If I told you that this is a picture of me hanging out at my parents' house with my daughter a few months after her birth in 2011, that would be accurate. But it wouldn't be the whole truth. At the time, I was struggling physically and emotionally. I wanted to feel "normal" and confident, but I didn't. My pelvic floor was a wreck. My abs were not holding in my guts. And my knees, shoulders, and hips hurt all the time. Walking hurt. Carrying my baby hurt. Sitting at work hurt. Sex hurt. I was depressed. This was supposed to be a time to savor, but I wasn't feeling it, to put it mildly.
I felt really, really alone. And scared. And it really kind of sucked to begin to pick up the pieces and figure out, day by day, what to do to feel better in my body, and to open myself to my new role as a mom.
The ironic thing is that now I work with women like past me all the time, and I know more than anything that so many other women share a similar experience. So many!
There is still so often that sense of alone-ness. There is still a deficit of useful information and support for women facing these common issues. Women are navigating surprise, sadness, anger and frustration in response to the physical dysfunction and changes that they experience after giving birth or as they get older, and they can feel isolated in their struggle. Pelvic floor problems (stress incontinence, prolapse), diastasis recti (overly separated abdominal muscles), feeling at odds with and disconnected from their body, and postpartum depression are some of the big contenders.
Women are inundated with pressure to "bounce back" after childbirth, but more times than not, these are short-term approaches that can end up working against your long-term health. Or they make you feel "less-than" because your body doesn't look a or behave a certain way. So often we aren't aware we can restore function to our bodies without resorting to self-punishing work out regimes or programs that pay little regard to how our bodies actually work. What our bodies need.
The themes that come up when I'm listening to my clients are very familiar to me:
- "Why didn't anyone TELL ME?"
- "What could I have done to prevent this? I thought I was taking care of myself!"
- "My doctor/OB/midwife/mom told me this is normal and just should get used it and get surgery when it gets really bad. I just can't accept that."
- "What can I do now to heal? I've already tried XYZ and it didn't work."
- "I feel so alone."
I completely relate because I felt the same way. In fact, I think these thoughts were on a constant loop in my brain for the first year and half of my kid's life.
By the time a woman comes to my office, or attends one of my workshops, or connects with another women's health practitioner, or finally gets a babysitter so she can meet up with a friend and talk, she's on the path to feeling less alone. To reconnecting with what her body can do. To finding function and balance. But sometimes it takes months, days, YEARS to get to that point. To ask for help. To do some research. To take time for yourself. You may have had your bab(ies) years, even decades ago, and this rings true for you now.
If I could talk to my past self, I would say, "Ask for help. It's never too early. It's never too late. Make the time. Ask for help in order to make the time."
Being compassionate to yourself and attending to what your body and mind needs can be hard. Those first steps are sometimes the hardest. But you can do it.
If you have any questions, comments, or stories about your own experience, share them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions about booking a private session in my Montpelier office, via Skype, or attending a workshop, let me know!
You know when something seems nerve-wracking to you, but if you pay attention, you realize the fear is actually a loud voice telling you: "Do the very thing that scares you!!" Well, this was very true for me recently. I decided to tune in to that inner voice and WENT FOR IT, and I'm so glad that I did!
I'm a huge podcast nerd and among the many shows I love, I've been listening into a new show, Align for Health, from Susan McLaughlin, a physical therapist and Restorative Exercise™ colleague whose work I really admire (check out her blog!). Susan's podcast focuses on stories of personal healing, a topic that resonates strongly with me, and after chatting with her, I took a pretty big (and slightly terrifying) personal leap and decided to share some of my own story on her show.
In the episode, Susan and I talk about chronic pain, the challenges of postpartum recovery, and how alignment and natural movement were essential in my journey to restore my body from pelvic organ prolapse and diastasis recti. I talk about how my postural habits during (and before! and after!) pregnancy contributed to a difficult postpartum recovery, and about my own birth experience (including how a nurse yelled at me to push my daughter out "like you're having the biggest poop of your life!" Thanks, lady!). And also a bit about how my experiences healing my body have led me to do the work I do now. You can LISTEN HERE!
While we can often feel alone in our personal struggles, the more I've had the opportunity to talk with friends, clients, and relatives about their own stories, the more I'm aware of how many parts of my experience are far from unique. If you do listen, let me know if any of it aligns with your own journey.
Move well, be well ~
I've got bunions. How about you?
Mine are pretty small, but I'd still love to get rid of them. Since it's summertime and I'm either barefoot or in sandals 100% of the time, I have lots of opportunities to notice my feet. And if you take a look around in the warmer months, you'll notice that bunions are super common, especially in women. Over half of all American women have bunions!
How do bunions form?
Bunions form at the base of the big toe (at the metatarsal phalangeal). The clinical term for a bunion is Hallux Abducto Valgus, which is a fancy way of saying that the big toe moves toward the pinky toe instead of tracking straight ahead.
A bunion forms over time in response to our movement habits: specifically, how we're loading the big toe joint when we walk, stand, and move around. Wearing shoes that don't allow toes to spread can also play a big role in bunion formation. The vast majority of shoes on the market (even athletic shoes) are very narrow in the toe box!
The lovely news is that you CAN minimize and even completely eliminate bunions over time (without surgery!) by working on your alignment, making changes to your gait pattern, rethinking your shoe choices, and doing some simple stretches and self-massage to mobilize and "wake up" your feet.
Self-massage can help restore foot mobility
If you're striving for bunion-free feet, self-massage is can be a great thing to add to your foot health toolbox. In this short video I share two self-care techniques I use to help restore foot mobility and get rid of bunions. The first technique uses Yoga Tune Up massage balls, but if you don't have a set, you can use a tennis ball.
Before you start massaging away, check and see how well your big toe can abduct (move away from your second toe). Does it move at all? Try the same movement again after doing these two self-massage techniques and see if you notice a difference.
Let me know how these self-care techniques work for you! I'll be writing more on bunions and foot health in upcoming posts!
You know that stiff-armed look that Zombies have? When you think about how much time we spend with our arms out in front of our bodies, most of us are Zombies in the making, minus the dead eyes and flesh-eating tendencies. Well, I'll speak for myself.
I hadn't realized how much time I spend with my arms in front of my body until I thought about all the activities I do that require this position: typing, driving, cooking, texting or talking on the phone, carrying kids or other heavy objects... If you ride a bike, do any kind of crafty or artistic activity, tend to stand with your arms crossed on your chest, or have a weird habit of washing your hair, then you can add those to the list as well. ;-)
All this time with our arms in front of us results in very tight, internally rotated shoulders. The more frequently we assume these Zombie poses, the more the muscles on the front of our chest adapt to being in a shortened position until that becomes our "new normal." Sadly, our muscles don't magically lengthen when we get home after 8 hours typing in front of a screen. But don't lose hope! There are many simple things you can do gently lengthen and stretch your chest and shoulders (namely, your pectoralis, teres major, and subscapularis for those of you who want to name names).
This is one of my favorites to do several times a day as a break from the computer, after driving, or even during a walk. It can be done using a door frame, post, tree, or grabbing onto a friend (after asking his or her permission) - get inventive.
In this stretch, we turn the the crease in the elbow (I refer to it as the "elbow pit" here) toward the sky or ceiling in order to externally rotate the shoulder. As with many stretches used in Restorative Exercise (TM), once you do this a few times, you'll become more aware of when your body is holding tension in that area, which serves as a reminder to take a break and move your body. The best thing you can do for yourself is LISTEN to those reminders! That's your body reminding you that YOU ARE NOT A ZOMBIE (yet)!
As an added bonus: While you're doing this stretch, look out a window or at an object far away and you'll avoid the dead-eye Zombie look as well as freaky Zombie arms. Enjoy!
P.S. I shot this video on my porch, which is (as one would say in my home state of Rhode Island), "wicked crooked". Hopefully the crookedness and low light are not too problematic! xoxo
My tip for today is inspired by a fantastic post by my fellow Restorative Exercise Specialist and yoga teacher, Jenni Rawlings: "Is the Cue 'Pull Your Shoulders Back' Helpful?" I love Jenny's blog and this topic is one of my favorites.
Breaking the "shoulders back" habit put an END to the upper back pain I experienced for years and helped me finally begin to make progress healing the diastasis recti (overly separated abdominal muscles) I dealt with after my daughter was born.
It's time to bust some Posture Myths!
Do you have a habit of pulling your shoulders back in an effort to have "good posture"? This cue is so common in our culture that we don't often think about whether it actually carries any anatomical benefit. I know that I diligently did this for years without realizing that it was far more harmful to my body than helpful!
When we pull our shoulders back, we typically compress our lumbar spine, flare our ribcage, inhibit our breath, and create a LOT of tension between our shoulder blades.Habitually pulling the shoulders back also increases the risk of developing diastasis recti, or overly separated abdominal (six-pack) muscles, especially if you are pregnant or postpartum.
Today, instead of pulling your shoulders back, just allow them to relax. You may notice how much less discomfort you feel in your back, and how much more full your breath is.
If your shoulders feel "slumpy" or rounded in this relaxed position, no worries! It's just a signal that you (aka EVERYONE) could benefit from some gentle stretching of the muscles on the front of your chest - particularly your pectoralis. We do so much with arms out in front of us that these muscles become very tight.
More on what you can do to create more fluidity and range of motion in your shoulders next time!
Sometimes a little slacking off can be a good thing. Letting one thing go a bit to the wayside in order to allow time and energy for an activity you love can be a smart choice. I like to think of it as Strategic Slacking. For example, that Mount Everest-sized pile of laundry that seems to have become a geological feature in our house is feeling a little neglected these days, with the siren call of warm weather and sunshine.
Since we finally get to enjoy long days and no need for winter boots, it’s a goal of mine to increase how much outdoor movement I’m fitting into my day. Two of my favorite summer natural movement activities are going barefoot as much as possible and attempting to walk on our family’s slackline. Spending time barefoot and slacklining are both excellent ways to strengthen your feet, ankles, and whole body, as well as challenge and increase your proprioception. As someone who suffered from tendonitis and constant foot pain, wore orthotics for years, and previously couldn't walk barefoot across an uneven surface without twisting an ankle, it's a huge accomplishment for me to spend time outside barefoot, let alone walking on a wobbly-as-hell slackline, pretending to be a circus performer. After switching to minimal footwear, strengthening my feet, and working on my alignment, these are things I am now able to do comfortably every day and my whole body benefits.
A slackline is simply a piece of rock climbing webbing securely tied or ratchet-strapped between two trees to make a bouncy sort of tight rope that is addictively fun. I find slacklining energizing and meditative at the same time, since it requires me to quiet my mind and focus my attention.
Here I am walking on and almost falling off of the slackline. Watch and see all the comic ways my body tries to stabilize.
I SWEAR I really can make it across the full length without that degree of balance antics, but this makes for a much more entertaining video. You can see how all the different parts of my body are attempting to communicate with each other, in order to figure out how to respond to both the motion of the slackline and the motion I create as I try to maintain my stability. This is a great way to build your proprioception, or your body's internal reference system that tells you where all your parts are in relation to each other, without you needing to look. Maybe a year from now I'll be posting a video of me showcasing my superstar proprioception, as I walk the slackline with my eyes closed - you never know. :)
The slackline, just like spending time barefoot outdoors, is also fantastic for exposing your intrinsic foot muscles (the many tiny muscles with both attachment points in the foot) to new, constantly varying loads, allowing you to build stronger, healthier feet. Healthy feet = healthy ankles, knees, hips... the list goes on! The more that you're using the intrinsic muscles of your feet, the less you'll overwork these larger joints, which end up experiencing unnecessary wear and tear due to the immobility and lack of strength in our feet.
We purchased a Gibbon Slackline that’s held up really well and is easy to set up if you’re familiar with ratchet straps. It also comes with detailed instructions to follow if you, like me, are not a ratchet strap person. You can choose how high off the ground you would like to be, and also experiment with how the tension in the line changes what it feels like to walk on it. I like it on the bouncy side; in fact, bouncing on it is really fun! To make it easier when you’re starting out, you can grab on to your friend’s shoulder for support, or you can install a "grab line" within arm’s reach above your head to grab onto as you learn to keep your balance. When we have friends or family over at our house during the summer, the slackline is always a big hit - you might be surprised who will want to give it a try!
What outdoor movement do you like to do in the summer? What Strategic Slacking do you do to give you more time to pursue what you love?
** I don't have any affiliation with Gibbon, I just enjoy their slacklines!