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 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 I have a FREE Happy Hips Masterclass that will show you how to do just that. 

Watch the FREE Happy Hips Masterclass!

How Becoming A Mom Made Me A Better Yogi

How Becoming A Mom Made Me A Better Yogi

Like most pregnant women, I knew my life would change when I became a mother. That was a given.

What wasn’t a given was how much having a baby would change my yoga practice.

Here are the 5 ways, becoming a mom made me a better yogi.

I Learned Self-Acceptance

Before I became a mom, I was used to being “good” at things, including yoga.

Sure, I encouraged my students to “accept themselves” and “enjoy the journey.” But, if I’m being honest, I didn’t often put myself in a position where my own skills were challenged. I rarely stepped out of my comfort zone.

Becoming a mom changed that.

Between the endless diaper changes and nursing sessions, I realized that it’s impossible to be “good” at being a new mom.

There was so much to learn, so much to do, and so little sleep, I couldn’t keep up. I quickly realized that pushing myself to meet an unattainable ideal, would drive me into the ground.

I had to start walking the walk.

Slowly, I learned to accept myself in all my messiness. I gave up the idea of perfection and embraced being present to the beautiful chaos of motherhood. 

That translated into my postpartum yoga practice. My postpartum body was tired. The poses I was once so “good” at were often hard. I learned to let go of being “good” and enjoyed the experience, accepting myself where I was.

I Learned the Value of Time

Non-parents say they are busy. I said it often before having kids.

But there’s a certain urgency that only parents seem to grasp. Before becoming a mom, my yoga practices were at least 60 minutes and often 90 (I can’t even fathom that now). For the most part, the day had enough hours.

After becoming a mom, I learned how to do everything in less time. From cleaning the kitchen, to building my business, to my beloved yoga, I trimmed everything down.

I learned the fine art of squeezing in what I needed to do between naps and snuggles. I condensed my luxurious yoga practice into an efficient 20-to-30 minutes. It took some time to figure out what to include and what to let go of, but I stuck with it.

Because a 20-minute practice is better than a 60-minute practice that NEVER happens.

I Learned What Attention Was

In yoga, there’s a term – Drishti, which translates to focused gaze. I had been practicing it for years. Like most yogis, I thought I had it down. I was wrong.

I was wrong.

Only after I had my daughter did I feel the true power of Drishti. Infants are programmed to find their mother’s eyes. As any parent can tell you, locking eyes with your new baby is one of the most powerful, emotional feelings.

When I gazed into my daughter’s eyes, and she stared back into mine, I finally understood the true power of Drishti. The rest of the world melted away. All I experienced was that moment with her.

That moment created a new sense of focus in my yoga practice. If I’m not focusing, I’m aware of it now, and I can reach for Drishti.

I Learned That Change Was Constant

Babies are wonderful, but they aren’t exactly compatible with a routine. As soon as I figured out my daughter’s patterns, they changed.

She forced me to go with the flow. To observe and assess, before acting. 

I found my practice changing on an almost daily basis too. As my body recovered from pregnancy and childbirth, it needed different poses. As my babies grew bigger and my arms grew stronger (but more tired), as I spent hours nursing little ones, I showed up to my mat each day with a different body.

Instead of forcing my body into a practice, I arrived on my mat and observed what I needed that day. That listening allowed my practice to evolve with the needs of my body.

I Learned the Value of Rest

Before kids, I spent most of my yoga time in strong, powerful flows. After the trials of pregnancy and childbirth, those practices weren’t cutting it.

My body craved nurturing…more restful, restorative practices became my go-to. And the more time I spent up at night with my newborn, the more I saw the value of resting.

A few minutes to stretch and rest on a mat? Yes, please. The best news was that there was no sweat necessary. I didn’t have to worry about squeezing in a shower on top of it all.

Lessons From Motherhood

I’ve learned more about myself in the past 5 years of motherhood than I had in the 30 years before. Each new stage of parenting brings new realizations and joys. And in the same way, my yoga practice continues to evolve with it.

I can’t wait to see what other lessons I learn about myself, and yoga, as I continue this wild ride of motherhood.

 

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

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.

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!