Health and Wellness

Why take Total Control? A stronger core, pelvic floor and more satisfying sex!

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” – Zen proverb, Theosophists’ thought

When I see the commercials on TV for Always Discreet, Poise and Depend, I feel sad people think they have to accept – or live with – a loss of bladder control. You shouldn’t have to put on absorbent underwear to dance at your daughter’s wedding or laugh at lunch with your friends.

Do you want to keep spending your money on disposable pads or invest in a program that offers preventative benefits, as well as the tools to make lasting changes that have been proven to reduce or alleviate incontinence symptoms?

It’s time to stop the madness and stop suffering in silence!

Loss of bladder control is not something women talk about openly among close friends, with their sisters or moms, or even with their doctors. Women cope an average of six or more years with symptoms before seeking care, according to research by Women’s Health Foundation in Chicago.

Even worse, many are wearing menstrual pads to hide leaks, which can lead to odor, infection and irritated skin.
Ladies, this is no way to live!

There is help in West Michigan – a natural way that does require effort but is an alternative to medication or surgery or done in combination with clinical treatments. Total Control is an evidence-based exercise and education program offered exclusively in this area through Mercy Health Bladder Clinic.

Research shows integrating Total Control exercises into a workout regimen has a trifecta effect: Better bladder control, a stronger core and more satisfying sex.

Few fitness programs focus on pelvic floor conditioning, yet it’s much more important than the size of your biceps when it comes to quality of life. And there are many reasons to take Total Control beyond a desire to stay out of diapers. Maybe you want to be able to pick up your toddler without leaking, sit through a movie or run into your 50s without wearing a pessary.

Developed and tested by experts in UroGynecology, physical therapy and fitness, Total Control has been proven in research and clinical studies to improve incontinence symptoms; in some cases, it even totally alleviated the “laugh, cough, sneeze” leaking known as stress incontinence and the “gotta go, gotta go” leaking related to urgency and/or frequency.

It’s effective for women of all ages – from high schoolers to seniors – and fitness levels and offers numerous benefits:
• Helps reduce trips to the bathroom, leaking and nighttime urination
• A flatter tummy and increased core strength
• Better posture, alignment and back mobility
• Improved sexual function and stronger orgasms
• Better body awareness and connection to feminine energy

So what exactly do we do in class?

We start with an educational topic each week so women have a better understanding of their female anatomy and pelvic floor and how it impacts bladder control. We also cover behavioral and lifestyle changes that can reduce trips to the bathroom. Many foods and drinks are bladder irritants; what you eat and drink does matter.

The class also includes guided imagery to help participants make the mind-muscle connection and encourage correct muscle activation. You will learn how to isolate, engage and strengthen some of the deepest muscles in your core, back and pelvic floor, which all work together for optimal bladder and organ functioning.

We don’t break a sweat, but the class offers an energizing and effective total body workout. Each week, we add and incorporate exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor and yoga and Pilates-inspired moves to stabilize and lengthen your core, lower spine and pelvis. We do pelvic floor contractions in a variety of positions – supine, side lying and standing. We plank. We do bridges, static wall sits, gentle stretches and resistance-band arm toners. We work on balance and our gluteus medius to help stabilize the lower back and prevent falls.

As the saying goes, “Use it or lose it.” The pelvic floor muscles need exercised and strengthened like any other muscle, especially after traumatic events such as childbirth and surgery. Some women have reduced sensation due to surgery and other complications, but I honestly feel my pelvic floor squeezing and lifting. I also leave class feeling like my pelvic floor is more taut and lifted.

By strengthening muscles that support the pelvic floor and making a few painless lifestyle changes, like reducing caffeine and “just in case peeing,” women can minimize leaking and regain a sense of independence and self-esteem – not to mention feel feminine and sexy again.

Exercising pelvic floor muscles regularly helps improve sensitivity and blood flow to the vagina – meaning more powerful orgasms and a healthier, happier sex life. What woman doesn’t want that? There are many benefits to regular, orgasmic sex. It can have explosive benefits on your hormones, metabolism, stress levels and sleep. And you might as well enjoy it.

My hope is that women leave feeling more tuned in to their bodies and find ways to take the information and exercises and incorporate them into their daily lives. Maybe they stand a little taller, wait a little longer to go to the bathroom, or feel like their pants fit better. Or they find themselves doing Kegels while washing the dishes or engaging their core during a walk.

It’s also comforting to commiserate, and share successes and setbacks, in a confidential, friendly, noncompetitive setting. We laugh. We talk. We Kegel against gravity in child’s pose.

The program is offered at select sites nationwide. Check the Total Control Licensed Facilities for availability in your area.

West Michigan women – I hope to see YOU in class!

Not just an “old lady” problem: 1 in 4 women over 18 experience episodes of bladder leakage

“Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously.” ― Og Mandino

In my early teens, two of my best friends gave me the nickname PB2.

It was an inside joke, one we laughed off, but it also carried a lot of shame and embarrassment.

Yes, back before cell phones, home computers and the Internet, we found enjoyment playing in a box in my friend’s garage one weekend. I remember it was a dryer or washer box. Sure, we were around 13, but we had a ball trying to fit three people in it.

So much so I got to laughing and peed my pants. Not just once – but TWICE! Hence the name PB2, short for pee in the box twice.

I remember another incident around the same age. I was playing hide and seek at another friend’s house. Sure enough, once again I started laughing and lost control of my bladder outside in the dark.

I’m not sure why these two incidents stand out in my mind, other than I was at that awkward age of puberty, trying
to fit in and make new friends after experiencing relentless bullying in grade school. Luckily, my friends didn’t make fun of me beyond some innocent teasing.

I don’t remember if I had other “accidents” growing up. Maybe I blocked them from memory. I don’t recall wetting the bed in elementary or at some unusual age. Looking back, I do feel like my bladder has always had control of my life. I’ve always worried about laughing too hard and losing control, about how long I could hold it on a car trip or being stuck without access to a bathroom.

Even on a study abroad trip to London a few years ago, I was the oldest student – in my mid-30s – and the one always asking if we should go to the bathroom, going “just in case” even when I really didn’t need to (a bad habit for your bladder), or worrying I would be caught on a field trip and have to hold it until it hurt.

My mom said the doctor pushed and pushed on her stomach during labor, pretty much forcing me to come out. She doesn’t know if that trauma maybe injured my pelvic organs and bladder. I also had two hernias as a toddler – and two operations. One was repaired with mesh, and I have to wonder if maybe my internal organs didn’t get properly put back into place (and why I believe I’ve never had a flat stomach), which puts pressure on my bladder.

There are a several organs that sit in a tiny space in the pelvis – bladder, uterus and rectum – and the pelvic floor supports them. There also are three openings in the pelvic floor – the urethra, vagina and anus. I’ll discuss the pelvic floor and organs more in-depth in the future.

I’m not writing this to embarrass myself further, but to say that I’ve been there. I understand the worry and insecurity that comes with urge incontinence, that “gotta go, gotta go” feeling, and stress incontinence, leakage when you laugh, cough or sneeze. I’ve experienced both.

And it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one. As a Mercy Health Bladder Clinic Total Control instructor, I now realize this is a major health issue for women.

Much more than an “old lady” problem, loss of bladder control is an embarrassing, depressing and isolating condition that affects women of all ages. Yes, I’m talking to you with teenage daughters who play high-impact sports, new moms, women going through menopause, hardcore athletes and running fanatics.

Many factors can weaken a woman’s pelvic muscles, including childbirth, menopause, pelvic surgery or prolapse, diabetes, obesity, neurological conditions, race, voiding habits and nutrition. Repetitive pounding and pressure on the pelvic floor, say from running or “bearing down” while trying to poo, isn’t good. Gravity isn’t our friend, either.

More than 65 million Americans experience bladder leakage. And nearly half are under 50. And those stats come from a Depend ad.

Here are a few other staggering facts from Women’s Health Foundation (and these are from nearly a decade ago):

• 1 in 4 women over age 18 experience episodes of urinary incontinence
• 1 in 3 new moms experience chronic loss of bladder control sixth months after childbirth
• 30-50% of childbearing women over age 40 develop a chronic, out-of-control bladder
• 1 in 4 childbearing women report symptoms of fecal incontinence by age 40
• 1 in 5 women who participate in recreational sports like running and soccer change or drop their sport
due to urinary incontinence or leaking
• Nearly 20 percent of women over age 75 experience daily incontinence
• 50 percent of nursing home residents have urinary incontinence and/or fecal incontinence
• Urinary incontinence ranks second and fecal incontinence third for nursing home admission
• $26.3 billion in total healthcare costs, greater than uterine, ovarian, cervical and breast cancers combined
• $1.3 billion spent in the US for adult absorbent products

And that’s why I love the Total Control program. It empowers women through exercises and education to improve their bladder health rather than accept a life of wearing pads. It’s a great preventative program for women of all ages and offers a natural alternative to try before medication and surgery, or as a companion program to medical treatments and recovery following vaginal delivery and pelvic surgery.

Loss of bladder control is NOT a natural part of aging. And the good news is 80 percent of women with urinary incontinence can reduce or totally alleviate their symptoms to regain a sense of independence and improve quality of life.

Plight with pelvic pain leads to journey of self-discovery, teaching Total Control

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

While life has dealt me my fair share of trials and tribulations the last few years, and I no longer believe everything happens for a reason, I suppose there is a bright side. The last three years involved a series of events that led me down a path of learning more about myself, my body, my femininity, and my own bladder woes.

I’ve become much more knowledgeable about nutrition and a passionate proponent for natural health alternatives and women’s health issues. As a pelvic health educator and holistic health advocate, I believe in the body’s ability to heal itself under the right conditions and the importance of diet and exercise to maintain optimal health, promote total-body balance and honor the mind-body-spirit connection.

This journey of self-discovery has given me so much insight and awareness of my own body, and I truly enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with others. I’ve become a faithful follower of the fertility awareness method, a sponge for knowledge on natural health remedies, and much more conscious of what I eat and drink.

I also believe in the Law of Attraction – that like energy attracts – and the Universe does open the right doors when you are ready.

One bright spot over the last three years has been learning about Total Control and becoming an instructor for Mercy Health’s Bladder Clinic. I never imagined I would be teaching women to do coochie exercises and much more, but it’s turned out to be a perfect fit and something I genuinely enjoy.

I believe in the program as a preventative strategy for lifelong bladder and pelvic health. It’s also been proven in research and clinical studies to reduce incontinence symptoms. It can improve your bladder control, prevent symptoms from getting worse and reduce or totally alleviate leaking and full-blown accidents if you keep the exercises up.

As someone who has personally struggled with an overactive bladder for most of my life, I can testify to the benefits and can tell when I haven’t been teaching – the urge to urinate becomes stronger, trips to the bathroom increase, and I feel that sinking feeling that my bladder is once again taking the driver’s seat.
A lot of the women in class ask me how I became a Total Control instructor. It’s a national program developed by Women’s Health Foundation in Chicago and West Michigan women are lucky to have access to this unique, medically based fitness and education class.

You have to be pretty frank when talking about how to properly do a pelvic floor muscle contraction, or Kegel, and the various issues around incontinence, and I’ve always had a tendency to tell it like it is.

So here goes. Mind you, this is only part of the story; I’ll have to cover what has been a lifelong battle with my bladder in another post. It’s not a pleasant tale, but I do feel grateful my own health problems led me down a path to listen to my body and seek out help.

After more than a decade of being on oral birth control, I decided to go off the pill around age 30 to make sure I had a regular menstrual cycle. A female relative had many reproductive issues and problems – cysts, infertility, endometriosis and a hysterectomy in her 30s – and I wanted to make sure my period was normal, on time, and without pain or irregular bleeding.

I didn’t know about the nasty side effects of birth control pills at that time, which is now why I personally cannot take the pill (more on that in another post as well). Birth control actually proved to be very effective with minimal side effects throughout my late teens and 20s. But I took for granted I never really ovulated or experienced a true period. In essence, the pill puts your female organs on autopilot.

Finally, after several years of being single, I found myself in a relationship at age 35 and decided it was wise to go back on the pill. But this time I experienced a host of side effects. I’m not sure if it was my age, changing hormones or changing formularies for generic versions of the pill. I tried several over the course of a year or more, but let’s focus on the first one and what landed me at Mercy’s Bladder Clinic.

I started back on the pill in October 2011 and I remember going out on Halloween. I also remember laughing and having a minor leak. Thankfully, I was wearing a miniskirt and it wasn’t anything major, but I had an internal momentary freak out. It was enough to make me think, “Oh no, something is up.”

Before long, I started to experience excruciating pain with sex. So much pain it made me want to cry. Needless to say, that wasn’t the best way to start off a relatively new relationship. They always recommend giving a birth control pill a try for three months, so I stuck it out and dealt with the pain.

When I went for my annual exam in early 2012, I told the male gynecologist my issue. He thought I had Interstitial Cystitis, a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder wall with recurring pelvic pain, pressure and discomfort in the bladder and pelvic region, and recommended a special diet and to lay off sex for a while. Great!

I went to a different doctor and asked to try a different birth control pill. Through talking about my health woes, my counselor recommended making an appointment at Mercy’s Bladder Clinic. She said the clinic offered an IC support group and it might help.

So I made an appointment in February 2012 and met with Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Mosher. I have to say, the women who work at the clinic are very understanding, empathetic, thorough and really do all they can to help address your issue. But after an initial appointment, Jen didn’t think I had IC. She thought I had a tight pelvic floor and my muscles were constantly spasming.

That began weekly visits to the Bladder Clinic for biofeedback and eventually E-stim (electrical stimulation) treatments. Biofeedback involves an electric probe in your vagina; it is hooked up to a computer monitor and you do Kegels, or pelvic floor muscle isolation exercises, so you can see how well you are doing them. Sensors relay readings of your muscle contractions to the biofeedback equipment as you watch on the screen. The biofeedback shows you and the clinician if you are exercising correctly, how strong your contraction is and how long the contraction lasts. I highly recommend it if you aren’t sure you’re correctly doing a Kegel.

When we started, my resting level was at a 10. It should have been around a two. Jen also prescribed special Valium suppositories to help ease the internal pain during sex and estrogen cream to help relieve the redness and pain on the outside.

I then had weekly E-stim treatments, which involved the same electric probe, only this time electrical currents signaled the pelvic floor muscles to contract or relax. This device exercises the muscles electronically. The clinician can adjust the level of electrical stimulation based on comfort level. It’s not painful, but you definitely feel it. In my case, I needed to work on relaxing my pelvic floor muscles.

I ended up being a regular, weekly visitor to the Bladder Clinic for nearly sixth months. All this without health insurance and before the Affordable Care Act or Michigan’s Healthy Michigan expansion! I will be eternally grateful for Mercy’s Financial Assistance Program, which was based on your income at the time. I didn’t have any income because I was finishing my master’s degree, so I also carried a lot of guilt about being an uninsured charity case.

My symptoms improved and my pelvic floor did start to relax. As summer approached, I was tired of feeling bloated from the birth control pill and I decided to go off it. I also decided to listen to my body and put two and two together. Sex was a pleasurable experience prior to going on the pill. That was the one thing that changed. Could it be causing my problems?

Sure enough, my delicate vaginal tissue – and sex – returned to normal soon after stopping the pill. It took some investigating and Googling, but I learned the pill can cause a whole host of side effects, including painful intercourse!

About the time I decided I no longer needed treatments, Jen said the Bladder Clinic was seeking new Total Control instructors and recommended I take part in training to become certified. At least it’s good to know I’m a good Kegeler. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to teach other women how to Kegel correctly!

But Total Control is much more than a Kegel class. Stay tuned for more information about the program, or visit Mercy Health Bladder Clinic Total Control.