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: Breathe 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.

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

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. (Click here to read that post). 

 

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

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. 

 

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!