How to restore your pelvic floor, in less than 3 minutes a day

How to restore your pelvic floor, in less than 3 minutes a day

One of the things that new mums tell me almost more than than anything else, is that they wish they had fully understood how important pelvic floor health was, and they wish they had taken the time to focus on it a bit before baby came – as let’s face it, once baby is out and you need to do the work more than ever before, it’s when you have the least brain space to think about it.

Pelvic floor health should be something that we seamlessly coordinate into our day, like brushing our teeth. You no doubt dedicate at least 4 minutes of your day, every day, to your pearly whites. The idea of not doing that would be fairly grim for the long term. So, why is it so hard for us to factor in pelvic floor health if it could be within that time frame? It’s not a time issue, is it? It’s a human self-sabotage issue.

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

For a start, pelvic floor health is intertwined with how you breathe, move, and carry yourself day to day. So, ultimately no amount of occasional hopeful squeezing will be effective if your body held in bad posture most of the time or if you’re not breathing consciously, as your pelvic floor works in a finely choreographed balance with your diaphragm and other abdominal muscles. It’s not really worth sitting and squeezing once or twice a month, but placing loads of pressure on your pelvic floor through your postural habits day to day and not addressing that. We need to be curious about our  bodies and take our strength and health into our own hands.

What you do and how you move day to day impacts so much more on your muscles than one hour in a fitness class a week or the occasional “pelvic floor exercise”.

Your pelvic floor health is crucial for your mental health into your old age. Incontinence brings with it issues of fear of exercise, embarrassment, depression. Prolapse can make you feel like an old woman, can cause discomfort and anxiety. But working your pelvic floor CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE to your pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms, and prevent incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse postnatally.

So first: think about your alignment, then breathing. THEN, connect.

It’s as easy as A, B, C. 

  • Stand or sit tall with your ribcage stacked above your pelvis: your heart centre balanced directly above your womb centre.
  • Breathe in through the nose, deeply, wide, full, low: imagine a “360” breath around all sides of your torso opening wide out through the ribs and down to your low belly. Allow your lower belly – and pelvic floor – to fully soften.
  • Sigh your breath out through the mouth as if you’re fogging a window in front of you.
  • Draw up into your back passage as if you’re trying to stop breaking wind, then pull the engagement forward and up. Hold for up to 10 seconds – no tension in your jaw, buttocks, inner thighs – then fully release with a deep wide breath in.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Then – sigh out, then lift up and pulse squeeze 10 times quickly. Then breathe in to release.
  • Do this 3 times a day.

So remember your A, B, Cs

Elaine Miller, also known as @Gussetgrippers, Women’s health physio and stand up comedian is spreading the hashtag  We won’t pee with 10 10 3.

10 lift and hold. 10 pulses. Three times a day.

woman carrying baby boy wearing white tank top infront of white curtain inside the room
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Honestly that’s less than 3 minutes of your day. How can we sex it up to make it something you don’t continue to avoid?

I’d love to hear from you – get in touch and let me know your thoughts, I’m really keen to find ways to get women to engage with their pelvic floor health, so let me know what your barriers to focusing on it are. It’s boring? You’re not sure how to do it? You never remember? Let’s work on this together.

#wewontpeewith10103

 

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The bounce back – postnatal fitness and health

The bounce back – postnatal fitness and health

This week I got together with an amazing group of women to have a very special meeting, with Baroness Cumberlege who is the Independent Chair of the Better Births Maternity Review, working to ensure women receive the treatment that they deserve when having their babies. We wanted her advice about how we could action taking forward our campaign for better postnatal care: at the moment we feel that this is currently lacking and women are slipping through the net and suffering because of it.

We are a team of 5 women working in various guises within maternal health and fitness, and all of us have experienced the body shock that birth can bring, which has fuelled our passion to drive for change in this area.

So today I thought I’d share a blog post written by two members of the team (we currently call ourselves the Pelvic Paw Patrol): Elizabeth Davies, The Mummy Coach, a PT and postnatal doula, and Emma Brockwell, PhysioMum, who is a specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapist. I couldn’t be more privileged and excited to be on a team with these awesome women and am beyond excited to see where we go next with this campaign. Watch this space!

 

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In this blog, Emma and Elizabeth give some gentle guidance to 2013 Elizabeth on why going straight into vigorous activities like running (or boot-camp style classes or tennis or anything else high impact) postpartum may not be the wisest decision. We give some pointers on what mums should do to keep herself safe and some exercise suggestions to help her to feel good and prepare her body for the more vigorous activities she loves.

1. Even though you’ve been signed off at your 6-week check, your body is still healing. 

Though the six-week postnatal check typically marks the formal end of maternity care in England, at six weeks your body is not yet healed. In fact, six weeks leaves just enough time for the first stage of soft tissue to heal. It can take several months or more for the abdominal and pelvic muscles to recover fully, and for the connective tissue to completely firm up. This process will take longer if you are lactating, because of the continued presence of pregnancy hormones in your body. The postnatal body is still extremely vulnerable to injury during this time, so know that vigorous exercise comes with risks.

2. You need to strengthen your core first and foremost. 

Pregnancy hinders the ability of your core to work effectively. The core is your body’s stability system. It is made up of the diaphragm at the top, the pelvic floor at the bottom, the transverse abdominis (TVA) at the front and the multifidus at the back. The core doesn’t automatically return to a functional way of working immediately after birth or, magically, when you reach six weeks postpartum. Often, we need to reteach the postnatal core to work as a team. This is the case whether you gave birth vaginally or via C-section. Let’s take the TVA muscle as an example. This is the deepest of your four abdominal muscles and has attachments to your pelvic floor. As your bump grows, your TVA stretches. It is placed in this lengthened position for some time and, as a result, becomes weakened through pregnancy. Once you’ve given birth, before embarking on vigorous activity, you need to take steps to reclaim its full strength because, without it, the core will have one team member which isn’t pulling its weight, exposing you to a risk of injury or dysfunction.

3. Your bum probably needs a bit of work too. 

After pregnancy, it is very common to have a ‘flat mum bum’. Hormones and changes in alignment cause weakening and lengthening of the gluteals, i.e. the bum muscles. Strong gluteal muscles are very, very important when it comes to running and other high impact exercises. If they are not firing on all cylinders you are more likely to experience low back pain or have issues with your hips, knees and ankles. So, as well as addressing your core muscle strength it is imperative that the gluteal muscles are sufficiently rehabilitated before returning to your more vigorous workouts.

4. The 6-week postnatal check only skims the surface. 

You may be surprised by the brevity of your 6-week check. Resource squeezes mean that GPs have a lot to cover to check on the health of mum and baby in a very short appointment. Be ready to mention anything which doesn’t seem quite right and don’t just assume that not being asked about something means it’s a normal after-effect of childbirth. In particular, be sure to tell your GP if: you are having trouble holding urine, wind or faeces; you have the sensation of something in your vagina; or having sex is painful (and, for the avoidance of doubt, 2013 Elizabeth had not even contemplated having sex at 6 weeks postpartum, but 2018 Elizabeth and Emma are trying to be thorough). Any of these things can indicate the need for further follow-up or onward referral.

 The best way to know how your pelvic floor has been affected by pregnancy and childbirth (whether via C-section or vaginal) is to see a women’s health physiotherapist for a full musculoskeletal and internal examination. A women’s health physiotherapist will look at your alignment, breathing, joint movement, and global muscle strength, as well as assessing your tummy for diastasis recti and checking your scar tissue, if you have any. The internal pelvic floor assessment is pain-free and does not require the use of a speculum. It allows the clinician to assess the condition of your vaginal tissues, identify any pelvic organ prolapse, assess if the pelvic floor is contracting and relaxing and measure just how strong it is. From the assessment, a bespoke treatment plan is made to ensure that you return to optimal health and the activities you enjoy as soon as possible.

Emma did Elizabeth’s postnatal Mummy MOT, and we are all united in our belief that every woman should be seen by a women’s health physiotherapist after having a baby, regardless of symptoms and delivery. You can request a referral from your GP or, if you are happy and able to pay, you can self-refer.

5. There are safe activities you can be doing to help you to build a solid foundation. 

 First and foremost, start your pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible, regardless of how your baby was delivered. The sooner the better (so long as any catheter has been removed). If you had a perineal tear, whatever grade, you should still begin these exercises, as they will promote healing and help you to regain the strength of the pelvic floor. To do your pelvic floor exercises correctly, imagine you are trying to stop the flow of urine while simultaneously stopping passing wind, then squeeze and lift. Try not to breath hold while exercising your pelvic floor; focus on timing the squeeze-and-lift manoeuvre with an exhale, and then allow the entire pelvic floor to relax on the inhale. Do a few repetitions, slowly and intentionally, three times every day. So what about other activities? Walking is a fabulous exercise that you can do as soon as you have the energy. Hill walking or walking on an incline on a treadmill will activate your gluteal muscles, so it’s a great way to begin to combat the flat mum bum discussed above. At 6 weeks, so long as you have stopped bleeding, you can start swimming. If you haven’t been checked for diastasis recti, remove the arm strokes and instead hold a float while kicking the legs. Gentle cycling is also generally suitable, but hold off launching back into spin-type classes, if those are your thing, because they are typically quite vigorous and require good core stability.

 If you hire a personal trainer or go to a Pilates class, check that they are qualified in postnatal exercise prescription, regardless of the fact that you’ve had the sign-off at your postnatal check. Postnatal ladies quite rightly count as a special population, meaning trainers and instructors need to undertake additional training before working with this client group.

With any return to postnatal exercise, the key is to go steady and to take time to build a solid foundation before adding impact or load. Doing something which is too challenging for your current condition will most probably set you back. Serena Williams is a sporting legend. Ultimately, although (in her own words) she felt “super close” to being ready to compete, she recognised that she was not quite where she wanted to be. This kind of patient and compassionate approach to her postnatal body’s physical capabilities and limitations is something we could all learn from.

If you would like to book a Mummy MOT with Emma Brockwell, contact the Halo’s Clinic, Oxted.

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Model Method Online: Less Pretty More Sweaty

Model Method Online: Less Pretty More Sweaty

Fitting it in – How do you make time for for fitness around your kids? Fitness postnatally has been the hardest thing for me to find space for, and also the most challenging change to accept post-children that it’s no longer is a number one priority. I think my loss of fitness has had a huge impact on my sense of identity, feeling like “me”.

Before I had children, I was a roving Pilates teacher. I crossed London east–south–west every day on my bike, sometimes covering over 20 miles in one day, and teaching up to 5 hours a day. When I wasn’t teaching I was working 2 days a week in an office on wellbeing and health books, and cycled to the office in Kings Cross and back – thereby seamlessly fitting exercise into my day so that I didn’t even have to think about it.

It’s only now that this huge chunk of easy cardio training was no longer viable to me once I had a baby that I realised quite how much of an impact it had on my fitness levels, and frankly, how much it easily burnt off everything I ate and drank so that I was slim and fit without ever “dieting” or abstaining from anything.

Cut to 6 years into motherhood and I still am not a dieter or an abstainer…but now I have the sluggish midriff to show for it. In my pre-programme questionnaire I named myself an “unhappy apple” because I feel that I’m carrying an uncomfortable amount of squish around my middle which means that clothes don’t feel right on me.

I got back into teaching Pilates shortly after both boys were born (the unfortunate side-effect of being self-employed, “mat leave” isn’t a thing), and as result I have moved and listened to my body as an intrinsic part of my job. I’ve been dealt a good hand in that my postpartum body hasn’t suffered particular ill-effects from either of my (very different) caesarean birth experiences. I haven’t experienced pelvic floor trauma, my rectus diastasis (abdominal gap) resolved easily with targeted Pilates training and my scar recovery has been challenging but with Pilates rehabilitation it’s been ultimately positive.

But I now work mainly from home, and my cardio exercise is the daily school run. So I haven’t managed to claim back that fitness which was so effortlessly built up in my cycling commute in child-free days. For me it’s just the exhaustion of motherhood which has lent itself to a flat white and chocolate digestive penchant and not having a chance to burn it off – plus turning 40 and therefore possibly it just being a bit harder to shift that extra lethargy once you’ve let it accumulate, that I need to tackle.

Carving it out is the hardest part for me. I’ve always been one who needs accountability in order to stick with anything, because things get so easily derailed as a mum. So when Hollie Grant, award-winning PT and Pilates instructor, and the health and fitness contributing editor at Psychologies magazine, relaunched her Model Method Online this summer, I wanted to give it a shot.

The Model Method Online is pricey, £287 for an 8-week programme, which works out as just over a fiver a day – that’s a magazine and an artisan coffee, or a sandwich from Pret every day, if that’s your regular motherhood nemesis money-haemorrhaging outlet. So it’s the kind of thing that if you’re going to fork out your hard-earned money for, it has to be worth it.

Compared to comparable online programmes, such as Honestly Healthy’s Green & Lean, or the Supercharged Club which is specifically targeted at mums (and which – by their own admission, breaks down to £2.86 a day), it is an elite expensive exercise and nutrition programme to sign up for. So let’s have a look at the bang you get for your buck:

Lifebox: when you sign up you receive a box of goodies which is a very luxurious gift to kick off your programme and makes you feel like you’re entering into a lovely world of wellness, specially curated for you by Hollie. You receive lots of wonderful goodies such as Pilates socks from Sweaty Betty, Energy Burst roll on from NEOM, Magnesium muscle spray, and lots of yummy snacks and healthy eating treats such as chocolate granola from Rock My Bowl. You get 3 affirmations cards which are a lovely reminder of how positive exercise can be in your life. I’m a huge fan of affirmations, I have a set of Yesmum cards which I refer to every day without fail, so this was a nice touch. You also receive Hollie’s book Nourish which was the companion to the previous incarnation of the Model Method, which contains recipes and healthy eating tips and information to carry you through, plus a 6-week food diary. My absolutely faves from this box of treats were the NEOM roll on, which I use every day and keep in my handbag, and the book Eat, Sweat, Play by the Guardian journalist Anna Kessel, which was insightful, informative and inspiring about the role sport has to play in making women feel empowered and strong in life. Every woman, and every man, should read this book. I loved it and it made me think, laugh and cry.

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This programme champions the very clear (but usually ignored in fitness aesthetics and weight-loss programmes) link between physical and mental health. The refreshing part of the Model Method Online is that, despite what the name of the programme might suggest, the aim isn’t to make us all look like models, but actually to make us more energetic and happier in our daily life. Not just through exercise “sculpting” us into beautiful goddesses, but from tuning into our mental health day to day and helping to sculpt our minds, enabling us to think better, therefore feel better.

There are two ways that the method does this. The first one is the 2-month subscription to Headspace that you get when you sign up. If you haven’t heard of Headspace, it’s “meditation made simple”, and offers guided meditations for various requirements. Now, cards on the table: although I tried the Headspace app out it wasn’t really for me and I ended up somehow not using it very much, as I already have a meditation practice in place and have done for a while, which I am fond of in terms of its ritual and how it generally helps me to keep my mind on an even keel. But, I had a long discussion with a couple of friends about Headspace and one of them absolutely swears by it and says that it has revolutionised her life, whenever she feels an anxiety trigger she listens to a guided meditation and it gets her out of it.

Secondly, once you’re signed up you have access to lots of lovely blog content exclusively for members, which focus on various aspects of mental health such as anxiety, confidence, the science behind meditation, and why exercise is so beneficial to your mental health. Plus articles about nutrition, sleep, and generally Hollie’s palpable enthusiasm about exercise and why it’s so wonderful for your mental and physical health really shines through loud and clear.

The exercises

You get 6 videos, which means one “rest” day a week. I initially assumed that you would get different videos every week or 2 weeks, but that’s not the case. You complete a questionnaire part way through the programme and your programme is possibly adjusted according to your answers to that. The advantage of having the same videos over the 8 weeks is that you can become familiar with them, and benchmark against how you did at the beginning of the programme versus over the weeks. The possible downside…? Maybe for the money you’re paying it would be nice to have more variety with the exercises over the weeks…?

I was a newbie to HIIT, and I’m a definite convert. The exercise routines are fun, and doable amount of time, being 15 and 30 minutes long – no excuses! I found myself looking forward to the HIIT workouts and there was a real sense of playtime, and accomplishment once I was finished and all grinning and sweaty. My son came and joined me on a number of occasions too. it’s charged up my mojo and made me remember how much I love jumping around for the helluvit. I was shocked by quite how unfit I was when I first started, and proud by how my fitness improved over the weeks. So it has really changed my outlook in terms of what exercise I feel is accessible for me, and made me more brave about what kind of exercise I might try out in the future.

Worth the money?

Well – as I said, I always need an accountability otherwise I allow things to get pushed down the to do list. if you’re spending this kind of money, you’re going to want to make it worth it, and you will only get out of it what you put in. I would say that it’s definitely effective and magic if you DO do the work. I had a couple of weeks where my programme was stymied by my diabolical sleepless children and illness, and I started fretting a bit about not being able to do it not only because I had been on such a good roll and was feeling so much fitter and more energised, but also because of the precious money wasted. So that was slightly bad luck and bad timing. If I had dedicatedly stuck to the 6-day workouts for the whole time, there is no doubt in my mind that I would be glowing, toned, energised and slender of waist (my waist was my target area). As it is, my Pilates mojo has been stoked, I have used a lot of the HIIT ideas alongside the Pilates with my sixthformer girls class and they’ve loved it: so even if I haven’t been able to follow the programme to the letter and lost the inches around my waist, I have got a huge amount out of it and will look forward to trying out a lot of the HIIT moves from now on in my own workouts – I have preordered Hollie’s book in case I need a bit of a reminder.

So, generally a big TICK from me. Hollie is a gorgeous advocate for her method. Her enthusiasm is infectious, she looks amazing, she really wants you to be mindful of a holistic view of fitness and not just buy into the aesthetics that some fitness pros (particularly on Instagram) would want you to be inspired by. She is lovely, and knowledgeable, and her workouts are challenging and interesting, and, most importantly, fun.

 

HIIT me baby one more time – Model Method Online #2

HIIT me baby one more time – Model Method Online #2

JOY – so what did you used to do for “exercise” when you were little? Do you remember what you did to “keep fit” when you were a kid? I’d imagine that instead of “keeping fit” you just “were normally active”, you used to run, climb, jump, skip, play space rockets just for the helluvit? Am I right? When was the last time you played space rockets just for the helluvit and actually broke into a sweat?

Human beings were built for movement. We are supposed to climb, twist, jump, roll, squat in our daily activities. We are designed to walk for miles and miles a day. We are fairly unique in the animal kingdom for being capable of a huge range of physical activities, from climbing trees and swimming to trekking over mountains and riding horses. And yet the modern adult human has a fraction of the strength that his/her prehistoric counterpart would have needed in their every day existence. Simply because we let it go to waste. Our muscular and skeletal structure is exactly the same. Modern life has made us comfortable, given us remote controls, escalators and email, and has enabled us not to have to get up and move so much. But that has had hugely detrimental effects on our physical and mental health.

One of the things that I most love about the Model Method Online is that it has a focus on physical and mental health equally, and a full acknowledgement that the two are inextricably linked. This is not a programme about honing your waist, toning your butt or losing weight, although there is likely to be a side-effect of that happening – it is not in the quest for a “perfect body” but instead in the intention for a stronger, happier you. What’s not to love about that?

I was really surprised by how much I loved the HIIT. Hollie Grant, the Pilates PT, has blogged about the Top 5 Misconceptions about HIIT and I have to confess I really wasn’t that keen on the idea of HIITing myself up. I felt like it was a bit aggressive and too jumpy. I felt like maybe I was a bit too old for HIIT. I knew that I might be a bit too lazy. And I was a bit worried about my dodgy knee  – basically this is the soundtrack in my head of the SELF SABOTAGING GREMLIN. Do you have such a gremlin? I bet you do. Next time you hear its voice, why don’t you question it rather than listening to it and allowing it to dominate your actions?

The first time I did the Model Method HIIT workout video, I’m not going to lie, it kicked my arse. I was absolutely knackered and sweating buckets. I was slightly malcoordinated and couldn’t keep with all of the moves. But I LOVED it.  It tapped into those slightly crazy games you used to play at primary school where you just run and jump without any particular rules. And you have to run to the water fountain, gobble up your water as your breath is rapid and your cheeks are red. And you feel amazing and joyful but as you’re a kid you don’t even know that that’s not a regular state of mind any more once you’re in the adult world of mortgages and President Trump.

You get 7 workout videos: 3 30-minute SWEAT, 2 15-minute STRENGTHEN, 1 30-minute Pilates core workout. There is a STRETCH sequence that you can tag onto any of the above – but Hollie recommends that if you have time you add it onto the HIIT workout. Honestly I rarely had time to do a full 45 minutes and so I used to do the stretch sequence throughout the day when I could fit it in.

I found that the HIIT workouts left me feeling elated and I regularly laughed or found myself beaming widely without even thinking twice, simply because it was FUN. Yes, there were some moves that my dodgy knee didn’t love, but I could avoid those without skipping the whole workout.

So, HIIT gets a massive TICK from me. Thank you Hollie.

Be Strong, Be Happy, Be Healthy: the Model Method Online #1

Be Strong, Be Happy, Be Healthy: the Model Method Online #1

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If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly looking for ways that you can supercharge/begin a “fitness routine” around an already chockablock timetable involving juggling children, life, home, work. Since having Freddie, I’ve really struggled to get back into the fitness groove: I did the London Triathlon when he was 6 months old – I had signed up because after my first birth experience I really lost all my fitness mojo, had put on a lot of weight and had a very traumatic birth experience which meant I had to start from rock bottom in terms of building up any physical strength, and I became incredibly disheartened at how hard it was. So I wanted to avoid sinking into a similar slump second time round… plus I’m the kind of person who really needs something to give me an accountability framework for my exercise otherwise it too easily is pushed down my list, and I listen to the exhausted self-saboteur on my shoulder who whispers “you’re too tired”, “you haven’t got time”, “you’ve got too many other things to do to take 15 minutes out to do a workout”, “you’ve got other things you could be doing”. Sure enough, having signed up for a triathlon meant that I really did drag my breastfeeding-heavy boobs out most evenings for a swim or a jog when Freddie was little.

But, my hormones had compromised my joints and I probably was a bit too tired for triathlon training in reality, and I ended up injuring my knee – an injury that still plagues me now,  very VERY annoying. And since the triathlon, the self-saboteur has been back in force. In some ways it’s easier to get out of the house when your baby is really small. Once there’s a child and a rampaging toddler, time seems to be sucked into a vortex much more easily. No time, no energy, can’t do it…

Sigh.

While postnatally it’s true, you really do need to listen to your body and give yourself a break if you’re tired, and you MUST be properly checked out for diastasis recti – abdominal separation – and pelvic floor issues – it’s really NOT normal or ok to be in fear of weeing while you exercise – before you start an exercise programme. But you also need to make sure that your inner sloth isn’t talking over your inner gazelle. Exercise is so so important for your mental health, for your energy, for your positivity, for your sense of self and confidence. It encourages you to breathe, it gives you space mentally, and physically if you exercise outdoors. It really is an elixir. But way too easy not to prioritise.

Freddie will be 3 in January, so I’d be hard pushed to get anyone to consider me “postnatal” (although, I personally believe that if you’ve ever had a child, you are “postnatal” in terms of exercise due to the massive demands that pregnancy, birth, mothering place on your body), and I’ve been feeling really low about how I am still so stodgy and can’t seem to make a fitness programme stick effortlessly into my life.

I teach Pilates, and every day I focus on my movement, I do probably more yoga and Pilates day to day than the average mum, and I am evangelical about the fact that EVERYONE should do Pilates and take Pilates into their regular movement patterns to overturn the demands and imbalances of modern life. So I know I’m not starting from nothing. But I am also incredibly lazy and I let myself get away with the bare minimum effort without someone standing over me. I’m not a runner (I could blame the knee but actually that’s now just a good excuse). I tend to find excuses to avoid breaking up a sweat. But why? I used to love playing hockey and football, tennis, anything that involved running and teamwork at school. Swimming – I think I was a fish in a former life. Horseriding was my happy activity. Play. I used to love to play. Where’s the play in adult life? Exercise seems to be a TO DO, a SHOULD rather than a WANT TO. Something that you have to “get over with”.

And fitting it into life effortlessly…..well, maybe that’s the nub: it’s an unrealistic demand. It can’t really. be effortless – what on earth that is worth having has been effortlessly gained? Hmm. So, it was time to put my money where my waist is, and see if I could find a new habit and fire for regular aerobic exercise through committing to the Model Method Online.

Check out how I got on with the programme and whether it managed to stoke those fitness fires or whether I’m still a tired ol’ sloth lounging in my sleep-deprived inertia…..

Flexible Strength: your pelvic floor in pregnancy and beyond

Flexible Strength: your pelvic floor in pregnancy and beyond

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The pelvic floor: you’ve heard about it, you’re told to “exercise” it, you know it’s there…but it’s a little bit intangible and ethereal. What does it do? How should it feel? How do I know if I’m doing it right? Pelvic floor awareness is the most important thing to discover and fine-tune here. Yes we need to strengthen, but we also need to have the ability to release and be flexible. And, above all, you need to BREATHE, fully and deeply. Pelvic floor exercises without attention to the breath are basically null and void.

We need to be aware and be able to control the pelvic floor muscles, rather than simply make them “strong”. Imagine an accordion: if it was squeezed up tight permanently it wouldn’t be able to open, close, undulate and make use of all the air within it to make beautiful music. The tallest buildings on earth look fixed and stable, but have flexibility built in to their structure, so that they can bend and weave with the elements rather than breaking. This flexible strength is what we need to aim for with our pelvic floor.

Pelvic Floor Awareness

Sit upright on a chair. Your feet are hip-width apart, with your weight evenly released into your feet and sit bones.

  1. Breathe in as you lengthen your spine and soften your shoulders.
  2. Breathe out and softly lift your back passage, as if you’re trying to stop breaking wind. Continue this lifting energy and bring it to the front, towards your pubic bone as if you’re trying to stop the flow of pee. Draw these muscles up and in, lifting from the back forward and up. We want to try and locate the full breadth of the muscles from the back to the front, imagine like flower petals folding up and into a bud, evenly from all sides. You may feel your lower belly lifting up as well.
  3. Maintaining this engagement, breathe. Ensure that you can still breathe fully and wide into the sides of the ribcage, while continuing to lift into your centre. There should be no bracing.

Watchpoints

  • Check your shoulders are relaxed, and scan your body for any tension as you breathe: jaw, neck, buttocks – soft and relaxed.
  • If you lose your connection, that’s totally normal so don’t feel frustrated, simply take a breath and start again. With practice, it will become easier and more natural.
  • The key is a soft engagement rather than a stiff fixed one. Make sure that you can still breathe, and your torso isn’t rigid.
  • Please don’t practise this while sitting on the loo and stop midflow while actually having a pee. You might introduce the chance of a UTI that way.

Help! I can’t feel it!

If you really can’t find your pelvic floor at all: try sucking your thumb. Or, place both hands palms down on a table while you’re sitting down. Press down on the table, you should feel a natural lift of the pelvic floor muscles. Persevere with these pelvic floor awareness exercises, and you should begin to find the mental connection which will allow you to feel them – it’s a subtle sensation, not “obvious” like tensing your bicep muscles, so it may simply be that you need to find that mindful connection to your body, and relax into it a bit. Also try getting stuck in with your hands to actually find where the muscle attaches: feel your sit bones with your fingers, trace your fingers around your pelvis and imagine the pelvic floor as a hammock spanning the whole pelvic cavity. Having a tactile approach while you experiment with finding your centre may help you to connect to the engagement.

If you still struggle after giving it a real go (it will take a bit of regular practice) – and particularly if this is not your first baby and you’ve found pelvic floor sensation tricky since your previous birth – it’s worth going to a women’s health physio to see if a hands-on practitioner can give you some pointers.

Pelvic elevator

Sitting on a chair, feet hip-width apart, flat on the floor. Release your weight evenly on both sitting bones.

Depending on what stage of pregnancy you are at ­– you can perform this exercise throughout – you could also do this while lying down on the floor, but it is sometimes easier to locate the pelvic floor initially if you are upright, as you feel the sensations more strongly when working on lifting directly upwards, against gravity.

Imagine that your pelvic floor is a lift in a building. We have ground floor (your pelvic floor at rest), level 1, 2 and 3. There is also a basement floor below ground floor.

  1. Breathe in, wide into your sides and lower ribs.
  2. Breathe out, and connect to your centre, back to front – visualize closing the lift doors. It may help to imagine the sit bones drawing towards each other (without clenching your buttocks).
  3. Breathe in, relax but maintain that soft engagement.
  4. Breathe out as you imagine the lift travelling to the first floor, lifting your engagement higher.
  5. Breathe in to pause at the first floor (keeping the lift doors closed).
  6. Breathe out, and take the lift to the second floor.
  7. Breathe in, pause, staying at the second floor.
  8. Breathe out and take the lift up to the top floor, full lift up through your centre as far as you can take it without bracing or tensing.
  9. Breathe in and soften your shoulders and jaw as you hold the connection.
  10. Breathe out as you lower down through to the next floor slowly, pausing to breathe in, then lower to the next floor.
  11. When you reach the ground floor, breathe in and soften your muscles as you lower to the basement floor. Imagine opening the doors of the lift and release your pelvic floor muscles completely (possibly best go to the loo before you try this one, just in case!).
  12. Slide the doors closed once more as you breathe out, and repeat the whole exercise up to 3 times.

The beauty of this exercise is that you can do it anywhere, any time. It is also very calming, so if you’re feeling stressed at work it’s a good way of tuning into your breath and “taking a moment” without anyone realizing that that’s what you’re doing.

Pelvic floor, 1, 2, 3 squeeze

This exercises gives you something to squeeze, which offers a bit of feedback for the pelvic floor engagement. A great way of enhancing your pelvic floor engagement if you’re struggling to locate the muscles. You can use either a pillow, or a Pilates small ball. It is a great way of finding the isolation of the pelvic floor muscles as opposed to gripping the inner thighs or buttocks.

First trimester/early pregnancy (until 16 weeks): begin lying down in the Relaxation Position, a ball or pillow between your thighs/knees. Feet are hip-width apart.

Later pregnancy (after 16 weeks): sit upright, feet flat on the floor, either on a chair or on a Swiss ball, and place a ball or pillow between your knees.

 

  1. Breathe in, to lengthen the spine and prepare.
  2. Breathe out and connect to your centre (see Pelvic Floor Control).
  3. Breathe in, maintain that connection.
  4. Breathe out and count to 3, gently squeeze the ball/pillow, while holding the pelvic floor engagement.
  5. Breathe in and let go of the pelvic floor engagement, but keep squeezing the ball/pillow.
  6. Breathe out, count to 3 and release the squeeze on the pillow.
  7. Breathe in, scan your body for tension, relax the features of your face and your jaw.
  8. Breathe out, connect to your centre, and breathe in to maintain.
  9. As you breathe out, count to 3, squeeze your pillow to activate the inner thighs. This time also squeeze your buttock muscles, and feel like your whole pelvic area is “switched on”.
  10. Breathe in, try to release the buttock and inner thigh engagement, but maintain your pelvic floor lift. Notice the difference in the internal and the “external” engagement here.
  11. Breathe out and fully release all your muscles.
  12. Repeat the whole process up to 4 times.

Watchpoints

  • Notice whether you’re frowning or clenching your jaw while performing this exercise. Try to soften and release. If it helps, exhale as if you’re slowly blowing a candle out, and that should allow you to relax your jaw fully.
  • You can change the breathing pattern if you like (swapping the in breath timings with the out breath): but make sure you always breathe.

Emergency stop

The pelvic floor has to be strong for endurance, the long metaphorical marathon. But it also has to have the power for sprinting. This exercise develops the “fast twitch” muscle fibres, which are responsible for those shorter bursts of movement and energy. For example, chicken wings contain lots of fast-twitch fibres, enabling the chicken to take flight in an emergency – fast twitch fibres are quick to respond, but also fatigue after a short burst of energy.

We need to train the pelvic floor both for stamina and speed: it needs the fast-twitch capability for rapid response when you cough, laugh, sneeze or jump around, as well as when your baby is making its descent out into the world. During late pregnancy and in the postnatal period, stress incontinence is a common issue. If your rapid response team doesn’t get mobilised soon enough, simple acts such as sneezing or coughing can cause a bit of a nightmarep. So consider this your rapid response team training: this exercise is a good one to have in your back pocket to train your pelvic floor to be robust for those “emergencies” which require pelvic floor power without a moment to lose!

You can perform this in any position, so practise in whatever position you feel comfortable, and ideally try it out in a number of different positions. Practising in lots of different positions will help you to find the muscle memory for it to be effective in your daily life.

  1. Breathing deeply and normally, on an outbreath quickly lift your pelvic floor up and in tightly, to full engagement.
  2. Hold for about 5 seconds, taking deep long breaths.
  3. Release on an in breath.

Repeat around 6 times.

Pelvic floor, deep belly breathing

Suitable for: all stages of pregnancy

In our society we’re conditioned to hold our bellies in – you know you do it, when you’re having a photo taken, or when you’re reminded of your posture we just suck our tummies in tight. Often all this does is lead to a lot of tension around the abdominals and pelvic floor and temporarily push your internal organs up and in, rather than creating any useful strength or muscle balance. Being pregnant can be a tricky emotional time letting go of your semblance of control of your tummy and its (sometimes alarmingly overnight) growth in size. This exercise allows you to connect to your belly through your breath, and fully relax all of the muscles around your abdomen and your pelvic floor. It’s a wonderful way of calming body and mind, so it’s perfect for all stages of pregnancy (for late pregnancy, sitting up bolstered by pillows may be a better position).

It’s a great way of preparing for your labour, you can tap into this calm meditative state, and use the breathing technique during your contractions.

 

Early pregnancy and postnatal: start lying on your back, head on a small cushion, knees bent, arms relaxed with hands on the belly.

Later pregnancy (or early, if prefer): sit against a wall, surrounded by cushions. Soles of the feet together, knees apart. NB if you’re suffering from PGP  you may be more comfortable with your legs in parallel and outstretched, with a cushion underneath your knees.

 

  1. Lying with your eyes closed, release the weight of your body into the floor underneath you. Feel the weight of your head, ribcage, pelvis.
  2. Bring your awareness to your breath. Initially, just notice it, without changing it. Notice the in breath, the out breath, the space in between. Notice whether there is a rhythm, a consistent length of in breath versus out breath.
  3. Begin to bring a pattern to your breath. Breathe in through the nose for a count of 7, and out through the mouth for a count of 11. Let the breath sigh out through the lips as if you’re fogging a window in front of you.
  4. Bring your awareness to your belly, and your hands resting there, picture your baby in your belly. If your bump is bigger, notice if your baby is awake, moving, what sensations you can feel internally and externally through the hands.
  5. Breathe in and notice how your hands rise and the belly inflates with the breath.
  6. As you breathe out, notice the fall in your abdomen as the breath recedes.
  7. See whether you can channel your breath deep down towards the belly and pelvis, imagine it like a soft wave travelling down the body and washing away any tension.
  8. On the outbreath, feel the belly soften and imagine the pelvis wide and open, and completely relaxed.
  9. Practise releasing the jaw by changing the sounds of your outbreath. Experiment with a “ssshhhhhhh” sound, or a long audible sigh. If you feel a bit silly doing this, try to just relax into it a bit and remember you’re on your own, no one is watching or judging.

 

Model Method Online: Week 1

Model Method Online: Week 1

Week 1 of the Model Method Online – tick!

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It’s amazing how even just a week of upping your exercise routine can start to make you feel like you’re changing and energising. This week I have worked out 5 times rather than the 6 I was assigned – I skipped two evenings because I was working, such is the freelance self-employed mum juggle – but I did go swimming too which was a bonus on top of the model method workouts. There’s a ripple effect – commit to a small amount and in time your vitality will ensure that you actually start doing a little more.

The workouts are a combination of HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training – basically bursts of sweaty powerful movement followed by periods of lower intensity Pilates mathwork and movement, and dynamic Pilates. My abs have been burning with each session – something I haven’t felt for a long time as I clearly simply don’t push myself very hard when working out on my own, and I haven’t been able to find a Pilates class near me that works in my life. As much as I adore yoga, I feel like it’s an entirely different workout experience to really feeling the burn in your muscles with Pilates. It reminds me of when I was 18 and as a diversion from A-level stress I found solace every evening in doing the Y-Plan workouts which are delightfully dated in appearance now (think bright and shiny blue and pink lycra high-legged leotards, nice…) . Short workouts (15-30 minutes), which make you feel like you’ve worked hard but haven’t involved much more time than it normally takes to faff around making a cup of tea while glassily scrolling on social media.

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I feel like my Pilates mojo is being fired up and I’m looking forward to each session, even though those sessions are generally having to be done after the boys’ bedtime, which is prime flopping time usually (pre-teaching or working in the evening) . If there’s a sense of accountability – i.e. you’ve signed up for a programme, or a future event such as a 10k, you really do have something else to be responsible for which means that you’re more likely to stick to it.

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In the next week I’m going to start to focus more on the Nourish part of the programme. This week I’ve been purely focusing on the exercise. It’s a well-known life coaching practice that change should be implemented in small steps: don’t try changing everything in one go as you’re only setting yourself up for failing. It’s also true that the self-saboteur may start to rear its ugly head…oh I’m too tired for exercise tonight….I can’t see a difference so I’m just going to quit….I don’t have time to do it this evening… But pushing through the difficult moments can mean that ultimately the habits you establish are going to be stronger and more long-lived. One of the motivational emails that Hollie sends out to participants this week said

“Do something today that your future self will be grateful for”

So it’s all about delaying gratification, to think ahead about why you are doing this. What is it that you want out of it? For me: to feel energised, to feel more positive have more vitality to deal with the general chaos of life with small children with a bit more grace and humour. And, I do want to whittle my waist and not feel so heavy.

So I decided to have a big push on the exercise side of things before even looking at my eating habits. And generally once you’re focusing on your movement, you naturally begin to seek more nourishing practices when it comes to your eating. For me: my eating habits revolve around eating mindlessly (hoovering up my children’s leftovers), and not planning effectively therefore not having the ingredients for the healthiest meals to hand. Step by step I’m creating change in my habits, and I’m hoping to set myself up for long-term vitality. Looking forward to seeing what Week 2 holds!

This programme is pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and challenging my ability to stick with something until it really is ingrained as a new, healthy, positive habit for life.

DOMS – help! My muscles are trying to kill me!

DOMS – help! My muscles are trying to kill me!

Have you ever started a new exercise regime full of enthusiasm, perhaps a running programme or a new dynamic yoga class, only to be floored in the days after by feeling crippled by muscles that you didn’t even know existed aching every time you breathe.

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Two days into my Model Method Online programme and my obliques are on fire, my triceps are feeling pleasingly tender and my bum is definitely aware of having done some work. It’s kind of like a light has been switched on in a house that has been in the dark for a bit as its owners were on holiday.

The muscle soreness and tightness you experience, the pain that makes you make weird noises with every minuscule movement, has a proper term: delayed onset muscle soreness, or ‘DOMS’. This aching body usually causes you to feel one of two ways:

You either feel virtuous and smug that you’ve clearly worked hard enough for your muscles to ache, and enjoy every wince you have to make when you twist, bend and move (and if you’re anything like me, use that as an excuse to have some ice cream – need to work on that…)… or you’re in so much pain that you slither painfully back to the sofa vowing never to do another star jump again.

It’s not necessarily just a conventional workout that will bring on DOMS – I remember a particularly brilliant wedding ceilidh party which involved dancing for about 4 hours straight, and I could barely walk for a week afterwards. Happy sore feet.

I’m not a physio, so my “science bit” isn’t going to be much cop: but essentially, when you work out to build muscle, you basically have to challenge your muscle to the point of fatigue until it tears, and in rebuilding itself it will gain strength. But the tearing of the muscle fibres is likely to be an element in the cause of DOMS, which is usually felt around 48 hours after the activity in question.

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If it’s really bad and you’re doubled up like an old lady, there are a number of things you can try to relieve the soreness temporarily, including a relaxing aromatherapy bath, stretching, massage, deep breathing….

The most effective thing in my experience though, is movement. Even if it makes you initially call out in pain, moving rather than succumbing to the very real temptation to take up residence on a sofa for the foreseeable will mean that you don’t stiffen up entirely, and the right type of movement will bring balance back into the body and make sure that the muscle pain isn’t causing you to compensate with other muscles in your daily movement, with the risk of causing yourself injury or other aches in the process.

Make the exercise light and gentle if need be, because your technique might be compromised by your pain: follow your gut and listen to your body. I’ve always found that wherever you’re aching, you can’t go wrong with a restorative session of Pilates: it’s the perfect balance of strength and flexibility, massaging your spine and encouraging circulation which will get you back on track in no time. Repeating the exact HIIT session that put you there in the first place might not be quite what the doctor ordered. Give your body a rest where it’s specifically aching, but make sure that it doesn’t seize up by keeping the machine oiled.

Don’t let DOMS put you off exercise. A friend of mine said her mum was told to take up gentle exercise by her doctor, and she was so horrified by being in post-exercise pain after a swimming aerobics session that she determined it must be dangerous, shunned the gym for good and went back to her sedentary habits – it simply didn’t occur to her that her body might just be waking up and rejigging its fibres for a new active existence ahead.

Manageable levels of DOMS is absolutely normal, and is felt by everyone, even elite athletes, when starting a new exercise or upping the challenge a notch. You should feel your muscles have worked after a 24-hour period, but not so much that you’re screaming in pain unable to lift your little finger.  It doesn’t last long: you should expect a dose of DOMS to be leaving you after 5 days or so. Then it’s back to your HIIT to do it all again!

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Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 13 – Nicky Clinch

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 13 – Nicky Clinch

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Balance. Wholeness. Purpose. These are the three overarching themes which greet you when you visit Nicky Clinch’s website. Comforting words in themselves, which reflect her mission as a Transformational Life Coach, Macrobiotic Nutritionist and Chef. Her Instagram feed is full of inspiration and deliciousness for heart, body and mind.

She shares her wellness journey and tools with me here. Enjoy. Let me know what you think!

Tell me about yourself, what is the “day job”, and how did you come to do what you’re doing?

My official work title is Transformational Life Coach, Macrobiotic Counsellor & Chef.  Which I know is the longest work title in history and makes me giggle often!

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I am also a teacher, public speaker and a qualified Specialist Healing Cook, which means I am qualified to cook for people who are trying to naturally heal from illness.

So as you can imagine, my day job gets pretty versatile and certainly keeps things interesting.

In any given day I may be giving one-to-one Counseling/ Coaching Sessions, teaching one of my Being in Heart Workshops or my 6-week Feed Your Inner Warrior Programme.  Creating Recipes or writing, either for my website or for other brands. I now have an amazing team of 3 beautiful powerful ladies that work with me, and we are just starting to build some urban and international retreats, which I can’t wait to share with everyone soon.

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How did I come to do what I do?  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  When I look back on everything I realise I couldn’t have ended up doing anything else, I do what I do because I can’t NOT do it.  It is just what I am meant to do.

After about 15 years of recovery from my own drug and alcohol addiction and eating disorders, working hard to overcome some very destructive habits and patterns, I came to a crossroads in my life: my step-father died very suddenly.  Just one morning he didn’t wake up, and it broke my heart.  I came away from his funeral with a real sense of awareness that my life wasn’t permanent and could end at any moment.  I decided then and there I wanted to do something that really meant something to me, and started looking into going back to school to retrain as a healer in some form.  I ended up training at The International School of Macrobiotics to qualify as a Macrobiotic Chef, Counsellor and Coach.

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Since then I regularly continue my training and growth. I even flew myself off to Peru back in 2009 and spent 5 weeks working in the jungle with Plant Medicine, Ayahuasca and Shamans. I can never stop learning and growing in myself, and the more I do that the more I can help others.

Do you find that modern life is increasing people’s sense of disconnect with their bodies? Tell me about the 3 Pillars of your philosophy. 

Absolutely.  I think in this day of social media and phones, Facebook and iPads we are more and more disconnecting from our own bodies and living much more from our heads.  To connect with others through a screen is instant gratification, but energetically can really disengage the actual physical body and heart.

I mean we’ve all done it right?  Scrolled and scrolled for hours on our screens. There is nothing more eye-opening is there than putting the phones down and turning the screens off and just coming back to being in our own bodies.  Connecting: connecting to our own breath, our own feelings and needs, through our own conversations, our own hearts, through touch and actual person-to-person connection.

That is why I love to teach people my three pillars because they all bring you back into the body and to begin really ‘being’ with all that lies there.  In my experience the real transformative shifts can happen only once someone is really back home in their own body.  To feel and be, to breathe and be present, to reconnect to where the energy is stuck in the body or where it is flowing.

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My three pillars are simple, but not necessarily easy.

  1. Conscious Cooking – Introducing wholefood cooking back into your life. Not only reconnecting to natural seasonal produce which allows us to reconnect to nature and the environment we live in, but the cooking itself slows us down.  There is a difference between throwing a meal together and cooking.  To really cook can be simple, it doesn’t need to be cordon bleu, but it forces us to be back in our bodies and back in the moment.  To cut and prep veg, to stir a simmering pot, to create a nourishing meal which we will then feed ourselves with.  It slows us down back into our earth energy and our body and can be very grounding and nurturing.
  2. Relationship to Body & Movement – Moving the body regularly or daily. You’d be surprised how often we ‘exercise’ in a way that we use it to disengage our body.  Trust me I did it for years in my eating disorder days.  Running on the treadmill for hours so that I didn’t have to feel anything.  What I’m talking about in this pillar is to spend time each day to be present in our own body, to move it, stretch it, be connecting to our breath.  To be in relationship with our own body so that we are not strangers to each other.
  3. Emotional & Spiritual Wellbeing – This one for some reason tends to get missed out the most, and yet to me seems to be one of the most important. But it is our emotional wellbeing and spiritual wellbeing that tends to dictate everything else. If we are bypassing this part we are disengaging from ourselves.  But if we can really allow ourselves to feel again, to be present and available for our emotional needs and spiritual callings, then we can really begin to feel much more empowered in this relationship we have with ourselves and begin to feel much more peaceful and joyful in our lives.  What’s the point in being physically healthy if we are full of anxiety all day underneath, right?


What are your own non-negotiable tools within your personal mental health/vitality toolkit?

Since becoming a mamma things that used to be non-negotiable for me have now had to become more flexible!  Any mother reading this will understand that!

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What is non-negotiable is this constant inner dialogue and check in I have with myself each day to stay connected to where I really am and what I may be needing.  Each day may be different: some days I may need to get up early and meditate, do yoga, journal, other days I may really need to negotiate a lie-in with my hubby.

Regular tools I always ALWAYS come back to and are touchstones for me are cooking something nourishing, getting on my yoga mat or moving my body, journaling, meditation and sharing my heart honestly with someone I trust (friend or hubby).

The biggie: How do you balance work/life/motherhood and family? 

The honest answer is each day is really different and there is NO perfect answer to this.  There is a piece of advice that I was given when I went back to work as a mother that really helped me:

“The more you really own who you truly are Nicky and the more you take care of yourself, the better example you are setting for you daughter”  
I was told this when I went back to work and I was racked with ‘mothers-guilt’ for not only going back to work but actually LOVING my work.  I kept feeling guilty whenever I needed to take time to take care of myself or whenever I got excited about starting a new project that inspired me.  When I was told this advice I finally relaxed.  I surrendered to the fact that I personally am a woman that both loves my work and loves my daughter.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Owning who I am, taking good care of myself gives me the opportunity to teach my daughter how to also be a girl/woman who follows her heart and takes care of her needs.

And so the balance of work/life/motherhood changes each day depending on what needs to most attention.  One rule is when I’m with my daughter I try to be fully available with her and not half in my work, and when I’m working I try to be fully available with that too.

And when I need to take a bit of time to take care of myself I actually explain it to my daughter telling her why and that it’s important to me, and she understands.  One thing I do want to say though is I couldn’t do any of this without the support and care of my amazing husband who is a great father and is always supportive to hold the fort if I have to work long hours.

To connect more with Nicky, head over to her website www.nickyclinch.com or enroll for one of her amazing transformational workshops:

Being In Heart is taking place Friday 15th September and her next Feed Your Inner Warrior 6 Wk Program starts Thursday 14th September.  Click here for more info.

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Diastasis whatsi? How to get rid of the “mum tum”

Diastasis whatsi? How to get rid of the “mum tum”

I was in two minds about the heading “get rid of” the mum tum because I’m all about celebrating and embracing mum hood and all its weird and wonderful remnants in your body and soul. The lovely Beccy Hands, doula and massage therapist and co-founder of the maternal nurturing package The Mother Box (hint hint, would love one of these one day….), told me that once she worked with some midwives in Latin America. One day they were talking about the “love lines” of pregnancy and the UK contingent asked her what they were on about. When it transpired that these love lines were what we referred to as stretch marks the Mexican midwives were horrified – “such ugly language!”

Imagine if we reframed all our pregnancy bodily etchings in a positive light rather than berated ourselves for not being “perfect”. Just imagine that sweet sweet utopia for a moment. How are your love lines?

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Mum tum: this is the second part in Finding Mama Mojo. The pelvic floor and the abdominals are the muscles most directly compromised by pregnancy. And yet without the tools to know what on earth is going on down there, it’s no wonder we’re left adrift and feeling slightly off kilter sometimes years postnatally.

In my personal experience, there are two types of mum tum. There is the mum tum that is nurtured through months and years of child-related biscuit eating/leftover fish finger scoffing/exhausted carbo loading, not drinking enough water, not doing enough (cough, any) cardio exercise and a bit too much reliance on the “wine o’clock” ritual to get you through the heavy days. This is the mum tum that sits softly atop perfectly decent muscular strength and hides away the tone that you have in your muscles in a cushion of weary comfortable(not comfortable) habit. Sometimes happily so, if a chocolate biscuit is not worth swapping for a tall glass of water and some star jumps in your eyes, then so be it. And in that case there is no need to go about doing anything about it, until the point when you’re feeling it’s not so fun. This is the type of mum tum I have. IMG_4348

The other type of mum tum is the type where, even months and years after being pregnant you feel that your belly is still vaguely 4-months pregnant-looking. People ask you when you’re due. Or, maybe you’re very lean or muscular and don’t look pregnant at all but every time you get out of bed there’s a weird alien doming in your stomach which makes you wonder what on earth is going on in there but you’re sure it’ll probably go away soon. This is the type of mum tum which really needs to be looked at. This is diastasis recti.

Diastasis whatsi? Is that a made up word?

Diastasis recti is the perfectly normal and to be expected occurrence of the abdominal “six pack” muscle separating to accommodate your growing bump. The rectus abdominis is attached down the centre by connecting tissue called the Linea Alba. This connective tissue stretches during pregnancy to allow room for the baby to expand, and the sides of the muscle release away from each other. It’s basically like unzipping your coat to create more space: your belly muscle unzips at the front and allows your baby to expand into that room. What an amazing design the human body is! Incredible.

The only problem is, sometimes the tissue heals and the muscles can close back together naturally without you having to do anything. All done, and you’re none the wiser. But sometimes they don’t, the gap remains and the tone behind the linea alba is left sponge-like and with the strength of blancmange in your core.

I have had mums come to my class years after having had their babies who are still unknowingly suffering from this. It’s important to find out whether you have it, and there is always something you can and should do to investigate strengthening. Sit ups are not the answer and can make the problem worse.

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Why do I need to fix a diastasis?

Apart from the fact that you might feel a bit glum because chances are your belly is bulging and you’re getting the odd inappropriate question about being pregnant and generally feel a bit crap about that: it’s more importantly a question of your muscular and postural stability. The abdominals play a vital role in stabilising the spine and pelvis, and contribute to the efficacy of your pelvic floor. Diastasis recti can contribute to back pain and pelvic floor dysfunction because of the change in intra abdominal pressure – the pressure within your abdomen as you perform your daily tasks like picking up your baby or lifting the carseat. You might find that you have more back problems if you have a big gap in the abominals, you’re less robust for the physical graft of lifting and carrying your kids. You’re more likely to suffer aches and pains through relying on other muscles to do the work your abdominals should be doing. More seriously, you might be more prone to a hernia, which needs surgery to repair.

So: it needs to be checked. I am still in disbelief that there’s not more awareness and education about this MAJOR issue postnatally. Put it this way: you are more likely to have a diastasis than not after you’ve had a baby. And then add to that the general exhaustion, lack of attention to good posture (hello, forward-hunching mama pushing buggy, changing nappies, feeding, picking up socks, looking at your phone too much…) and general penchant for chocolate biscuits – or, at the other end of the spectrum, desperately trying to “get your body back” and running marathons, or doing boot camp planks and sit ups when you still have a gap can end up making it much much worse, making you weaker and more prone to issues such as prolapse… and you have a heady cocktail for maternal malaise.

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So what can I do??

Pilates, my friend. Appropriate Pilates exercises are uniquely positioned to strengthen the muscles compromised by pregnancy. Pilates asks you to pay careful attention to full and deep breathing which will in turn enhance the efficiency of your diaphragm and begin to bring the muscles within your abdomen to life. Focusing on the quality of your movement, doing appropriate exercises tailored to mending the gap will definitely help you to strengthen and equip you better for lugging your children around, for running your 10k, for a more positive and happy mum experience.

BUT – Not all Pilates is diastasis friendly! Curl ups and oblique curl ups, planks, leg lowers are not your friend while you have compromised abdominal strength. Deep, patient core restore is what is required.

So if you feel like you might have a gap and are not sure what to do: get in touch with me here and we can chat. Or, find a local postnatal-qualified Pilates teacher or physio and ask them to check you. Once you know what you’re working with, you can take steps to sort it out.

The mum tum: it’s NOT about “getting your body back”. It’s about embracing and honouring your amazing magic body which has created and birthed a baby, and giving you your power back so that you can run, jump, laugh, be joyful with your baby for years to come.

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