3 Ways To Relieve Tightness In Your Neck And Shoulders

3 Ways To Relieve Tightness In Your Neck And Shoulders

 

Upper back and neck discomfort are some of the most common issues we hear about from moms.

 

Why is that?

 

Well, for one, moms spend a lot of time ‘rounding.’ As a mother to a little one you may be breastfeeding and carrying babies. On top of that, we live in a culture with excessive sitting and we spend all day looking at a phone. These all contribute to a more rounded posture. This rounding causes muscle imbalances that lead to pain.

There are also specific postpartum changes that can worsen this issue. These include extreme tightness of back muscles and changes in our breathing patterns from pregnancy. I have three simple tips that can help reduce this common discomfort.

Here are my top 3 very simple tips for addressing and reducing this discomfort:

Tip 1: Correct your head position.

When your head is aligned over the spine, it puts very little weight on your spine. But if you move your head forward, you increase the pressure/weight pulling on your spine substantially. When our spine and head are stacked properly, things are working as they should be. But once that stack has shifted, we create a lot more work for our muscles.

The best way to remedy this is what I call ‘the eavesdrop.’ Instead of leaning in, imagine you are listening to a super juicy conversation…behind you. When you do this, your head pops back in line with the rest of your spine and creates some immediate relief for your upper back and neck.

 

Tip 2: Breath properly.

During pregnancy, many of us learn to breathe in a less than ideal way. Instead of using our diaphragm and extending our rib cage (as is ideal), we start using secondary muscles in our necks and shoulders to breathe. Breathe in, shoulders lift. They lift to try to create more space in the rib cage, but the result is fatigued and tight muscles.

Instead, keep your shoulders down, keep the neck soft, and inhale and feel your rib cage expand left to right and forward and back. When you do this, your belly is going to move and your rib cage will expand. The shoulders and neck won’t need to work to help you breathe, and can get a much needed break.

 

Tip 3: Open your back body.

In the previous tip, we talked about expanding the rib cage to breathe…however, a lot of postpartum women are extremely tight in their back muscles and find that when they try to expand their rib cage, it doesn’t move! Those tight muscles prevent the movement of your ribs.

To open the back body, I recommend a simple exercise. Find something low to the ground, like a stable chair, and come into a squatting position in front of it. Grab hold of the bottom (chair legs, couch, etc) with your arms around your legs. Have a rounded spine, and drop your chin to your chest.

As the legs are pressing against the front of our body and we breathe in, this opens the back muscles from the inside. Let your head relax down, and breathe really deeply and feel the expansion in the back body.

Do 5-10 breathes like that every day to help open up these muscles and rib breathing will become much easier.

A quick note: if this doesn’t feel good on your pelvic floor…maybe it feels like you will pee if you do that, you can modify this by sitting in a chair and place your feet on blocks in front of you. Wrap your arms around yourself, and tuck your chin into your chest and do these same deep breaths.

Becoming a mom does NOT mean you must struggle with tight, achy necks and shoulders. If you are looking for a comprehensive system to help strengthen your post-baby core and bring some balance back to the body, you might be interested in my FREE training: How to Strengthen Your Post-Baby Core (Once and for all!). Click here to sign up.

Why Hip Openers Are NOT The Solution To Tight, Achy Hips

Why Hip Openers Are NOT The Solution To Tight, Achy Hips

Some of the most common (and beloved!) poses in yoga include traditional hip openers…but these poses may not be serving your post-baby body. Read below (or watch the video) to understand why!

As a new yoga teacher I LOVED putting people into some long hip openers. Think half-pigeon and Baddha Konasana, poses where legs are externally rotating to open the hips.

Well, you know what they say… when you know better, you do better. Now, when I see extended hip openers in yoga, I cringe. For most postpartum bodies, these poses aren’t helping…and are possibly making hip issues worse.

Pregnancy As An Injury

In many ways, pregnancy acts like an injury to the body.

Pregnancy creates certain muscular imbalances and these imbalances destabilize parts of the body.

Most notably, the core and pelvic floor weaken, and the back and hip flexors tighten to compensate.

The Role of The Core

In a normal body, the core creates stability for the spine and pelvis (among other jobs).

The muscle tone in your core keeps your spine from being too loosy-goosy. This prevents herniated discs and other back issues that we don’t want.

The abdominals also stabilize the pelvis from above and keep the pelvis from shifting around with every step we take.

Muscular Changes During Pregnancy

However, as your baby grows during pregnancy, your core muscles weaken and can’t provide the stability the body needs.

Other parts of the body pick up the slack. The muscles of the back and the hip flexors, especially the psoas, lock down to stabilize the spine.

This creates a lovely, messy cascade in the body.

With the psoas doing the job of the core, the pelvis loses stability.

As a result, another muscle, the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), starts locking down.

The TFL is on your outer hip, around where your pant pockets would be. It’s primarily responsible for turning the leg out.  

But when it needs to, it can tighten to create stability in the pelvis. (Sidenote: the TFL connects to the IT band. If your ITB has been bothering you since pregnancy, the TFL might be the culprit!)

So, as your core is weakening, the back, psoas and TFL are working overtime on jobs they aren’t designed to do. This impacts other body parts.

The TFL is a bully to the glutes, and shuts them off.

When that happens it causes more instability for the pelvis, so other areas kick in.

Sometimes this includes the pelvic floor. (If you’ve got a tight pelvic floor…this might be why!)

What do you get from this big mess?

Things like extremely tight hips, an unstable pelvis, SI joint instability, IT band flare ups, and that post-pregnancy mom-butt!

STRETCHING IS NOT THE ANSWER!

When we feel tight and achy…what do we do?

Most of us immediately think ‘STRETCH!’

We get into half-pigeon and other hip openers to get some relief.

Unfortunately, when we stretch, we force muscles to lengthen that are working REALLY hard to create stability.

Think about that for a moment…what are you doing to your body?

By stretching muscles that are holding things in place, you destabilize the entire system.

This is the reason that any relief that comes from the stretching doesn’t last for long…and why you may feel EVEN tighter afterward.

Your muscles are trying to protect you from the length you’ve created.

A Different Approach

So what do we do? If you’re feeling chronically tight or unstable, I know you want relief.

And while stretching can be helpful, our top priority must be to rebalance the imbalances pregnancy created.

We need to strengthen muscles that are weak so that the overworked muscles can chill out!

And…you’re in luck because my Fix Your Hips course does just that! 

Click here to learn more!

How To Ease Into Fitness After Birth

How To Ease Into Fitness After Birth

I often get questions about how to jump back into physical activity after having a baby. Postpartum women want to know: where do I start?

Today, I lay out when to start, what to avoid, and what postpartum milestones matter.

Read below or watch the video!

First 6-8 Weeks Postpartum

First thing first: you just had a baby. In the first six weeks after giving birth, rest should be your #1 priority.

Beyond resting, my recommendations for this period are simple. Focus on:

  • Deep breathing to get your breath system working again. (I talk all about that here.)
  • Connecting to your deep core muscles, particularly your transverse abdominals.

From a seated position (or while nursing), first take a breath in and let the belly relax. Imagine a corset around your midsection. As you exhale, feel the corset draw in gently. This should create a feeling of length in the torso. This action helps bring your core muscles back on-line.

  • If you are desperate for some movement, walk!

Walking is low impact and increases circulation (which aids healing). In a perfect world, this walking would happen without holding or wearing your baby. For some of us (like me!) that isn’t possible with a newborn, and that’s ok! But, if you can manage it, walking freely helps bring your body back into proper alignment after pregnancy.

To recap: as you begin to heal in those first six weeks focus on: REST, breathing, core engagement, and walking (if you feel up for it!).

6-Weeks to 4-Months Postpartum

At this point, you’ve had six weeks to heal (and possibly a few weeks longer in the case of a C-section), and your care provider has cleared you for activity. We now enter the six-week to four-month period of recovery.

This period is critical to your post-baby core health. I encourage my students to approach this stage with care and caution.

Elevated hormone levels and muscular imbalances from pregnancy leave your body, particularly your core, in a compromised state.  And doing too much too soon can lead to postpartum issues like diastasis, prolapse, and hernias.

This is especially true for a woman who was active during her pregnancy. Her arms and legs are strong. She feels like she can do everything. But her core is weak and cannot support that effort.      

My recommendations for this period include:

  • Continue working on the basics.

Engage your deep core muscles regularly and get the breath down. Pregnancy alters the core muscles and breathing system and it takes time to get them working well again!

  • Add in activities that rebalance your post-baby musculature. 

Rebuild mobility in the mid-back. When your back and chest are tight, simple activities, like reaching or lifting, strain an already weak core.

Balance the muscles of the hips. By rebalancing the muscles of the hips, you create a healthier pelvic floor.

  • Keep activities low impact.

Walk, lift gentle weights, gentle yoga (but know not all poses are good for a post-baby body!).

In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite yoga postures for this critical postpartum period. Stay tuned!

  • Avoid:

    • High-intensity impact activities. No running, burpees, HIIT, Crossfit. These activities put excessive demand and load on your core and it’s not ready for that yet!
    • Front-loading ab activities. Planks, crunches and all the ‘typical’ ab exercises will do more harm than good.
    • Excessive back bending postures and deep twist positions like you find in many yoga classes.

 

Remember, this is a critical period for your body and recovery. You have the chance to create a solid foundation that will allow you to begin incorporating more intense activities in the near future. If you overexert yourself during this period you could end up weaker at six-months postpartum than you were at six-weeks.

 

4-Months Postpartum and Beyond

Recommendations become less cut and dry after 4 months.

Some who’ve spent the first 4 months building the foundation can safely introduce high-intensity activity at this point.

Others would benefit from continuing with lower-intensity activities for longer. This would include anyone who falls into the following categories:

Breastfeeding:

Breastfeeding extends the critical period for your body. The hormones associated with breastfeeding create laxity in your ligaments. In other words, they make you loosey-goosey and create instability in your body. If you are an extended breastfeeder (like I was!) you should approach high-intensity activities with caution until you finish nursing or are down to 2 or 3 feedings a day. After that, the hormones shift and allow more stability in your ligaments.

Natural Flexibility:

If you tend to be a very flexible person, you are likely genetically predisposed to instability. You’re super flexible because your joints are looser. If this is the case for you, you also want to be more conservative in your post-baby movement. You would benefit from giving your body more time to rebuild core stability.

Family History of Postpartum Issues:

If you have a family history of things like hernias or prolapses it likely means you are genetically predisposed to these issues. Again, this is an indication that you may want to give your body more time to build a foundation of stability and strength before jumping into high-intensity activities.

 

How to Begin Increasing Intensity of Your Exercise

You’re done nursing (or are down to 1-2 times a day), you’ve mastered deep breathing, and have a solid connection to your deep core muscles.

Awesome! Let’s increase that intensity!

Here’s how to do it in a mindful, core-safe way.

Start With Lower Intensity.

Your body has gone through a huge transition and you should not jump into any activity at your pre-pregnancy intensity. Start at 50% of your “usual” and see how it feels. If you feel back pain, hip pain, if you leak, or feel like your core isn’t supporting you, those are all signs that you are working beyond your ability.

Short Intervals Are Best.

If you’re getting back to running, don’t start by heading out and knocking out two miles. Instead, try five minutes and then check in. If you’re doing a yoga class, take a break every 5-10 minutes and see how everything is feeling.

Again….Does your back hurt? Do your hips hurt? Did you leak any urine? Do you feel unsupported in your core?

If you answer yes to any of those questions, your body hit its limit. You’ll want to move to even shorter intervals and spend more time building that foundation.

If, after five minutes, you are feeling good and aren’t having any of those symptoms. Awesome! Next time, try 7 minutes and see how that goes. You want to build your intervals slowly.

Check In Frequently!

It’s likely there will be a point at which you will reach the limit of what your body can do in a strong, safe way. And once you hit that limit, stop! That’s your limit, but just for now. You build from there.

 

Remember: Start back to your activity of choice with less intensity, shorter durations, and continual check-ins with yourself. The moment you see any signs of disfunction, back off or stop. From there, we continue to build! By respecting your body’s limits rather than pushing through them, you give your core the chance to rebuild it’s pre-baby strength.

– – FREE TRAINING – –

How To Strengthen Your Post-Baby Core

(Once and For All)

Click Below to Access The Free Training,

12 Days of Core Strength

12 Days of Core Strength

12 days of core strength

I recently hosted 12 Days of Core Strength on the brb Yoga Facebook Page. (P.S. If you aren’t following me over there, you should! I go live every week with new tips).

Each day is a super simple, super practical change you can make in your day-to-day life to improve your core strength. Find all 12 videos below.

Day 1: Blow While You Go

Day 2: Hip Hinge

Day 3: The Eavesdrop

Day 4: Rib Breathing

Day 5: 90/90 Breathing

Day 6: One Action At A Time

Day 7: Raise The Roof

Day 8: Standing and Sitting

Day 9: Touch That Stomach!

Day 10: Unclench Those Glutes

Day 11: Watch How You Stand!

Day 12: Let Go Of Perfection

– – FREE TRAINING – –

How To Strengthen Your Post-Baby Core

(Once and For All)

Click Below to Access The Free Training,

How to “Fix” Your Body After Pregnancy

How to “Fix” Your Body After Pregnancy

A postpartum body has a lot going on.

A weak core and pelvic floor creates a whole host of compensations in other parts of the body…weak glutes, tight hips, and a tight back, to name a few. (If you haven’t already, you might want to check out last week’s post on exactly what happens in your body during pregnancy)

In the words of some of my students, it’s easy to feel like “Pregnancy trashed my body.”

And easy to feel overwhelmed at where to begin fixing the issues.

With the core? With the back? With the hips?

But I’m here with some good news.

The answer is pretty simple.

You start with your breathing.

Getting your breath working properly restores much needed muscular balance to your postpartum body. Restoring this balance is a HUGE first step in preventing (or healing) postpartum issues like abdominal separation (diastasis recti), leaking pee (incontinence,) and pelvic organ prolapse.

Let’s dive in (Plus, I’ve got a great free resource for you to help get your breath system working).

The Relationship Between the Breath and Core

Our breath system is extremely sophisticated and has a huge impact on our muscular balance.

The system includes our:

  • lungs
  • diaphragm
  • abdomen
  • And pelvic floor

How to “Fix” Your Body After Pregnancy

Take a look at that diaphragm! It’s huge! Not only does it span our entire chest but it attaches to the ribs and the spine.

When the breath is working properly, every inhale expands the ribs and drops the diaphragm down. When the diaphragm drops down, the belly expands and relaxes, and the pelvic floor expands and relaxes. The movement of the diaphragm and ribs also relaxes the mid-back muscles and the psoas (a hip flexor that attaches at the ribs!). Basically, every inhale allows a whole lot of tight muscles in the body to relax fully.

On an exhale, the diaphragm lifts up, the core naturally engages, and the pelvic floor engages and lifts. This natural action of breathing creates a healthy resting muscle tone in the core and the pelvic floor.

As you can see the core and the breath are DESIGNED to work together.

Healthy breathing = healthy core. Funky breathing = Really hard to have a healthy core.

Breathing in a Postpartum Body

But what happens in a postpartum body?

Well, to be blunt. For many women, pregnancy jacks up the breathing system.

Plain and simple, the diaphragm stops working effectively. Which means the core isn’t working effectively either.

This loss of diaphragm functioning can’t be helped. There is just no room for it to drop down into the body because the baby is taking up that space.

So you start compensating. You start using the lift of your shoulders to bring air in. This often results in the diaphragm pulling up into the body on an inhale RATHER than dropping down.

Basically the diaphragm completely switches directions! Which makes you lose all of the natural core strengthening of the breath.

Now in a perfect world, our bodies would magically switch back to good breathing after the baby is born. But, for some reason (that I haven’t figured out yet), this just doesn’t seem to happen.

Postpartum women, particularly those that struggle with core and pelvic floor weakness, tend to continue to breath in this funky way even after the baby is out.

Let me show you an example from one of my students.

How to “Fix” Your Body After Pregnancy

See that hollow space under her ribs. If her diaphragm were dropping down on an inhale, that space would fill up and inflate. But hers does the opposite. The space deflates and becomes almost like a vacuum! That signals to me that her diaphragm is lifting up on the inhale. And that her core isn’t receiving the benefits of the natural deep breathing system.

So the first thing to do after having a baby is to retrain the diaphragm to work effectively. The breath is the best place to start your healing.

Once the breath is functioning well, so many other things start falling into place!

How the Breath Fixes a Body After Pregnancy

Restoring the natural breath patterns brings the core and pelvic floor back online.

When the core starts working it allows the back and hip muscles to stop working so hard. (And remember that good inhale helps relax those muscles too).

Getting the breath working begins to rehabilitate the body by bringing proper balance to the muscles!!

So the answer to the question ‘where do I start?’ You start with the breath.

I know this is not always what women want to hear. They want to jump back into high intensity stuff. But if you skip over the breath piece and move into high intensity stuff before you’ve retrained the diaphragm you are building your house on a non-existent foundation.

If the breath isn’t working properly, the core isn’t working properly. And doing activities without core support is a recipe for disaster. It’s worth spending a few weeks on the breath so you can spend YEARS doing the other activities you love with a healthy core.

Start with the breath. Get the breath down. And then you can confidently move into all of these things that you love doing.

If you’d like to practice this, I’ve got a free breath training tutorial which will help you reset your breathing and get your diaphragm working again!

Free Breath Training!

Naturally engage your core and pelvic floor with breath.

Build core strength all day, every day.

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