Born Again Mama Bodies

4556551742_4e30fb0355_z Hi all! Lately I've had a bundle of diastasis recti questions coming my way from new and veteran mama friends, and also from mama FFF readers. Many of those conversations have ended with this statement, "Well if you don't recommend splinting what do you recommend?" Which would lead into a conversation about alignment and breath, and well, a whole lot of other stuff. It's kind of a long conversation, so I was hoping to find someone whose postpartum conversation was right on the money. As the fates would have it, this coincided with discovering Wendy Powell and her Mutu System, and she was gracious enough to donate a guest post to the blog here. So here is what you've been craving straight from the expert's mouth! Thanks for all your great questions and keep them coming. You all know who you are- and this post is dedicated to you!

Enter Wendy: 

Many mums have had a light-bulb moment when they realize that postpartum recovery hasn’t got an awful lot to do with the race to fit into skinny jeans. It has a lot more to do with being whole again:

  • Walking without pain
  • Exercising without leaking
  • Lifting your child without hurting
  • Being able to keep your innards IN

MuTu System programs have been created to offer a body and mind re-boot. I’ve learned that this is desperately needed, from my own personal and professional experience, and from conversations with hundreds of mums.

What Matters to Mums?

That light-bulb moment I mentioned? It usually hits us around about the time we put our back out lifting our child, or we wet ourselves a bit when we sneeze, or we try to do abdominal crunches and notice our tummy doming (yes, that’ll be your vital organs poking through your weak abdominal wall).

Our bodies tell us in no uncertain terms that our jellified tummy is the least of our worries. Right about then, we stop Googling ‘baby bulge diets’ and start searching for ‘how to fix a pelvic floor’.

And that’s a really good change in priorities!

InfographicV4Back to Basics

So how can we get our body back to its best, inside and out?

On the surface, there are two problems to overcome: pelvic floor weakness and diastasis recti (abdominal separation).

Linked to this unstable core, mums may be suffering from back pain or pelvic floor dysfunction (which could mean urine leakage, faecal incontinence, pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse and hernia). And they may be stuck with ‘mummy tummy’, unable to firm up and strengthen their mid-section.

While initially caused by making room for and supporting a growing baby in the uterus, these issues are exacerbated after childbirth by excessive intra-abdominal pressure. The healing process can’t start until the pressure lowers in the abdominal cavity – and to do that, we need to check our alignment.

Misalignment is a brick wall in the face of post-natal wellness – it’s what prevents intra-abdominal pressure from returning to normal after giving birth.

If your body was not aligned properly before having babies, it sure as hell isn’t afterwards. Any glitches in our alignment and musculature that have crept up on us over the years are aggravated by that monumentally physically demanding process.

To reduce pressure, many of us need to start from square one: learning how to walk and breathe right. That is the first step to full post-partum recovery.

New Foundations

Breathing right, standing right, walking right, learning how to connect our minds to the muscles of our core and pelvic floor, so that we use them with every move we make: none of this can be skipped.

Focused core exercises have their place – and intensive workouts too when your body is ready – but it’s the day to day stuff that is crucial.

Alignment, breathing, moving a lot and in the right way: That’s your pelvic floor pension plan right there.

Getting Bodies to ‘Just Do It’

There is a lot of gadgetry in this industry – pelvic floor toning devices and belly binding splints remain popular ‘solutions’ to diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction.

I’m not here to pour water on other techniques, I can only tell you what I believe – which is that bodies are capable of being strong, mobile and fit for life. They can do it on their own, with a little bit of commitment on our part.

The mental connection is important. Lots of mums understandably ‘switch off’ from ‘down below’ after giving birth: It doesn’t feel right and (if they dare to look) it sure as hell doesn’t look right. It’s a lost cause.

The brain needs to talk to the muscles to activate them. It needs to open up the dialogue again. Simply sucking in your stomach, or using a splint, is not the same as activating your core. It does nothing to strengthen or tighten the muscles to help them work properly on their own.

In fact, sucking in, or binding, displaces mass upwards and downwards like a tube of toothpaste squeezed in the middle, placing more pressure on the diaphragm and pelvic floor – doing the opposite of what we want to achieve.

Fighting Fit

Weirdly, having babies is a chance to get fully fit: our post-natal‘ re-boot’ is often the thing that helps us re-focus our energies on wellness. Not just looking good, but feeling energetic and having a body that works.

So many mums tell me that their post-natal fight back was the start of a better lifestyle for them. They come to know and love and respect their bodies in a way they never did before. The skinny jeans are just a bonus.

                                                                                                                                                                 

About the Author

Wendy_Avatar_Sep13-02Mom of 2 Wendy Powell is founder of the internationally recognized and sought after MuTu® System program. She has over 12 years experience, proven record and study in the pre and postpartum fitness industry.

MuTu System includes online coaching, DVD’s, online support and community, fully endorsed by Specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapists and Industry Experts worldwide. It is fresh, personal, progressive and motivational, and it gives Moms the answers, guidance and support they need to restore body confidence inside and out. Wendy has an established international social media following and industry reputation.

MuTu System covers fitness, fat loss, nutrition, hormone balancing and motivational strategies for busy Mums.

Wendy’s specialist area of expertise is pelvic and abdominal reconnection and restoration after childbirth: functional core strength, diastasis recti, pelvic floor and related alignment issues.

Wendy writes for the Huffington Post and has appeared in numerous magazine features, including Red magazine, Health and Fitness and Zest. Health and Fitness magazine UK also commissioned Wendy to write their Get Your Body Back book, published September 2013.

mom and baby photo by Adam DeClercq

DIY Friday: Healthy Pregnancy and Beyond

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*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

3377899104_08cbdd7f7d_zThere's been a whole lot of talk about what pregnant women are actually capable of lately in the media, as well as renewed attention on postpartum issues that don't get much discussion. There seems to be a theme going, and so I figured we could look more closely at it for this DIY Friday.

First, as someone who has been on bed rest during pregnancy (albeit for one of the very few issues for which it actually is useful- pre-eclampsia), this article has me seeing red. For those of you who have been there, you know it's no small thing. I was shocked at how quickly my body atrophied and it was a very grueling recovery to get myself back from that. And by "back" I don't mean looking cute in jeans again, I mean walking without pain and managing being upright for longer than 30 minutes. Sort of important stuff. So here is the offensive information that bed rest is almost never indicated in terms of improving outcomes, yet is regularly prescribed.  I also had the chance to chat about it with a friend of mine, an MD who specializes in Maternal Fetal Medicine, this weekend and she confirmed, to my astonishment, that this is all true. Yikes.

Next up, The Wall Street Journal put out a great piece this week on the true postpartum challenges women are facing (it's not about the damn skinny jeans!) and how they can be addressed. The only thing I wish this article had addressed is that we really aren't having more of these problems purely because of advanced maternal age or the increased incidence of twins. So much of this boils down to our poor movement patterning in all the years leading up to pregnancy. We live in a culture that makes it very challenging to have good movement patterning (hello chairs, laptops, cars, and smartphones), so few of us are immune.

Then came Lea Ann Ellison, the very pregnant Crossfit mom who got a whole lot of flack for posting some gorgeous pictures of herself power lifting while pregnant. People went nutso. It was all over the place. Over a woman (who had been an athlete for years) exercising while pregnant. Um... this was a bit of an overreaction. And I particularly liked this response to it.

Lastly, Tiffany Chambers-Goldberg had a great post this week in YOGANANYMOUS which addressed and dispelled many myths surrounding yoga and pregnancy.

So where's the DIY in this week's DIY? Well I'm catching you guys early because this event on November 4th is free on the two days that it will be happening live (though you can pay to watch it and have access to it long term after the event), so I wanted to give you some time to plan. Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up is hosting  a 2 day workshop on CreativeLIVE on addressing all of these pregnancy and postpartum issues. So whether you are pregnant, plan to be one day (it's always best to be informed in advance!), or have already had a child, this workshop promises to be enlightenment of the jaw dropping variety. It is rumored that Jill has also assembled some of my all time favorite body nerds to have guest appearances throughout the 2 day workshop. People like Katy Bowman, Kelly and Juliet Starrett, and more! You can check it out here.

Happy baby making!

photo by Bethany Brown

 

 

DIY Friday: Diastasis Recti

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*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

Warning: This DIY Friday catches me mid-epiphany, so I'm not trying to play the expert here, I'm fully the student with you guys and am sorting some stuff out, but thought sorting it out in public would be helpful to many who are wondering about Diastasis Recti.

First, "Diasta-wuh-wuh?" Is probably what you're asking if you're a dude or a woman who's never had a baby. Though both men and women who haven't been pregnant do get this condition, it's rare, while in those of us who have been pregnant it is becoming alarmingly common.

DRBut wait, I didn't answer your question. Diastasis Recti is when your abdominal muscle, the rectus abdominus (the six pack muscle), splits lengthwise along the linea alba. Leaving you with a poochy belly and the look of someone is is now forever a little bit pregnant. I myself have a DR from my little bundle of joy, who is (gasp!) now 6 years old. In 6 years I've gotten the gap down from 3 fingers wide, to one finger wide just at my belly button. Good times.

**Note: Dudes, please stick around as the information I point to actually has a huge impact on preventing hiatal hernias, umbilical hernias, and inguinal hernias, many of which I see a lot in the athletic community. Also give this to your lady if there's a chance a bun will be or is in that oven.**

Since I've (mostly) rehabbed my DR a friend of mine recently asked what information she should give to a yoga student who is trying to close hers, and I handily sent her to The Tupler Technique, which is more or less what I have used. But, me being me, that got me thinking. Why do we all get DR's these days after having babies? I mean, it can't be normal to have your rectus abdominus split just from carrying one measly baby, right? In a day and age when women typically had far more children it just wouldn't have made sense. I can't see the evolutionary advantage, so it must be something wacky we're doing with our bodies in contemporary culture that's causing all of this.

And that question led me where these kinds of questions typically lead me, which is to Katy Bowman, Biomechanist Extraordinaire. Turns out she has some pretty mind blowing information on DR which has totally changed my point of view. I'll leave it to her in these posts since she says it far better than I can, but the short summary is that we're all blowing open our rectus abdominus in pregnancy because we're dealing with an abdomen under pressure which is a result of poor alignment and wacky breathing. Just what the poor alignment is (spoiler: stop thrusting your ribs forward, but there's plenty more), and just what that means about how you breathe is all in these posts. This information is really key to dealing with many of our modern issues (low back pain, high blood pressure, So. Much. More.), so give it a read.

Katy Bowman's Under Pressure Part 1

Katy Bowman's Under Pressure Part 2

So where does that leave me in my DR-having, Tupler Technique referring ways? And what about those of us who already have a DR? Well I think it's more complex than a "5 Quick Tips" type summary, as I think we need to address our alignment and breathing issues as Bowman illustrates in her posts, at the same time that we draw that musculature back together. Which means we're dealing with some high level tinkering that keeps us from using the standard, "pull it all in, pack it all in." mentality about our abdominals. While we work for integrity in abdominal musculature (i.e. actively engage those muscles to pull them back together) we need to also be really mindful to keeping things supple and mobile, rather than living in an imaginary corset. But I for one am up for the challenge. You?

P.S. Last week's post on DIY Psoas Love handily will address some of this stuff (tacked down breathing muscles, short and tight psoai, etc.)

P.P.S This post from Tom Myers may also prove illuminating.

Illustration from Healthy Moms Sheila S. Watkins

DIY Friday: Psoas Love

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*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

psoasFor the last several months I have been handing out psoas advice all over the place for two reasons; First, I've been working with a lot of athletes, particularly Crossfitters, and they trend towards chronically contracted psoas muscles, and second, because many people are just randomly asking me for advice on releasing their psoas muscles. Whaaaa?! Yep, it seems people are getting hip to this obscure and crucial muscle these days, and it's no wonder! The psoas is the information super highway of sorts between your spine and legs, attaching on the bodies (front part) of all of your lumbar vertebrae, crossing the pelvis, and attaching finally on your very upper inner thigh. Because of that it plays a huge role in, well everything. Being upright and walking for example. And in pain patterns it often gets involved in hip flexor or groin pain (very common in athletes), low back pain, mid back pain, and sacroiliac pain just to name a few. Want a visual of this muscle? When you order a filet mignon or a pork tenderloin, you're ordering a cow psoas or a pig psoas. Yep, it's the tenderloin muscle! Yummy.

 

  • Want to work on it yourself? I've long said that the psoas is not a DIY kind of place, and I really mean that except that Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up®, of course, has found a way to safely access and release tension here. And so with that I give you  the video I most frequently share with clients, which is one of Jill's mini-workshops on Mobility WOD.

 

  • If you want loads more of that goodness, and the program that I consider the smartest core work on the planet, you can check out Jill's DVD, Coregeous. Oh and that fab squishy ball that she's using in the Mobility WOD video and in the Coregeous DVD can be purchased here. Please do not use harder balls in the abdomen. The only safe way to do with is with a squishy, medium sized, air-filled ball like this one.

 

  • Lastly, an important piece of getting the psoas to release is constructive rest, which is mentioned in my interview with Jonathan. The psoas is our "fight or flight" muscle extraordinaire, so constructive rest can get it to let go of any strangle hold it may have going and that can make a huge impact in any pain patterns you have anywhere in your body. It may seem boring, but its' impacts can be profound. So get over it's boring-ness and try it already. I recently gave this to a client of mine who is a high level athlete who also has struggled with anxiety most of her life. After sending her this video she wrote to me saying (yes she gave permission for me to quote her), "In all my research on anxiety I can't believe I've never come across this!!!! I started to giggle because I felt like my body was saying 'it's about f*cking time, b*tch!!!!!!!' " Well I couldn't say it better myself, so on to the video! (yep it's from back when I was putting videos on Soma Happy, my private practice website)

 

Your inner cobra (getting to know the deep core)

cobra1The upright human posture and plantigrade gait requires a delicate balance to keep the ventral cavity operating at its functional best. Solving problems in the abdominopelvic region has focused primarily on the horizontal belt surrounding it: the transversus abdominis and its fascial connections to the thoracolumbar fascia and neural connections to the levator ani of the pelvic floor. The concept of ‘core support’ has ramifications to proper sacroiliac stability, lumbar support, pelvic floor health and continence. and a good foundation for respiration – and even on up to shoulder balance and neck strain.

While support in this outer belt is important, and the exploration has produced positive results for patients, less emphasis has been placed on a primary myofascial relationship which is of equal importance to human function, which could be termed our inner ‘cobra’. The cobra lurks inside the belt, and is essential for easy lumbar support of the rib cage, and links the rhythm of breathing and walking.

Cobra 2Our inner cobra is made up of the psoas major muscle and the diaphragm considered together as a functional unit. While these are often depicted as separate in the anatomy books, in the dissection lab the fascial connections are very clear between the diaphragm and the psoas major.

The posterior diaphragm is rooted into three structures: 1) the crura, which blend from the aortic arch into the anterior longtudinal ligament along the front of the lumbar vertebrae, 2) the psoas major (and, if present, the minor) which reaches down from each diaphragmatic dome to the lesser trochanter of the femur, and 3) the quadratus lumborum rooted down to the iliac crest and iliolumbar ligament (and in fascial terms beyond into the iliacus and iliac fascia).

There are two cobras, one on either side of the spine. The tail of the cobra is the lower end of the psoas, curled around the neck of the femur parallel to the pubofemoral ligament. The cobra’s ‘body’ goes forward of the hip joint itself, and then retroperitoneally back behind the organs to lie of either side of the lumbar spine. The ‘hood’ of the cobra is the spreading dome on each side of the diaphragm. In the image, the cobra’s face would be at the front of these domes, approximately at the end of the 6th and 7th ribs.

Cobra 3Considered as a functional whole, the balance of these two muscles is essential for respiratory and spinal health. Get the balance and function of these two cobras correctly, and it will matter less whether your patient has ‘washboard’ abs or ‘washtub’ abs. With a strong and balanced cobra, tight abs are less necessary to upper body support.

When the cobra gets too short, the cobra lifts up and exposes its throat, so to speak – in postural terms, the lumbars get more lordosis and the rib cage tilts back, restricting breathing in the back of the diaphragm. When the cobra loses tone, the head of the cobra dips, the lumbars fall back and the rib cage falls, restricting breath in the anterior part of the diaphragmatic domes.

Learning to read and correct the position of the cobra offers a new aspect to core support that supports the upper body easily, dynamically, and with less residual tension than just slamming down those abs.

Endlessly tightening the TvA, though it does offer increased support, also restricts movement, especially respiration and the organ excursion from respiration essential to their health. Your organs are ‘massaged’ neatly 20,000 times per day by the breath – restriction of the ‘abdominal belt’ and the ‘abdominal balloon’ may create support at the cost of essential function.

Learning to see, assess, and treat the ‘cobra’ of the psoas-diaphragm complex renders core support truly at the core, linking pelvic neutral and lumbar neutral with an easily functioning diaphragm.

                                                                                               

*The original post Cobra  is re-posted here with permission from from Anatomy Trains and Tom Myers

About the Author

Thomas Myers studied directly with Drs. Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, and Buckminster Fuller. He has also studied less extensively with movement teachers Judith Aston, Emilie Conrad, and in the martial arts. His work is influenced by cranial, visceral, and intrinsic movement studies he made with European schools of osteopathy.

An inveterate traveler, Tom has practiced integrative manual therapy for over 30 years in a variety of clinical and cultural settings, including 10 years in London, and traveling practices in Hamburg, Rome, Nairobi, and Sydney, as well as a dozen locales in the US. He is a member of the International Association of Structural Integrators (IASI).

Author of Anatomy Trains (Elsevier 2001) and a set of supporting videos, Tom has also penned over 60 articles for trade magazines and journals on anatomy, soft tissue manipulation, and the social scourge of somatic alienation and loss of reliance on kinesthetic intelligence.

A certified Touch-in-Parenting instructor, Tom retains a strong interest in peri-natal issues relating to movement.

Living on the coast of Maine, Tom directs Kinesis, which conducts professional certification and continuing education courses worldwide.

To read more about Tom Myer's work, please visit Anatomy Trains.