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."
Mama Aligned is Lindsay McCoy.