Mama, Baby Alignment.

After interviewing Gail Tully of Spinning Babies, she sent me some questions of her own. Keep in mind that while Gail is asking about alignment during pregnancy, that there is no difference between alignment in the pregnant versus non-pregnant body. This means that you, too, baby-daddy, should be reading and applying the info.

Here are my questions for you, Katy Girl!

What daily activities do you suggest to lengthen the psoas safely?
For starters, I’d get out of the chair as much as possible. A baby is developing 24-7, so your intra-uterine environment should be uber-hospitable as close to 24-7 as you can imagine. We tend to think along these lines: “Wow, my psoas is all short and knotted and stuff from sitting down or bicycling or whatever. I think I’ll make sure I lengthen it when I’m done doing all my hip-flexing for the day.” But it’s even more important to NOT have a shortened psoas the bulk of the day. So all those things that shorten it (anything that causes hip flexion– i.e. what brings your leg out in front of you) should be minimized.

Here are some activities to minimize for those who are All-Psoas, All the Time:
1. Sitting, especially with a flexed (think rounded) lower back. As in your car’s bucket seat, your office chair, your comfy old couch, your even comfier La-z-boy.
2. Cycling
3. Treadmill walking. P.S. It’s not the same as regular walking. Walking on the ground=less hip flexion. Walking on the treadmill=more hip flexion because of the way the treadmill’s belt moves backward, forcing us to reverse our natural gait pattern.

And for other reasons, there are two postural habits that tighten the psoas: the pelvic thrust and the rib lift. Together, these are also known as the “pregnancy stance”. This is not something that pregnancy causes as much as what we do when we are pregnant to get people to give us free stuff, like ice cream, low back massages and their seat on a bus. So attention pregos! If you want a more supple psoas, back your hips up and drop your ribs.

Here, I made this video to show you how. I am like Martin Scorsese with an iPhone. Everyone in this movie will be shot 142 times with a Tommy Gun and die a slow and agonizing death. Wait, this is me in this video? Never mind. This following clip is actually a comedy:

 

Some things to do to improve the length of the psoas in order of importance:
1. Don’t wear positive-heeled footwear.
2. Adjust your pelvis and ribs 1042 times a day.
3. When it’s time to sit, sit on the floor (using a pillow under your bum to keep the lower spine from rounding) not using back supports, with various leg positions that challenge the tension on the hip muscles (i.e. cross-legged, straight-legged, one-legged bent and one legged straight, and the other-legged bent and the opposite one straightened out, and don’t forget sitting with both legs crossed and bent at the same time.)

Sorry. That was just a lot of fun to type.

You can also add some psoas-specific stretches, like a lunge (see my favorite lunge here). Only watch that the pelvis doesn’t tip forward and your ribs don’t lift. Because that means that you took all the “stretch” out of the psoas in order to do the lunge. Which is fine, as long as you didn’t want the lunge to improve the state of the psoas.

Hey. That was a really long answer. Let’s move on, shall we?

Katy, how to you recommend stabilizing the pelvis without over strengthening the core?

Another nice question.  Have you done this before? This is also super-important question because a new population having pelvic issues that affect birthing is the Super-fit and realllly active category! It turns out that core strength that exceeds the basics of what core strength is supposed to do can interfere with relaxation capabilities as well as skeletal position of the pelvis, spine and ribcage — which in turn starts messing with the uterus position as well as the baby-in-the-uterus position.

The reason we “need” so much core exercise is because we’re busy being in postures that decrease the leverage the core would have on the spine naturally. Abdominal muscles don’t have bones to attach to on both ends. One end attaches to thin-but-strong cords between the pelvis and the ribcage. When you move these bones (the pelvis and ribcage) from their neutral position, you change the geometry of the cords which in turn decreases the abdominals’ ability to engage (leverage) in response to natural gravitational loads. For optimal core strength, you just need to NOT move these bones from their neutral position. Which can be tough because so many muscles in the shoulders and back and chest attach to the ribcage and so many muscles in the legs attach to the pelvis. When these other muscles don’t lengthen or contract properly, the core will always be compromised. Core strength is a whole-body issue. At some point more people will realize that you cannot spot-treat core weakness because the treatments, in the end, just lead to other musculoskeletal issues.

The end.

Oh. Did I forget to answer your question? The answer is: get the pelvic bowl to neutral (as well as the leg) and drop the ribs, drop the ribs, drop the ribs. And fix that neck, shoulder, psoas and leg tension too. At least put it on the to-do list.

How do we keep the pelvic floor strong but balanced at the same time?

The pelvic floor is also one of those muscle groups that doesn’t need to be “strengthened” in the way we traditionally think of strength. Because the pelvic floor is under constant load, it will always be TRYING to stay as strong as needed to carry the load on top of it. What interferes in pelvic floor strength is the fact that our modern movement, posture and stress habits have nullified the PF’s “partner in crime” if you will, the gluteus maximus. Being upright and walking the quantities humans used to have to walk (3-10 miles a day) for survival purposes keeps the pelvic floor from continuously shortening to the point in which it can no longer generate force to keep stuff up and closed. Our butt-free lifestyle has affected the pelvic floor tissues to the point in which it is rendered ineffective. The addition of pelvic floor tensing exercises just makes the issue worse in the long term. For optimal pelvic floor strength and function (and as you say, balance) then the glutes need to be reintroduced.

You: Hello, buns. How are you?

Your buns: I’m great, thanks for asking. Hey, haven’t we met before?

You: I think so, but it’s been a long time.

Again, the tucking of the pelvis as a habit, the tension of the psoas, and the lack of regular, daily long-distance walking (and of course, don’t forget the action of squatting to potty and getting up and down off of the floor) all need to be remedied. Which seems like a lot of work, but if you notice, it’s all the same stuff that needs to be fixed no matter the issue.

What helps in mobilizing the sacrum, allowing it to “open” in late dilation and/or pushing stage?

The movement of the sacrum is called nutation and counter-nutation, which is different that the motion of the pelvis that houses the sacrum. This motion will occur in delivery (and to a lesser extent in all people throughout the day) when the sacroiliac joint isn’t all junked up from years of sitting on it, poor gluteal strength, and extreme pelvic floor tension. See my recommendations above.

What activities are you enjoying or focusing on during this pregnancy of yours?

I do what every other mother on this planet probably does. I walk around and bend 1242 times a day to pick up stuff from the floor. I change diapers and wash clothes 1242 times a day. I hang laundry. I cook a few meals a day. I clean the kitchen. I pick stuff from the garden. I blend it into drinkable concoctions. I play on the floor with my kid a lot. I clean the kitchen again (WHY is the kitchen ALWAYS messy?). I swing from our indoor monkey bars or the trees outside. I walk everywhere. At this point in my life, I don’t have time for a structured movement program (as in attending somewhere for 90 minutes three times a week) that is separate from what I need to get done every day. Don’t forget, I am a full-time biomechanist as well which takes a surprising amount of time. So, like millions of people before me, I keep my health by making my life my healthy activity. I watch where my joints are as I do the things I need to do in order to live —  because I don’t have time for framing it any other way. Oh, and I always get a full night’s sleep. And by “always,” I mean: for another 6 weeks or so.

But, P.S. When I do have time, I love blending my alignment practice with meditation. I like mindfully going through 5-10 different movements really checking in where my body is today and where it has come from. I like running the hard sciences through my head, like angles and forces — while experiencing the reality of motion and the sensation of breath. This luxury is infrequent though and I can’t let the fact that living takes a lot of work detract from my health. So, until my other life’s choices progress a bit, I get-me-some of that healthy stuff in 20 second doses.

I also like watching cooking competition shows on TV.

Don’t judge me.

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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31 thoughts on “Mama, Baby Alignment.

  1. “Adjust your pelvis and ribs 1042 times a day.” Yes! It’s true. I don’t know how I get anything else done during the day. Have started waking up every time I turn over at night to check if my ribs are thrusting. But if I do the Psoas Release and sleep on my back, my ribs are less prone to sleep-thrusting. And with less rib thrusting, and more head ramping, my spine seems to have lengthened. I feel taller! Even in my flat, flat shoes. 🙂

    (Cooking competition shows are the best. Morimoto rules.)

  2. Katy, this is great. You explain things so clearly and make me laugh! Thank you so much!! Two questions:

    1) I have an exceptionally tight pelvic floor and have pelvic floor disorder (feels like I have a UTI almost all the time, unless I’m really stretched out). I’m not even sure I want children, but if I were, would it be a bad idea to get pregnant as long as I’m still having pelvic floor pain? I mean, I guess it’s a risk-cost benefit situation, but I was just wondering how my pelvic floor issues fit into that equation.

    2) When I do a lunge, I find it difficult (impossible?) to fully untuck my pelvis and still feel a stretch my psoas–it’s like my tendons take over. Is it possible my psoas is so tight that it makes untucking difficult? Because I’m still feeling a good stretch when I do it tucked.

    1. Dearest K,
      I wouldn’t let your PF issues get in the with you having a baby when the time is right, although I would strongly suggest that you address the issue in preparation. If you read through the “too tight PF” articles, you’ll see other avenues that can help you make progress (PT, self-fascial release, de-stressing) because it will make pregnancy and delivery all that much more enjoyable for you. And these times should be more enjoyable than less!

      and #2, if you can’t un-tuck now then don’t worry about it. The tighter muscles tend to be, the more we have to “force” them to feel anything from them. When you have a little extra time, see if you can hangout on the edge of a position that you have a harder time “feeling” — close your eyes and go searching for sensation. It’s there, down below all the noise in the mind…

      Thank YOU for reading. I really appreciate it!
      KBOW

        1. Oh, and at this point, with all the knowledge you’ve given me, addressing pelvic floor issues seems to be a must (and I am!)baby or no baby.

  3. Loved your description of your daily activities. I am a Pilates instructor, business owner, and mom of 3 and I can totally relate! Movement, alignment, and balancing my body are part of my life and its ever so rare that I have the luxury of taking a class or doing a full hour workout. The upside of course, is that as an instructor I truly realize the power of incorporating healthy movement into our daily life and I really try to encourage my clients to do the same which allows them to see benefits even quicker!

  4. I love the description of “making life the healthy activity”!

    Also checking my stance and alignment and adjusting my ribs and pelvis 1000+ times a day!

  5. Great stuff! I am totally guilty of sending you pregnancy related questions, but can’t remember if it was with baby #1 or baby #2. Maybe if there is a baby #3, I will finally know where my pelvis and ribs are without having to correct eight million times a day.

    On the post with your favorite lunge, you link to your favorite psoas release, but the link is broken. Is this the one where you lay back on the bolster?

  6. I think this is such practical, non stressful advice for mothers. And btw, I think a moms life is perfect for working out all day long:) Your description is so perfect, and think up all the squats, bends, twists, turns, and walking we do in a typical day. We just need to pay attention to doing it in a way that is helpful rather than harmful and we’ve got a great set up for working out all day long. No need to schedule a workout time. It’s a little different for those who are working outside the home, so maybe I’m a little spoiled:)

  7. I notice that when I stop rib thrusting (which I do a lot) by bringing the front of my rib cage down, I can’t stand up straight anymore. Bringing the rib cage down reminds me of doing an old-fashioned crunch, where you curve your head towards your knees. Keeping my ribs down, I can’t straighten my head and neck back up again fully. Is this that hidden kyphosis you were talking about?

  8. So when you adjust your ribs down, do you actively have to put your shoulders back, or are they then supposed to be in the right position? A bit like Katie H, I feel like my shoulders are naturally going forward when I adjust my ribs down. Are you supposed to lengthen your upper body up?

  9. Thanks, Katy. This is a true gem. I teach yoga, including prenatal yoga (for 10+ years now; also used to be a midwife) and it lends perspective to quite a few things I have experienced and taught (the piece on “core strength” was uber-excellent). One thing I am curious about is your comment: “Abdominal muscles don’t have bones to attach to on both ends.” The rectus abdominis does attach to bones, so I am wondering if you were thinking about the transverse and the oblique muscles?

    1. Hi Anne! Yes — sorry for not clarifying. The “spinal stabilizing” muscles that people are really targeting these days in their core workouts are the TVA and obliques — most affected by skeletal position. Although the RA also attaches to the 3 raphe as well, so the leverage of each half is also affected!

  10. Hi Katy,
    I’ve followed your blog/facebook off an on for maybe 2 years? Your posts on squatting inspired me to, well, squat. I never did kegals before, mostly because they seemed stupid and annoying. Am I right? Lol. I had started squatting more in my first pregnancy because I knew it was important for opening the pelvic joints (gave birth in a full squat). Sometime after birth I read “You Don’t Know Squat” and thought “Ah, this is how I shall strengthen my pelvic floor!” So now I squat to go to the bathroom, intentionally squat while playing with my girl, etc. But, alas, I am pregnant again. I’d like to incorporate more of these things into my regular day to day, but I’m really sick and I find that just the act of actively sitting (ie, on the floor not laying on the couch) can make me throw up. If I lay mostly on my left side I can manage and keep food down well. But when I get up and walk around, bend over, do activities of any kind really, I’m utterly exhausted, feel like death, and sometimes vomit just from those LIGHT movements. 🙁 I’m hoping this ends with the first trimester and I can be more active in the last 2 (with my first pregnancy I had HG the entire pregnancy, was literally on this very couch all day everyday). I do get out on the occasional walk with DD. So. I guess. Any suggestions for me? Lol. Is there a “healthy” way I can lie on my couch? I do a light bellydance class once a week so I get some stretching and movement, but even that is very hard to do at this point. Prior to pregnancy I walked often every day (we don’t use the car too much, and live in a small town where we can walk everywhere). I just hated how weak I was all of my previous pregnancy. And hate this weakness (and sickness) now, especially that I have a toddler who doesn’t fully understand “Sorry sweetie, if I play with you, I’ll throw up.” (Although, she beginning to understand “I need to lay down so my food stays in.”) Thanks!

  11. I am sorry, but I have another question. Could you clarify why you call the gluteus maximus the pelvic floor’s “partner in crime”? What’s their bio-mechanical relationship? I think this is pretty important. I get so many questions about the pelvic floor exercises.

    1. Anne — There are a ton of blog posts on the glute-pelvic floor relationship (that’s pretty much what this blog is know for!) I’d suggest searching Pelvic Floor and starting from the beginning! A small novel here on why we don’t kegel 🙂

  12. Thanks so much. I think your article is so valuable. I will refer to it in my next prenatal teacher training – that’s for sure!

  13. It seems that this would also relate to one of your other favorite topics diastasis recti (sp is off). Doesn’t it? Could you relate the two a bit so readers who haven’t see BOTH articles could relate it better. I’m thinking for
    the prenatal yoga instructors out there as well.
    Thanks!
    Martie

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