I’m sweating and lunging forward — my fingers are spread and my reflection is distant, far from any recognition. The blur of the sweat and focus on strength are empowering.
I breathe in and exhale. I’m practicing hot yoga.
Hot yoga, different from Bikram yoga, is a practice that includes breathing exercises and a series of flowing poses while in a heated room with added humidity. For most, hot yoga sounds like a form of torture, but for those who practice, it restores balance, posture and a connected breath. As a patient with vaginismus, yoga — and hot yoga specifically — has been a new and revitalizing practice for my libido, pelvic muscles and mindfulness.
Vaginismus is an involuntary muscle spasm that results in painful intercourse. Patients are often unable to insert tampons and struggle with pap smears. After years of living with vaginismus, the pain moved from just physical to more mental. As a result, I found myself needing to overcome the condition from a mental state as well. My idea of sex was connected to pain, which decreased my libido and voided any urge to partake in sexual advances. I felt utterly helpless.
With the recommendation of a doctor, I began researching yogic practices, sensate focus and mindfulness. Yoga and the focus of the mind relax pelvic floor muscles and relieve tenseness in the body, which contributes to experiences with penis to vagina intercourse and causes muscles to tighten to unbearable strengths.
Therapist Mary E. Barwick says that “yoga works the whole body, not just one or two joints, and any time conscious deep diaphragmatic breathing is integrated with exercises, a more widespread effect is felt.” While Mountain pose may appear to be basic, simple and easy-to-do, the flow of the breath and the strength of the core and legs provide a complete body workout. Every pose in yoga provides relief for my muscles and the stress that I have harbored over my condition.
Mindfulness is practiced in yoga and can be a form of treatment for anxiety and sexual pain. It can create a mind and body connection, furthering the road to recovery. Mindfulness can also be applied to dilating, a treatment for those with vaginismus that involves different sizes of dilators. Talli E. Rosenbaum says in their study that, “aversion to touch and pain avoidance are significant characteristics of the patient’s response to physical examination and treatment,” which include dilating and visiting with doctors.
By utilizing mindfulness treatment, which can be practiced in yoga and off the mat, patients can begin to approach their thoughts and emotions and dissociate failure with sex. Mindfulness can teach someone with vaginismus that sex is an act of meaning rather than a goal (ex: my partner will leave me if I don’t successfully dilate this week) and can create a safe space for a patient, encouraging recovery.
I have been practicing yoga for a month four times a week with a focus on hot yoga classes. As a new student, I have noticed that several positions provide an opening of the hips and that my pelvic area and muscles are being opened and stretched in positions that I had never attempted previously.
Beyond exercise and stretching, yoga erases my thoughts. Since vaginismus is the root of my anger, jealousy and insecurities, and as someone who can’t afford a professional therapist at this time in my career, yoga has become my therapeutic practice. Releasing my emotions as a result of my inability to have pain-free sex can be found in the studio in a neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago. The helplessness that I have suffered from for eight years can be translated into salutations and silence.
Yoga positions that I’ve found most helpful as someone with vaginismus include:
Balasana (Child’s pose)
This resting pose aids and calms the mind. It helps stretch the hips, thighs, and lower back. Your pelvic floor will expand with every breath.
This full-squat pose provides grounding, and like the Child’s pose, provides calm. It is a squatting position that tones the entire lower body and the core while lengthening the pelvic floor muscles.
Supta Baddha Konasana
This pose stretches the inner thigh, groin and knees. While in this position, the body open toward the sky, symptoms of depression and stress can be calmed and reduced.
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby)
This position is beneficial for those who sit down for several hours during the day. The healing benefits of this pose include the back and pelvic muscles.
I savor my practice during the week. I relish the heat, the humidity and the stretching. Each pose is a bridge toward my alleviation. My stress, my pain, my tense figure is turned into sweat. The detoxification of hot yoga challenges the body. It gives vaginismus a fight and deepens my practice. My journey is far from over and my vaginismus is still present. Although this isn’t a recovery story, it is a practice to discover confidence in the future of my healing.