Pelvic floor muscle exercises (also called Kegel exercises) are effective for controlling urinary incontinence. Now a study in Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery has suggested that practicing certain yoga postures may also help. An estimated 10 to 30 percent of older people, mostly women, as well as many younger women, experience this stressful condition.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, developed a yoga program specifically to increase awareness and control of the pelvic floor muscles, which are involved in bladder control.
In their pilot study of women with urinary incontinence, those who did the program (two 90-minute sessions a week for six weeks) had a 66 percent reduction in frequency of incontinence—notably of stress incontinence (urine leakage that occurs with sneezing, coughing, exercising, or other exertion), though not urgency incontinence (“overactive bladder”). In contrast, women in the no-yoga control group— who received a pamphlet on behavioral self-management—had only a 13 percent improvement in symptoms.
Besides its effects on pelvic floor muscles, yoga may also reduce anxiety and stress associated with incontinence, among other benefits.
The yoga classes consisted of eight postures (asanas) widely used in Iyengar (a type of Hatha) yoga that can be modified for women of all ages: Tadasana (mountain pose), Utkatasana (chair pose), Trikonasana (triangle pose), Malasana (squat pose), Viparita Karani Variation (legs-up-the-wall pose, also called upside-down seal pose), Salamba Setu Bandhasana (supported bridge pose), Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined cobbler’s pose, also called reclined bound angle pose), and Savasana (corpse pose).