can’t change the world overnight … perhaps. But we can start by picking one small thing to work on. Attend to it every day without break in all earnestness and see what happens. Pick an easy one at first and apply these sage words. If it works, you will have the courage and commitment to take on another one, and then another, and then… You will be living your life instead of being a victim to that never ending re-run ! Change is in your hands… it is all in the action!
Does Paula’s story resonate with you? Are you ready for your own personal life transformation? Consider joining Paula in her Teleconference Course Using the Sutras as Your Guide http://reflectionsyoga.com/types-of-workshops/taking-the-seat-of-the-teacher/ June 12th.