I got my first postpartum “when is your baby due?” a couple weeks ago. My first knee jerk reaction was embarrassment, then the thoughts of “I’m so fat, she thinks I’m still pregnant”, then the indignant “Doesn’t she know you NEVER ask that?”. After a few seconds I just smiled and said, “She was born in December.” In her defense, I was sitting with my hand resting on my belly, which is the universal sign of “there’s a baby in here.” Apparently, this happens to Jennifer Garner a lot because she said this on the Ellen DeGeneres Show: “I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump … I get congratulated all the time by people I know … From now on, ladies, I will have a bump, and it will be my baby bump. It’s not going anywhere. Its name is Violet, Sam, and Sera.” I love that. My response wasn’t nearly as clever, but the experience got me thinking.
I’m going to get real here. One of these photos was taken when I was 3 months pregnant. The other was taken at 3 months postpartum. Can you tell which is which?
It’s ok, my husband couldn’t tell either. I can literally say, “I still look 3 months pregnant”, and it’s not an exaggeration. The reason I’m sharing this is to help normalize the postpartum experience and to say IT’S OK. It’s ok if you look 3 months pregnant. It’s ok if you look 6 months pregnant. It’s ok if you are bigger or smaller or a different shape than you used to be. It’s ok if you don’t look like you did before you were pregnant. And it’s ok that sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s ok. I’ve heard people say, “It took your body almost a whole year to get where it is. You can’t expect it to bounce back right away.” I think there is some truth to this, but I also want to say that maybe our bodies aren’t meant to be the same.
This post isn’t about 3 steps to banish belly fat or how to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans. This post is about the fact that when your body creates, grows, births and sustains a tiny human being, it’s a miracle. Natural, medicated, vaginal, cesarean, home, hospital….however you did it, when you bring a new life into this world, it’s a miracle. Your body will never be the same, and that isn’t a bad thing. We have this notion that we are supposed to go “back,” but maybe the truth is that when we become mothers, we go through a transformation. Every part of us is different, including our bodies, and that is something to be celebrated. On my best day, I’m totally on board with this statement. On my worst, I secretly want to look like my pre-pregnant self….or maybe even the super fit 20-year-old version of myself.
I’m about to do something you will never see me do again: reference celebrity advice in Cosmo Magazine. I can’t believe it, but this little gem is really worth reading. Read what these women have to say about the notion of getting your pre-baby body back. I couldn’t say it any better. As women, I think most of us struggle with body image to some extent. There have always been parts of my body that I didn’t like, but now that I’ve had my daughter, I have a whole new appreciation for my body. It’s incredible that you go from having an enormous belly one day to a tiny baby the next.
We are inundated with pictures of airbrushed models and the message that we should look like them. I encourage you to ignore those messages and replace it with this: Your body is amazing. Let’s focus on feeling good and being strong and healthy. Let’s value being able to run and jump and laugh without peeing our pants. Let’s aim to be strong enough to carry our babies without pain. Let’s be mobile enough to sit on the floor and play with our kids. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Take a daily walk. If you push your baby in a stroller, start carrying or wearing him/her for part of the way. Slowly increase the out of stroller time as you get stronger.
- Watch this video on alignment tips for pain free baby holding.
- Try sitting on the floor in different positions at least once a day.
- If you are experiencing incontinence, back/hip/pelvic pain, or pelvic organ prolapse, come to a pelvic floor workshop. Register here.
- Come to my series on Restorative Exercise for Diastasis Recti in May. Register here.
- Schedule a private session to set goals and work on your individual alignment needs.
My super fit 20-year-old self looked good, but she was also in chronic pain and not all that healthy. She wouldn’t have felt good carrying a baby for 41.5 weeks and certainly wasn’t mentally or physically prepared to birth that baby naturally. When I think about what my body has done, I don’t really want to go back.
“My husband/boyfriend/dad needs this stuff!”, I hear it all the time! So, in response, I’m teaching an Alignment for Guys workshop February 28th (details below). I work primarily with woman, but corrective exercises, alignment principles, and natural movement apply to men too. Other than our reproductive organs, men and women have the same basic anatomy & physiology. It’s nothing new, just worded differently, because it’s hard for a man to read something about pregnancy and vaginas and think “yes, I can see how this applies to me.”
My classes are full of women, and we talk a lot about pelvic floor issues–things like incontinence, painful periods, sciatica, etc. Today, let me be clear that men have alignment related pelvic floor issues too! Several sources estimate 95% of prostatitis (prostate inflammation) isn’t bacterial. Meaning there is inflammation that isn’t caused by an infection and can’t be treated with an antibiotic. In many cases, there is a mechanical/muscle tension component. In the year 2007, John Hopkins estimated over 18 million men in the US over the age of 20 suffer from ED. (I’d be willing to bet it’s higher now.)
Another thing I’d like to be clear on is this: the alignment principles aren’t just for pelvic floor issues. Problems with pelvic health and function are common, so I tend to talk about them a lot, but they are just one small piece. The tension and misalignment created by our modern life creates issues for every part of our body. Improving alignment can help rotator cuff problems, arthritis, plantarfasciitis, headaches, back pain, hernias, prostate issues, and high blood pressure, just to name a few. We like to blame these things on “getting old”, but all of these aliments can have mechanical causes. How you move (or don’t) can cause or exacerbate these common male issues.
Bear with me as I make an over generalization. Men are less likely than women to do activities like yoga, walking and stretching. I know this is a stereotype, but look around the yoga studio or the stretch class at your gym, and TELL ME this isn’t true. (Funny story about guys trying yoga here.) What I teach is different than than yoga, but the trend applies here too. When I used to teach “co-ed” classes, they were usually 80-90% women. When I teach at a certification week, it’s at least 95% women every time. Men are more likely to do activities that are about speed, strength, endurance…..things like weight lifting, running, sports, cycling…. None of these activities are bad, but when you combine short bouts of very intense workouts with longer periods of sedentary time, pain and injury are bound to follow, despite your best intentions. In order to continue doing the acitivites you enjoy, you need something to help fill in the gap between your sedentary time and your workout time. Exercise and sports have a lot of benefits, but we know now that they can’t undo hours of sitting each day. Our bodies have adapted to a lifetime of chairs, couches, cars and computers creating tension and misalignment. When we take these bodies to the gym and ask them to do challenging things, it’s like taking out a rusty, misaligned, uncalibrated machine that has been sitting in your garage for the last 20 years and expecting peak performance. Not going to happen. This is why even the most fit, athletic guy you know has pain and injuries.
I think there is a widespread belief that when it comes to exercise, the harder it is the better it is. The “easy” things like stretching and walking aren’t worth doing because they don’t make you sweat and don’t make you want to puke. If you want to remain active, pain free and have all your parts function well, you need to start doing some of the “easy” things. As you learn to move differently and move better while doing the “easy” things, you can start doing the more challenging things without injury and pain. If you come to one of my classes, you’ll find very quickly that the things that appear “easy” can be quite challenging.
If you (or the men in your life) are experiencing any of the above mentioned issues, feeling a bit achy or older than you should, here are some suggestions:
- If you are local: Join us for the Alignment for Guys Workshop on February 28th! This class will be an introduction to alignment for better health, mobility, and strength. We’ll identify and review exercises that address common aches and pain brought on by hours sitting in front of a computer or behind a steering wheel, overcorrecting a slouch with “military posture”, and “getting old.” Register and see details here.
- Try these movement breaks for the office.
- Read “Don’t Just Sit There” by Katy Bowman to figure out how to move more and still be productive at work. Another good resource is this list of ways to create a more active workstation.
- For male pelvic floor issues: David is a Restorative Exercise Specialist who works with men experiencing pelvic pain and dysfunction. This article has lots of resources too.
Today I’m going to review Katy Bowman’s three books to help you sort out which one you might like to read or give as a gift. They all deal with the same basic principles (alignment) but in different ways. This should help point you to the one you want based on what type of read you are looking for. (If you want the super brief summary, skip to the end.)
Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief, The New Science of Healthy Feet
This one has the longest title (by far), but is the shortest. Despite it’s name, it’s just as much for men as it is for women. Think of it as a “manual” for foot health, based on science yet easy to understand. Katy describes the root causes of foot pain and gives simple exercises and lifestyle changes to fix your feet. The exercises are laid out with pictures to give you an easy-to-follow plan. You’ll find exercises for the legs and hips too, as the tension in the feet, legs and hips is all connected. Although this is a book on healthy feet, you will find that your whole body benefits from the recommendations in this book. Katy also includes information on what factors to consider when choosing footwear. (You have to wear shoes anyway, so you might as well wear ones that work for you health, not against it!)
This book is an edited and organized version of the first five years of the Katy Says blog. If you’ve read her blog, you know that Katy combines humor, science, and real life events to teach about alignment. You can read her blog online for free, but if you are like me, you will find that it’s totally worth the $20. I get tired of reading off a computer screen and much prefer holding a book that I can highlight, underline and book mark. This is one of those books that you DON’T have to read cover to cover (although you will want to). Chapters are organized by topic or body part, so you can easily flip to a section and read all about Shoulders, for example, or Pregnancy & Childbirth. This is the book for you if you want one you can pick up for 1o minutes at a time and read quick tidbits. (Or if you have a short attention span.) This is a great book for anyone wanting to understand the science behind their aches, pains, and diseases and how to start healing them.
Move Your DNA
Move Your DNA is Katy’s newest book and most comprehensive book. It provides a look at the “big picture”, the fact that most of our diseases come from living outside of nature. At the same time, Katy explains more of the complex scientific principles, such as what happens at the cellular level when we move. I know this sounds contradictory, but this book looks natural movement through both a very broad lens and a microscope. This book reads like a novel; it tells the story of humans moving away from nature, becoming modernized, and suffering diseases of “captivity” as a result. This book also reads like a textbook; it breaks down complex biomechanical principles, teaches lessons in anatomy and physiology, and includes definitions in the side bars. The second half of the book is full of exercises to get you aligned and moving more naturally from head to toe.
To sum it up:
Foot Book: Quick read. Straight forward program. Science. For the feet, but will improve the health of the legs, hips and spine as well.
Alignment Matters: Blog in book form. For the whole body. Heavier on the science. Chapters organized by topic/body part for quick reference.
Move Your DNA: A text book for restoring your health. Big picture and tiny details. Heaviest on the science. Will change the way you look at movement and exercise.
When my husband was working on his undergraduate degree in history, he had an assignment to write about the 1940’s using the school’s archives of McCall’s magazine. He wrote about how the ads exploited the emotions of war wives and the homecoming of soldiers in order to sell things like silverware and soap.
This one’s my favorite. It reads: “Happy New Year – I’m Your Dad!”
While he was sifting through the archives, he found this gem: the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of good posture according to McCall’s Magazine. Knowing that it would make my day, he snapped a quick picture.
(Top. How to Stand.) Don’t: “Stand like this, you look ten years older! Your tummy is pushed out, back rounded, head and neck outthrust like a turtle’s”. Could they have picked less flattering imagery? Do: “Stand tall, feet straight ahead, tummy pulled in, buttock muscles tucked under, shoulders erect, head and neck held high.” I will grant them, the picture on the left is really sad looking….and the one on the right looks much better. Feet straight ahead-yay! Pulling your tummy in and tucking your butt under? Not so much. It looks good, but she’s on the fast track to back pain and sneeze pee.
(Bottom. How to walk.) Don’t: “Lead from your chin in walking! Abdomen sags; body slumps for it is used in disjointed sections, big muscles out of balance.” …..I don’t even know what any of this means. Do: “Start walking from a good standing posture with a spring in your step. Weight of body should be even over both legs and feet.” Why do I need a spring in my step?
(Top. How to climb stairs.) Don’t: “Carry your weight from lower back or cramp middle muscles in climbing stairs. You tire if you don’t use leg, thigh muscles.” What? How do you climb stairs without using your legs? Do: “Climb stairs correctly. Lift weight by strong leg, thigh muscles. Body slightly forward, erect, as in good standing posture.” (Sigh)
(Bottom. How to carry bundles.) Don’t: “Use your hips for a shelf to carry bundles, books; this causes curvatures. You look lopsided— ” Oh, I totally do that, carry the laundry basket on my hips… Wait! It got cut off?! Lopsided…and what? Man, I bet it was good. Do: “Carry bundles with shoulders and hips even. Spine straight, use muscles of back, abdomen, arms.” That’s actually not bad….but what came after “lopsided”?
Well done Husband, well done.
Besides the obvious entertainment factor, why am I sharing this? I think it has some good reminders for us.
1) Beware of where you get your health information. There is a whole generation of ladies with pelvic floor disorders because they read to tuck their pelvis and pull in their tummy in McCall’s magazine. Ok, that’s dramatic. It’s not all their fault; McCall’s was simply reflecting the popular belief of the culture. But you get my point? The same thing happens today. Just because SHAPE magazine or Oprah told you to do 3 sets of 50 kegels everyday, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. (It’s not a good idea, by the way. Read why here.) No one is trying to mislead you or sabotage your health, but sometimes information you read is based on popular culture instead of science. (Or it starts out as science and then becomes misunderstood/misinterpreted and turns into something scary.) The point is, question what you read/hear. Always ask “WHY”, especially if you are going to make a decision about your health based on the info.
2) “Good posture” is decided by the culture and has nothing to do with health. Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Read more about the difference between posture and alignment here.
3) Did you notice the vague and subjective language? Shoulders erect, lead from your chin, good standing posture, big muscles out of balance, don’t cramp your middle muscles…. When you read these, did you think “What exactly does that MEAN!?”. Recommendations for good posture are often subjective. There is a lot of room for interpretation and misunderstanding. When it comes to your health, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification!