This post was written by longtime QSY teacher Kris Lekin. In this post, Kris offers some insight into re-gaining core strength and support after pregnancy.
Just before I got pregnant in 2013, I was more physically fit than I had ever been. I was deepening my yoga practice, running and cycling daily, and even going to the gym (ok, that was only occasionally – I’ve never loved the gym). Then came the pregnancy (dun, dun, duuun)…with twins! My belly grew large and fast, and so did the rest of me. I accepted it as all being part of the process, but I was troubled by the size I would inevitably be and what that would do to my core muscles. I was aware of the condition diastasis recti (separation of the rectus abdominus muscle into left and right halves) and knew that this was inevitable with a twin pregnancy that went to term. It is a condition that occurs from 30-40% of all pregnancies. While pregnant, I studied with Jill Miller (of the Yoga Tune Up method) to help keep my inner baby carriage (a.k.a. the deep core) strong to support pregnancy and birth. However, the more my belly swelled, the less optimistic I was that I would ever be able to plank again, let alone do a handstand.
I carried my babies for 40 full weeks, and they grew and grew. I couldn’t have been more proud that I had “made it” that long, despite the fact my body had completely changed. A couple of months after delivery, I eased back into my yoga practice and tried to run once again. My body felt foreign. It also felt like my insides were falling out and that my middle wasn’t being supportive in my movements.
A weak, non-functional core, can lead to a plethora of issues, including lower back pain, urine leaking, constipation and/or pelvic organ prolapse. With a diastasis recti (often termed “the gap”), the connective tissue (the linea alba) between the two halves of the abdominals is the only thing holding the organs in place. In some cases the organs can poke out of a tear giving rise to a hernia. All of these things are bad news! The shocking thing I learned when I began to investigate for my own personal recovery is that the gap persists for huge numbers of women well after they have given birth. What is amazing, though, is that the gap can be healed regardless of whether you had your baby 6 weeks or 16 years ago!
I discovered the MuTu Method and have been working on strengthening my pelvic floor and transverse abdominus muscles with the prescribed exercises, and by avoiding harmful movements like plank (“but we do it all the time in yoga!”), crunches, boat pose and bicycle twists. Basically, anything that increases abdominal pressure is a big no-no for those with a diastasis.
Do you have diastasis recti?
In order to determine whether or not you have this very common condition, you could ask a physical therapist, chiropractor, or obstetrician to check for you. Alternatively, you can check it yourself! Here’s how:
- Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor
- Soften your abdomen and press 2-3 fingers horizontally into your belly (parallel with your waistline) into the space at your belly button
- Slowly ease your shoulders off the ground moving into a “crunch” position. As you begin the movement, the two halves of your rectus abdominus will come together to touch the outsides of your fingers.
- The number of fingers that fit at the beginning of the movement is equal to the size of the gap
- Repeat this just above and just below your belly button, since the gap can vary along the junction
A separation over 1.5-2 fingers wide is considered problematic and can lead to a non-functional core. The amazing interconnectedness of our bodies can help heal this condition, though. By strengthening the transverse abdominus muscle, which is connected to the rectus abdominus, the two halves of the rectus can be sealed back together! This is assisted by avoiding doing movements that increase abdominal pressure (mentioned above), and being mindful of your standing, walking and sitting posture.
Is the Deep Core Recovery workshop for you?
If you have given birth, regardless of how long ago, and you feel that your core may still be weak, you will benefit from this workshop. This workshop will also give you the tools you need to begin healing your gap, if you have one. Even if you don’t, you will learn key core movements that will help rebuild your core muscles, including your pelvic floor. You will feel more empowered on your mat and in your life!
Kris began practicing yoga in 2006 while an undergrad at the University of Waterloo. She completed her teacher training with Pranalife Yoga in 2010. Having always been a teacher of some sort (piano, math, science), relaying the yoga she was learning came naturally to her. Since then, she has taken her practice from Toronto to Europe and has studied with numerous teachers.