Study results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008 revealed that roughly 24% of women in the United States are affected by pelvic floor disorders, and that percentage increases with age. Related issues can present numerous challenges, ranging from incontinence and physical discomfort to significant emotional distress and anxiety. So, when one of my students told me about her work as a Whole Woman® Practitioner, I knew immediately that we had to work together. What we have come to learn, over years of teaching together, is the power of bringing a tool like EFT into the work of helping women address these challenges and the deep personal and emotional issues they can raise.
Changing posture and breathing patterns
The Whole Woman work focuses on the importance of posture and breathing as a way to prevent and manage Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) issues such as leaking and urgency. As an EFT and Feldenkrais® Practitioner, it was clear to me that the practice of movement re-education could be highly useful in helping women access their potential to change their posture and breathing patterns through awareness and practice. However, changing one’s posture is not a simple enterprise. Changing one’s posture touches on fundamental elements of personal identity and emotion!
As Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais said in his book 'Body and Mature Behavior', “To alter faulty habitual erect carriage is, in everybody’s opinion, a very difficult enterprise… From the obstinate resistance encountered in such cases it is obvious that what is attempted is really a major operation on the personality of the subject.”
Related Emotional Aspects
We taught our first workshop in 2018 offering foundational information for anyone with a uterus to explore how posture impacts POP and bladder issues and integrate this information experientially through movement lessons. What became quite evident early on in our workshops reflected what Dr. Feldenkrais had suggested: there are deeply interwoven emotional aspects of what women with incontinence and pelvic health issues were dealing with, from shame and embarrassment to confusion, trauma, sadness, grief, and the effects of stress.
For example, sometimes what shows up for a person is anxiety about going out or traveling because of worry related to finding a bathroom in time. Others may experience increased incontinence when feeling stressed. Still others may experience grief or sorrow. One woman fell asleep during a movement part of our workshop because, as she described it, she was so overwhelmed by sadness.
Combining EFT with the Whole Woman
In response to recognizing the deep emotional components of this work, we began offering workshops combining EFT with the Whole Woman work to support women in addressing the emotional aspects related to what they are dealing with physically.
As is often the case, once we start the process of tapping with participants, deeper layers of emotional experience are revealed. It is not uncommon for a participant to start with frustration regarding their situation, but quickly move on to embarrassment, and then sadness. What came up for one participant was the relationship between how she was separating herself socially because of her embarrassment and fear around her incontinence and a related memory from earlier in her life that involved separation from family and the sense of aloneness connected to that experience. This clarity gave her a sense of hope and the potential to productively address her emotions.
Tuning in to the body
During our workshops, we invite participants to tune in to their bodies and see what information might be available with a little attention. For one participant, this tuning in helped her realize that she hadn’t really been in touch with or been listening to her body. Her issue was urinary urgency - having the feeling of having to pee right now! Once she started to tune in and tap on the issue, she began to listen differently to her body and learn that she had been missing signals from her bladder. Through the process, she discovered that she had the capacity to have a “conversation” with her bladder and develop an improved sense of trust in her body.
Another participant was experiencing a lot of shame and embarrassment around her urinary incontinence. What also came clear through the process of tuning in and tapping were the choices that she was making regarding water intake and other decisions that might be affecting not only her incontinence, but also her overall health. Additionally, she uncovered a deep sense of grief around feeling isolated, unattractive, and so much that she felt was missing from her life. Getting in touch with these deeper feelings, as well as getting support from the group, helped her feel not so alone in her sadness and shame and opened new opportunities for self-compassion as well as making specific changes to improve the quality of her life.
Struggles with the various symptoms of POP are a huge quality of life issue for many, many people. And, while there are a variety of ways that we can address the physical issues, it is also important to consider how to support the emotional aspects of what people are experiencing.
Tuning in to what is happening emotionally in regards to pelvic health issues can be a deeply important layer of supporting our health. Not only can we reduce stress and sense of isolation in our struggles, but we can recognize habits and patterns that may be exacerbating issues or getting in the way of changing behaviors, including physical components such as posture, so that we can improve overall function and decrease anxiety.
Incorporating EFT with additional support
Through teaching our workshops we’ve found that helping participants by incorporating EFT tapping with their other health care practices helps them to get in touch with various emotions such as shame, embarrassment, and grief. By identifying and then working to reduce the intensity of those feelings, participants uncover the opportunity to reduce the stress and its negative impacts as well as motivate them to seek additional types of support they need and perhaps didn’t think they could find!
Written by Fritha Pengelly. Fritha is an Accredited Certified EFT Practitioner, a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner® , and a Certified IOPS Practitioner based in Northampton, MA.