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

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How To Modify Yoga For A Diastasis

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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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Why The 6-Week “All Clear For Exercise” Rule Hurts Postpartum Moms (a.k.a Treating Pregnancy As An Injury)

Why The 6-Week “All Clear For Exercise” Rule Hurts Postpartum Moms (a.k.a Treating Pregnancy As An Injury)

 

In so many ways, we send harmful and unrealistic messages to women who just had a baby.

When a new mom goes to her midwife or doctor for a six-week check-up, she often hears, “Go ahead. Go do everything you were doing before you were pregnant. You are good to go.”

This…is crazy.

Pregnancy is a massive change to the musculoskeletal system. We should treat pregnancy as an injury to the body and the postpartum period as a time of rehabilitation.

Let’s dive into this! You can watch my facebook live or read below.

What Happens with an Injury

Think about an ankle injury. If you sprain the outside of your ankle, the ankle loses stability and can’t work the way it normally does.

The body DOESN’T like instability.  Other areas start taking over to support and stabilize the injured area.  All sorts of compensations happen.

You stop putting weight on the outside of that foot. You shift more of the muscular work to the inside of your ankle. That creates a chain reaction up your entire body.

The knee, hip, shoulder and even neck work differently because of the ankle injury. Crazy, right?!

What Happens to Your Body During Pregnancy 

This isn’t a far cry from what happens during pregnancy.

Think about it: you’re growing a giant baby in your belly.

Even if you are active during pregnancy, the core muscles get weak. They cannot support the body in the way they did before you were pregnant.

Normally, the core stabilizes both the spine and the pelvis.

When the core isn’t working, those areas become unstable. And, remember, the body doesn’t like instability.

So some compensations happen to maintain stability in your body.

  • The paraspinal muscles in your back start working hard to make up for the work your core was doing (They get tight!).
  • The psoas, the main hip flexor, starts working overtime. This huge muscle is designed to move your legs. But when the core isn’t working, it will start working to stabilize the spine.  So your hip flexors get really tight!!
  • On the outer hip, a group of muscles called the TFL starts gripping to help keep your pelvis stable. So your outer hips are tight!!
  • The TFL is a bully to the glutes and make it hard for your glutes to fire. Overtime, your glutes get weak.

So not only is your core weak, but you have major compensations in your back, hips, and glutes!

If that isn’t reminiscent of an injury, I don’t know what is!

Typical Approach to an Injury

When someone injures an ankle we don’t say  “You injured your ankle a few weeks ago. Your muscles are working completely differently. But go ahead and go run that half marathon. Go ahead and do that HIIT workout that you were doing before you hurt yourself. You waited 6 weeks, right? That’s cool. You’re good.”

No.

We say “You sprained your ankle and let it rest and heal. NOW let’s rehabilitate it. Let’s balance out the muscles that were overworking to create stability. Let’s get the joint working properly again so that  you can run or do HIIT again, without injuring yourself.”

After rest, you rehabilitate, THEN you move back into higher demand activities.

Typical Approach to the Postpartum Period

This is not the approach taken in the postpartum period.

We tell postpartum woman “Rest for six weeks…and then go do everything you did before you were pregnant.”

That’s crazy!

Starting into activity before rehabilitation perpetuates the imbalances created during pregnancy.

Practicing yoga or running with a weak core makes your back and hips work even harder to stabilize your spine…Which strains them further.

You are asking an injured body to do things it isn’t ready to do.

A New Model for the Postpartum Period

Let’s treat pregnancy as an injury and rehabilitate the postpartum body.

Let’s tell women “Rest and recover for 6 weeks. Then let’s correct the imbalances created by nine to ten months of pregnancy. Let’s rebuild the weak muscles and teach those overworked, overactive muscles to chill out! THEN, let’s move on to all that higher intensity stuff.”

Bring the core back online. Rebuild strength in muscles that grew weak during pregnancy. And release tension that has built up in the hip flexors and back.

Once everything is working the way it’s meant to, you can get back to the activities you love.

Next week, I’ll be sharing where the heck you should begin this rehabilitation process.


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How To Modify Yoga For A Diastasis

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To The New Mom Who’s Worried About Diastasis Recti

To The New Mom Who’s Worried About Diastasis Recti

My friend, Veronica, recently asked:

“Now that I’m 7 weeks postpartum I’m wondering how I would tell if I had Diastasis Recti. Do you have a blog post on how to tell?”

I’ve been meaning to write a “How to Test for DR” post forever, but this question got me thinking…

New moms are scared about DR. They don’t need another self-check tutorial (although I will show you how to do that below). They need a clearer message about DR.

Here’s my attempt at that.

 

Hey Mama,

Congratulations! Whether this is your first baby or you are an old pro, you are in the thick of it right now. You’re oh so tired, covered in body fluids, and filled to the brim with love for this tiny being.

You may also feel the itch to move your body again. After a month or two trapped under a newborn, you’re feeling stiff and a little weak. You know a good ‘ol endorphin rush would help you feel more like yourself.

But you’re also a little nervous about jumping back into activity. You’ve heard about this thing lately – diastasis recti or abdominal separation.

You don’t know much about it, but you know you don’t want it. And, you know that there are certain things that can make it worse.

 

Here’s what you need to know about Diastasis Recti:

What is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis Recti is a separation of the abdominal muscles. It’s caused by the connective tissue at the front of the body stretching and thinning during pregnancy. This separation is necessary during pregnancy – that baby needs room to grow! It becomes problematic when that separation remains far into the postpartum period.

Why should you care?

The abdominal muscles impact your body’s function. Dysfunction in the abdominals results in:

  • back pain,
  • hip pain,
  • pelvic floor pain or incontinence (leaking when you sneeze or exert yourself),
  • and that ever present mom-pooch.

We’ve been told many of these symptoms are just a “regular” part of postpartum life. That is flat out wrong.

How do you know if you have it?

Here’s a quick self-test video for you.

I have it! Now what?

First, if you’re a few months postpartum, you likely WILL have it. That’s NORMAL. Your body spent almost 10 months making room for this new life. It takes more than a few weeks for your abdominals and connective tissue to return to normal.

Second, you aren’t destined to have it forever. The months right after you’ve had your baby are a golden opportunity. You can either

  • Be smart about your movement and activity NOW and give your diastasis the best chance for closing on its own. OR
  • Ignore it and deal with it, and it’s associated symptoms, for some time. Maybe even forever.

How to move forward:

  • Please DON’T jump back into high-intensity exercise. Asking your newly postpartum body to do intense stuff prevents your diastasis from healing. Your body is RECOVERING. Focus on healing and building your strength now, and you’ll be back to those exercises in no-time. If you try to skip your recovery, you may have to avoid those activities you love for a LONG time.
  • DON’T try to fix your core with crunches, planks, or traditional core exercises. These poses do not help and will cause more damage.
  • DO spend time connecting to your core EVERY DAY. Here’s a simple video that shows you how to safely and effectively engage your core. This exercise helps you find your Transverse Abdominis. This deep core muscle encourages your connective tissue to heal. It also acts like a corset for your body, providing support and stability. You can start doing this core engagement as soon as your baby is born.

  • DO focus on your alignment. I’ve written about this here. Poor alignment makes it hard to engage those deep core muscles and strains the weak connective tissue.
  • DO get lots of rest and eat good food.
  • DO find a reputable fitness program that specializes in postpartum core health. Find one that suits your preferred style of working out (If yoga is your jam, I’d love to have you join me in the Heal Your Core With Yoga program). You want a program that gives you exercises AND educates you about the root cause of diastasis (i.e. alignment). Long lasting core-health comes from building strength AND changing body patterns.

NOTE: Your local stroller strides is NOT going to do this. You need a program that specializes in diastasis safe exercises (There aren’t a lot of us out there).

  • Finally, DO be patient, Mama. I know you’re eager to “bounce back” and feel normal again. You will. Give it time. You’ve spent almost 10 months growing a new life. It takes more than a few weeks for your body to recover from that amazing process.

Right now it’s easy to put yourself last, Mama. But, please, take some time to care for yourself now.  When that baby gets bigger, you’ll want to keep up with all her shenanigans. 

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To Plank Or Not To Plank? That Is The Question

To Plank Or Not To Plank? That Is The Question

“When can I do plank again?”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this question…

I tell my clients to stop practicing certain yoga poses while strengthening their core and closing their diastasis-big backbends, deep twists, and traditional core strengtheners like crunches, to name a few. Usually, those recommendations are met with a nod… an easy acceptance.

When I Tell Them To Give Up Plank? Not so much.

What is it about plank? Is it that yoga teachers use it as THE core strengthener? Directing you to hold it for minutes at a time with the assumed promise of 6 pack abs. Or is it that many yoga practices cue this pose so often you feel like you’re giving up your entire practice?

Regardless of the reason, everybody wants to know: When can I start doing plank again???

 For once and all, let’s answer this question:

Key Consideration For A Healthy Plank Pose

The key to a healthy plank pose is engaging your transverse abdominis. Without those deep core muscles you risk creating more strain on your already weak abdominal wall.

Plain and simple: You should not do plank pose until you can FIND, and MAINTAIN, engagement of your transverse.

The 4 videos below will allow you to test your ability to find this engagement:

We’ll begin with a quick test to see how strong your transverse abdominis is:

Now let’s take it up a notch. Transverse engagement on your hands and knees (a plank preparation position) is more challenging.

You are working AGAINST gravity. You have to find the strength of your transverse, and pull the weight of your internal organs up with it. Test it out with this video. MAKE SURE YOU AREN’T TUCKING YOUR TAILBONE. That’s cheating!!

 

If you can’t find engagement in this position, go no further. WITHOUT transverse engagement, this position strains the core (the weight of the organs can be too much.) Build strength by practicing transverse engagement in seated or standing positions. FYI: practicing good alignment in yoga poses is a great way to do this.

If that felt easy, let’s move on.

Can you hold TA engagement in a modified plank with knees down?

 

If the answer is no, stay away from plank and work on getting stronger.

If the answer is yes, here we go.

Final test: transverse engagement in full plank position.

 

You already know what I’m going to say right?

If you can’t do this, focus on building strength.

If you can, you might be ready for plank again!**

**I wish it were as simple as this test alone but the body is never that simple! In addition to transverse engagement, you also want engagement of your pelvic floor in this pose. Here’s why: Plank pose increases pressure inside the abdomen. If you’ve got strong abdominal muscles but a weak pelvic floor, you will strain your pelvic floor. Over time, this could lead to things like incontinence and organ prolapse. You don’t want that. We’ll cover pelvic floor engagement in another post.

A final note: I love a good plank pose as much as the next yogi. But this pose is NOT A REQUIREMENT for a strong core. You could never do a plank pose again, and still have a strong, functional, healthy core that supports you in all the things you love doing. It’s time yogis start thinking outside the plank.

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3 Little Known Tips To Heal Your Core With Yoga

3 Little Known Tips To Heal Your Core With Yoga

“Dia-what?”
One of the top yoga instructors in my city said this after I told her about the Heal Your Core With Yoga program.

She trains hundreds of new yoga teachers each year. And she’s never heard of diastasis recti.

I’m not surprised. Diastasis Recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles caused by a stretching and thinning of the connective tissue during pregnancy, isn’t covered in most yoga teacher trainings. But it should be. While many yoga poses are extremely beneficial for a diastasis, certain poses and breath techniques prevent a separation from healing. And possibly make it worse.

I’ve spent the past four years researching how to diastasis-proof a yoga practice. In that time I’ve learned there’s very little information available about practicing yoga with a diastasis. Let’s change that right now!

3 Little Known Tips For Healing Your Core With Yoga:

1. Rib Breathe Instead Of Belly Breathe.

When you breathe deep into your belly, you increase the pressure inside your abdomen. In individuals with a diastasis, increased pressure strains your already-compromised core.

The long-term result of continued deep belly breaths? Your diastasis can’t heal.

Luckily, there’s a safer alternative. Rib breathing.

In rib breathing, you expand the ribcage left to right. This increases the pressure in the thoracic (chest) cavity rather than the abdomen. The result? A deep breath without straining the core.

Bonus: Rib breathing also helps coordinate the actions of the diaphragm and pelvic floor. If you struggle with incontinence or organ prolapse, rib breathing is the way to go.

2. Proper Alignment Is EVERYTHING.

Yes, the immediate cause of your diastasis was most likely a pregnancy. But your ongoing alignment patterns are the reason it hasn’t healed.

Misalignment in the body increases pressure in the abdomen, and strains your weakened core.

If you are like most humans, you spend the vast majority of your days sitting at your desk, driving your car, and watching Netflix. This results in a body alignment that looks like this…

Tight hips and weak gluteal muscles tuck your tailbone under and push your hips forward of your heels. This lower body alignment pushes your whole body forward. To stay upright, you have to thrust your ribs up and out and throw your shoulders back.

This reduces the space in the abdomen and increases pressure in your core.

More pressure means more strain on your already weakened core.

3 quick alignment fixes correct your alignment, limit the strain on your core, and encourage the core to heal:

  • Move your hips over your heels
  • Untuck your pelvis, and
  • Drop your ribs to keep them from thrusting forward.

With these adjustments, your body returns to neutral alignment. Your shoulders, hip bones, and ankles line up. And, most importantly, your abdomen has lots and lots of space.

Lots of space = Low pressure = No strain on your diastasis.

(P.S. This is what our alignment would look like if we spent our time walking, squatting, and foraging).

This alignment takes practice and yoga is one of THE BEST ways to practice. Begin by creating these alignment patterns on your yoga mat. Then incorporate the principles into activities like brushing your teeth, and picking up toys. The more time you spend in good alignment, the more opportunity your body has to heal.

3. Stay Away From Certain Yoga Poses (For A Little While At Least)

A diastasis is characterized by a weak linea alba (the connective tissue between the two sides of the abdominals). Poses that create extreme stretching of the abdomen, and poses that create large amounts of pressure in the abdomen, prevent this connective tissue from healing.

3 POSE TYPES TO AVOID WHILE HEALING:

Big Backbends (Main Issue: Excess Stretching)

Poses like bow, upward facing dog, and wheel. These poses ask the front of the body to stretch in a big way. This pulls on the linea alba, keeps it weak and thin and prevents it from healing.

Traditional Core Strengtheners: (Main Issue: Excess Pressure)

Poses like plank, boat, and crunches. These force the core muscles to engage in a way that increases the pressure in the abdomen. This increased pressure pushes on the weak connective tissue and keeps it from healing. In some cases it can cause even more damage.

Leveraged Twists: (Main Issues: Excess Stretching, Excess Pressure)

Poses that use your arms to twist deeper like utkatasana twist and crescent lunge twist. These give the core a double whammy. The asymmetry of the pose stretches the connective tissue. The twisting of the abdomen increases pressure. You strain the core while stretching it. That’s a surefire way to keep that diastasis around for the long haul.

If you’re feeling like I’ve just eliminated your entire yoga practice, I promise, I haven’t!! There are tons of yoga poses available to you that provide similar benefits while promoting healing of your core. And once you strengthen your deep core muscles, you can do these poses again. I promise!

With the right poses and good alignment, yoga is a powerful tool to heal abdominal separation. 

 

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