Saturday, August 18, 2012

Belly Flop

Once upon a time, there were two sides to my abs - the right side and the left side. They were in love and they secured their bond with connective tissue. They had a fight last year when I was gigantically pregnant and they separated. After I gave birth, they started to work out their differences, but the same spark wasn't there and the bond they formed was weaker than the original. There is a gap in their love and I would say their relationship is merely platonic at this point. I'm breaking my back trying to get them together again and to form that strong bond they used to have. No, literally, their strained relationship is causing me actual back pain.

It's time to talk about my belly again. It's all floppy. No, I don't hate the fact that I look like I'm 6 months pregnant at 11 months post partum. I don't dislike my stretch marks. I've made it clear that I love my stretch marks. I don't want to look like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model (do those still exist?). I do want my strength back. My belly is soft, yes, but my muscles just gave up and they are the ones who have gone floppy. It's really starting to hurt my back because I don't have that strong core.

Like many women, my abdominal muscles separated during my pregnancies. They snapped back into place after my first pregnancy, but they are now weak and out of place after my third pregnancy. I have what's known as diastasis recti. That's the fancy term to describe the separation of the abdominal muscles. It can be caused by many things in men and women, but pregnancy is when we commonly learn about it. They usually go back to where they belong after pregnancy, but some women are left with a bit of a separation. This can result in a protruding belly. I'm a good example as I have lost all the weight I gained in pregnancy, but I still look pregnant. My muscles should be holding my abdominal organs back, but since they are separated that job has been left to some thin old connective tissue, which leads to the protrusion of the belly. This isn't life threatening, but it can increase your chances of a certain type of hernia. (Side note - I'm discussing post partum diastasis. I do want to mention that, while this is very common in pregnancy, a severe case of it can actually cause the uterus to tilt forward too much which leaves the cervix misaligned and can lead to positioning issues with the baby.  I just wanted to get that awareness tidbit out there.) Not only does this leave you with a protruding belly, it actually hurts your back. I have a ton of lower back pain from this, because those core abdominal muscles also play a part in proper posture and movement. When they are weak it causes your posture to suffer and you may not move as well. I know that I actually feel strain just from walking. Another perk is that it can affect your pelvic floor and make you more prone to a tinkle or two when you sneeze, cough, laugh, hiccup or think of Snooki.

How do you find out if you have diastasis recti? Check out this website for a simple test that you can perform on yourself. Here is a video showing you how to test for it. If you're curious, I have a severe case. I can feel my organs and my pulse. Yum! 

Thankfully, this is something that can be repaired in the majority of cases. Extreme cases may require surgery, but it's not common. There is loads of advice out there for dealing with diastasis recti. Some folks recommend belly binding post partum. I have no personal experience with this, but I have been told that it can be helpful, with the addition of exercise, especially in women with a severe case. There are exercises that you want to avoid because they will make the diastasis much worse. Often, when we think of toning our abs, we think of doing all sorts of crunches and lying leg lifts (when you lay down and lift up your legs). This is actually counterproductive. I personally don't believe in crunches at all, but these types of exercises are especially bad when you have a diastasis as they work to worsen the condition. Actually, too many crunches can cause a diastasis. My friend, Eve, from Nurturing Our Roots runs a business with her husband called Optimal Performance Systems and one of the many things they do is teach people how to heal their bodies with functional exercises and corrective movements. I get a lot of advice from her and she has sent me information on someone who does functional exercise videos. I'll let you know what I think and how that's working for me when I check them out.

In addition to functional exercises, my plan is to heal my belly with some belly dance. Despite it's name, belly dance utilizes the entire body, not just the belly. It's a dance form that arose from the natural movements of a woman's body during childbirth. Due to the fact that belly dance movements are based on real movements, it works with your body rather than against it. Belly dance requires you to be aware of your body and your muscles. There is a lot more to belly dance than simple shimmies of the hips or belly rolls. Muscles all over the body are given a chance to work. For instance, you may look at me and only see my hips moving. However, to move my hips a certain way, I am utilizing my oblique muscles, my glutes, my quads and those pesky rectus abdominus muscles. There are plenty of fast movements, but there are plenty of slow movements as well, which provides balance in the type of work your muscles have to do. In a belly dance class each move is broken down and students quickly learn how to isolate their muscles, leading to greater body awareness and proper movement.  Posture is extremely important in this dance and awareness of the proper posture is a must when dancing in order to properly execute the movements and to prevent injury.

I've been taking belly dance classes for nearly three years. I started with the traditional form, Raqs Sharqui, but have recently moved to learning Tribal Style, which is the form I plan to stay with. I take a class once a week and it is just amazing. I love dancing (and I look pretty good doing it, for a clumsy girl) and the movement just lifts up your spirit and really empowers you. Belly dance is incredibly inspiring because it caters to ALL women and you most definitely see all types of women dancing - stick thin, big bellied, big hipped, big everything, super muscular, not-so-muscular, pregnant, post partum - every size, shape and color is represented in belly dance and it's beautiful. Unlike other dance forms, there is no pressure to conform to a certain body type or weight. You are accepted as you are. Anyway, I admit that I slack off during the rest of the week. I should practice everyday or every other day, but I don't. If I practiced once a day, I know it would improve my muscle strength, as well as my technique. So, I'm issuing myself a challenge to dance at least once a day, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes. Not only is it good for me as a dancer, but I am certain that it would improve my diastasis recti and help me regain some of that strength back.

Honest moment - I have hesitated writing this because I don't want it to come off the wrong way. I see nothing wrong with the way my body looks as it is right now. I don't want a change for looks because I absolutely adore my body. Part of me is sad at the thought of losing my soft belly. But, I'm in pain and I'm not able to do the things I am used to thanks to the diastasis recti. Self love is not just about accepting your body shape, you stretch marks and the skin you're in, it's also about taking care of that body and making sure it's in it's optimal shape. I can't ignore my back and my muscles shouting to me that they hurt. I have to take care of them in order to take care of all of me - because I love me.

I'll be updating my progress here and on my Facebook page now and then.


Frugalistablog said...

I love this!! I think this describes my belly. I'm going to do the video and everything. I use to have the flattest stomach before kids. Didn't even know how good it was until it was gone.

I love that you are a jesus lovin' hippie freak! Me too. With a little fashion horse, thrown in there.

Funky Little Earthchild said...

Thank you! I love me some fashion, too! :-)

Bethany Learn said...

Thank you for linking to the diastasis check at Fit2B Studio. Five more people have checked themselves just today because you shared this! So thanks for spreading the word and helping women to heal! -
Bethany Learn
Founder, Fit2B Studio

Funky Little Earthchild said...

Bethany, that is wonderful! It makes me feel good to know that I helped someone. :-)

Jessica said...

I'm a dancer and fitness nut with perinatal certification, so I L-O-V-E that you're using dance to have fun and work your body! Be careful, though, about some of bellydance's twisting motions, which can exacerbate a diastasis recti. I'd recommend to anyone with this issue to check with your doc first to ok abdominal twisting/oblique strength work. Other than that, dance on!

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