November 23, 2014

Core Work or Core Wreck? How Yoga Might be Hurting New Mothers.

plank pose, abs

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The current trend in yoga classes to add “core work”, may be doing more harm than good for some students.

Movements that resemble crunches, bicycle sit-ups and even just slowly lowering down onto our back from sitting can aggravate a condition called diastases recti, something which is much more common than we might think.

Diastasis recti (also known as abdominal separation) is defined as a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle into right and left halves. When the connective tissue that is meant to be solid and thick becomes stretched, it thins and no longer holds the two sides of the abdominal wall together and there for no longer supports the organs or the back. It generally presents as a midline domed or bulging stomach when rising from a lying position.

Abdominal separation most commonly develops in women during pregnancy as the growing uterus presses out and separates the muscles of the abdomen. Diastis recti is extremely common, and almost every woman who has carried a child to full-term will have some degree of separation in the first year after giving birth and for many that separation can last the rest of their lives.

Men can also develop the condition, often caused by heavy lifting, weight lifting, sudden weight gain, etc. (In fact, Joseph Pilates had a diatisis recti that grew worse as he got older!)

While there is no way to completely avoid this during pregnancy it is the main reason why pregnant women should avoid poses like boat, deep backbends and even long-held plank poses.

In the first year after having a baby it is crucial that women do not do anything that engages or stretches the abdominal muscles in ways that further the separation.

This means when practicing yoga, avoid these poses:

• Boat pose

• Deep back bends

• Intense twists

• Lowering straight back to the floor from sitting

• All traditional core work

Women who have had a child anytime in their life and feel they may be at risk of having a diastases recti should consider following those same guidelines.

We have all heard one woman or another complain about how she has been working hard to get her flat stomach back after having kids, and she just isn’t seeing any results.

This is a sign that she may have diastasis recti and might actually be aggravating the condition by the types of exercises she is doing. Aside from the more superficial reasons to want to heal diatisis recti, if left untended, it can contribute to low back pain, pelvic floor problems, digestive issues and hernias.

I once overheard a teacher’s response to a student who shared that now that her baby was a few months old she was ready to work on getting her belly back. “Great!” The teacher said with a smile. “We will do lots of extra core work today!”

Sadly, the type of core work she was offering was only going to make things worse.

Now, don’t feel too bad if you have done something like this at some point in your teaching career. Without all of the information, most of us are just doing what we have been taught or what we think is best.

Years ago, before I knew about diastis recti, I used to teach traditional core work in all of my Post Natal classes! While I feel absolutely awful for the damage that may have been done to bellies of all of those mamas, I also realize that beating myself up about isn’t going to fix anything. That being said, now that we all know better, we have a responsibility to bring more awareness into how we offer core strengtheners in our classes.

If after reading this you are still drawn to the idea of leading traditional core work in your classes, consider offering a modification for women who have had babies anytime in the last few years.

There are many alternative core exercises that can strengthen the abdominal wall after pregnancy, and even help heal the abdominal separation. Otherwise, you could simply suggest that they skip the core work all together and take a few minutes in supta baddhakonasana or a mini-savasana. As a new mom they could probably use the extra rest anyway!

Here’s a quick self-test you can pass along to your students if they are wondering if they have any diastisis recti:

• Lie on your back with knees bent, feet resting on the floor.

• Place the index and middle fingers of one hand just above your belly button, pointing them downward.

• Raise your head and neck off the floor into a gentle crunch and feel for any separation between your muscles.

• If you can fit more than two fingers into the opening, you likely have a diastasis.

If this is all new to you, I know it can feel a little overwhelming. Our biggest concerns as yoga teachers in regards to diastases recti is to not cause further injury to your students. It is important that we remember to offer new moms an alternative to the kind of core work that could hurt them.

A well rounded asana practice will strengthen the core muscles in much less strenuous way.



1.     Diastasis recti: How does pregnancy affect stomach muscles? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/diastasis-recti/faq-20057825

2.     Diastasis Recti: How to properly train & strengthen your core for flat abs.  Retrieved from http://www.dailyhiit.com/hiit-blog/hiit-life/pregnancy-motherhood/diastasis-recti-properly-train-strengthen-core-flat-abs/

3.     Diastasis Recti Abdominis.  Retrieved from http://www.coreconcepts.com.sg/physiotherapy/diastasis-recti-abdominis/

4.     Diastasis Recti Exercises: No More Mummy Tummy.  Retrieved from https://www.udemy.com/blog/diastasis-recti-exercises/




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Author: Kirsten Warner

Editor: Emma Ruffin

Photo: Maria Ly/Flickr


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Nicole Nov 25, 2014 10:08pm

Thank you! I had no idea why even 7 years after giving birth I the same bulge especially when I went into a crunch shape. Measured and I have like 2 finger width between the two sides. Yikes! No has ever told me anything about a possible DR. One of the links you posted said not to do poses like updog, cow, triangle (and I am assuming all similar shapes) So what shapes would work and if you have someone come into your class who had a baby 5 months ago and not have them do any of these shapes? I think this info is really helpful but wondering how to help instead of hurt when new moms come into my open level classes. Thanks!

Deena Nov 23, 2014 6:52pm

Funny, I *just* taught exactly this in my prenatal yoga teacher training, with regards to postpartum. DR affects about 60% of women during pregnancy, caused by the intrabdominal pressure of the growth of the baby. ALL women who've had a c-section will have DR because the doctors split the rectus abdominus to make the incision in the transverse. A woman with more than a 1 cm DR needs to see a PT to help correct the issue.

Thanks so much for writing this!

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Kirsten Warner

Kirsten Warner has been a dedicated yoga practitioner since 1989.  She is an E-RYT 500 instructor with over 16 years of teaching experience, specializing in Women’s and Prenatal Yoga.  In addition to leading ongoing classes, workshops and retreats, Kirsten has developed several Yoga Alliance approved teacher-training programs.  She currently offers Yo Mama Prenatal Teacher Trainings around the country and co-leads the Devi Yoga for Women Teacher Trainings and Yoga Loft’s 200 & 500 Teacher Training Programs in Boulder, Co. As a devoted student, heartfelt teacher and wildly busy mother of two, Kirsten endeavors to live her yoga on and off the mat.  For more information visit her website or find her here.