Classic scene that every stay at home mom inwardly groans at (and perhaps causes some rage): man walks through the door at 5:30pm. He surveys the chaos of toys on floor, food splattered wall, unfolded laundry and pile of dishes; he observes exhausted mom still in pj pants and undone hair on couch, whilst one, two, or more children cry at a feverish pitch or run amuck. He may or may not sense her feeling of utter overwhlemedness – then he proceeds to casually ask, “so…what did you do all day?”
Whoever thinks that stay at home moms don’t do anything meaningful during the course of a day is oh so very very mistaken. Not only are they shaping the very course of the next generation with each and every child they raise, they are also a Chief Operating Officer who oversees and manages the daily operations of the little corporation called “the home”. That is a lot of mental and emotional energy to expend. No wonder at 5:30pm when hubby walks in, she is exhausted. It’s a job that doesn't respect 9am to 5pm boundaries.
And it’s not some sedentary office job where you get sit all day while looking beautiful, managing your minions from a distance. It is a get in the trenches, get your hands dirty, constantly on the go, type of position. And it's glorious! (And a heck of a lot of work too!)
At this moment, if you’re a stay at home mom, please place your right hand on your left shoulder and give it a little pat. Well done, mama! Even if you feel like you’re sucking at this job, keep on trooping. You are making a difference.
And if you’re a working mom, please place your right hand on your left shoulder and give it a little pat. Not only do you work your full or part time job, but I bet you’re still the one who is managing all the daily operations of running a functional home. So good for you, too.
Motherhood is not only mentally and emotionally intense, but it is also the most active of vocations. It is a very physical job. Believe it or not, that is a great thing for your health. If you sit all day, chances are you are less healthy than someone who is moving all day long. We were designed to move.
Today I was very aware of my daily movements. I estimate that in one hour, the average number of times I squatted to get something off the floor or to pick up my 23 Lb son was around 15-20 times. Now multiply that by every hour he is a awake. That’s a lot of squatting.
My son is in that phase of development where he is crawling fast, and cruising like a boss, and walking behind a support. But he can’t walk independently yet. And so I still have to constantly pick up a heavy squiggly little guy. Not only that but I am 5 months pregnant….so that’s a lot loading on my already hormone flooded, ligmentously lax body.
As a physio, I am probably more aware of my body’s movements that your average woman. In fact, much of my job is teaching “body awareness” (ie. brain retraining) to my clients. A lot of women are quite out of tune with their bodies. It’s fascinating, actually, given the fact that we live with it every day. Without being aware of what our bodies feel and how they are positioned, we can’t make the necessary improvements. The the most basic requirements of a happy, mobile, and pain free body are optimal alignment, optimal bio-mechanics and optimal motor control (the ABCs). If we constantly position ourselves in asymmetrical positions, or move in non-optimal ways, then our brains begin to naturally put us into those positions and movement patterns. And it will tell you “this is normal”. It will dictate to your body, “this is how you sit”, or “this is how you move”. And it will take the path of least resistance, always repeating that same dysfunctional pattern. The dynamic between brain and body is an amazing science. One impacts the other and vice versa. It can be a vicious or a beautiful cycle.
Our body has many different ways of moving. We can choose from a number of strategies when we plan to pick something up off the floor. And a healthy system needs to have that choice. The problem occurs when we train our brains and bodies to use only one strategy. And if that strategy is not optimal, then pain and dysfunction are inevitable.
If you are stuck moving one way all the time, and if it’s a poor way of moving, then to get better, you will need to consciously break that habit. Constantly practicing the right way to move will soon make it feel right. Your brain will automate, and you will begin to choose that more optimal strategy to move. With picking something up off the floor, for example, we should squat. This is the most functional and optimal way to lift. However, there may be times when you’re in a tight space and you will need to forward bend. Hey, that’s OK – as long as your system has the option and chooses the best option for that specific task.
Like I said earlier, I was very aware of my body today. I had a bit of pelvic girdle pain from driving to/from Toronto yesterday and sitting most of the day in a class. So my body was not happy today. There is nothing like pain to make you aware of your every movement. So I decided to make a list of all the physical movements I did today:
Shoot – who needs to go to the gym!? We didn't go out today but if we had left the house, I would have added the following: placing son in and out of car seat, driving, pushing stroller or wearing baby on back, and walking while pushing grocery cart.
Our daily movements and activities can be placed into a few basic categories: standing, walking, carrying, lifting, rolling, and squatting (sitting is a type of supported squat). When we are in these positions, which we repeat countless time throughout the day, we can choose to move optimally or not. It is really important to choose the right way and best way to move for that situation. For example, when my son was younger and he was lighter, I bent over all the time. Well, lo and behold, I started getting back pain. Not surprising. So I decided I must change my motor pattern. And since I am a movement therapist, I knew exactly how to do it. If you don't know how to do it, you will need to get trained by someone who does. I asked my husband to comment every time he noticed me bending instead of squatting. I consciously paused and reminded myself to squat and kegel before each lift. And I practiced over and over...and over and over. Now it comes automatically. My back pain is gone by simply changing how I move.
Often the aches and pains we feel are due to poor alignment, biomechanical dysfunction, or poor deep muscular control of the stability system (ie. non-optimally functioning core control). Change how you move and the pain goes away because you are now moving the way you were best designed to move. You are able to effectively and effortlessly counteract the downward pull of gravity because your body is aligned, balanced, symmetrical, and stable.
I am going to be writing a series on how to move through daily life. It will cover optimal and non-optimal ways of positioning and movement. If you’re pregnant or already have kids, you will find it really helpful to learn how to best position your body for nursing, or picking up your kids, or getting out of bed, or carrying laundry up the stairs. It’s all well and good to do a bunch of exercises on the floor. But if what you practice on the floor isn’t integrated into daily life activities, then it is not very useful, is it? The goal of the series is to help you create that awareness that you need to begin to change your motor patterns. What are your muscles doing? Where are you bracing and rigid? Are you balanced with equal weight left and right? Is your thorax in front of or behind your pelvis or stacked on top? Where do you feel you are working too hard and straining in your body? Are you holding your breath? At first it will seem like there is so much to pay attention to. This is true - but in order to change for the better, we must cultivate that awareness. But don’t worry, it becomes more automatic as you practice.
So the next time your man comes in and asks what you did all day, give him a kiss, have him read this post, make a deal to get a much deserved 15 to 30 minutes to yourself!
When are you most aware of your body? What daily tasks do you repeatedly do that need to be re-patterned?
The Mama's Physio
We are a team of experienced physiotherapists with a passion for women's health and well being. We focus on pelvic health in the context of the whole body. We care for pregnant and post-partum mamas and women at all life stages from teens to the young at heart. We are mothers ourselves and we are women. We love what we do and we are here to serve you.