When I was sixteen years old, something bad happened to me. I tucked it under the rug and ignored it for as long as I could. But the thing about trauma is that if you force yourself to pretend it doesn’t exist, it will evidently manifest into something just as gut-wrenching. For me, that was an anxiety disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and eventually, pelvic floor dysfunction.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is the inability to relax the muscles in your pelvic floor, often caused by traumatic events and overuse of the pelvic muscles. The pelvic floor is the support structure and home of the bladder, the uterus and vagina or prostate, and the rectum. Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction are constipation and/or straining to have a bowel movement, lower back pain, frequent and/or painful urination, and pain during and after sex.
After countless visits to a pelvic medicine doctor for trigger point injections (these are meant to help force relaxation in the muscles), I started my journey with physical therapy.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that everything in our bodies is connected. My stress makes a home between my shoulder blades, which then shoots down to my lower back and pelvic floor. My anxiety can cause a stomach ache and constipation, which then creates a pelvic floor flare-up.
In other words, I have never been relaxed, ever.
Through physical therapy, I’ve learned that one of the most important things I can do for my body is to breathe. With every deep inhale and exhale, I am actively relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. By practicing yoga and meditation, I am forcibly working to relax every part of my body. With pelvic floor dysfunction, I can’t do most exercises – going for a run, doing squats, riding a bike – without having a flare-up. Instead, I go on walks. I practice yoga, with deep stretching of my thighs, my glutes, my back, and my arms. I breathe deeply.
This is the thing about trauma: the longer you pretend it doesn’t exist, and pretend it doesn’t hurt, the stronger it gets. Eventually, that hurt will swell and take up so much space inside of your body. The mental and emotional pain will manifest into something physical. While it’s urgent to take care of your physical health, it’s just as – if not more – important to take care of your mental health too. With stretching, deep breathing, and being present through the art of yoga and meditation, your body can actively work on healing itself.
All I’ve ever known is tension. All I’ve ever known is the tightening of my body. With stretching and breathing and moving my body in gentle ways, I will – one day – know what it’s like to be relaxed. One day I will know what it’s like to be at peace in the body I’m in.