Today I would like to write about preparing your body for birth. More specifically, a vaginal birth after cesarean or VBAC (pronounced "v-back"). If you would like more info on VBAC, cesarean, etc please check out ICAN (International cesarean awareness network). My local Chapter (Twin Cities, MN) is fantastic, and you might have a chapter near you with local meetings as well! I am grateful that we have c-sections, and also grateful that VBAC is a safe and wonderful option for so many! This post is not going to go any further into any of that for time's sake. But know that this post has nothing to do with helping you decide what the best option for your birth is- that is something you can explore yourself with your provider, partner, and with wonderful resources such as ICAN.
First, WHY should we prepare our body for VBAC?
You may have heard it said that "we were made to birth." And I do agree with that statement. Our bodies are incredible and were made for birth! But, we live in an artificial environment. Our bodies do not move the way that they were intended to move. We have outsourced the work of our muscles and we aren't moving in the variety or frequency that we really were designed to. Because of this, it's really essential both for minimizing pain and also for an easier birthing, to change our movement habits to stack the cards in our favor. Does this mean that everyone who "prepares their body" will have a successful VBAC? No. Does this mean if someone has a cesarean that it was their fault? Absolutely not! Does this mean that everyone who has a vaginal birth doesn't need this *exact same stuff*?! No, no no! I am simply giving you a tool that will both help baby to find optimal positioning for birth, and also help your pelvis to be at the optimal function for the birthing process. These same principles can apply to all pregnant moms!
1. Walk daily. Walking is an essential movement, not just an exercise. Think of it as an essential movement vitamin that your body NEEDS to function properly. Walking not only aids the birthing process, but also whole body health and longevity. Our ancestors likely walked 5-7 miles a day! Aim to slowly increase your miles. Take at least one mile walk every day (in flat shoes) and a longer walk on the weekends. Increase your miles further by spreading them throughout the whole day! Making mindful choices like parking in the back of the parking lot and walking somewhere instead of driving all count in your miles for the day.
2. Sit less and use variety with your resting positions. Research is showing us that sitting for prolonged periods of time has an impact on long-term health and longevity. Additionally, it weakens the birth muscles and decreases birth space. If you are chair sitting, make sure you sit with a neutral pelvis (see above) and take breaks to stand, walk, and stretch every 15-20 minutes. Consider a dynamic work station that alternates between standing, sitting (in a variety of positions, if possible!), walking and stretching throughout the day. Try sitting on the floor more often than in a chair, if possible.
3. Get out of positive heeled footwear and flip flops. Wearing shoes with even a slight heel will alter skeletal alignment and cause muscular imbalances that can contribute to pelvic floor, back and SI joint discomfort and issues. Choose flat shoes and take note that even most standard athletic shoes do have some degree of a heel. You’ll also want to make sure your sandals have a back, as flip flops cause similar imbalances in the body. If your body has grown accustomed to positive heels (they're even in most athletic shoes!), do correctives and slowly transition to minimal footwear. Check out Katy Bowman's book "Whole Body Barefoot" for tips on transitioning.
4. Squat to eliminate. Our bodies are designed to squat to go to the bathroom and in fact many cultures still do today! It will help with the mobility of the pelvis for optimal birth mechanics and will also help with easier elimination of the bowels. You can get stools to elevate your feet, or consider a product like the Squatty Potty that brings the feet up into a squat position. They even sell that at Target now!
1. Use a neutral pelvis. Sitting on your tailbone will weaken the pelvic floor, hurt the back, and decrease birth space. Roll forward onto your “sit bones” (ischial tuberosities) so that your pelvis is neutral. The top of your pelvis (ASIS-Anterior Superior Iliac Spine) should be in a vertical line on top of your Pubic Symphysis. You will see your natural lumbar curve. Relax your upper body and avoid trying to arch your back. It is often helpful to sit with something under your sit bones (a rolled up towel, yoga block, etc) to allow your pelvis to roll forward into a more neutral position. Video of me explaining neutral pelvis HERE.
In "lifestyle modifications" above I mentioned that you should sit in a variety of positions throughout the day. GET OUT OF THE CHAIR! As much as you can. A chair shaped pelvis is not a happy pelvis. Try more floor sitting! But when you do- bolster yourself up so that you can easily find neutral pelvis. Check it out for yourself. Try sitting on the floor. It's not too easy to get into neutral pelvis without REALLY FORCING IT. Next, try sitting up on a block, bolster, or cushion and then just RELAX into neutral pelvis. No forcing it and causing additional tension, please. That's not what we're going for. We are allowing ourselves into neutral.
2. Weight Back in your heels. Now that you have neutral pelvis, it's time to get your weight back where it should go. Pregnancy and baby carrying tends to shift our weight forward. Not because it SHOULD, but because we let it. We outsource the work our posterior (back of the) leg muscles. This not only puts a lot of strain on our core (diastasis recti anyone?), but it also turns off the muscles that should be holding us up all day. These are also muscles that support the pelvis.
3. Feet hip distance. This helps to use the lateral (outside) hip muscles that support the pelvis. Women often stand with their feet much closer together than hip distance. Additionally, when we walk we tend to allow our feet to swing in quite a bit! Check out your foot prints if you walk through snow (rain? sand?) and see if your foot prints are actually hip distance apart. Chances are, when your foot hits the ground it is closer than hip distance. If we can think about bringing our feet back to hip distance and keeping our feet "in their own train tracks" while walking we can increase the strength of the lateral hips (I have done several blog posts on lateral hip strength. Check out THIS ONE as to why lateral hip strength is important for pregnancy pain)
4. Relax the belly. We spend a lot of our lives sucking our belly in. Whether for vanity sake, stress, or because we think it's proper core engagement. Note: It's not proper core engagement and even if it was, we should not be engaging our core all day. I added stress to the list because I personally notice that when I'm stressed out that my core sucks in more! It's amazing how these habits sneak in! So take a deep breath and then RELAX your belly away from your spine. Notice if you are sucking it in and then be like Elsa and LET IT GO! This will help with the 2nd stage (pushing) of birth because it's releasing all the intra-abdominal pressure that has been built up from all the sucking in that we then have to push against whether to go to the bathroom, or to push out something much cuter, but less frequent- a baby! Check out this video of me explaining it (I was pregnant in the video, too!)
These exercises are designed to help the body transition back to more optimal alignment and aid in teaching the body how to function properly through all that we do throughout the day. For example, are you getting up off the toilet for the one millionth time that day (baby on the bladder)?! You can do this in a way that uses the posterior (back of the leg) muscles and uses the "squatting" muscles. Or it can be done in a way that keeps the pelvis tucked and doesn't use those muscles at all. Think of how many SQUATS you could get in a day if you just used the appropriate muscles every time you got up?! THAT is the goal. To optimize what we are doing ALL DAY. Because our body adapts to how we hold it and move it throughout the entire day and is not as concerned with the one hour a day (HAHAHA- I have 4 kids so I laugh at this) that we exercise. So don't think of these exercises as the end all be all. They are simply a tool to help us move better. Know that this is in no means an exhaustive list. I encourage you to seek out the assistance of a Restorative Exercise™ Specialist to get your own personalized assessment and correctives. Okay... after that way too long disclaimer, here they are....
1. Calf Stretch. We want to lengthen the posterior (back of the leg) muscles. This will help with pelvic mobility and pelvic floor health (I could write a whole blog post as to exactly why). Think of your calf stretch as your Vitamin C. YOU NEED IT. I try to do at least 3 calf stretches a day. You can calf stretch while brushing your teeth, talking on the phone, combing your hair.... the possibilities are endless! I keep a half dome in my bathroom, living room, kitchen. They're all over! You can also roll up a yoga mat and it works almost as well. Keep the weight back in your heels and your pelvis neutral (your correct alignment as discussed above!). Only walk your non-stretching foot forward if your hip doesn't come along with it. Hold for 60 seconds on each side. VIDEO of me demonstrating calf stretch HERE.
2. Double Calf Stretch
Does your pelvis even move? It should! When you bend over to pick something up (toys, dishes, laundry.... story of my life) do you do it by flexing your lumbar spine, or do you do it by allowing your pelvis to move? This one is going to help with pelvic mobility and also with all the muscles down the backside of the legs- hamstrings and calves. Only go as far as you can go until your pelvis stops moving and your lumbar spine (low back curve) starts flattening. This and the single legged calf stretch are HUGELY important and are prep work for squatting..
3. Psoas Release This exercise feels like you're doing nothing. Because you are. Except, you're not. You're allowing the resting tension of your psoas muscle to relax. This muscle deserves many of it's own blog posts. Here is one I did a while ago.
First, find a bolster or supportive cushion (or sleeping bag rolled up in a sack- get creative if you have to!). Next, sit up tall with your feet in front of you and feel your hamstrings touching the floor. When you lay back into a bolstered position, you only want to go as far as you can go without your hamstrings popping up off the floor. If, after you're down in this position, you can drive a matchbox car under your hamstrings, then you need to bolster yourself higher. It's not unusual for me to need to double bolster people! Position the bolster so that the back of your ribs is NOT on the bolster so that it is just under your shoulders. Put a rolled up blanket or half dome under your head so you don't feel like your head is uncomfortably flopping back. As you rest here, allow the back of your rib cage to relax down towards the ground. When you start, you may notice your ribs thrusting way up towards the sky. But as you continue to relax here (great place to watch a movie! I just introduced Star Wars to my kids in this position last week!) notice the tension in your psoas releasing by the back of the rib cage coming down towards the floor.
4. Hamstring Strap Stretch I am a big fan of doing this stretch in the psoas release position. It protects the core because it is allowing the ribs to relax down and it helps us to not go past our boundaries because if we do, the opposite hamstring will lift off the floor. After getting in your psoas release position, bring a strap just underneath your toes. Slowly lift the leg up, but stop if the opposite hamstring lifts off the ground, because this is showing that your pelvis is beginning to tuck to compensate for being at the end of your hamstrings range of motion. Relax the toes towards your body. No barbie feet! Try to avoid the mindset of "the more I feel this stretch the better it is." You may feel more of a stretch if you were to pull you hamstring way up towards your face, but it's not going to help you any more than just being *where you actually are.*
After about 60 seconds of stretching straight back, send the foot across the midline towards the other leg. Keep the hips on the ground and avoid rolling.
5. Inner Thigh Stretch
And there you go- this is an EXCELLENT start to your alignment, movement, and corrective exercise journey! This is by no means an exhaustive list. But I wanted to give you a few things to get started with! If you'd like to learn more- I do in person and Skype sessions!
Working on movement and alignment not only helps to prepare for birth, it also helps ease pregnancy pain and helps with a smoother and easier postpartum recovery. And don't get me started on pelvic floor and really... whole body health! The great thing about this work (or maybe not so great thing depending on how you look at it) is that everything affects everything. So a byproduct of working on alignment for you birth is that you're going to start helping that wonky knee. That annoying foot pain. That digestive stuff. It's all connected! Our body is not a bunch of parts working in isolation, so we can't fix or help anything in isolation. We must look at everything in relation to everything else.
PS- taking photos with a bunch of our kids is kinda chaotic. I might have to do a PART 2 with more.. They were totally at their limit. You probably are after this super long post too. Don't blame ya!
MANY thanks to my beautiful friend Jessica Anderson of Peaceful Beginnings for letting me take photos of her. She is an ICAN leader, cesarean and VBAC mom, doula, childbirth educator and mother of almost 3! She is teaching a VBAC class along with another amazing VBAC mom, Katie Champ of Empowered Birth at the studio in a few weeks. Sign up!
I wrote a while back about why the squat is not the new kegel. Check out Part 1 HERE
I want to write on this again because I still get people asking me and each other "what should I do- Kegels or Squats?" Of course, I direct them to my previous post, but I figure I would expound on what I said there for further clarification.
Here's what I just posted on facebook last night, while thinking this over:
"Looking to strengthen/fix/optimize the function of your pelvic floor? The question should not be "should I squat or should I kegel?" Because there is not one exercise that will strengthen/fix/optimize the pelvic floor. It's a whole body problem and requires a whole body solution."
Squat vs. Kegel is NOT the question we should be asking. We must think of our body as a whole. There is not one exercise that will fix/heal/strength/optimize your pelvic floor because your pelvic floor responds and adapts (whether positively or negatively) to how you move all of your body all of the time. So a squat, or a kegel for that matter, is not going to really do what you hope for it to do if you're not walking and if you're sitting in a desk chair on your sacrum all day, for example.
Let me give you an analogy that may help make this clearer. The kegel vs. squats debate is like debating a high grains/low fat diet vs. a Paleo diet. Only, instead of learning all that goes into the Paleo diet you say that being Paleo means eating red meat all the time and pretty much only red meat. After all, you just read a couple of blog posts on the benefits of red meat, so that MUST be what being Paleo is all about, yeah? Not realizing that red meat is part of the Paleo diet, yes, but it's just one small piece of many different vital nutrients needed and even the red meat that is consumed is not just any old red meat, but a specific type of red meat (grassfed, for example). Eating a bunch of red meat does not make one a Paleo anymore than doing a bunch of squats makes someone have an awesome pelvic floor. Yet, of course squats are a fantastic part of a whole body movement program that optimizes the function of the pelvic floor and the stability of mobility of the pelvis.
Or maybe this one resonates with you more. You know kale is healthy. So you just eat kale, and only kale. All day, every day. And nothing else. Would you really be healthy? Or maybe you eat Snickers bars for the rest of the day and then gorge yourself on kale at night. WOULD YOU REALLY BE HEALTHY? No. You need the nutrients in kale, of course, but you also need a whole spectrum of nutrients throughout the day too.
So let's stop debating squatting vs. kegels and let's start:
Check out some "alignment snacks" HERE for just $5 for a nice way to learn some of these stretches that will in turn help strengthen your pelvic floor (and.... the rest of your body too! The great thing about it being an all body problem is that the all body solution fixes a whole bunch of other crap too!). A few that I suggest:
~Walk this way, stand this way
~All Around the Thighs We Go
~All fo' the pelvic floor
~Leg goes forward, leg goes back
~Stretch the standing muscles
I'm in my third trimester now (actually, I'm considered full-term next week! So sorry for the lack of blogging- I've been nesting instead!) and I've started to notice how much harder it is to TAKE A DEEP ENOUGH BREATH! So, I've been focusing on opening up the thoracic region so that I can breathe into my ribs more.
Wait... what does that mean?
So, there are a few different ways we can breathe. We can breathe UP. Watch someone breathe this way or try it yourself- your collar bones move up and down when breathing. This way isn't good because it causes issues with the cervical spine and neck. The other way we can breathe is DOWN. Into the belly. Plunging everything downward with every breath. This isn't good either because it increases intra-abdominal pressure and pushes organs downward. I definitely think those of us who tend towards belly breathing are the ones who feel this "I can't get enough breath!" when breathing during pregnancy because baby is restricting the ability to do what we want to do- breathe DOWN. The third way we can breathe is OUT- into the ribs. Our ribs are designed to MOVE torsionally. That is, they kind of flare outwards during breathing (Don't worry- I'll post a video). This helps with bone density of the ribs. And it doesn't cause any other issues during breathing- there are no compensations that our body has to make to breathe into the rib cage.
BUT- what if the rib cage is restricted in some way? Likely it is from years of rib thrusting, pushing the shoulder blades together to hide our hunch backs, etc. We've lost the ability to mobilize the upper back! So, yes, it IS going to be harder to breathe properly if we have some restrictions. So- in addition to being more mindful about rib breathing, I'm trying to continue to open up my upper body region so that I can really take a deep breath like I want to and not compensate in my body in any way.
Here are a few stretches I like:
Place a Yoga Tune Up, Pinky ball, tennis ball or other on each side of your spine (or if you have one do one side at a time). You can either do this standing, seated or you could lay back on your back if that still feels comfortable. Press into the ball and slowly work it up and down- releasing some of that tension on either side of the spine. At the back of the rib cage. Silly 2 year old in your lap= optional.
Have a very wonderful day and please comment/like/share if this was helpful to you! Spread the love so that your friends can experience better breathing as well!! My mission is that we ALL feel as great as I feel this pregnancy!! This is of course helpful for non-preggos as well, but since I am OH SO VERY PREGNANT right now, it's definitely on my mind how much more mindful I have to be about my alignment, walking, and Restorative Exercise™ practice.... but guess what? I can say confidently that I have NO PAIN IN MY BODY WHATSOEVER this pregnancy. I truly feel stronger than I've ever felt!! I guess in a way pregnancy is good feedback because it kind of forces us to take care of ourselves better.
Strengthen those hips, preggos! And all. You'll feel better and your hips and pelvic floor will thank you.
We learned a really great lateral hip stretch last week, today I'm going to teach you how to strength and stabilize these muscles.
We *need* strong lateral hips because they are *supposed* to be an integral part of the gait (walking) cycle, yet because we have tight and weak lateral hips (from sitting all the time, and not using them for most of our lives) our body compensates and we cheat to walk. This cheat walking is actually more falling forward than actual walking. When we lengthen and strengthen the muscles that we *should* be using to walk- we'll actually be strengthening our pelvic floor with every step! And a lot more things too- we'll be building bone density of the hip with each step as well as it will bring us into a more vertical loading of the hip. Did you know that the hip is one of the places MOST prone to osteoporosis and breaking a hip is NOT a good thing either. So if we learn how to strengthen this area and build bone density to this area- we can AGE SUPER WELL. Who doesn't want that? I also talked a lot about all the various types of hip pain that people complain of during pregnancy and it's not just because you "need to stretch more." You also need to walk more, and walk more bettah. And part of that is even being able to do so. Which is where the pelvic list exercise comes in. I observe just how challenging this exercise is to my clients who come in either with a whole lot of pain in the region, or pelvic floor disorder. Sometimes just being able to stand on one foot even while doing all the cheats I'll cover in the video, is a challenge! And you can BET if it's challenging to just stand on one foot in an aligned way for 5 seconds, that your gait cycle is not optimal. So- get more bang for your buck when you walk, get rid of your pain, and help your WHOLE body.... (wow I am really building up this one exercise, eh?)... introducing: the pelvis list (after 2 more paragraphs).
Note. I am 29 weeks pregnant. I have definitely noticed because of how freaking cold it is in Minnesota right now that my daily walks aren't as long as I'd like for them to be. My lateral hips have suffered. So- I'm upping my pelvic lists AND thankfully I'll be at the Restorative Exercise Institute next week and I plan to walk a TON. I even MALL WALKED this week because I was too whiney about the cold. Anyway- no excuses but I am posting the video even though I am fully aware that I am not perfect in it. Who really is, though? I refuse to be that expert who has no faults or things to work on themselves.
Life is a journey. Alignment is a journey. Pregnancy is a journey. Pregnancy is a journey that is definitely a more challenging time to be aligned than non-pregnancy. I'll admit that I've beat myself up a bit because I'm not as strong as I was before pregnancy. BUT- that doesn't mean we (I) can't DO pregnancy really really well and to the best of our ability. Does that mean we type-A freak out about it if we aren't perfect or worry that something terrible is going to happen if we didn't calf stretch enough times a day? No. Let go. Be where you are. Work on improving from where you are. Every day do as much as you can and make healthy choice. And let go again. You got this, mama!
Is our pelvis shape predetermined by our genetics or do we have a say in the matter?
Guess what? Yay, we have a say! (and I'm a poet and I didn't even know it)
You may or may not know that there are several types of pelvis shapes. I learned from the amazing and incredible Gail Tully of Spinning Babies that pelvis shape can play a big part in the ease of childbirth. Particularly if baby is in certain positions such as posterior (Looking up- babies spine against mom's spine. Also called "sunny side up"). While I don't think it's a good idea to stress about your pelvic shape, I do think that it can be empowering to know that YOUR PELVIS SHAPE IS NOT FIXED. You can change the shape of the pelvis from front to back based upon how you move your body around! It's not a case of "Whelp- I was born this way, so there is nothing I can do about it, I'm destined to have harder births." This is absolutely NOT the case. First of all, there are many cases of individuals with pelvis shapes that tend to cause more issues having no issues whatsoever, and additionally, you can make changes in how your pelvis is shaped based on (important so I'm saying it again) HOW YOU CARRY YOUR BODY AROUND.
So you say- well my mom had a *insert pelvis shape* pelvis, and I do so how is that not genetic. What is interesting is that we DO tend to move and sit the way that our parents do. If your mom is a pelvis tucker or sits on her tailbone, then there is a high probability that you do to. As children we are great observers and we learn a lot about how to stand, sit, and move with our bodies by how we see others doing it. So you MIGHT have the same shape pelvis as other women in your family, but likely it's because you move like them.
Let me say this again because I find it amazing! YOUR PELVIS SHAPE IS NOT FIXED. Is this completely amazing and mind blowing to anyone else as it was for me to first time I heard it? Have you ever heard a woman told "you just can't give birth vaginally- there isn't enough room"? Imagine the implications of this little piece of knowledge. And PS- it's not always that there truly isn't enough room- sometimes it's just good old fashioned B.S.
Our sacrum is designed to be MOBILE. Ever heard of someone complaining of SI pain? They're referring to pain at this joint. The SI is the Sacroiliac JOINT. And why do we have joints? For movement, of course. Unfortunately, in our culture most of us don't have moveable sacrums anymore because we don't often put ourselves in positions that require the mobility of the SI. And the body works in a "use it or loose it" kinda way. The sacrum is designed to move in and away from the pelvic bowl. If you're a nerd like me, the technical term for the motion of the sacrum is "nutation and counter nutation." See picture below to see the joint that in an optimally functioning body allows the sacrum to move.
Next, let's consider the distance from the Sacrum to the Pubic Symphysis
For childbirth and also optimal pelvic floor health for ALL, it's optimal for the distance from the sacrum to the PS (pubic symphysis) to be greater. This will, in turn, lengthen the pelvic floor and bring it to a more optimal length (yay for pelvic floor health!) and create more space for a baby in the pelvic cavity.
There are 4 defined pelvis shapes, shown in the picture to the side. These are defined by measuring the pelvic inlet. This blog post isn't going to define the different types, but there is much information out there on the different types including this article from Spinning Babies. You can see that the Gynecoid pelvis is much rounder vs on the other side the platypelloid pelvis is much more oval. Let's use the platypelloid pelvic shape, for an example. You can see clearly from the picture of the pelvis shapes that platypelloid pelvi are more narrow from pubic symphysis to sacrum. This can create a more strenuous birthing process for all parties involved and more potential damage to the pelvic floor, to boot! But- once a platypelloid not necessarily ALWAYS a platypelloid.
PS- my computer likes to autocorrect that to "platypus" so be on the lookout for typos!
IF we change the way we move our body (skeleton!) around- we can increase the anteior/posterior distance in the pelvis (the distance from sacrum to pubic symphysis). Cool huh? I wouldn't worry so much about figuring out what shape of pelvis you have. If you already know- cool. If you don't know- this information is going to help ALL of us.
Here's a few starter tips for how to increase the anteior/posterior pelvic space and also helping to free of the sacrum so that it is more moveable:
1. Squat to elimiate. Seriously, get a squatty potty! I say this all the time, but our body is designed to SQUAT to eliminate. The squatting causes the illium to widen, which decompressed the SI joint... allowing it to move into the optimal position. (note: I'm an affiliate to squatty potty- by clicking on my banner you support a hard working mama)
2. Change the way you sit and stand.
I've discussed both of these before so I'll just post links to those posts:
~Where you pelvis is in relation to the rest of you
~Below is a short little video relating to pelvic alignment when sitting. Think about it this way. Either you are sitting ON your tailbone, or you are sitting on your SITTING BONES (ischial tuberosities). We want to avoid sitting on our tailbones because it draws the sacrum IN to the body- creating the opposite of what we want for easier birth (and pelvic floor function).
3. Hip opening and Squat Prep!
Just because squatting is awesome, doesn't mean that it's awesome FOR YOU AT THIS EXACT MOMENT IN TIME. Here's a post I did a while ago on the Squat
Truthfully, we must spend a lot of time doing squat PREP. Preparing our bodies to be able to squat more effectively so that we can get benefit from our more aligned squatting. We also need to lengthen our calves and hamstrings to give us the length we need to get deeper into the squat without compensating in some way. Since it's already been done- click on the squat post linked to above and within that blog post I linked to a post that will specifically take you through some of the squat prep exercises.
I have alluded many times to the fact that alignment helps with the birthing process. Here's how:
1. Creating more space in the pelvis
2. Removing the restrictions in the body that can cause baby to find a less than ideal fetal position. In other words, body alignment.... better yet, moving more with better body alignment... helps with optimal fetal positioning.
3. Decreasing upwards internal pressure gradient (thereby making pushing not so strenuous since we don't have to push down against an upward force).
In an ideal world, we'd have been moving throughout most of our lives, sitting on the floor, squatting to cook our food (what's with these convenient COUNTERS I tell you?!). But, this is not the case. We have been in one position for most of it. Sitting, in a chair. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with sitting or with chairs. It's the amount of time we've spent over the course of our lives in mostly one position as opposed to a variety of them. Starting from kindergarden or sooner- sitting in a chair. Our pelvis, and really our whole body, has adapted to the position that we are in most of the time and has created restrictions. A shortened, tight psoas. Tightness and weakness in the lateral hip musculature. Habits of tucking the pelvis (thereby tightening the psoas even more), etc.
So, by optimizing our alignment, doing corrective exercises to lengthen the muscles that need to be lengthened, strengthening the muscles that need to be strengthened, releasing the tension in muscles that need that.... we can create a "paleo pelvis" That is... our pelvis will be become more like it was intended to be. The pelvis of our ancestors- who moved a LOT and did not have modern conveniences that have let to our bodies only being used in a very small variety of ways.
This might seem overwhelming to you. I know it does to me, some days. But the great thing about it is this: ANYthing you choose to do is going to help you. ANYthing is better than nothing. AND as soon as you start you'll start feeling better too. Don't Type A freak out about it- just realize that you aren't maybe where you want to be an start making steps towards a more healthier you with more abundant space in your pelvis to birth a baby through!
I'm not going to give you all the corrective exercises right now because it's not the time nor the place and that would be a LONG LONG blog, but I will give you some quick tips to get you started!
My quick tips:
1. Read Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman for the basics! I have copies if you're local and need one. She also sells it on her website and Amazon.
2. Start walking more and start moving and resting in a variety of ways. Change it up! What if you sat on the floor instead of the couch after dinner? What if you ate your dinner sitting on the floor? What if you changed the position of your legs while sitting on the floor (We always sit in the most comfortable position first so even crossing your legs the other way for a while is good!). Work more movement and standing throughout your day.
3. See you Restorative Exercise Specialist for an assessment and your corrective exercises!! There is lots of free info on the web- I give lots of it too! But there is something so helpful about someone trained looking at your body and helping you notice your "sticky spots" where you are not as mobile, or carrying tension, etc. I know that I thought I had it *FIGURED OUT*... until I went to my certification week and learned how little I really knew about how I was moving and stretching my body. I'm all about getting the most bang for my buck.... so you're going to get MORE out of everything you do if you are doing it correctly. So I can't stress how helpful seeing a RES was for ME and I bet you'd like it too!!
4. Squat to go to the bathroom. Seriously. Get a squatty potty (I have an affiliate link right here on my website if you want to support a super hard working mama!!). Our body is designed to SQUAT to eliminate!
*I will be covering the 3 different items: Pelvic space, optimal fetal positioning, and internal pressure gradient each in their own separate blog posts, stay tuned!
Before I continue on my series on stance (which started with backing up) I wanted to address a question that I received on my (NEW!) Facebook page and also from a few people in person and another person on a comment on my last blog post (yes I read them, so comment and I'll respond if I can!)
Here's the question, in a nutshell:
Where do I start?
For me, personally, it was (IS) easy to feel overwhelmed. And to feel like there could not possibly be TIME IN THE DAY for anything else. We are all pulled in so many directions that it feels like too much to do anything else. But the thing is, I'm lazy. I guess lazy isn't the right word. I like to take the easy road. Case in point: my kids sleep with me when they are babies so I can just nurse and keep sleeping and not have to stand up during the night. I use Hypnobabies (which, I will say, is a big time commitment during pregnancy FOR.SURE.) which enabled me to have calmer and more comfortable births. And I'm always looking for shortcuts. Mama aint got TIME. Check out the comedy bit below... I laughed so hard when he said having 4 babies is like drowning and then somebody handing you a baby. Maybe too hard.
Okay, back to alignment.
So, it's not about doing more, necessarily. It's about being smarter with how you are throughout what you are already doing during your day. And, every time you make an aligned choice, it helps. Every time you choose to stretch your calves while you are on the phone, or cooking dinner, or answering an email... it makes a difference! Every time you choose to walk somewhere instead of drive, or anytime you choose to stand instead of sit. Or sit on the floor instead of lounging on a couch.... you make a difference in your body!!
I am not going to give the "do these magic 10 exercises" because, it's not about the exercises, even though there are exercises. If we lived in a society that moved around all day and had from infancy, we would not developed the habits we currently have and we wouldn't need the corrective exercises. Did the hunter gatherer woman need to stretch her calves? No, because her calves had not shortened from habits and shoe wear choices.
So, even though it's not ABOUT the exercises, they are still important because they are going to take us to a place where in an ideal world we wouldn't need them. But, as you know, we do not live in an ideal world. At least I don't! So, here are some tips.
1. Start reading some alignment blogs, of course I hope you keep reading mine. Unless you hate Jim Gaffigan. Because then you'll probably hate me because I'm like the female birthy alignmenty version of him. Just kidding. But I do think he's really funny! Tangent. Focus. Also, check out my teacher's blog, KatySays. She has a podcast in the works as well! She also wrote a few books and I encourage you to check them out. Alignment Matters is a really good way of learning the basics of alignment and it has good pictures and exercises and there is even a study guide if you're a nerd like me and like that kind of stuff.
2. Start moving more.
The human body is really designed to walk (no, you can not substitute running for walking, it is completely different). And it's designed to walk several miles a day. This doesn't mean you go out and walk 6 miles right now in one spurt. It means, move more than you're currently doing. RPE...reasonable physiological expectation. If you're used to not moving at all, then you're doing more harm than good by walking 6 miles. Can you make simple changes. Park farther away in the parking lot and walk in? Is there any place you could walk to instead of drive? Can you get out and take a daily walk around the neighborhood?
3. Start sitting less.
We go from sitting all day at work, to maybe doing an intense hour or two of exercise, and then we sit back down, and then we go to bed. We can absolutely NOT replace all day full body movement with 1-2 hours of intense exercise. People who exercise 1-2 hours a day are simply NOT healthier than those who do not. We can not undo the damage of sitting all the freaking time with that intense bout. And some of what we are doing in that intense bout is damaging us, anyway. When you work or are on the computer... try a standing work station. I personally stand at my counter and answer emails, work on blog posts, etc. If you must sit.... sit on the floor, or on a bolster on the floor. There are a lot of ways we can sit that are not in a chair or lounging on the couch with the pelvis tucked under.
4. And I'd start with stance.
Which... yay! Is what I choose to start this blog with. You learned how to back up, and next I'm going to teach you how to point your feet where they are supposed to be pointed. After we go through stance, then we'll talk about simple stretches that we can do that will help lengthen our walking muscles so that, you guessed it.... we can walk more AND get more benefit out of the walking that we do (See what I did there? Yep, I'm all about the most benefit from one single thing. That's the "mama aint got time" way!!).
5. If there is a Restorative Exercise Specialist in your area, check them out!!
*think of the photo of someone checking someone out that I am not actually going to post*
Not like in a creepy way, but in a call them and sign up for a session kinda way. You do not KNOW how much goes into getting certified. Katy is NO JOKE and she doesn't want those people she certifies to be either. So we have to learn a LOT. If there is not a REx if your area, there are many that offer Skype sessions!! Here is a list of graduates or those in training.
Now... get up, stand up go out on a walk (sung to the tune of Bob Marley if you so desire)
My journey into alignment (which is ongoing, of course!) began before I knew anything about alignment or Restorative Exercise. With my degree in Exercise Science, I learned how to think critically, to love the science of movement, and to read a gazillion research articles and critique them (thank you Dr Kelly Quick for that!).
After college, I started my work as a personal trainer at a regular gym. It was okay... but I got a nagging sense that I wasn't really helping the people who I wanted to help. I left college well prepared to prescribe exercise, but intuitively I didn't feel like what I was doing was "it." I left my job in the fitness world while I was pregnant with my 2nd child and after his birth I began my work in the birthing community and never looked back.
Or so I thought.
I continued working in the fitness industry, sort of. As a prenatal yoga instructor. I was always helping my mamas from a physiological perspective with their pregnancy ailments and optimizing the birthing space. Of course, I got really into Spinning Babies (Thank you Gail Tully for this amazing stuff!) because it was like the body stuff that I was so into, but for birth. I saw it help my moms SO much during their births and I am honored to say that I got to help spin many babies and see how helpful it was to birth.
Then I found Katy Bowman. And the Restorative Exercise Institute. It was like a coming home, of sorts. She talked a lot about the pelvis, a lot about the pelvic floor, and about pregnancy and childbirth too (which is a HUGE HUGE passion of mine). When I started reading her stuff I just knew that I had to learn more. It fit so well with my passions.... and in fact even brought me home to my original love of the science of movement and combined it so perfectly with my passion for pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. My favorite courses in college were Biomechanics classes. If there had been an entire degree on Biomechanics, that's what I would've majored in. And now this lady.... was speaking about things like the pelvic floor from a biomechanics perspective? Cue nerd excitement!
And the thing was.... once I started giving my mamas this information and the restorative exercises, I really could see it help them with birthing! It really did optimize space in the pelvis. It really did decrease the pressure gradient upwards to allow for an easier time with pushing. And moms who walked all day, or stood more really did seem to have shorter birthing times. When I started introducing the ideas into my prenatal yoga classes people seemed hungry for more! I started having people line up after class with questions about how I can help them with this pain or that ailment or this baby position. And.... I loved it.
So, I signed up for a Whole Body Alignment course. And spent many many many months listening to lectures, doing the exercises myself, and learning what it meant to bring the body back to the way it was, really, designed to be.
In the process, my back started feeling better. I'd been having horrible mid back pain for 4-5 years. Likely caused by hunching over to nurse a baby, babywearing almost all day, and going through pregnancy 3 times in a generally short amount of time. Being a yoga instructor and generally active person, I wasn't supposed to be the one with back pain! I was "in shape" so what the heck, right?! I had started learning about this stuff to help OTHERS, but I helped myself in the process. I learned a LOT about myself. And my body. I'm in no way perfectly aligned, BUT I do know where I am and where I am headed and I am on my journey. My back is still kinda hunchback-y (technical term is actually hyper-kyphosis), BUT it's getting better, and I'm feeling better in the process!
I spent a week in California learning from master teachers of Restorative Exercise and Katy Bowman, herself. It was challenging, humbling, intense and amazing. Restorative Exercise really has a way of helping us to break through walls. I learned that my "go to" is just muscling my way into a pose or exercise. I learned I can not even do a head hang properly because instead of relaxing my head down, I PULL it down. I learned that I was doing most of the exercises at least semi-wrong and that it's SO easy for the body to cheat. It took my alignment practice to a whole new level!
I couldn't be more excited about this missing link that I've found! I really feel like this stuff is the missing link for a lot of people. I know it has been for me. People who have been told that they need surgery for this or that. Or that this issue is just "apart of being a mom" or "aging" or "pregnancy." Or moms who were told they could never birth a baby vaginally because there isn't enough space. Or moms who have yet to give birth but want to optimize the environment in their body for birthing. It JUST MAKES SENSE. We can reclaim our bodies, we can live without pain, we can birth our babies, we can NOT pee our pants afterwards or have our organs falling out. We CAN. And we will, if we only begin to shift our daily habits and patterns of movement.
Restorative Exercise is not an exercise program. It's a whole body wellness program of teaching you how to use your body, your "human machine" in the best way. In a sense, it's the manual of how to use the body in the most optimal way to decrease pain and ailments and increase strength, vitality and well being. It's a way of coming back to the way our bodies are designed to be. It's reclaiming our biological RIGHT to pain-free full body movement and wellness.
And this is why I have shifted my business (if you can call it that, because I love it so much!) to the name "Mamaligned." Alignment is for ALL- If you have a body, this stuff will help you. And I can and will help ANYone who comes to me in pain or wanting to learn how to "drive their human machine" better, but mamas are and will always be my true life's work and calling and so I'm okay with my name being restrictive, in a sense. I truly believe that those people who need me, will find me. And I'm okay with owning my niche of working with women. But know, that I can and am taught to teach this stuff to everyone. In fact, my final practical exam was with a 70 year old man! And he loved it and I'm told the next day he couldn't stop talking about what he'd learned at a Super Bowl party. Awesome. I want to excite people about this stuff as much as I am excited by it!
I will leave you with a few quotes to ponder from my teacher, Katy Bowman:
"Ninety percent of your ailments right now are self-induced by the way you move-too much or too little, At friction generating angles, with too high loads" ~KB
"If the cause of most ailments affecting affluent populations- osteoarthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis- is the lack of movement, shouldn't exercise be the solution? No. Exercise is a poor substitute for movement."
"You'll never be able to recreate what our body needs in an hour or two of exercise. You have to learn how to move through life so that you don't even need to exercise because the body is working all the time."
Stand up for your rights. Love me some good Bob Marley. Did you know that I sing that song to floppy toddlers when they are puddles on the floor? Playful parenting at it's finest, folks.
This post is about standing up. REALLY standing up. There are many different alignment markers. But for this post, in honor of the winter olympics, we're going to talk about one item in particular... BACKING UP.
And not being a ski racer all the time. Because, really, we shouldn't be standing like this:
unless we are actually in a ski race. In that case… lean down that hill baby. But otherwise…. back that thang UP.
Get something weighted. It doesn't matter what. A rock tied to a string (well that doesn't sound safe… beware, toes!), or a random kids toy tied to a string. Whatever. Next, find the midpoint of your hip. Hold the string on the midpoint of your hip and see where the weight falls on the ground. Note how I am pulling a "ski racer" and leaning forward. Also note that I just took a shower after being up all night at a birth. And that the photo is taken by a preschooler.
Now. Shift your weight back into your heels. Watch the weight move back over your heels. Note that you can lift up and wiggle your toes. Now… can you lift and lower you knee cap? If you can't, it could be that your quadricep is used to always be "on" and so it's trying desperately to be the one to hold you up all the time. So, lifting and lowering the knee cap is a way of seeing if the quad can stay in the relaxed (knee down) position. It's also a way of seeing if you're standing with your knees bent. You will not be able to lift and lower your knee cap if your knee is bent. So straight that leg, baby. Note how when I shifted my weight back into my heels, my knees bend and my feet came up. My quads were trying to say "hey wait a minute here, what do you think you're doing? I wanna WORK!" And then I told them to simmer down, that they get enough use and I'm trying to be a fair parent and give Hamstring and Glute a job too. And besides standing is really a job for Glute and Hammy anyway. Quad is like that big overachiever who does all your work for you before you actually get a chance to try. I'm sure my shortened psoas from sitting all the time and from stress didn't help matters either. But more on that another time. Psoas deserves her own post.
Here is another pictures of me backing my weight up onto my heels, from today's series of photos/videos compliments of the 4 year old:
You are now on your way to standing up/BACK better! And yes, my 4 year old took the video and the baby was very intent on being held. And what I really meant to say was that to hold our babies we tend to create a "shelf" on our bodies and thrust our weight forward. Or our weight simply gets pulled forward during pregnancy because of the weight of the belly. Or because it's just our "normal" or what we're used to doing all the time and pregnancy or baby carrying just exasperates it.
SO… THIS WEEK (and always) when you are standing… in line at the bank, while cooking, or WHATEVER…. check in with yourself. It's so easy to go back to our normal way of standing. It takes a lot of times of checking in with yourself and making conscious changes. Eventually you will start to just go to the backed up weight in the heels position without even thinking about it! But, in the meantime. Just consciously adjust yourself.
Keep a look out for Restorative Exercise group and private classes coming up at the space!! I am getting full length mirrors installed at the space TOMORROW which helps SO much so that we can SEE what our bodies are doing and help our brain figure out where we are in space and where we need to be in space. Pretty nifty.
Look familiar? The pregnant waddle. Is this a requirement of pregnancy?
Well, yes, if the muscles along the back side have compensated for the increased load on the front side of the body (baby!)... then an individual most certainly will walk like this. But is she walking like this because she is pregnant or is it possibly because her body has compensated for lack of posterior leg strength with the increasing load on the front of the body by doing the pregnant waddle? I think it's the second one.
It's interesting that people who have never been pregnant have the same issues that are commonly associated with pregnancy. This leads me to believe that they aren't a requirement of pregnancy, but something that occurs because of the way the body moves throughout the amazing journey that is pregnancy.
But who cares how I walk, you say? Well, I do because I want to save you lots of money on your auto insurance, ahem, I mean adult diapers. Just think of me as the gecko of Depends. I also want you to have the widest space for a baby to for through. Because I'm cool like that. There are *super* simple things that we can all do (I'm talking to myself right now… Lindsay- go for a walk!!) to keep the back side strong and help reduce/eliminate some common ailments that tend to go along with pregnancy in our society.
I'm here to tell you that this stuff is not just something you have to put up with because you're pregnant! If we make the shift towards whole body movement in an aligned fashion, we can begin to minimize some "normal" pregnancy ailments. Normal, not natural. These ailments are not, in fact, caused by pregnancy. Despite the common opinion that they are. "I pee my pants because I'm a mom" or worse when a pregnant mom tells her provider that her back hurts (or whatever the ailment may be) and they tell her "sorry, but that's just a normal part of pregnancy." Normal…yes. Because if you look at the general population of preggies… most have the same complaint. But is it a natural requirement as the result of the state of pregnancy? I call B.S.! These ailments are caused by how the body is being carried around. Adding the load (baby!) on the front side is going to exasperate the problems caused by an individual's daily living and moving habits.
Pregnancy is a natural state, but we live in an unnatural world. How our ancestors moved during their childbearing years is drastically different from the way we move today. Or should I say how we DON'T move. What is a natural state has turned, for many, into a state riddled with back pain, SI pain, urinary incontinence, and diastasis recti to name a few. These ailments are normal parts of pregnancy right now because it's also normal to sit all day. To tuck the pelvis. To suck in the gut.
It's simple (and also sort of not, but that's why this is a blog meaning there is much to come!).
1. Get out of your chair! Get a standing work station. Take a walk every hour. If you must sit, sit in various different positions so that your body doesn't get used to just one. Choose the floor to sit on instead of the couch. Park in the back of the parking lot. Walk to close errands. Be creative! Usually the biggest roadblock to change is ourselves. You don't have to go crazy right away, every time we choose to move a little bit differently or more is going to give great benefit!
2. Walk, walk, walk...did I say walk? We are really designed to walk way more than we do. It's the best form of exercise out there! That doesn't mean go from no walking to 5 miles a day. It means work up to more and more daily walking. Several miles a day is best, and it absolutely can be spread out over the span of the day. In fact, I think that's better. I would love to try one of those mile tracker things that so many people have (is it called a fit bit?) because I would love to have my miles added up! And see how little or lot I am getting! It's not just about a once a day thing… it's more about a lifestyle change. More movement throughout the day.
3. Do Restorative Exercise! Stretch , strengthen, and learn proper alignment! The posterior leg muscles are shortened in most non preggies too, so that increased load of pregnancy can really do a number on them without proper alignment. Pregnancy should actually strengthen the back side. Pregnancy=best booty workout of all time. More on that in another blog post sometime in the future. I'll be sharing my fav exercises too, I promise!! I'm speaking at ICAN in March and plan to teach them some of the basic, most important ones. It's free and open to the public and you don't have to be a cesarean or vbac mom, or even pregnant to come. I'll come back and edit this post with the info when I find it!!
4. Read this blog and others about alignment!! katysays.com is a must read for everyone who has a body. So you ghosts are off the hook. I am committed to putting as much information out there on the web as I can in my "spare time." The bulk of my work will always be free to the public. So yeah, read some good alignment blogs!! But also... find a restorative exercise specialist (many do Skype sessions if you can't find one in your area). There is nothing like having someone teach you the intricacies of an exercise so that you can get more bang for your buck out of the exercises. This is coming from someone who was doing the HEAD HANG wrong before my certification week.
Now…go for a walk (I know it's cold, but bundle up or go to the mall or something!) and have a fabulous pregnancy and birth!
Note: very pregnant youtube woman, please contact me and I will give you a free Skype session!! You are beautiful and awesome and I appreciate your willingness to put the waddle on the inter webs! I had my 4 year old take a movie of me pretending to be pregnant and waddling but have not yet figured out how to post it onto the internet. Plus, he's kinda a shaky camera man.
Mama Aligned is Lindsay McCoy.