Stephanie Sandleben is a long-time yoga teacher and practitioner, and has been teaching workshops and classes specific to pelvic floor health since 2015. It was her own postpartum experience, or as she so eloquently puts it – “her fierce initiation into motherhood” that propelled her into her personal healing journey which included yoga, pelvic floor therapy, Somatic Experiencing and meditative compassion practices. Her passion for yoga has helped her expand and focus on empowering women in all phases of life in their own pelvic health journeys. She is committed to supporting women as they restore their bodily and emotional confidence, as they find their way “back” or “to” their own innate wisdom or knowing. Stephanie is teaching a *FREE* virtual class - "Why Pelvic Health Matters" on December 17th, (you still have time to register!), and her Pelvic Floor 101 course through January. Registration for both are on her website. Scroll down for more on why pelvic floor health is so imperative as Stephanie fills us in...
We are super intrigued by your work, as we know how important a functioning pelvic floor is! How did you find your way to this space and how have you seen your body/mind/spirit evolve because of it?
Pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum were my entry point into studying and teaching pelvic floor yoga. Prior to becoming a mother I had taught yoga in New York City for a decade. After my daughter’s birth, I was blindsided by the reality of birth trauma and injury. I luckily had a mentor—Lara Kohn Thompson— who specializes in pelvic floor health. She guided me away from invasive procedures like reconstructive surgery and towards more holistic care, specifically for scar remediation from an episiotomy. I felt like the best way I could pay it forward was by providing the same attentive care to women navigating similar circumstances.
Focusing on pelvic floor health has felt like a reclamation of my own personal power. In the process of healing my own pelvic floor imbalances, I observed how much cultural and ancestral baggage we carry as women, specifically in the pelvis. I started to identify stories about my body that were inherited rather than innate and in doing so uncovered an abundance of self compassion which had felt like the missing piece for a long time.
It seems that the importance of pelvic floor health is so widely unrecognized – have you found this when woman seek out your work? And what can one expect to learn when working with you?
Yes, absolutely. I think pelvic floor health is gaining more traction these days but there is still a huge gap in educational outreach and treatment. Peers and clients have disclosed to me that minor incontinence is something they were prepared to live with. Unless symptoms become acute, we accept that pelvic floor imbalances like incontinence are just part of the aging process.
My approach in working with clients is first to give them an anatomical map of their pelvic floor. This includes the bones of the pelvis, organs in the pelvic cavity and pelvic floor muscles. It’s helpful to have a visual so that the bodily terrain doesn’t feel so esoteric. From there it’s very dependent on what each client is showing up with since working with pelvic floor health doesn’t align with a one size fits all approach. Some clients will need more stretching and release work while others will need to strengthen their PF muscles; and some a combination of both.
Tell us more about your Pelvic Floor Health 101 class! What are some of the exercises, techniques and/or topics covered?
My Pelvic Floor 101 course was born out of a 4-week class series that I taught regularly in-person pre-COVID. Bringing this class series to the virtual sphere means I can cast a wider net and reach people beyond my city which is exciting. In this course I teach breath awareness, foundational movement patterns and yoga postures that address pelvic floor imbalances. Those imbalances include incontinence, pelvic pain and lower back pain, and prolapse. I weave in anatomy throughout, and also give regular guidance for home practice so that the students can start to incorporate the exercises and self-care into their daily lives.
What would you say is one of the most fundamental differences you have seen and felt after healing your pelvic floor from the inside out? Do you think those differences can also translate into other parts of your life?
The most fundamental insight in healing my pelvic floor dysfunction is a deeper understanding of the process of healing. Culturally in America, we want the quick fix or the body hack. My experience of healing has instead felt like a continuum that involves a consistent conversation between my body, mind and emotional state. It’s definitely not sexy or as marketable.
We are dynamic beings and our health isn’t static. Rather, we’re continually learning, becoming injured, and finding resolution and repair. It’s part of the gig of being human. This perspective has granted me much more compassion and reverence in terms of what we come up against in life and how we’re all searching for relief, joy, peace and contentment (sometimes in skillful ways and sometimes not so skillful).
So overall my experiences of healing from a birth injury has provided a long-view into the caretaking of my being, one that doesn’t necessarily have a finite conclusion but allows for so much space in dealing with the unexpected nature of life.
Being a mama of two, finding that “work/life” balance (if it even exists!) is hard! What is your version of self-care?
As a mother of two, I’ve become enamored with community care as the first step to self-care. It’s very challenging to allocate time for self-care if we as mothers are trying to do everything ourselves. Self-care then becomes another thing on our to-do lists that gets easily pushed to the bottom when our children, partner or career needs become urgent (like during a global pandemic!). We made the decision to move closer to family last year to create our village, so to speak. So with more support in place I have the space to hear what my needs are and respond accordingly. Somedays that means taking a nap, or taking a hike to be out in nature, or practicing yoga and meditating. I would also classify watching Ted Lasso as part of my self-care, too.
What is your favorite thing about being a mama?
My favorite part about being a mama is honesty. What I mean is that it’s extremely hard to parent while upholding a facade. It’s energetically draining and your kids will see right through it. I also feel like the more authentic I am, the stronger my connection is to my children. And being a mama has both opened me up to a greater range of joy and sorrow which feels like it expands my range of being human.
Quick! Name your top three pregnancy or breastfeeding essentials! They can be items of clothing, specific products or anything else you couldn’t live without!
3. Must read books: The Fourth Trimester: A Pospartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality and The First Forty Days, The Art of Nourishing the New Mother