Diastasis Rectified

My journey to heal postpartum diastasis recti


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My 4 favorite sitting postures and how they’re getting in my way of healing this diastasis

Certification Pre-Req Pack

Whole Body Alignment Pre-Req Pack

I got my pre-requisite pack from The Restorative Exercise Institute! Giddy excitement mixed with overwhelm, that. I was up reading Alignment Matters last night and couldn’t go to sleep because of all the things to learn. You should get all this information as soon as you have a body to take care of!

There are so many new things I’m learning: my feet are like sonar for your body, my tight shoulder girdle is contributing to poochy stomach, I shouldn’t have to make noise while passing gas, menstrual cramps can be mollified, tight calves are imperative to address, poking your pelvis forward is not the same as good posture, and on and on. So many things to discuss!

Today, however, I want to talk about sitting because I sure do a lot of it. Have you ever read Dear Zoo 20 times in a row? Built 105 towers of blocks to be knocked over 105 times? Fallen asleep in childs’ pose while someone crawled onto your skull? No? Well, these are a daily occurrence for me. I no longer have to spend eight hours a day at a desk, hallelujah, but there are other challenges associated with repeated activities.

Repeated body postures tell us something, and for me I tend toward these four almost exclusively:

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Did I do a good job distracting you from my nursing pads on the chair?

Anyway, these are my four sitting postures. Everything else hurts almost immediately in my upper back or hips or hamstrings or somewhere. Ouch. So it’s not that these are terrible ways to posture your body but that my body is tight and loose and misaligned in certain ways that these four are the path to least resistance. For me. Yours will be different.

The “Hello Incontinence”

I think I developed that foot sitting habit during pregnancy and picked it right back up after perineal healing – because leaking. It’s always my right foot. My pelvis is tilted as a result and so my spine has to accommodate (as you can see, since my torso looks like a backwards “C”). 

The Pelvis Tucker Sacrum Crusher

Why, oh why, do I love this one so much? Clearly I’m taking any stretch out of my hamstring by tucking my pelvis and drawing up my knees. I also don’t have to activate my abdominals because my arms are holding me in a ball and I’m leaning up against the wall or couch. I tend to get numbness in butt-town on this one, but that does not stop me.

The Go-To

Always right leg over left, usually with bent over spine and shoulders. If I sit on the floor, this is always my first posture. Again, pelvis tucked or in the process of slowly tucking. I’ve been trying to cross left over right more and keep sway in my low back while not thrusting my ribs and that does not usually last long. 

The Tight Hammy

Wow, are those legs popped up or what?! I think, “oh, I’ll stretch out my legs in front of me!” and then I end up bending one because of those tight hamstrings. Instead of sitting with my pelvis in a more neutral position and using my abs to hold me up, I have to curve over and pop my legs up for it to work.

Plan of Action

  • Stretch the hamstrings the right way
  • Open up the shoulders on a bolster
  • Ribs down
  • MIX IT UP WITH DIFFERENT POSTURES. I have to be really aware of trying new positions, even if they feel weird. These four are like perfectly well-worn shoes that feel so soft and familiar.
  • Psoas release and stretch (will post more about this later)

What are your favorite go-to sitting postures and what do they tell you about your body? 

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Rib thrusting, diastasis recti, and where to go from here

Bellies 2014

I am almost done with the Psoas course from The Restorative Exercise Institute and I am here to report that I am a rib thruster. Notice in the second photo from the right how the bottom of my rib cage is in front of my ASIS (your ASIS is the bony part of your pelvis in the front that is commonly mistaken for a hip bone). This shortens my psoas muscles, shifts the way my body carries its own weight, and increases pressure in all the wrong places. I would explain more, but I’m not an expert. Yet.

This, and other misalignments, help explain explain why Mutu isn’t giving me the results I want. I don’t meant the appearance I want but rather the body function. The machine of my body is more like the ’89 Volvo with the electrical problem that would leave me stranded in the middle of the highway (literally in the middle…of a lane…it would just shut off) and less like the aerodynamic Teslas I see zipping around the city. For example, I was out of commission for days last week with a debilitating neck and back spasm which my 22lb 9mo was only too happy to accommodate [sarcasm]. I have felt like the work I’m doing, while having some visually obvious effect on my body, has not been addressing the full root of the problem. It’s like if you put fertilizer on a plant whose soil is too acidic or alkaline – you are not going to help the plant until you adjust the soil.

I believed I was fixing my “soil” with zero drop shoes and some lifestyle changes, but I’m seeing now that the more fundamental problems require more extensive changes Habits I’ve learned over literally decades (dating all the way back to my first ballet class at 4) and things drilled into me in the Exercise Science building at my college or in the group classroom at the gym not only contributed to this problem in the first place but are preventing me from being well.

BUT WAIT, it’s not all sad panda around here! I am on a trajectory to fix these underlying issues. While Wendy does base many of her exercises on Katy’s work, I need more information and practical knowledge. I need to understand all the “whys” because that’s just the kind of woman I am, I guess. It won’t affect change in me until I really “get” it, that much I know is true. That’s why I have signed up to complete the first step of the certification program to become a Restorative Exercise Specialist. It’s a nice goal to have, but in end systems are more important than goals. So, part of my “system” is to continue to integrate what I’m learning and applying into this blog and pass on the information to all of you with separated bellies wondering if it can even get better. Together we can create healthier, happier bodies that work with us and not against us. I hope you’ll join me. 🙂


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Week 5 Again, or Why I Am a Wee Bit Discouraged

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Why I’m still at Week 5

As I was in a plank position, holding onto weights, grunting loudly and drawing them up toward my chest one at a time my husband said, with some alarm, “should you be doing that? Don’t hurt yourself and make it worse, you know you’ll regret it.”

He’s so reasonable and logical, I love it and don’t love it if you know what I mean. And yes, I regretted it. And no, I’m not quite ready for the new moves.

I put down the weights and went back to the web site where, clear as day, Wendy says:

Stay on Phase 2, doing all the exercises, stretches + alignment shifts DAILY, for 2 weeks at least.

Moving on: your midline must have firmed sufficiently, the gap narrowed + reconnection must have been established to withstand the exercises. Not sure? Try them! But don’t leave Phase 2 whilst you have: 2+ finger width diastasis, with still soft / unsupported midline connective tissue and/or pelvic floor weakness (sudden urgency or any leaking when rushing to the toilet), OR if you have been doing them for less than 2 weeks!

Which led me to the question:

How accurate is self-measurement of a diastasis recti, anyway?

I was able to find two studies on this.

  • One study was from 1987, in which participants were measured by palpation (aka the hand method we all use) and by ultrasound four days postpartum.
  • The second was from 2012 and used women in varying stages of life (some postpartum, some not, all with a diastasis recti). They had two physical therapists, one with 20 years experience, one with seven years, perform measurements with their fingers (palpation). In 15 out of the 40 cases, the two physical therapists got different measurements. Still, they basically conclude that palpation is “good enough” given how expensive ultrasound is.

My Status

My own measurement, with zero years as a physical therapist, was at least a 3-finger-width diastasis around the umbilicus. I feel it’s gotten smaller above and below. This is significantly larger than it was a couple weeks ago, sadly, which I attribute to:

  1. Doing exercises I shouldn’t have
  2. Skipping a few days
  3. Not walking enough. Walking “barefoot” is as integral to the program as the exercises, so I need to get out for longer walks. I am probably averaging 4 miles a week right now, but that’s because Target is a 1mi walk and Whole Foods is a half mile walk.

 

I’m the type of person who doesn’t own a scale and doesn’t like numbers attached to her body, so I kind of hate having to worry about the width of my diastasis recti at this point. But, for safety, it looks like I’m stuck here for awhile until this magical firming takes place and I can measure at a 2-finger or smaller width.

A note about equipment

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I promised I’d update when I got new equipment in order to do the exercises. For the Intensive 2 material, I got an all-cotton yoga bolster and 5lb hand weights from Target. She says you don’t need the bolster, but it’s useful for baby blockading and other things.

If it were easy to do, doctors all over wouldn’t act like it’s impossible! So, onward I go and hope that I have some lovely ladies alongside me getting strong again, too.


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Mutu System Week 5 Progress Report

It took me 8 days, but I did make it through doing the “intensive workout 1” four times. This week I moved onto Phase 2 core, which was at least psychologically important because I felt like I was actually progressing.

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Phase 2 Abs

This week I graduated to the next level of abdominal work. The main differences were:

  • More twists
  • More load put on the TVA (for example, in “Drop Your Knees, Find Your Middle” you can’t use your hands to brace your knees anymore
  • Bigger, meatier squats
  • The addition of a toe/shin stretch (which I don’t get much out of because I have inhumanly flexible feet)
  • Modified Bridge poses. Love this since I am having serious yoga withdrawal
  • Hip strengtheners and openers (including the same exercise the physical therapist had me doing for sacroiliac joint pain in pregnancy)

I was surprised at how different the second phase was from Core Phase 1. I was thankful for her mixing things up!

Progress

Looking at the photos, I think I see a little improvement from last week! That surprises me because:

a) I haven’t been walking, and this has not been good for my mental health with a 6 month old

b) I pushed myself too hard and it wasn’t until I had my husband feel my abs during Staggered Push-Ups that I discovered my abs were separating during them. So, back to wall push-ups!

Barefoot in Winter

We don’t really have “winter” per say here in San Francisco, but we definitely get rain and wind. I’ve been wearing my Tieks into the ground, so I have been on the lookout for a pair of winter shoes. I found this fabulous post on barefoot walking boots for winter. I love Katy Bowman and I kind of want to be her when I grow up, but I have a legit case of city fashion and most of those boots look like they were designed in a darkroom (Frye, are you listening? Chop, chop!).

Thankfully, I found two that I think I could work with tights or skinny jeans.

Nepal boots by Tom's Nepal boot, by Tom’s.

I find regular Tom’s pretty uncomfortable (especially compared to Tieks), but I’m hoping these will be a totally different story.

barefoot boot by VivoBarefootRyder by VivoBarefoot

While certainly not the sexiness that was my Frye Carmen Lace Up (love you forever, RIP), these will do when I need something waterproof. Giving up heels is tough, but think of all those bunions and joint replacements I’m hopefully avoiding!

Thanks for coming along the ride with me! Please let me know if you’re in this journey, too, so we can band together and offer each other support.


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Mutu System Week 4: Photos and a Review

Mutu System Week 4 Results

The “mummy tummy” diastasis recti with transverse not engaged and then engaged

Mutu System Week 4 Results

Transverse not engaged on left, engaged on right

Although I’ve been doing this for more than four weeks, this past week was when I graduated to the Week 4 curriculum with Mutu System by Wendy Powell. This means I was doing Mutu Intensive Workout No.1 four times and Core Phase 1 seven times this week.

I’m finally feeling like I see some results and actually feel different! I’m so glad I’m taking photos because, man, I was really pooched out on Week 1! I’m not seeing a difference since last week with TVA engaged, but I definitely see and feel a difference with it not engaged. My insides feel more tightly packed, if that makes sense.

How have I been liking Mutu?

  • I love that the daily workouts do not require sound. This is GENIUS. I live in a 1 bedroom loft, so there are no interior walls and any sound is game to wake the baby.
  • I haven’t purchased any special equipment yet, which has been lovely. This is what I’ve needed:
    • Pillow or rolled up blanket instead of half bolster
    • Big exercise or kids soccer ball for ball slams and squeezing exercises
    • My therabands from prenatal physical therapy (you’d need to buy those if you don’t already have some)
  • In the videos, Wendy doesn’t do everything perfectly and I also smile with her when she wobbles (because I’m usually wobbling with her).
  • I still can’t do normal push-ups, so I have been doing wall push-ups. This prevents me from getting my heart rate up as high as the HIIT (high intensity interval training) intends.
  • Wendy, who is adorable and so likable, uses a plus sign instead of the word “and” in all of her materials. I don’t know if this is a cultural thing or what, but the grammarian/librophile in me gets pretty distracted by it because I read it in my head as “plus” not “and”Nitpicking, yes, but I can’t be the only one!

I’ve been eating clean, cleaner than I had originally intended, due to my son’s doctor taking me off of gluten and dairy. Good thing I got rid of the chocolate chip habit before she broke that news! 

I have a lot more hope about actually healing the diastasis recti at this point. I’ve been told by so many people that it’s impossible and to just give up. I really hate that the medical community has been taught that line and I wish OBs had more knowledge about biomechanics and alignment. In the mean time maybe this blog will find someone frustrated with their “mummy tummy” out there and give them some hope!


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Starting the Intensive workouts, struggling for motivation

week4tummies

Wendy wrote some powerful words over the weekend and they helped me get my mind right.

I missed almost a whole week. Here’s why I was losing traction:

  1. I so badly miss group exercise. Motivating myself when at home baby-talking to a 6 month old feels like a herculean task. This is why I need your support! (I know Mutu has a Facebook group but I closed my FB account on purpose, so my loss).
  2. I’m frustrated about my insides poking through my diastasis on the EASIEST exercises. I am used to being “tough” and I am not used to feeling so weak. Weakness, vulnerability, lack of control, letting go of expectations – so many themes in my life are applicable here.
  3. “No time” (aka excuses)
  4. Negative thinking (“I’m never going to get strong” “my husband will love me anyway, so why try” “I’m a mom now, I should lessen my expectation of what fit is” “I can’t do it perfectly, so I just won’t do it at all”)
  5. During pregnancy I felt like a superwoman. I now feel like the opposite of a superwoman.

So, when I read these words by Wendy I felt a little prodded:

“Please, please, try this. Shift your mindset before you try to shift your body.  Diastasis recti is merely a symptom, one outer manifestation of pressure + mal-alignment within your body. It’s telling you your body is not quite in the right place or comfortable, which is why it doesn’t look + feel the way you want it to. It is not *the problem*. I know you feel overwhelmed  + I know you’re frustrated + searching for answers. You’re trying to change everything + fix everything all at once + you feel everything about your body is ‘wrong’ + broken.”

Wendy! You’re hitting too close to home. Ouch.

After skipping a week of Mutu my thoracic (upper) spine was popping like rubber bands being snapped on my back, my left shoulder started clicking, incontinence came back (UGH), and headaches came back. I reread Wendy’s words, had some patience with myself, and thanked my body for letting me put it through this trial so I could have this baby I love so much.

And a word about willpower

The Willpower Instinct by McGonigalI also thought about The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal at Stanford. In that book she explains that the smallest steps help build our willpower strength, just like building a muscle. So if you say no to the anxiety snack (I threw out the chocolate chips last week), you’ll be more likely to stick to your commitment to walk every day or to do six minutes of Mutu.

This morning I got up and went straight for Mutu before I could talk myself out of it. And you know what? It felt really good. I wasn’t even that hard on myself that I was doing wall pushups instead of regular ones.


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Week 2, “Training Puppies”

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Training puppies

My all time favorite yoga teacher was this wiry ball of muscle, Janice. She was the only older woman I’ve seen rock pigtails legitimately. Anyway, at one of my first classes she explained how to engage your “yogi toes” and feet. She said that it feels strange now but it’s like training puppies – just keep showing them how and eventually they’ll get it.

I feel that way about not only engaging my TVA (transverse abdominis). Actually, I feel that way about just being aware my TVA is in there. I find constantly engaging my TVA while simultaneously not putting undue pressure on my abdominis rectus (“six pack”…”no-pack”) is especially difficult. I’m just so used to depending on my outer abs to help me out during the day. I had no idea how much I jack-knifed while getting up off of sitting surfaces.

Also, I’m not feeling much of a connection between my TVA engagement and pelvic floor engagement, which has me a little concerned. Anyone else out there experienced this?

Progress Report

Above are my week 2 pics. I think there might be progress? I have still not started the actual Mutu Week 2 course material (which uses high intensity interval training) because I feel challenged enough with just the six minutes of core work and stretches Week 1 entails. I plan to start that soon, though.

Specifically, the “Drop your heels, find your middle” exercise really rocks me. In this exercise she has me lay on my back, raise knees to the ceiling while keeping shins parallel to the floor, and drop one heel at a time down to the floor and back up. This exercise is so difficult for me that I can rarely do ten reps without feeling my abs separate and my innards poke through. This has me considering getting a splint after all!