“I split my ab muscles during my pregnancy and I now suffer from intense back pain. Are there any yoga poses I can practice to relieve my back pain and repair the damage?”
Good news: your abs are not split in two and you are not alone.
Diastasis recti is common after pregnancy and can occur in women that haven’t been pregnant, in men and even in babies. Pregnancy, excessive weight gain or incorrect execution during abdominal exercises can lead to this condition.
Diastasis recti is simply a pulling apart and thinning of the tissues and abdominal muscles along the mid-line (rectus abdominis). These two large muscles meet in the mid-line of the body and cover the internal organs. When the separation occurs, the left and right side of the muscle pull apart, leaving a gap.
If this condition is left untreated, it creates pelvic instability, severe back pain and irregularities in posture. Some people may not even know they have it. (there are instructions below to determine if you are suffering from this condition).
The yoga poses and postnatal abdominal stretches instructed below will alleviate back pain and over time, with practice, strengthen the abdominal muscles to bring them back together again. With each practice, the muscles of the pelvis and low back stabilize, relieving pain as the body comes back into balance. A stable mid-line creates the ideal conditions for healing to occur.
Not strengthening and stretching until at least 6 weeks after a vaginal birth and 12 weeks after cesarean (after post-natal checkup) is recommended, but I urge you to get your doctor’s approval before you begin. You can however, focus on relaxation, and continue or start a meditation practice immediately after the birth of your child, which I highly recommend.
Continued deep breathing and the practice of mantras were tremendously useful as I recovered after the birth of my son. These practices also helped ease some of the anxiety I felt as a new mom. I didn’t necessarily have the strength or time to practice regularly at first, but I could always find time to rest comfortably and focus on my breath and mantras. I would even practice while changing diapers!
As with anything in life, you get out what you put in. I hope this helps ease your mind and your pain.
Do I Have Diastasis Recti? Follow The Instructions Below to Find Out:
- Lay flat on your back with feet flat and knees bent.
- Place the fingertips of one hand above your belly button, across the mid-line of your body.
- Relax the belly and gently press your fingertips into the abdomen.
- Gently lift the head off the floor into a “crunch” position, drawing the rib cage close to the pelvis.
- Move the fingertips back and forth, vertically, along the mid-line, above and below the belly button, to check for separation.
- A noticeable hole, large gap or protruding belly are signs of the separation. (Don’t panic, these are normal indications.)
If you are feeling a separation, try not to worry. This condition is common and can improve. The more you strengthen the transverse abdominis (the muscle that is engaged when you draw the navel to the spine, the uddijana banda), the more the condition will improve. Strengthening this muscle by practicing the instruction below will help lengthen and re-align the split muscles.
As you are healing, avoid deep back bends. This includes:
- cow pose and upward facing dog
- all strong abdominal exercises that put stress on the mid-line and that flex the upper spine off the earth, such as crunches and elbow-to-knee pose.
These exercises will make the condition worse and create more pain in the body.
Pay particular attention to any tugging or pinching sensations in the abdominals as you practice. This can be a sign that you are straining or out of alignment. Practice with 20%-40% less intensity or stop altogether and save it for another time. Keep in mind high levels of the hormone relaxin still remain in your body, so be sure to move with a gentleness and not to over-stretch.
PART ONE: RELIEF
To relieve the back pain, practice this gentle sequence three to four times per week.
Supported Reclining Pose
- Place a bolster support vertically on the earth and a blanket horizontally where your head is going to rest. (Alternatively, if you have no bolster, use a tightly rolled blanket or towels).
- Sit facing away from the bolster or roll with your low back directly against the edge or a few inches away from the support.
- Roll another blanket or use a pillow as a support behind the knees.
- Lay all the way back, resting on the support and adjust the optional blanket under the head. You should feel a slight stretch in the low back and shoulders when you lay back, but no sharp pain. Come out immediately and adjust if you’re feeling pain; try a lower or softer roll.
- Rest the arms by your side. Place the palms up for more opening in the shoulders or palms down for grounding. Arms can rest by the torso for less stretch or further away for more.
- Close the eyes and breathe deep into the belly, ribs and chest, opening the heart, while focusing on the breath. Breathe deeply and slowly for 10 minutes. Let thoughts be there as you witness them and let them go with each breath out.
- To release: bend the legs and roll off the support to one side and rest for a few breaths, resetting the spine to neutral.
Supported Childs Pose
- Starting on hands and knees, place a bolster or rolled up large blanket vertically on the earth.
- Open the knees out to the edges of the support, as you draw the big toes together and sink the hips back to the heels. Draw the support between the knees and lay the chest and torso down on the support. Be sure the chest is level with the hips; stack up as many blankets and pillows as you need to do so.
- Turn the head to one side for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn it to the other side for another 3 to 4 minutes.
- Close the eyes, soften the belly and imagine the in-breath floating all the way down the spine and the back of the hips. Exhale out any tension or holding.
- To release the pose, come back to table pose and stretch one leg back at a time, opening up the back of the leg, releasing compression.
Cross Legged Side Bend
- Sit up on a blanket in a cross-legged position with the right leg in front. Get the hips higher than the knees, even if it means sitting up on a few blankets. Soften the buttocks and legs.
- Place the right hand down on the earth in line with the hip.
- Inhale the left arm up and exhale into a side bend.
- Drop the right shoulder down, away from the ear and bend the right elbow as you walk the hand out, coming deeper into the pose.
- Gaze down at the earth if the neck feels strained.
- Use inhales to lengthen and exhales to open the chest, rolling the right side of the heart up toward the sky.
- Breathe slow and deep for 10-20 cycles of breath, softening with each exhale.
- Come back to center and switch the cross of the legs, side bending on the other side.
Cross Legged Seated Twist
- Staying in the cross-legged seat, rest your hands on your thighs. Inhale, lengthen the spine, exhale, twist to the right, bringing the left hand on the right knee and the right hand to the earth.
- Be sure the shoulders are stacked over the hips and the twist is coming from the torso, not the shoulders.
- Use inhales to lengthen and exhales to deepen the twist.
- Keep the chin parallel to the chest if there are any neck injuries. Gaze over the back shoulder for more stretch if you are without injury.
- Breathe slowly for 10-20 cycles of breath.
- Return the spine to neutral, switch cross of legs and twist on the other side.
Cross Legged Forward Fold
- Place the hands on the earth, out in front of the crossed legs or by your sides next to the hips if the hands can’t reach the earth.
- Drop the tailbone down to the earth and reach through the crown of the head.
- Breathe in, find length in the side body and as you breathe out, hinge at the hips into a forward fold.
- If there is no injury in the low back, feel free to round the back and shoulders as you drop the head down. If you are working with an injury, keep the spine straight without rounding.
- If there is space, walk the hands forward, or come down onto the forearms. Soften the shoulders and breathe into the hips for 10-20 cycles of breath.
- Bring the spine back to center, switch the cross of legs and fold on the other side.
PART TWO: STRENGTHEN
- From standing, open the feet hips width and bend the knees, sitting back into an imaginary chair
- Rock the weight into the heels and you can even lift the toes
- Hands can rest on the hips, at the heart center or for more intensity, lengthen the arms by the ears
- Breathe 5-20 breaths, again breathing longer as you practice.
- This pose can also be practiced with the back up against the wall. Press the back into the wall as the legs bend
- Starting on hands and knees, stack the wrists under the shoulders and spread the fingers wide.
- Gaze down with a long neck and spine as you step one leg back at a time, tucking the toes under
- Lift up through the shoulders and rock the weight back, so the hips are parallel with the earth
- Soften the jaw and buttocks as you lift the navel to the spine
- Hold for 5-20 breaths (hold longer as you practice. Bring the knees down to the earth as many times as you need, as you are building strength)
- Lie flat on the back with the feet flat on the earth, opened hip width apart, toes in-line with heels pointing forward
- Hands can rest on the belly or arms can rest by your side
- Take a deep breath in
- On the exhale, draw the navel to the spine as you actively press the low back into the earth
- Inhale, keep this muscle engagement
- Exhale, slowly slide the right leg away from you. Keep the back still
- Inhale, bring the leg back, foot flat on the earth
- Repeat with the other leg
- Practice 5-10 times for each leg (working up to more as you practice)
- Release and walk the feet out wide as you let the knees rest against each other. (if you would like a hip opener, bring the soles of the feet together and open the knees out wide)
- Lie flat on the back with feet flat on the earth, opened hip width apart, toes in line with heels, pointing forward
- Walk the heels back to the buttocks so the fingertips can brush the heels (if the knees hurt in this pose, walk the heels further away from the buttocks)
- Use an inhale to lift the hips up off the earth
- Use an exhale to walk the tips of the shoulder blades together. Interlace the hands under the back for support or rest the arms by your side, pressing the palms into the earth
- Keep lifting the hips up toward the sky as you inhale into belly, ribs and chest. Connect to the four corners of the feet by lifting the toes, to lift the hips higher
- Exhale slowly as you continue to draw the shoulder blades together
- Hold for 5-20 breaths (hold longer as you practice)
- Release and hug both knees into the chest
- Lie flat on the back with feet flat on the earth, opened hip width apart, toes in line with heels, pointing forward
- Inhale, arch the low back (there will be a curve in the low back so you can stick your hand or arm under the back) drawing the tailbone down to the earth (keeping the hips on the earth)
- Exhale, press the low back into the earth, drawing the tailbone up toward the sky, pulling the navel down to the spine
- Keeping the flat back, inhale, lift the hips up off the earth
- Exhale, lower the hips back down
- Practice this four part breath for 10-20 rounds
- Release and hug the knees into the chest
Knee Flop Twist
- Lie flat on the back with your feet flat on the earth, opened wider than hip width, toes in line with heels, pointing forward
- Open the arms out wide like wings
- Inhale deeply
- On exhale, drop both knees to one side. (If you want more stretch, cross ankle on top of knee. To take the twist into the neck, roll the head in the opposite direction from the knees)
- Close eyes and breathe deeply for 2-4 minutes on each side (hold longer if you place a bolster under the feet)
- Use an inhale to draw the knees to center, reset the feet
- Exhale, knees drop to the other side
- To release: draw knees back to center and hug knees in
End this sequence with Final Relaxation
- Place a blanket or pillow under the head and a bolster, pillow or rolled blanket under the knees.
- Lengthen the legs out over the support, allowing the feet to flop open.
- Rest the hands on belly or bring the arms out to the side.
- Close the eyes and take a deep breath into the nose, then exhale out through the mouth.
- Continue with deeper breaths to bring on the relaxation response in the body, clearing away any remaining stress.
- To release: take a deep breath and make small movements. Stretch the arms overhead and hug knees into the chest or bend the legs and rock the knees side to side.
- Roll onto your most comfortable side and pause for a few more deep breaths.
- Press up to a comfortable seated position, lengthen the spine and breathe fully. When you are ready, integrate back to your day with ease and clarity.
I’d love to help you find relief from your pain.
Email me today.
(or feel free to call: 860.517.9322)