Do you remember when you first learned to drive? You didn’t hop in the car and drive to work while thinking about what time you need to pick up the kids, what you need to get in the supermarket on the way home or when would suit you to book in with the dentist. You focused. You thought about each little step you needed to do and then you did it. Put the key in the ignition. Check. Foot on the clutch while you turn the key. Check. Okay what’s next? Gears. Shift into first gear. Check. Press accelerator while slowly allowing the clutch out so you don’t conk out.

depositphotos_42111061-Driving-school-test2Anyway, you get my drift. Now, you get in the car and pull out of your drive without having to think for one second about what you’re doing. Sometimes you get in the car and before you know it you’ve arrived at your destination having noticed little or nothing about the journey. I think learning pelvic floor exercises is very similar to learning to drive. Except you’re not going to kill anyone if you get it wrong. And thankfully it’s much easier. If you focus on what you’re doing.

You and your physiotherapist want your pelvic floor to do two things – first it needs to squeeze and lift, secondly it needs to squeeze and lift at the right time so that it’s not squeezing and lifting after your bladder has leaked.

If you think you know how to do pelvic floor exercises and you’re doing them at the traffic lights, on the bus, while you’re peeling the spuds and any other time you think of it, that’s ok. You probably are working your pelvic floor muscles. But that’s just half the story. Lots of women don’t have big problem with the strength of their pelvic floor muscles, more common is a co-ordination problem. Squeezing your muscles indiscriminately and distractedly at various intervals during the day probably won’t help much if your problem is co-ordination. depositphotos_5574765-Young-woman-dancing-flameno-isolated-on-white2

After all, dancers don’t learn a complicated dance by doing a few steps every now again while hoovering or walking to work. And anyway, most women don’t leak urine while they’re sitting at traffic light or peeling the spuds. It’s when you cough, sneeze, jump on the trampoline or go jogging that you really need your pelvic floor to step up and do its job.

‘But I don’t know in advance when I’m going to sneeze’, I hear you say. How am I going to squeeze my pelvic floor and sneeze and cross my legs all at the same time that quickly? Well the answer is – you don’t need to. Remember life before babies? When you hadn’t even heard of stress incontinence, never mind the pelvic floor. What did the pelvic floor do then that it’s not doing now? It squeezed to keep your bladder closed. And you didn’t even know that it was doing that! Quite like you now – hopping in your car and not pausing for even a second to think – what’s next, gears or clutch?

So how do we get that automatic squeeze back? How did you learn to drive? Well first of all, you practiced. Second of all, you focused on what you were doing. As you were learning to drive you weren’t chatting about what you were going to do at the weekend or listening to the radio. You were going through a sequence of steps which needed to happen in a particular order. Now that you’ve repeated that sequence of steps hundred (if not thousands) of times, you don’t have to think about it.

Pelvic floor exercises are the same. There’s a sequence of steps involved in reprogramming your pelvic floor to work as it used to and as it can again. Breathe in. Begin breathing out. Add your gentle squeeze as you continue to breathe out. Release your squeeze and continue to breathe out. Relax. Start over. And over. Repeat until automatic. You’ll know when it’s automatic!

So, relax at the traffic lights. Tune in to your breathing. Notice whether it’s fast or slow, shallow or deep. Check your tummy. Is it relaxed or tense? And remind yourself to take some time to mindfully do your pelvic floor exercises later. More on how to do pelvic floor exercises correctly in my next blog post…….