I was on a conference call the other day with a professional group of women authors. One happened to be Sara Gottfried, MD, a Harvard trained, board certified gynecologist, and author of The Hormone Cure. When I heard her prestigious credentials, I asked if she'd be willing to talk with me about natural ways to improve LBL. Dr. Sara was trained to teach women how to do Kegel exercise as a way to strengthen the pelvic floor which helps prevent, reduce, and sometimes even eliminating LBL. She found that Kegels leave many women cold. "It can be hard to integrate it into your life, or to feel like it's worthwhile," she said. The alternative she suggested is something I had never heard of before – Mula Bandha, an exercise practiced in yoga.
Dr. Sara considers certain yoga moves to be a more powerful and potent way to access the same type exercise as a Kegel. "There are different energetic locks in your body," she said, "One is called Mula Bandha." She explained that Mula Bandha is a Sanskrit word. Mula means "root" and Bandha means "lock." Mula Bandha is the "root lock" which is similar to the squeeze-and-hold concept of the Kegel. When you're skillful with the energetic locks in yoga, you accomplish three things – You strengthen the pelvic floor, you balance your nervous system so your body is better able to heal and repair the pelvic floor. And it slows down the aging process. "So you get to feel younger and stop leaking?" I asked. "Exactly," said Dr. Sara.
One of the basics of Mula Bandha is that you don't just squeeze and hold your pelvic floor. You use a range of motion. You lift the pelvic floor upward, like making five different stops on an elevator. Most women are able to squeeze up and feel those five floors easily, but they have a more difficult time coming down. They release all at once. It's important to release in increments (from the fifth floor to the fourth, the fourth to the third, and so on.)
Breathing Matters When you add your breath to the exercise (breathing in for the count of five and out for the count of five) it activates something Dr. Sara referred to as your "parasympathetic nervous system" – that's what stimulates "rest-and-digest" activities in the body. "It takes you out of stress mode and into a calm body state. That's when the repair happens. That's when the healing happens. That's how you can really work on correcting some of the issues that lead to LBL." she said. Stress creates cortisol (the main stress hormone), which tends to make your body more acidic. This can affect the pH balance in your urine, which can aggravate the bladder and contribute to LBL. "Most of us need to work on alkalinizing our bodies to have more repair," said Dr. Sara, "One of the best ways to get your pH more in the alkaline direction is with your breath - not just doing Kegels, but connecting the gradient lift and decent of your pelvic floor with your breath. Slowing down your breath with a five second count helps to reduce the acidity. A lot of people think they have to alkalinize their bodies with greens, or the food they eat, but you can do it with your breath."
Dr. Sara is not a big fan of adding another thing to a busy woman's overloaded to-do list. She's more interested in how to integrate this in your day in a way that really makes sense. "Practice this for five minutes first thing in the morning and before bed like a sacred ritual. I think about it like brushing my teeth. No matter how busy I am, I brush." she said.