Heather Stegmaier, M.AmSAT

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Main | AT Question: I was in a car accident 6 months ago, which left me with pain on the right side of my neck. I went to the chiropractor for numerous sessions and was told I was back to normal. However, the pain came back and still exists, sometimes mildly sometimes more acutely. What can I do? ~Amy »
Wednesday
Jan222014

AT Question: I am a new mom and would love to incorporate the AT into my daily life so that I can meet the day's physical challenges with ease. What can I do with my body (or think) to ease it before I go to pick up my baby and what can I do to improve my posture while I'm holding my 18 lb. daughter (which I do A LOT ... like, practically all day)? ~Tara

AT Answer: Tara also went on to share with me that beginning with pregnancy, her body has gone through so many changes and she is having new pains in her back from lifting her baby, has developed tendinitis in her wrists from holding her baby while nursing, and has frequent headaches and a tight jaw from clenching her teeth in nervousness. In her words, she is ”tight, in pain, and anxious” and has not had to use her body in these ways before. She would love to be able to do it comfortably.

Tara, you are not alone in this! I think it’s safe to say that all new moms experience this type of physical and emotional stress in their life, especially in the first year of their child’s life. I’m sure you are doing an amazing job caring for your daughter. By incorporating a few tips from the Alexander Technique, you will be well on your way for caring for yourself as well. And we all know that a happy mom makes for a happy family! :)

You touched on a great point in your question: you asked, “what can I do with my body (or think) to ease it.” Both thinking and changing your postural habits are key to creating more ease in your life. Here are some specific things you can do to bring more ease in your life today:

  1. Monkey around! Monkey is a way of standing that makes sure you are not putting excess strain on your back. Basically, it’s standing with your knees bent and your head/neck/back (spine) completely integrated. Monkey is also a great position for lifting and holding your daughter, and you can even apply the principles to sitting activities, such as nursing your baby. Click here for more details on Monkey and how to try this today. Practice this on your own, and just be mindful of employing Monkey before you pick up your daughter.
  2.  Your waist is not a part of your anatomy. You’ll see as you try Monkey that it completely eliminates the concept of bending at the waist. When you bend at the waist, you are actually bending at the spine (ouch!). This also usually goes hand in hand with picking up a heavy object with straight legs (see picture on the Monkey blog). Before you pick up your daughter, remind yourself to bend at the knee and hip joints instead. Your back will thank you!
  3.  Send weight through your feet and don't lock your knees. When you are holding your daughter, try to allow her weight to fall right through your feet. This is possible in Monkey when you are bending (even just slightly) at the hips and knees. If you are locking your knees back and your pelvis forward, you are putting a lot of strain on your back and using much more effort (see both pictures below). If you are putting a lot of effort into holding yourself up as you hold her, you will become tired quickly. By lengthening your muscles in Monkey, integrating your head/neck/back, and allowing your arms to be free to hold your daughter, your body is working more efficiently. You are expanding and allowing her weight to fall through your feet, rather than working against gravity with effort. 
  4.  Rest, rest, rest. When you are feeling “tight, in pain, and anxious” your best antidote is conscious rest. Taking five minutes to lay down will do your muscles, bones, and nervous system a world of good. You can do this while your daughter is napping. Use this time to work on your thinking by saying no to excess chit chat in your mind. Once your mind is less chaotic (it may not get perfectly silent, and that’s OK) send your body messages to let go of tension. These can be messages such as, “I’m not holding tension in my jaw; I’m not holding tension in my wrists and arms; I’m not holding on to nervous thoughts and emotions.” Create a daily practice of this. I know that’s hard, but prioritize it with brushing your teeth and eating. It’s a mandatory daily activity.
  5. And…action! One of the benefits of a daily conscious rest practice is that you are building cognitive skills. This means that the messages you are sending yourself to not tense are working on a neurological level. You are adding tools to your mental toolbox! When you practice this in a safe, quiet space such as lying down it gives you the tools to apply these thoughts to your daily life in action. For example, when you notice that you’re clenching your jaw as a result of being anxious, you now have the tool of thinking, “I’m not holding tension in my jaw” to call upon. Because you practiced this, your body gets the message and is better able to let go. Applying your conscious rest skills to your daily life will help you to live more easefully.

And one last thing…be kind to yourself. Being a new mom is a huge challenge with many demands. These five tips are ways to make your life easier, but sometimes we fall into the trap of “getting it right” or being perfect. Just as playing the piano takes practice, so does the Alexander Technique. Have fun with it and don’t beat yourself up if you forget, or find yourself falling back on bad movement habits. Simply say, “Oops! Let me try that again with more awareness.” A great way to approach this work is with playfulness and curiosity—just as your daughter approaches the world.

In health and well-being,

Heather

Here are two pictures that demonstrate holding a little loved one (a kitty in this case!). The first is using monkey, and the second is locking the joints. The locking picture may seem more familiar! If so, try using Monkey, even if it's a very slight bend. 

  

 

 

 

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