Diastasis Rectified

My journey to heal postpartum diastasis recti


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My diastasis recti recovery update, or how I hope I don’t get fitted for another bridesmaids dress anytime soon

Sometimes when I am feeling particularly deflated about my glacial progress to restore tone and function to my midsection, I do what every wallowing person does and Google magical success stories. These shining examples are always self-motivated, and fitnessy, and tan – why are they always so uniformly tan? Do they not have sub-Equatorial arms and Icelandic thighs? They pop back to strong and svelte without ever even changing their intensive exercise routine. It’s neato!

Let me tell you another story. I was getting fitted for a bridesmaids dress a couple months ago and the sweet 21 year old measuring me noted that my stomach is four sizes bigger than my hips and chest (yes, f-o-u-r). I was even sucking it in a little, shame on me. She says, “don’t worry, I get girls in here all the time who drink a little too much and I tell them it all goes to your middle!”

Fast forward to this week. I’ve been getting ready to go to Vegas for the bachelorette party. Me, the woman who in a measure of austerity – or was it exasperation? – got rid of all her pre-baby clothes except for seven (now quite ratty) nursing shirts and three jeans will be going to a place where they permit entry based on your appearance. Did you know many clubs in Vegas require women to wear high heels? And the more scantily clad, the more likely you are to get in free? It makes me feel like in Vegas woman are the commodity and men are the purchasers, but let’s save my feminist rants for never.

Also, have you ever tried to open a really heavy door with one hand? My brain is yelling, “HEY ABS! Could really use your help right now!” and my abs are like “eh, mate? Can’t quite hear you. ZZzzzzz.” And that’s how I learned my abs are Australian.

Getting my mind right

I am a person prone to frustration and black and white thinking and guilt, which means you hope you’re never invited to a picnic in my head. I have to continually remind myself of these things:

  • My body is unique. No one else has my body and no one else is responsible for my body and it’s no one else’s responsibility to love my body but me.
  • Exercise programs are great, just like weight loss program or other life improvement programs. They do not guarantee long term success, though. Often they predict the opposite.
  • 15 minutes of exercises a day can make me stronger, but it’s what I do the 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day that will determine my long range outcomes.
  • Every time I choose to sit on the floor or stretch my hamstrings or hang from a pull-up bar (side note: don’t do pull ups! just hang until you can handle pulling up) or untuck my pelvic or unthrust my ribs or do a couple squats or go for a walk – each time I do those things I am changing my trajectory. It may seem inconsequential at the time, but over time those habits will make all the difference.
  • Any time I want to hide or give up or start comparing myself to others or even to my previous selves, I can stop and give myself a little breathing room. I can ask myself what that critical part of myself is afraid might happen if it stopped doing its job (yes, I got this from counseling. Hey, it works!).
  • Listing the things I am specifically grateful for in my life and then letting specific people know that I’m thankful for them helps to give me perspective.
  • I’ve also found superbetter.com to be helpful for those days I need help building momentum. It turns your recovery into a game and you invite friends and family to be allies who support you in your Epic Quest toward regaining strength.
  • Stop measuring the diastasis recti gap

What do you do to keep a healthy perspective?


 

My Update

diastasis recti side view 13mo postpartum

13 months postpartum, irregularly Mutu-ing, making progress with alignment materials!

Here is my latest picture from the side. I’ve been doing a little bit of Mutu but I’ve mostly been doing exercises from The Restorative Exercise materials. Side note: I LOVE Wendy’s new MuTu videos! She has incorporated so much of what I’ve been learning from Katy Bowman’s alignment materials, and I like her revised exercises much better.

Despite my wallowing, I have been feeling stronger and more flexible, even if my middle still feels like a Jell-O mold. In fact, it feels so much like a Jell-O mold that sometimes it even looks like one:

Innards bulging out through diastasis recti gap

Innards bulging out through diastasis recti gap after a meal

Does this happen to anybody else out there?

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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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Sit Bones, Tucking, Intraabdominal Pressure, and the Postpartum Pooch

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Along with my new diastasis recti friend Jamie at Belly After Baby, I have gone through some rough patches lately. 

Let’s review the life changes this process has brought so far:

  • Never sitting on sofas, the mattress, chairs, or anything that would displace the intraabdominal pressure. I mainly sit on the floor on my sit bones (those two bottom points pictured above). 
  • Getting rid of all of my heeled shoes, even the slightest ones.
  • Walking with weight in my heels, totally upright (which looks a little bit like a soldier and is hard with a stroller!)
  • Squatting instead of bending and lifting
  • Not torquing or twisting
  • Avoiding front carrying whenever possible.
  • Putting a bolster under my knees at night (if sleeping on back) or in between them (if sleeping on side)
  • Giving up my favorite exercises until I have strength again
  • NOT TUCKING MY BUTT. Muscle memory is for real, peeps. I learned to tuck my butt in lifting classes at the gym (grr) and it has been absurdly difficult to stop.

The list could go on. Needless to say, this takes serious commitment! It is easy to get discouraged.

I have been spending a lot of time on the Aligned and Well blog, trying to understand the role alignment plays in my diastasis. 

Takeaway: alignment is everything. I gently pressed on my belly today just to feel the force that intraabdominal pressure is putting on my midline and WOW, it is powerful! No wonder the muscles can’t keep it together. Only by taking away the pressure I’ve been loading these muscles down with will I be able to regain and keep a strong, flat core.

One of the things Katy over at Aligned and Well said in her first Alignment Snack shoulder class (screenshot below) was that it’s a great idea to move your body in ways that aren’t as familiar. For example, if you normally cross one arm over the other in a stretch, then do the opposite. Get your body out of its routine. She even advises gradually weaning yourself off a pillow, for example, in order to increase mobility.

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I’m starting to wonder if I had a small diastasis before pregnancy and didn’t know it, or at least poor alignment and a weak TVA. Then, wearing (chunky! sensible!) heels during pregnancy and doing literally thousands and thousands of weighted reps with my butt tucked probably took me over the edge. Let this be your fair warning, oh ye adorably fit pregnant person! 

I am going to be starting the Mutu interval training this week, as last week I still was doming in the easiest of exercises and I even missed a couple days. I hope I will see more progress by next week after trying the “Week 2” Mutu routine this week. 

We can do this, ladies! We’ve certainly met with much more difficult challenges before, even if they weren’t so easily visible to the outside world.

 


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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!

 


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Mourning the loss of my heels

shoes

A fundamental benefit of the Mutu program is that you aren’t required to wear an approximating diastasis splint (side note: it’s die-ASS-sta-sis, not die-ah-STAY-sis as I once thought). Anyway, this is a good thing because you have to wear the splint 24/7 with the Tupler (pronounced Tuh-pler, not Too-pler) technique except for when you shower.

In exchange for not being corseted by the splint, we must try to decrease your intra-abdominal pressure. Or, we need to stop pooching our bellies out and scrunching up our lower spine because it’s stretching out our abdominus recti. Tucking the rear under and sucking in to try to pretend you don’t have a pooch will likewise do you no favors.

In order to decrease the intra-abdominal pressure you must:

  1. Get rid of all of your heels, even the slightest heel. Ladies, this means I had to get rid of my beloved Frye boots that I wore almost every day during pregnancy. Any lift at all will pitch your whole body forward and you’ll have to tuck-and-suck to be upright (heels also flare your butt up, creating a sexier/more baboon-like look). I bought two pairs of Tieks and one pair of Uggs (pictured) and I literally wear no other shoes. More closet space!
  2. Walk totally upright with your weight in your heels. I feel this most when walking up inclines with a stroller (hello, life in San Francisco!).
  3. Stop jackknifing when getting up.  This is the toughest for me because I always used to rely on the abs to bring me up. I kind of saw it as an extra strengthening exercise. No longer.
  4. Squat when doing all lifting. This one was not bad when the baby was 10-15 pounds but now I find it really difficult not to compromise other muscles when lugging around the man baby.

There are other things but the basic premise is body awareness and creating an environment that is conducive to healing the connective tissue. I say that with a little hesitation because most doctors say that healing the connective tissue between the muscle bellies is impossible and you have to get surgery, so I consider this all one big experiment.

*Note: I am in no way affiliated with Mutu and have not signed up for their referral program because I am not far enough into the program to endorse it. My only motivation for writing these posts is to find some solidarity and help me stay committed to the program!