Diastasis WHAT??!! Part II
Last post I shared how I discovered a canyon-esque hole in my midsection, dispassionately termed Diastasis Recti by those who probably don’t have as much invested in it as some mums. Like singing mums. Ugh. One thing I learned in this part of my post birth journey is that the sooner you notice DR birth the better, whether before or after birth. I didn’t notice until several months after birth, which meant I had been doing work that was actually exacerbating the problem. Ugh. It’s also during those first few weeks that you have the greatest chance to help those connective tissues reconnect as they’re already trying to anyway.
The great news about DR as a singer (yes there is good news!) is that closing the gap will be most effectively achieved by doing exercises that focus on the transversus and pelvic floor muscles. All of which we should be doing anyway as singers. So if you, too are rehabilitating a hole in your core then think of this like an enforced supplement to your practice. And if you don’t have a permanent gap in your muscles then these exercises will benefit your singing anyway. I asked a Physical Therapist friend of mine and fellow mum what exercises she would recommend and she had a three word response: ‘work the transversus’. Plain and simple. I’ve listed some activities that I found helpful:
- Exercises: I stopped doing exercises that I learned were making DR worse, namely planks and variations (including my beloved push-ups), and started doing exercises that predominantly worked the transversus. A few that were staples for a while were Single Leg Dead Bug, Bird Dog, Glute Bridge, and Squats. I find that the gap is wider pre workout and closes several cm post workout. So i’ll have 2-3 fingers pre workout some days and 1 or less post. The great thing about exercises that target DR is that they all work the same muscles needed for maintaining an even subglottic pressure. If you’re practicing awareness of pelvic floor and lower abdominals throughout the day, not just during workouts or practice, then your singing is likely to improve.
- Abdominal Hollowing: what it sounds like, pull your navel to your spine and work to make your gut concave. Laying on the ground is the easiest way I found to activate pelvic floor and transversus, but hollowing while standing without compromising posture is a good challenge too.
- Kegals: I have tried more versions of ‘stop the flow of urine’ exercises than I can count. I felt all of them in my throat, so either I was doing them very incorrectly or they all don’t work the pelvic floor as a whole. Probably the former… Anyway – round about the time I was about to give up doing them entirely I heard someone describe them as zipping up your pelvic floor from the back to the front while pulling your belly button torward your spine. And that clicked something into place – especially as that image helps with connecting to an even out breath while singing.
- Stretching: Just do it. Talk with someone who knows to get a routine sorted, but I’m sure they’ll lecture you how important stretching is to muscle health. Stretching is a significant part of strengthening well. I have a set of stretches that work for me that I do once daily. My goal is three times a day and once upon a time pre baby that used to happen, but once a day is about what I can manage now. That being said I didn’t stretch today. Or the day before yesterday. But it’s a high priority goal, which definitely counts if we’re counting points.
- Mental Rehab: Don’t freak out, which was a challenge for me. I may have slightly overreacted when I discovered a hole in my gut, mostly because I so desperately wanted to be back where I was vocally pre-baby, or at least somewhere where I felt I could sing well again and DR made it seem like singing strong would never happen. It could also have been the several months of chronic sleep deprivation, or the fact that in the year before my world had been rocked in a myriad of ways that maybe one day I’ll write about. But seriously, whatever keeps you sane and in the black mentally- do it as you would an exercise.
- Keep Singing: The week I discovered DR I had been singing particularly disconnected. I didn’t feel I could connect to pelvis regardless of anything I tried that usually worked. I was out of tricks. Singing is part of who I am (and I’m sure who you are), and if you cut it out until you feel you’re ‘ready’ again you might never get there and be miserable in the process. Sing for fun a bit and choose to forget what needs to be worked on. Then do some exercises focusing on breath. Focus on breathing and awareness of support muscles being activated, then try to connect a sound to the activated (but not tense) muscles. When I first slowed down enough post partum to mentally reconnect to muscles ‘down there’ I was amazed at how weak my breath/sound coordination was. It may seem basic, but humbly revisiting basics regularly is part of using an organic instrument well, regardless of your gender or recent procreation status.
So – that’s what helped me with DR in a nutshell. Let me know if you have questions about my DR journey; discovering it would have been so much less scary if I’d have had another singer who had experienced it to chat with.
I do want to throw out the reminder that I’m not a medical professional, I’m simply sharing my experience. Get in contact with a pelvic floor specialist or physical therapist if you feel you might need to rehab.