Pregnancy and motherhood are commonly associated with aches and pains in the neck, shoulders and lower back. There are many reasons for these common aches and pains, but often it is rooted in poor posture and lack of core strength. Luckily, with a little body awareness and consistent re-posturing, great posture will be yours and you can cross aches and pains off your list so you can focus on the baby and your new role as a mother.
These are not workouts per se, but four body awareness principals that will engage your proper posture muscles, including your core and back muscles. It will help you maintain great posture over time without thinking about it! This is called “early strength gain,” meaning you are making an important neuromuscular connection with how and where you think about your body is in space because you are changing how you move, sit or stand all day. As these muscles get stronger, your aches and pains from weakness and tightness will disappear. Once your posture is changed through pilates, regular neck and shoulder blade pain will improve significantly.
1. Elvis Pelvis
Call it what you like, but this is an easy name to remember the importance of your pelvic alignment as the foundation of good posture. The pelvis is at the base of your spine and affects your posture alignment all the way to your skull. The idea here is to move your pelvis through its full range and then settle somewhere in between, called neutral pelvis.
In standing, thrust your hips forward, like Elvis. You can even do the corresponding elbow bend for fun. Then, with hands on hips, do the opposite- move your tailbone back so you feel it gently stick out. Settle into what feels (and looks) about halfway to you. This is where you want your pelvis to be in standing: not tucked in and not sticking your booty out too much, right in the middle where you can move it with ease in either direction.
In sitting, do this movement: tuck under and notice how your spine immediately bend forward and you slouch. Yes, you guess it, you don’t want to do this for good sitting posture. Now, roll forward a bit onto your “sitz” bones. Rock back and forth a bit and see if you can find them, you should be sitting right up on the hard boney part of your behind. This is neutral pelvis is sitting. And yes, you guess it, you want this in proper sitting posture. You can tell right away how it makes sitting up so much easier. Now, add in #2.
2. “Ribs over Hips”
Now that your pelvis is in neutral, look in a mirror to see where your ribs are in comparison. They should be over your hips. For many people who are used to slouching a bit, you’ll find yourself needing to move your ribs backwards a bit so they settle over your hips. Do you notice your abdominal muscles turn on when you do this? Some people even feel like they are going to fall backwards, that’s how slouched forward they were before. Check sideways in the mirror to make sure your are not in fact leaning backward but ribs stacked over neutral (untucked) hips. Now, add in #3.
3. “Plug”Your Shoulders In.
Slowly shrug your shoulders up. Imagine your shoulder blades sliding up your back. Now, that is what we don’t want. We want to “plug”those shoulder blades back in. Glide your shoulder blades down and together. Your shoulders should slide away from your ears as well and you’ll feel a sense of space and openness through your collar bone region. Relax your neck. Try lifting your arms and notice that you can still keep your shoulder blades down while you gently raise your arms to shoulder height (like in picking up your baby).
Lastly, your neck and head. Imagine a tiny puppet thread from the top of your head to the sky gently pulling you up. Some people are surprised to find they grow an inch or two doing this! You may notice how elongated you feel and when you don’t do this, it compresses your spine. Think lengthening up through the head while your shoulders melt down your back. This should feel and look good.
So, you did all this and now you feel funny. Yes, it may feel unnatural to change your body’s standing and sitting patterns, but the more you do it, the more you will feel better and will actually see strength gains in your posture muscles. Try to remember these principals when holding your baby (plug the shoulder blades in), nursing or feeding your baby a bottle (sitting up on your sits bones), standing with a diaper bag (marionette) or pushing a stroller (ribs over hips). You literally can be exercising these muscles all day and they will thank you in the long run. You may even start to get compliments for looking taller and slimmer, a side effect of great posture!