When it comes to exercising postpartum, we often forget that our bodies have undergone a radical change. By the six-eight week recovery mark, when our doctors advise we reintroduce exercise and movement back into our routines, it's easy to get carried away trying to "get back to normal." What we fail to recognize during this vulnerable time is that the exercise methods that served us pre-baby may actually exacerbate the collateral symptoms of childbirth, making it harder to restore strength, agility, and function.
Here we will talk about postpartum yoga, whether it's safe for diastasis recti, and how to make the most of your routine.
Is Postpartum Yoga Safe for Diastasis Recti?
There’s no question that yoga is beneficial for the mind and body, and practiced by a large population worldwide. However, not all yoga is created equal. Some traditional yoga exercises can be counterintuitive to building and maintaining core integrity. They may even injure your abdominal connective tissue exacerbating or inducing an abdominal separation (diastasis recti). In fact, incidents of yoga-induced injuries have grown significantly in the past decade, from reports of muscle damage and torn cartilage to risks of exacerbating other conditions.
The good news is that many go-to yoga movements can be modified for all the benefits and core safety.
Postpartum Yoga Exercises to Avoid with Diastasis Recti
Many movements and postures in classical yoga (and in other practices, including traditional fitness exercises and Pilates) can actually cause or exacerbate abdominal separation, also called diastasis recti. These movements fall into one of two categories: Either it exerts a forward, forceful pressure on the abdominal wall, (boat pose, for example) or the posture thrusts the lower ribs forward, drawing the upper abdominal muscles away from the midline (like many chest openers, including full cobra, upward dog, and wheel pose).
Whether the stress is caused by a forward forceful pressure on the abdominal wall or from rib-thrusting, all of these movements strain the linea alba, the connective tissue that runs vertically along the midline. As that connective tissue becomes overstretched, it loses integrity and the distance between the rectus abdominis muscles increases, compromising core strength, function, and stability.
Here are some of the most common yoga poses to avoid when practicing postpartum yoga:
Full Wheel Backbends
Full Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana) is a backbend yoga pose that focuses on the entire spine, chest, shoulders, and arms while stretching the front body, including the chest, lungs, shoulders, and front of the neck.
Poses like a Full Wheel that open the lower rib cage compromise the integrity of the upper abdominal wall. As the ribs splay apart, they tug the upper abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis, away from the midline. This stresses the linea alba, the midline that runs vertically between the two halves of the abdomen. Over time, repeated stress on this tissue can cause it to weaken and thin, compromising core strength and stability while widening the waistline.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) is another yoga posture similar to Full Wheel, focusing on the upper body. Particularly the back and shoulders muscles, while stretching the front body, including the chest, lungs, shoulders, and front of the neck. Unfortunately, this pose can compromise the integrity of the upper abdominal wall for the same reasons mentioned in the Full Wheel pose.
Full-extension upward dog
Upward Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) is a yoga movement that focuses on the upper body. The pose concentrates on the arms and shoulders muscles while stretching the front body, including the chest, lungs, shoulders, and front of the neck.
The alignment to over-lengthen the front body in a yoga pose such as Upward Dog results in letting go of the abdominal muscles while over-recruiting the lower back muscles and hamstrings. This chain sequence of non and over-activation can inhibit healing diastasis recti and contribute to symptoms such as low back pain and a persistently poochy appearance of the abdomen.
Postpartum Yoga Exercises that are Diastasis Recti-Safe
In some cases, simply decreasing the range of motion of your favorite pose or exercise will be sufficient. For example, instead of performing an expansively open upward dog or a full cobra, keep the pose moderate and only go as far as you can while keeping your ribs anchored. Or slow down a reverse fly to control the movement, avoid momentum and keep the ribs anchored in neutral.
But sometimes it really feels good to stretch the abdominal muscles and front body. To satisfy that need without the risks associated with a full wheel backbend, try a modified cobra to safely stretch the front body without splaying the ribs and upper abs apart. This stretch keeps the ribs anchored and gently lengthens the front body without compressing the spine.
Modified Cobra (Sphinx)
Another name for a modified cobra pose is sphinx pose. This pose also is an excellent alternative to a full wheel backbend as it gives the benefits of a front-body stretch without the risk of splaying the ribs and upper abs apart. This stretch keeps the ribs anchored and gently lengthens the front body without compressing the spine.
How to perform a sphinx pose:
- Begin by lying on your stomach with your forearms on the floor.
- Allow your hips to sink into the floor, anchoring you.
- Engage your arms as you lift your upper body in a diagonal direction both forward and upward out of the hips, keeping the hip bones secure on the floor. This creates gentle, satisfying traction that lengthens the front body in a mild yet effective stretch.
- Keep breathing throughout, and remain mindful to keep your ribs anchored in neutral without thrusting the lower ribs cage open.
*This exercise is not recommended during pregnancy.
Bridge pose, also known as "Setu Bandha Sarvangasana," is a yoga pose that focuses on strengthening and lengthening the back body.
- Lie on your back, your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Place your arms alongside your body, with your palms facing down.
- Exhale and press your feet and arms into the floor, lifting your hips up towards the ceiling.
- Clasp your hands under your pelvis and push your shoulders and upper arms into the floor.
- Lengthen your tailbone towards your knees and lift your hips upwards while keeping your ribcage from splaying. Perform Core Compressions throughout the duration of the pose. That means slowly pulsing the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor up and in toward the spine while exhaling on engagement. Allow a tiny release of the abs.
- To release the pose, exhale and gently lower your spine back to the floor, one vertebra at a time.
We include video coaching in this exercise at the end of many of our core intensive workouts, which you can find in our EMbody Programs’ guided paths and workout libraries.
Learn More About Diastasis Recti and Diastasis Recti Exercises
A regular exercise routine can help, or even heal entirely, diastasis recti symptoms. But, before doing what you’ve always done before, it’s good to know which diastasis recti exercises are considered safe, and which might actually make your condition worse.
Check out some of our other articles to learn more about diastasis recti exercises, and begin to reclaim your body today.
- Diastasis Recti 101: What is Diastasis Recti? Everything You Need to Know
- How to Check for Diastasis Recti
- How to Fix Diastasis Recti
- Can You Heal Diastasis Recti Years Later? It's Never Too Late!
- Diastasis Recti Symptoms: Causes, Treatment, and Next Steps
- Diastasis Recti Exercises: What’s Safe and What’s Not?
- Ab Exercises for Diastasis Recti: Safely Strengthening Your Core
- Cardio Exercises with Diastasis Recti
- Pilates for Diastasis Recti: Are You Helping or Hurting Your Core?
By Leah Keller, Creator of the EMbody Program™. Learn more about Leah here.