This post, originally written in July 2012 was updated in March 2020, to include new images, resources, and updated language. For more pregnancy resources check out our list of favorites at Moving Well During Pregnancy.
After I interviewed Gail Tully of Spinning Babies, she sent me some questions of her own. Although we're discussing pregnant body alignment, the adjustments go for non-pregnant bodies too!
What daily activities do you suggest to lengthen the psoas safely?
For starters, know this: Your psoai have to shorten to accommodate sitting. So simply getting up out of the chair or other seated positions as much as possible are quick lengtheners. A baby is developing 24-7, and your intra-uterine environment is affecting their environment all the time, so the more space you provide throughout the day, the better--don't depend on an exercise or two at the end of day, as in, "I think I’ll make sure I lengthen my psoas when I’m done doing all my hip-flexing for the day.”
Got psoas tension? Minimize these activities:
1. Sitting, especially with a flexed (think rounded) lower back. As in your car’s bucket seat, your office chair, your comfy old couch, your even comfier La-z-boy. Sit less, mix up how you sit, and be mindful of your sitting alignment.
2. Cycling. Unless this is the only form of movement available to you, select activities that don't require psoas tension for movement.
3. Treadmill walking. Walking any way is better than not walking at all, but if you have the option, swap overground walking for treadmill walking. Walking on the ground can use hip extension (butt-building) gait whereas walking on the treadmill requires propelling via hip flexion (psoas-tensing gait) due to the way the treadmill’s belt moves backward—we have to walk differently due to this technology.
Here's a video to show you how to make these adjustments.
Some other non-exercise things to do that can help your psoas tension:
2. Adjust your pelvis and ribcage 1042 times a day.
3. When it’s time to sit, sit on the floor (using a pillow under your bum to keep the lower spine from rounding) not using back supports, with various leg positions that challenge the tension on the hip muscles (i.e. cross-legged, straight-legged, one-legged bent and one legged straight, and the other-legged bent and the opposite one straightened out, and don't forget sitting with both legs crossed and bent at the same time.)
If you are starting early in your pregnancy, then the Psoas Release is good, however it is on your back, so not available later in pregnancy. A simple, upright psoas movement is a low lunge with a tucked pelvis (for this move watch that the pelvis doesn’t tip forward and your ribcage stays lowered).
Katy, how do you recommend stabilizing the pelvis without over-strengthening the core?
In short, one big reason our pelvis can't stay put is because it's overly bound to our legs—the baggage from sitting so much. So, we have a pelvis overly bound to our thighs, and when we stand up or go to walk our legs take the pelvis with them. There are many people trying to add abdominal (or butt-clenching) tension to pull the pelvis back home, but our approach is a little different—we use exercises to deal with that root tension between the leg and pelvis. Once you reduce that tension, the pelvis is released to be in its stable position. THEN, we also encourage moving a lot more in general (not necessarily exercise, but just moving more for what you need in the course of a day). Your core, then, is strengthened more naturally, because humans are heavy. And pregnant humans are heavier! When you start moving your body more often and you deal with the tension and postural issues you have, your baseline strength starts to work itself out on its own.
How do we keep the pelvic floor strong but balanced at the same time?
Like the core, the pelvic floor needs to be strong, but it shouldn't require regular pelvic floor exercise. The pelvic floor is under a constant load, and the more you move and move in different ways, the more you're exercising it. What balances the contraction of the pelvic floor are various glute and hip muscles. These need to be working all the time too. So, work on decreasing the habit of tucking the pelvis, reduce the tension of your psoai, and increase your daily long-distance walking (and of course, don’t forget the action of squatting to potty and getting up and down off of the floor). Which all seems like a lot of work, I know, but if you notice, it’s all the same stuff that needs to be addressed for most of what you're asking about.
What helps in mobilizing the sacrum, allowing it to "open" in late dilation and/or pushing stage?
The motion of the sacrum (relative to the pelvis) is called nutation and counter-nutation, which is separate from the motion of the pelvis as a whole. Nutation and counter-nutation occur in delivery (and to a lesser extent in all people throughout the day) when the sacroiliac joint is free to move. Freedom to move requires the pelvis' mechanical baggage be dealt with. What baggage? We spend years of sitting on top of this joint and are missing the natural tensions—between the glutes and the pelvic floor—that should be there. Start moving your butt muscles. Sit less, walk more, free up your pelvis from your legs.
What activities are you enjoying or focusing on during this pregnancy of yours?
I do what every other parent probably does. I walk around and bend over 1242 times a day to pick up stuff from the floor. I change diapers and wash clothes 1242 times a day. I hang laundry. I cook a few meals a day. I clean the kitchen. I pick stuff from the garden. I blend it into drinkable concoctions. I play on the floor with my kid a lot. I clean the kitchen again (WHY is the kitchen ALWAYS messy?). I swing from our indoor monkey bars or the trees outside. I walk everywhere. At this point in my life, I don’t have time for a structured movement program (as in attending somewhere for 90 minutes three times a week) that is separate from what I need to get done every day. I also work full-time (for myself, which helps but still takes a surprising amount of time, even though I can distribute the work as I like). So, like millions of people before me, I keep fit by making "my life" my exercise program. I also pay close attention to where my joints are as I do the things I need to do in order to live—because I don’t have time for framing it any other way. Oh, and I always get a full night's sleep. And by "always," I mean for another 6 weeks or so.
But, P.S. When I do have time, I love blending my alignment practice with meditation. I like mindfully going through 5-10 different movements really checking in where my body is today and where it has come from. I like running the hard sciences through my head, like angles and forces—while experiencing the reality of motion and the sensation of breath. This luxury is infrequent though and I can’t let the fact that living takes a lot of work detract from my health. So, until my other life’s choices progress a bit, I get-me-some of that healthy stuff in 20 second doses.
I also like watching cooking competition shows.