I rarely teach a yoga class without talking about two of my favorite topics: incontinence and aging gracefully. They go hand-in-hand. Sadly, many people think that incontinence is a normal part of getting old; it isn’t, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Many symptoms fall under the rubric of incontinence: involuntary leaking, urinary frequency, urgency, nocturia (waking repeatedly in the night to pee), weakened stream, and incomplete bladder emptying are all considered in the diagnosis of urinary incontinence. Fecal incontinence is much less common but still affects millions of people on a daily basis.
It is estimated that 200 million people worldwide suffer from urinary incontinence and a large majority of those suffering are female. Men seem less likely to report incontinence to their doctors so the numbers may be more balanced then the experts think.
There are no hard and fast rules but until the age of forty or so we should sleep through the night without waking up to pee. After forty it is reasonable to wake up once a night but the number of people who wake up numerous times each night is staggering. Having to pee more than twice in a night can have a profound effect on our sleep patterns and in turn affect our immune system.
The effects of incontinence are wide ranging. From the social stigma and shame, to a higher incidence of other diseases, men and women with an overactive bladder are more likely to suffer from other health disorders, including hypertension and arthritis.
Incontinence may happen because of a number of different reasons. Some of these are out of our control (e.g. medicines or medical treatments) but in my world I focus on two pieces of the body’s puzzle that can affect our ability to remain continent and age gracefully:
Having worked in a hospice, and watching my parents as they aged, has brought these concerns directly into my radar. Kegels, squats, and psoas release work are among the techniques I use to keep degeneration away, along with my regular yoga practice and a sound diet.
Aging gracefully is my mantra as I approach fifty. I feel great now but the work never ends and I always keep my eyes on the ultimate prize – staying continent for as long as I am alive.