Leslie Howard is a yoga practitioner, teacher, and certified Yoga Therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Named one of the top 50 yoga instructors in the United States by Sonima Health magazine, 2016, she specializes in the use of yoga for many issues but specifically for pelvic floor problems. After suffering from hypertonic pelvic syndrome, she found relief from symptoms by careful application of Iyengar-style/influenced yoga and breath work and since has continued to refine and develop the application of yoga for the pelvic floor for herself and others.
To this end, for the past twelve years, she has logged over 3500 hours of study on the subject and has taught women of all ages to practice yoga to alleviate pelvic floor conditions, including urinary incontinence and pelvic pain, through a combination of small group teaching, public workshops, and national conferences. Her approach is called Pelvic Floor YogaTM.
After 20 years of teaching workshops and teacher trainings for therapeutic application of yoga for pelvic floor disorders worldwide, Leslie is releasing her first publication in early November 2017.
This book outlines her findings of the cultural, medical and societal contributors to women’s pelvic health and offers yoga and breathing techniques to alleviate many of the most common issues. She was contacted by University of California, San Francisco in 2012 to design a yoga study for incontinence with acclaimed yoga teacher, Judith Lasater that resulted in a 70% decrease in symptoms in six weeks. In 2013, another study Yoga for Pelvic Pain at UCSF merited a 42% decrease in pelvic pain in six weeks. Using yoga, breathing techniques, self inquiry and a big dash of humor, Leslie brings a thoughtful, thorough and therapeutic focus to a subject that can be difficult and overwhelming.
This book was written as a call to normalize the conversation about pelvic health and improve women’s knowledge and awareness of their pelvis. Leslie’s hope is to shine light on a subject shrouded in darkness and misunderstanding and illuminate the beauty and magic of this rich place. She also asks the reader to consider cultural and historical effects on women’s health in general.
Excerpted from Pelvic Liberation: Cultivating Awareness for a Happy Healthy Pelvis by Leslie Howard:
In the yoga world, there is a parallel to Kegels, and this concept is often conveyed in an equally murky way. It’s called mula bandha.
The history of mula bandha is a checkered one. Sri K. Patthabi Jois, an Indian yogi credited with introducing ashtanga vinyasa yoga to the western world, claimed that he possessed an ancient, sacred document called the Yoga Korunta. This document allegedly contained the entire series of asanas (postures) and bandhas (locks) of ashtanga vinyasa yoga, including a full description of the mechanics and purpose of mula bandha. When pressed to produce the text, Jois, claimed the only existing copy had been eaten by ants. He passed away in 2009.
Fortunately, other yoga texts mention mula bandha and have not fallen prey to voracious insects. In chapter three, verse 61 of the Hatha Yoga Pradikipa, a 15th century yoga text instructs the student to “press the heel against the perineum and contract it firmly.” But there are no details about the specific muscles that are to be engaged in this description. It’s the same with other texts that mention mula bandha. In short, there is no Mula Bandha for Dummies.
If you’ve been to a yoga class, particularly one in the ashtanga vinyasa style, you have probably heard the instruction to lift or engage mula bandha. That instruction might be followed by a mention of the perineum or the descriptive instruction to “lift the space between the genitals and the anus.” But sometimes the instructions are imprecise and don’t explain how to perform this action effectively. As a result, some students may translate mula bandha to simply mean “squeeze your ass.”
This is unfortunate and hardly conducive to “awakening the goddess” in us. Even worse, it can render mula bandha a source of physical and emotional harm. It’s like clenching your jaw; if you habitually grind your teeth at night, your dentist wouldn’t tell you to engage your jaw muscles more. Instead, she’d likely suggest wearing an apparatus to relax the jaw and to soften that general area. If you already hold tension in the pelvic region, then creating more tension through Kegeling or mula bandha is inappropriate, and possibly cause pain. It comes as no surprise to me that I encounter a lot of yoginis with hypertonic pelvic floor muscles.
One general misconception that drives Kegeling and mula bandha is that becoming loose “down there” is inevitable, either post-birthing or because of time and age. Subsequently, we are told that we need to do something to combat this laxity. But as we learned earlier, a pelvis that holds too much tension can be as much of a problem as one that is too loose. Recognizing these misconceptions, and the potential harm they can cause, requires an understanding of body mechanics and energetics. From there, we can develop a yoga asana practice that accommodates and adapts to our diverse bodies.
LEARN WITH LESLIE HOWARD!
Attend her Pelvic Floor Workshop: Demystifying “Down There”
Nov. 6, 2017 – 2:00-6:00pm at Yoga Garden SF