By Fritha Pengelly, M.F.A., GCFPCM and Ruth Ever, MPH, Whole Woman® Practitioner
“There is perhaps no other part of the body about which so many half-truths have and are being said as the abdomen”
– Moshe Feldenkrais, “The Potent Self”
Introduction: Why Pelvic Health?
According to a 2008 study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly a quarter of all U.S. women, and nearly half of women 80 and older, are affected by pelvic floor disorders. The rates are likely much higher, since so many women suffer in silence and never seek alternative treatments for it. These disorders represent a range of health problems, including pelvic organ prolapse, which can cause physical discomfort, social anxiety and limited activity.
Common symptoms include stress incontinence or leaking when sneezing or coughing, urgency issues, bulging, heaviness and discomfort.
Googling “help with urinary incontinence” offers many suggestions for addressing the symptoms of pelvic floor disorders, including medications, lifestyle changes (e.g., reducing liquid consumption), pelvic floor exercise (e.g. Kegels), electrical stimulations, medical devices, and surgery.
Often people suffer in silence for a long time because of shame, embarrassment and denial, or are sent to specialists but are not enthusiastic about the mainstream options presented to them. Or they try some options but do not get enough relief.
We are excited and inspired to share a different approach to the common (but not inevitable!) issues arising from pelvic organ prolapse.
Combining the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education with the Whole Woman approach, we re-frame the issue by shifting the focus from a “weak” pelvic floor to understanding the importance of posture and breathing in supporting the pelvic organs. From a Feldenkrais® learning and Whole Woman point of view, we look at the functioning of the whole person. How do the feet support the pelvis? How can a pelvis in its natural orientation provide support for the pelvic organs? How does the functioning of the diaphragm direct the organs forward in such a way that the natural tone in the abdomen and pelvic floor are engaged? How might the issues of incontinence be related to hip and back pain?
Whole Woman: A Different Approach to Pelvic Organ Prolapse
The Whole Woman approach was developed by Christine Kent, a nurse who has spent decades researching and creating a holistic approach to pelvic health that is research-based, non-invasive and empowering. A critical piece of the work was her discovery that the orientation of the pelvic structures is not how most typical medical books portray it and that finding our natural posture and breathing along with targeted exercises are sufficient to help most women experiencing or wanting to prevent prolapse and related issues without risky or irreversible surgery. Destigmatizing and normalizing talking about bladder or rectal incontinence and creating spaces for women to share and support each other is also a part of the work we are carrying forward.
Why Feldenkrais and Whole Woman?
Posture is Key. Posture is Complicated.
“Faulty posture can always be traced to those factors that cause increased emotional tone… Faulty posture and behavior arise in a normal way in normal children if the end to be achieved is beyond the means of the child.” –Moshe Feldenkrais, “The Potent Self”
When we provide the Whole Woman foundational information and education about the pelvis and an “ideal” posture, it can be expected that this new organization of self will be difficult to attain without some means to understand and sense it internally. Integrating the Whole Woman perspective with Awareness Through Movement® Lessons provides the opportunity to integrate this learning.
As Dr. Feldenkrais understood, if posture sustains personality, how one feels about oneself, how one interacts with the world, and the emotional tone [that one may have carried for decades] that is held in the body, then without experiencing the possibility of a new and better option, it will be nearly impossible to make a change.
And, we have to know where we are starting from. If we don’t know how we habitually stand and sit, how can we change it? If we don’t know what it feels like to breathe easily, or to feel clear support from our feet, sense how our pelvis relates to the legs, or how to sense length through our spine – how can we change our posture to better support our pelvic organs?
Feldenkrais lessons allow time to explore slowly, with a sense of support and safety, how to feel and integrate new ways of being. They allow us to explore and find a sense of ourselves that, even though it might feel new, can also feel authentic. We can find a sense of ease and a connection with self that is congruent and not laden with old habits, while still honoring our lived experience.
Change is Possible
Embedded within the work of Feldenkrais is an understanding that change is possible. We can all learn how to do things differently. We can all utilize the intelligence of our nervous systems to improve function.
Of course, the longer we’ve practiced how we do what we do, the more practice it will take to integrate a new way of sitting and standing.
So we have been developing and teaching our Empowered Approach to Pelvic Health workshops and follow-up classes for the past few years as a way to help women to first understand what is happening in their bodies, then provide them with in-depth teaching about natural posture and breathing, along with simple exercises they can do on their own, and the time in the Awareness Through Movement lessons to explore new ways of being so that they can more readily integrate new habits into their daily lives.
We look forward to teaching at the 2021 FGNA Conference in September! Our conference workshop will provide an overview and introduction to our work including orientation to the pelvic structures, how Whole Woman and Feldenkrais learnings complement each other, movement exercises, and an Awareness Through Movement lesson to provide an internal sense of this new orientation and potential for integration. We hope to see you there to learn and explore together.
*While pelvic floor issues are experienced by everyone, our workshops are designed to support people with female anatomy.
About the authors:
Fritha Pengelly, M.F.A., is a Feldenkrais Practitioner based in Northampton, MA. Fritha received her M.F.A in dance from the University of Washington with a focus on anatomy and physiology. Her website is: https://www.feldenkraisandmovementarts.com
Ruth Ever, MPH is a certified Whole Woman® practitioner and Psychosynthesis life coach. She uses holistic, non-invasive techniques to address pelvic and bladder issues. www.RuthEver.com