Dustienne Miller is the creator of the two-day course Yoga for Pelvic Pain. Dustienne passionately believes in the integration of physical therapy and yoga in a holistic model of care, helping individuals navigate through pelvic pain and incontinence to live a healthy and pain-free life.
I’m one of the small business owners who has survived this difficult time. Day after day I would mask up, put on the filtration systems, and be filled with gratitude that I could still safely do my work in the world. Despite being vigilant on sleep, eating lots of veggies from the local farm, exercising, and staying well hydrated I still carry a deep covering of stress and tension.
We have been holding our breath literally and figuratively with collective humanity for the past year. I realized when I had an acute flare of lumbopelvic pain that I had to melt away layer by layer of holding tension in both my back and ribs and go deeper into my breathwork and meditation practice.
I share this to acknowledge that as health care providers we are caring for more than just the physical concerns of our patients. We are honored to witness their grief, which could be from any type of trauma (physical, medical, etc). We are chosen to be their trusted source of advice which often goes beyond the rehab lens. We also need to notice when we as clinicians (and humans experiencing a global pandemic) experience burnout.
We teach our patients how breathing patterns inform our digestion, our spine, our emotional state, our pelvic floor, etc. It’s one of the most powerful tools we have to inform our system that we are safe. Despite this knowledge, we will often find ourselves holding our breath or breathing in non-optimal ways without even realizing it. When we don’t want to feel something we don’t breathe. When we are afraid we hold our breath. We might even find our ribs stay tight even when we feel relaxed.
Let’s pause to notice and soften.
Notice your body without “fixing” your posture. Where is your ribcage in relationship to your pelvic floor? What does it feel like when you breathe in? What does it feel like when you breathe out?
If you are sitting, slouch down. How does breathing feel in this position? Now imagine your head is getting magnetically pulled up towards the ceiling and sit in a more lengthened position. Take a breath with a taller spine. Does it feel different?
Now try this with your eyes closed: imagine the intercostal space widens with each inhale - then softens during each exhale. Do you have a habit of holding your ribs open with tension? Picture your shoulders softening, as if the tension from the upper traps was melting away. The jaw softens, the tongue softens, the center of the forehead softens.
Now take another long, conscious breath. What do you notice?
As practitioners, we give so much to our patients. It serves us to stay grounded in our bodies and as relaxed as we can be while we work. It’s a tall order and hard to remember but it might help decrease fatigue, exhaustion, physical pain, and burnout. Let’s all try and keep our breaths long, jaws soft, and pelvic floors pliable. I hope this pause was useful for you!
Dustienne Miller MSPT, WCS, CYT is a Herman & Wallace faculty member, owner of Your Pace Yoga, and the author of the course Yoga for Pelvic Pain. Join her in Columbus, OH this April 27-28, to learn how yoga can be used to treat interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, vulvar pain, coccydynia, hip pain, and pudendal neuralgia. The course is also coming to Manchester, NH September 7-8, 2019, and Buffalo, NY on October 5-6, 2019.
How does a yoga program compare to a strength and stretching program for women with urinary incontinence? Dr. Allison Huang1 et al have published another research study, after publishing a pilot study2 on using group-based yoga programs to decrease urinary incontinence. Well-known yoga teachers Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, and Leslie Howard created the yoga class and home program structure for this research study and the 2014 pilot study. The yoga program was primarily based on Iyengar yoga, which uses props to modify postures, a slower tempo to increase mindfulness, and pays special attention to alignment.
To be chosen for this study, women had to be able to walk more than 2 blocks, transfer from supine to standing independently, be at least 50 years of age, and experience stress, urge, or mixed urinary incontinence at least once daily. Participants had to be new to yoga and holding off on clinical treatment for urinary incontinence, including pelvic health occupational and physical therapy.
28 women were assigned to the yoga intervention group and 28 women were assigned to the control group. The mean age was 65.4 with the age range of 55-83 years of age.
The control group received bi-weekly group class and home program instruction on stretching and strengthening without pelvic floor muscle cuing or relaxation training.
The yoga program met for group class twice a week for 90 minutes each and practiced at home one hour per week. The control group met twice a week for 90 minutes with a one-hour home program every week. Both groups met for 12 weeks.
Both groups received bladder behavioral retraining informational handouts. The information sheets contained education about urinary incontinence, pelvic floor muscle strengthening exercises, urge suppression strategies, and instructions on timed voiding.
The yoga program included 15 yoga postures: Parsvokonasana (side angle pose), Parsvottasana (intense side stretch pose), Tadasana (mountain pose) Trikonasana (triangle pose), Utkatasana (chair pose), Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2 pose), Baddha Konasana (bounded angle pose), Bharadvajasana (seated twist pose), Malasana (squat pose), Salamba Set Bandhasana (supported bridge pose), Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined cobbler’s pose), Supta Padagushthasana (reclined big toe pose), Savasana (corpse pose), Viparita Karani Variation (legs up the wall pose), and Salabhasana (locust pose).
Women in the yoga intervention group reported more than 76% average improvement in total incontinence frequency over the 3-month period. Women in the muscle stretching/strengthening (without pelvic floor muscle cuing and relaxation training) control group reported more than 56% reduction in leakage episodes.
Stress urinary incontinence episodes decreased by an average of 61% in the yoga group and 35% in the control group (P = .045). Episodes of urge incontinence decreased by an average of 30% in the yoga group and 17% in the control group (P = .77).
The take away? We know behavioral techniques have been shown to improve quality of life and decrease frequency and severity of urinary incontinence episodes.3 Couple this with our clinical interventions, and our patients have a way to reinforce the work we do in the clinic by themselves, or socially within their community. Yoga can be another tool in the toolbox for optimizing pelvic health.
1) Diokno AC et al. (2018). Effect of Group-Administered Behavioral Treatment on Urinary Incontinence in Older Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med.1;178(10):1333-1341. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.3766.
2) Huang, Alison J. et al. (2019). A group-based yoga program for urinary incontinence in ambulatory women: feasibility, tolerability, and change in incontinence frequency over 3 months in a single-center randomized trial. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 220(1) 87.e1 - 87.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2018.10.031
3) Huang, A. J., Jenny, H. E., Chesney, M. A., Schembri, M., & Subak, L. L. (2014). A group-based yoga therapy intervention for urinary incontinence in women: a pilot randomized trial. Female pelvic medicine & reconstructive surgery, 20(3), 147-54.
As practitioners, we understand the value of a yoga practice for multiple systems. Yoga improves cardiovascular function, pulmonary function, improves flexibility, builds strength, improves balance, and cultivates resiliency. Prenatal yoga is deemed safe and widely practiced. Beyond not laying prone after the first trimester, what are modifications for practicing yoga while pregnant? Is there any evidence to demonstrate if specific yoga postures are safe from both the maternal and fetal perspective?
Polis et al set out to determine the safety of specific yoga postures using vital signs, pulse oximetry, tacometry, and fetal heart rate monitoring. The patients were diverse in age, race, BMI, gestational age, parity, and yoga experience. Exclusionary criteria included preeclampsia, placenta previa, bleeding in the 2nd or 3rd trimester, gestational diabetes, BMI greater than 35 and other medical conditions that presented contraindications.
The maternal and fetal responses were tested in 26 yoga postures. The selected postures, much like most yoga classes, offered a variety of physical positions. The standing, seated, twists and balancing postures chosen were: Easy Pose, Seated Forward Bend, Cat Pose, Cow Pose, Mountain Pose, Warrior 1, Standing Forward Bend, Warrior 2, Chair Pose, Extended Side Angle Pose, Extended Triangle Pose, Warrior 3, Upward Salute, Tree Pose, Garland Pose, Eagle Pose, Downward Facing Dog, Child’s Pose, Half Moon Pose, Bound Angle Pose, Hero Pose, Camel Pose, Legs up the Wall Pose, Happy Baby Pose, Lord of the Fishes Pose and Corpse Pose.
Balancing postures were modified to decrease fall risk. Warrior 3, Tree Pose, Eagle Pose, and Half Moon Pose were performed at the wall or using a chair for support. The addition of a yoga block to bring the floor closer to the practitioner was used for Extended Side Angle Pose, Extended Triangle Pose, and Garland Pose.
Four poses that have previously been theorized to be contraindicated were studied in this group. These postures are Child’s Pose, Corpse Pose, Downward Facing Dog, and Happy Baby. No adverse reactions were discovered for this specific population during the intervention or in the 24 hour follow-up as reported by email.
Now that we have this data, what do we do with it?
We have the opportunity to educate our non-high-risk patients that the previously theorized contraindicated postures listed above were safe for the self-selected group in this study. Those who are in high-risk categories should understand that even though yoga is not a high impact activity, there should be clearance from the OB team to ensure expectant mothers are moving as safely as possible. With proper guidance, yoga is a safe form of exercise and stress reduction which can optimize physical and mental health during the prenatal period and prepare for birth.
Dustienne Miller is the author and instructor of Yoga for Pelvic Pain. Join her in Kansas City, MO on April 7, 2018 - April 8, 2018 to learn about treating interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, vulvar pain, coccydynia, hip pain, and pudendal neuralgia with a yoga approach.
Polis RL, Gussman D, Kuo YH. Yoga in Pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol 2015;126:1237–41
You have been treating a highly motivated 24-year-old woman with a diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome (IC/BPS). The plan of care includes all styles of manual therapy, including joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization, visceral mobilization, and strain counterstrain. You utilize neuromuscular reeducation techniques like postural training, breath work, PNF patterns, and body mechanics. Your therapeutic exercise prescription includes mobilizing what needs to move and strengthening what needs to stabilize. Your patient is feeling somewhat better, but you know she has the ability to feel even more at ease in their day to day. Is there anything else left in the rehab tool box to use?
Kanter et al. set out to discover if mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was a helpful treatment modality for (IC/BPS). The authors were interested in both the efficacy of a treatment centered on stress reduction and the feasibility of women adopting this holistic option.
The American Urological Association defined first-line treatments for IC/PBS to include relaxation/stress management, pain management and self-care/behavioral modification. Second-line treatment is pelvic health rehab and medications. The recruited patients had to be concurrently receiving first- and second-line treatments, and not further down the treatment cascade like cystoscopies and Botox.
The control group (N=11) received the usual care (as described above in first- and second-line treatments). The intervention group (N=9) received the usual care plus enrollment in an 8-week MBSR course based on the work of Jon Kabat- Zinn. The weekly course was two hours in the classroom supplemented with a 4-CD guide and book for home meditation practice carryover. The course content included meditation, yoga postures, and additional relaxation techniques.
The patients who participated in the MBSR program reported improved symptoms post-treatment, and perhaps more notably, their pain self-efficacy score (PSEQ) significantly improved. All but one of the participants reported feeling “more empowered” to control their bladder symptoms.
As clinicians working so intimately with our patients, we are often given the privilege of bearing witness to the emotional pain of healing chronic, persistent pelvic pain. We understand how terribly frightening it is for our patients to feel like they will never get better and we see this come out sometimes as fear-avoidance, which has the potential to cascade further into other areas of the social sphere.
If we are able to encourage holistic methods of building strategies to handle the challenges of IC/BPS, our patients will be set up for success in ways beyond the treatment room. While we hope for immediate results in the form of pain relief (which five patients in the study did), we also can appreciate the strategy building for resiliency in the face of persistent pain. As a very strong woman said, “hope serves us best when we do not attach specific outcomes to it”.
Dustienne Miller is the author and instructor of Yoga for Pelvic Pain. Join her in Manchester, NH on September 7-8, 2019 or in Buffalo, NY on October 5-6, 2019 to learn about treating interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, vulvar pain, coccydynia, hip pain, and pudendal neuralgia with a yoga approach.
Kanter G, Kommest YM, Qaeda F, Jeppson PC, Dunivan GC, Cichowski, SB, and Rogers RG. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as a Novel Treatment for Interstitial Cystitis/Bladder Pain Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Int Urogynecol J. 2016 Nov; 27(11): 1705–1711.
Letting Go Breath
Integrating into the clinic
1) Iyengar BKS. Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika. Schocken; 1995.
2) Sapsford RR, Richardson CA, Maher CF, Hodges PW. Pelvic floor muscle activity in different sitting postures in continent and incontinent women. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2008;89(9):1741-1747.15.
3) Julie Wiebe, Physical Therapist | Educator, Advocate, Clinician. 2015; http://www.juliewiebept.
4) Talasz H, Kremser C, Kofler M, Kalchschmid E, Lechleitner M, Rudisch A. Phase-locked parallel movement of diaphragm and pelvic floor during breathing and coughing-a dynamic MRI investigation in healthy females. Int Urogynecol J. 2011;22(1):61-68.
5) Sapsford R. Rehabilitation of pelvic floor muscles utilizing trunk stabilization. Man Ther. 2004;9(1):3-12.
6) Lee DG. The Pelvic Girdle: An integration of clinical expertise and research, 4e. Churchill Livingstone; 2010.
7) Massery M. THE LINDA CRANE MEMORIAL LECTURE: The Patient Puzzle: Piecing it Together. Cardiopulm Phys Ther J. 2009;20(2):19-27.
8) Lee DG. The Pelvic Girdle: An integration of clinical expertise and research, 4e. Churchill Livingstone; 2010.
Today we hear from Herman & Wallace instructor Dustienne Miller CYT, PT, MS, WCS. Dustienne instructs the Yoga for Pelvic Pain course. Join her next month at Yoga for Pelvic Pain, Cleveland, OH on July 18 and 19!
We all know yoga can help chronic headaches, insomnia, anxiety, low back pain, and a myriad of other conditions. How can we apply the principles and benefits of yoga to the treatment of chronic pelvic pain?
As rehab professionals who treat chronic pelvic pain, we know how critical it is for our clients to learn how to downtrain the nervous system. Breath awareness and training are a useful tool in reducing sympathetic nervous system override. Some clients may not have the awareness that they are holding their breath because of pain, or even anticipation of pain. Because of the direct mechanical relationship between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor, breath holding can lead to pelvic floor muscle holding. By building awareness, which is a learned skill, the client begins to notice and eventually control non-optimal breathing patterns.
Yoga offers several types of pranayama, or breathing techniques. Integrating breath with gentle movement has proven to be highly beneficial for men and women with chronic pelvic pain. Simple belly breathing lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety levels. For more detailed instructions on two pranayama, dirgha (3 part breath) and ujjayi (ocean-sounding breath), please click here.
Grounding techniques decrease dissociation and anxiety. Two easy postures to practice in the clinic are Seated and Standing Mountain Pose (Tadasana). When practicing Seated Tadasana, encourage your patient to feel the ischial tuberosities heavy into the chair while imagining a string lifting up the spine and through the top of the head. When practicing Standing Tadasana, offer the imagery of a magnetic pull from the soles of the feet into the earth. For more detailed instruction on Tadasana, please click here.
Negotiating medical system can leave clients with chronic pelvic pain feeling traumatized. Sadly, the percentage of men and women who have experienced additional traumas (ie: verbal abuse, sexual abuse) are quite high. Training the mind-body-spirit connection is helpful for the client to stay in the present moment rather than think about past painful experiences or anticipate future expectations of pain. Encourage the client to move at their pace and comfort level. Teach them gentle, loving acceptance of themselves and where they are in their healing journey. Clinicians must be mindful to avoid any potential trauma triggers (ie: teaching Supta Badha Konasana, butterfly/adductor stretch, in an open gym area). An excellent book to read to enhance your understanding of the delicacy of this subject is Overcoming Trauma through Yoga by Emerson and Hopper.
Today on the Pelvic Rehab Report, we hear from Dustienne Miller. Dustienne wrote and teaches the Yoga for Pelvic Pain course, which is available in Cleveland, OH on July 18-19, and in Boston, MA on September 12-13.
As musculoskeletal professionals, we have a sharp eye for postural dysfunction. We explain to our patients that the ribcage is sheared posteriorly to the plumb line and how gravity magnifies forces at specific structures. Some physical therapists perform the Vertical Compression Test (VCT) to allow the patient to feel the difference between their typical habitual posture and a more optimally aligned posture. This works well to “sell” your patients on why their newly aligned posture allows for more efficient weight transfer through the base of support. In addition to the VCT, I utilize Tadasana, or Mountain Pose as an additional kinesthetic approach to postural retraining.
Last week in the clinic, I was teaching my client postural awareness using Tadasana. I asked her to close her eyes, or lower her gaze if she was not comfortable closing her eyes. Working from the ground up, we started bringing awareness to her base of support. She noted that she was standing with her weight mostly in her heels. When I encouraged her to bring her weight forward, hinging from the talocrural joint, she had an “aha moment.” She said, “It feels like my pelvic floor just sighed.” She was unaware that her habitual posture was to stand with her weight mostly posterior to plumb line, thus encouraging her posterior pelvic floor to remain in an overactive state. Once she balanced her body from the ground up, she felt a major release in her holding patterns.
At our follow-up session, the client remarked that her postural awareness increased dramatically. She was surprised at how often her pelvic floor was in a habitual pattern of over-firing. Additionally, she reported increased awareness while practicing standing yoga postures during class. She feels more in control of her body after experiencing embodied optimal alignment and has had success with carrying over postural awareness outside of the clinic setting. Self-awareness and empowerment are two major goals of my physical therapy practice, and using yoga to achieve these goals makes my clinical practice even more enjoyable.
H&W instructor Dustienne Miller, CYT, PT, MS, WCS wrote this post.
As specialists in pelvic health, we have the honor of being trusted with very private information. Our patients trust us with their secrets, their emotions, and their bodies. Sometimes patients reveal traumatic personal stories, both past and present. Even if our patients have not suffered emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, we can assume that the diagnosis of pelvic floor dysfunction is traumatic itself. Bouncing from clinician to clinician and inability to share their pain and experience with coworkers and friends is enough to increase baseline anxiety and depression levels. Yoga has proven to be an effective method in helping to heal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental comorbidities associated with pelvic floor dysfunction. But where do you start? How do you make your patient feel safe?
In David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper?s book Overcoming Trauma through Yoga, there is guidance on how to appropriately guide your patient or yourself through a yoga program that feels safe and appropriate. As clinicians, we are very aware of monitoring patient response in the treatment room. If we notice guarding or dissociation we do not continue the session according to the goals we have set for the patient, rather we meet the patient where they are at that time on that day and work accordingly. I recommend we utilize the same sensitivity with our patients when creating a home program and working with our patients in open gym areas. What might feel great for us (ie: downward facing dog) may trigger trauma for another. Be mindful of the transition from the emotionally charged manual treatment to a less contained room like an open gym. Instructing a patient in pelvic tilts and bridging with other people around could trigger an emotional response, especially if their emotions were primed after myofascial release in the pelvis and abdomen. Bottom line: take the sensitivity you have at the plinth and carry it over into the exercise component of your treatments. Your patient will lead the way.
Dustienne Miller is a board certified women?s health clinical specialist and Kripalu Yoga teacher. She is the creator of the DVD Your Pace Yoga: Relieving Pelvic Pain, a musical theatre performer, and a terrible cook. Her two day class offered through Herman and Wallace, Yoga for Pelvic Pain, is being offered in San Diego next March.