Diagnosing a diastasis and what you can do about it

In my last post we spoke about a commonly overlooked reason for a post pregnancy pooch that you cannot seem to lose no matter how much you exercise or diet. This separation of abdominal muscles causing the bulging appearance of the stomach is called diastasis recti. This post will cover how to check for a diastasis and some of the things you need to consider if you have this condition.

A test to determine a diastasis can be done by yourself at home or you can speak to your physiotherapist or gynecologist who will check for it.

Diastasis gaps are typically measured in finger width. So you could be diagnosed as having a diastasis which is 2 fingers wide or 4.5 fingers wide. I will not go into how to self-diagnose as there are many videos and tutorials available online. Here is one that explains it quite clearly: diagnosing a diastasis.

checking fordiastasis

If you have a diastasis there are a few things that you need to know:

  1. This does not mean you will never have a taut tummy ever again; you will probably just have to exercise with some modifications and avoid certain exercises altogether.
  2. If people around you- your doctor or family and friends try to tell you that this is normal and just the way all women’s tummies look after a baby it is NOT true. A tummy with a wide gap (diastasis) looks distinctly different from just regular flab that accumulates around the tummy.
  3. A tummy with a diastasis tends to dome or look like a bump when you either get up from a lying down position or any movement which cause you to jack knife or bend from the hip thigh joint.
  4. The traditional Indian post-partum ritual of tying a saree around the tummy may have been dismissed by many as outdated and pointless (I am guilty of saying this as well) however there seems to be some merit in the practice. Providing support to the sagging tummy by splinting helps to provide some support to the weakened stomach muscles and restricts you from bearing down or creating intra-abdominal pressure. However it is important to note that along with splinting it is essential to start strengthening abdominal muscles, otherwise it is of no use and your tummy will continue to pooch out as soon as the splint is removed.
  5. All women who have been pregnant have had some degree of muscle separation, for some the gaps reduces naturally, typically for first time mothers, women who have already been exercising prior to getting pregnant while for older moms, second pregnancies, multiples the diastasis may be wider and not heal naturally.
  6. If your gap is less than 2 fingers wide this is considered normal after pregnancy and should heal by itself by doing diastasis safe exercises before moving on to regular exercise. If the gap is more than 2 fingers or more following “Tupler technique” will certainly be of help. This is a non-surgical technique developed by Julie Tupler (a registered nurse) which is considered to be the gold standard of diastasis healing throughout the world.
  7. Doing exercises that involve jack knifing or rolling up (like when you get out of bed) or any exercises that cause your abdominals to stretch out like back extensions will worsen the conditions.
  8. Pilates exercises can be modified to suit conditions like diastasis. More importantly the emphasis on using the pelvic floor muscles in Pilates exercises makes it very suitable for post-partum fitness. However it has to be said that not all Pilates exercises are suitable for people with a diastasis. It therefore becomes very important to find an instructor who understands post-partum anatomy and can guide you through exercises that are safe and suitable.

Whether you are a new mom or someone with an older child it is not too late to try and heal your diastasis. Finding the right instructor who can work with you and who understands the condition is important. Enjoy your baby and work your way back to a fit body slowly and safely!


Can’t lose the mummy tummy? You could have a diastasis recti.

In my last post I wrote about easing back into a realistic doable fitness routine post pregnancy. One of the things that I had mentioned was that it is important to exercise safely. Pregnancy is a time of many physical changes, while it is important to remain physically active during and after pregnancy it is also important to understand these changes and modify or alter your fitness routine accordingly.

During pregnancy your posture tends to change. The increasing weight around your mid-section tends to pull your lower back into a hyper extension that can cause lower back pain both during and after pregnancy. This pain can get worse post pregnancy when your hormones are still in flux and ligaments are still in a relaxed state and now you have the additional task of caring for your baby. Constant bending, lifting during bath times, diaper changes carrying the baby on your hips all contribute to the stress on your lower back.

Pilates helps by strengthening muscles that support not just your back but also your pelvis restoring a more neutral alignment of the spine and thereby alleviating back pain.

One of the most common mistakes new mothers make in a bid to lose the “mummy tummy” is to do endless crunches or sit ups.  Not only can traditional sit ups hurt your already weak lower back but it can actually make your tummy pooch out even further.

This is due to a condition called diastasis recti.Print

Your abdominal muscles are layered with the transversus abdominis being the deepest or inner most followed by the external and internal oblique muscles and the rectus abdominis or the 6 pack forming the outermost layer.

During pregnancy the increasing load around your tummy puts pressure on your abdominal muscles from the inside (intra-abdominal pressure) and this causes the thin connective tissue running vertically down the center of your torso from the sternum to your pubic bone to stretch out and the rectus abdominis muscles to separate this leaves the contents of the abdomen unsupported with very little to hold them in. This is what causes the permanently 5 months pregnant pooch that some women face many months and years after the baby.

(It is important to note here that a diastasis is possible even among men and infants. For men the reason is typically very weak core muscles made worse by heavy lifting and doing traditional sit ups or after surgery.)

The diastasis post pregnancy normally tends to shrink on its own but doesn’t in many cases.

In the next post I will be talking about how you diagnose if you have this condition and what you can do to heal it.

Post Natal Fitness and Pilates

So you’ve survived the roller coaster that is pregnancy, welcomed your precious bundle of joy into the world and are slowly beginning to wonder when you are going get your body back into pre-pregnancy shape or any recognizable shape for that matter!

First off enjoy your baby and the time that you spend with him/her, these are important moments in both your life and your baby’s life that you will never get back.

In today’s world with all the bombardment of social media and celebrity pre and post baby three week “miracle” transformations from flab to fab it’s easy to start thinking that this is the norm and all new mothers will (and should) snap back into their old bodies in the blink of an eye. This is not so and it is not necessary either.

A few things that are important to remember as you attempt to ease back into a fitness routine:

  1. You NEED to get a doctor’s OK to start exercising- your gynecologist is the right person to give you this advice. They have seen you through your pregnancy and will be able to advise you when it is the right time for YOU to start exercising. The text book 4-6 weeks doesn’t apply to everyone. Having said that, simple exercises like Kegels can be done almost immediately after delivery if you are up to it.
  2. Each body and each pregnancy is different- what may have worked for your friend or for you in your first pregnancy may not work for you now.
  3. Get enough sleep, in the first few years most mothers are sleep deprived and there are days when the last thing you want to do is exercise when you are running on 3 hours of sleep. Sleep is a crucial part of your body’s recovery process.
  4. Proper nutrition is vital not just for you but for your baby especially if you are breastfeeding. You can lose up to 500 calories while breastfeeding! Simple home cooked meals that are nutrient rich and low on empty calories are important.  Especially in the Indian context where new moms are regularly faced with wanted and unwanted advice from well-meaning relatives on what foods will increase breast milk supply (This seems to be an obsession with all the older women in most families!). A lot of these home cures are heavy on sugar, fats and are basically desserts in disguise and will take you further away from your efforts to lose weight or stay healthy. It’s also very important to stay hydrated both from a breast feeding point of view and also to avoid constipation.
  5. It is also important to understand that your body has undergone some major changes in the last 9 months. Your ligaments (the scaffolding that holds your joints in place) have loosened up to enable the baby to pass through your pelvis. Going straight into high intensity exercise may not be advisable initially as you are likely to injure yourself.
  6. Start slowly, listen to your body and know when to stop or alter your exercise intensity.


Pilates is a great choice for new mothers for many reasonspost natal pilates

  1. Its focus on developing core strength is exactly what you need after pregnancy.
  2. It restores a more neutral alignment in your spine
  3. It is rehabilitative especially if you have conditions like diastasis recti
  4. It’s a great way to reconnect with your own body, many times a difficult labor and delivery leaves women with both physical and mental trauma that leaves them feeling that they are not in control of their own body.
  5. Pilates exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles which are stretched and weakened during pregnancy and child birth. A weak pelvic floor leaves many women with urinary or fecal incontinence and sometimes more seriously a pelvic organ prolapse.

In the next post we will go into more details on how to engage your pelvic floor muscles, what exactly is a diastasis recti and how to exercise safely without worsening the condition.

The more important thing is to remember that your exercise routine post pregnancy should be something you look forward to and enjoy, something  that doesn’t exhaust you to the point you are unable to rise up to the challenging demands of motherhood!


Maggi: Tasty bhi unhealthy bhi!

Watching the new channel debates over the last few days one would think that its been a pretty slow week new-wise or the newswala’s have had their head in the sand for a while. They were debating about the whole Maggi noodles fiasco. Looking shocked and betrayed (seriously, some of the anchors should be nominated for a filmfare award) that their beloved Maggi was found to contain 17 times the permissible limits of lead. Along with that ofcourse the entire can of MSG worms was also opened, lots of chest beating and dramatic statements like “can we ever trust Maggi again?”
I only had one question watching the whole tamasha; did you really ever think that Maggi noodles was healthy??
Seriously? At best best Maggi can be passed off as quick relief food when you’re in college and there’s no time or you’re running on your last 100 bucks of pocket money, or you’re a single working person who really couldn’t be bothered to whip up a three course meal after a long day at work. It CANNOT under any circumstances be eaten as a healthy alternative to regular home cooked food.
Some of us have even convinced ourselves that we can ‘make’ Maggi healthy by adding lots of chopped carrots and beans or paneer or egg (I’m going to admit I was guilty of this too)… but really who are we kidding here? If the basis of the dish is maida and taste maker that’s full of chemicals, preservatives and sodium that’s close to half your recommended daily sodium intake no amount of veggies is going to change that!

For those among my friends who say chalta hai…once in a while..the kids like it. Let me ask you, would you knowingly give your kids harmful chemicals once in a while? I think not. Might as well get off the high horse while you’re at it and let them also play with those cheap Chinese toys that contain lead based paint…same thing right?

OK down to the basics. Here is what Maggi contains that Nestle`has actually listed (the hidden gems like lead we can let the food administration guys find out for us).MaggiIngredients

Wheat Flour: Aka maida, refined wheat flour. Maida is made from the starchy part of the wheat grain, stripped of fiber maida contains very little nutrition and is typically bleached using flour bleaching agents like benzoyl peroxide.
Edible Vegetable oil: commonly considered healthy (most of us use vegetable oil for cooking), they are highly processed and involves pressing, heating, various industrial chemicals and highly toxic solvents. (will be blogging about this soon!)
Salt: Now interestingly it seems that in India sodium levels are not mandatory to mention on the packaging of foods, however the order in which the ingredients are listed is a good give away. Manufacturers are required to list the them in order of quantity. Salt is number 3 on the list of ingredients here- need I say more?

Wheat Gluten: This is the protein in wheat, its what makes the wheat dough sticky. Not too bad unless you suffer from non celiac gluten sensitivity (probably the most under diagnosed condition for most people, but that’s a topic for book by itself)

Mineral: Calcium carbonate and guar gum- calcium carbonate is commonly used in food as an anti caking agent, acidity regulator. Not good in large quantities. Guar gum: used to improve shelf life

Hydrolysed groundnut protein: This ingredient is basically the substitute for MSG. it provides the umami (savoury) flavour of the tastemaker that we all just love. it also contains glutamates …yes you heard me. so while Maggi can technically say no added MSG it does contain naturally occurring glutamates via this route! This is pretty much what keeps you coming back for more it is highly addictive and targets the same taste receptor that MSG targets.if you have eaten nachos, kurkure, lays…cant stop at one..its the umami!
Mixed spices: (onion powder, corriander, Chilli powder, turmeric, garlic powder, cumin, aniseed, fenugreek, ginger, black pepper, clove, nutmeg, cardamom): dehydrated onions and coriander I suppose, so it can last forever!
Noodle powder:(wheat flour, edible vegetable oil, salt, wheat gluten, calcium carbonate, guar gum) sugar, edible starch,
Edible vegetable oil
Acidifying agent (330): enhances the activity of anti-oxidants but is not an anti-oxidant by itself, used as a flavour enhancer, emulsifier and prevents foods from reating to metals like jams, soft drinks etc.
Potassium chloride: Used commonly as a salt replacement, flavour enhancer…you see where I’m going with this!
Colour(150d) -Caramel color- this ones debatable- while some say its ok, if it is prepared using ammonia it is carcinogenic
Flavour enhancer (635): Similar to the Hydrolysed protein targets that umani taste we love, typically used in foods that contain MSG
Raising agent (500ii) Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate- raising agent

The only conclusion I can come to is if I’m putting 400 calories of something into my body it had better provide me with better quality nutrition than Maggi.  Some real food maybe?

If you have something to add or say about this article I’d love to hear your thought.  Head on over to the comments section!

Easy ideas to on how to include healthy foods to your diet

flax-seed-1Unless you’re living under a rock you’ve probably ready enough about flax seeds and how they are a healthy source of omega 3’s for vegetarians. Consuming whole flax seeds is a bit pointless since it just passes through your body without giving you much benefit, freshly ground flax seeds is what you want to consume. Flax seed oil is good too provided it is not heated and fresh (it tends to turn rancid pretty fast).
Add flax seeds the next time you make Chutney powder (molaga podi/chutney pudi)
Sprinkle freshly ground flax seeds on your oatmeal porridge, smoothie, yogurt, raita


Karipatta/ Curry leaveskaripatta
Now this ingredient is commonly used across Indian cuisine however I mostly end up picking it out of my sabzi or curry and placing it aside to be thrown later (which defeats the any nutritional purpose of adding it to the dish).
Karipatta is known to help in
-Lowering cholesterol
-Controlling blood sugar levels
-Preventing graying of hair, helps treat damaged hair
-Treating skin infections because it has anti fungal properties and has strong anti-oxidants that leave your skin looking healthier
-It’s good for digestion
-Cures diarrhea and,
-Is a great source of both iron and folate (folic acid helps your body absorb the iron in your food)

When you buy a fresh bunch of karipatta wash it and let it dry out for a day or two. it will start to look crispy as it dries out. Once it dries out remove the leaves from the stalk and pop it in a spice grinder and blitz it till it to form a powder. (how fine you grind the leaves is up to you)
Now you can bottle this powder and sprinkle it over your dals, sabzi, sambar, butter milk etc. you will consume it without having to chew through the leaves. Now you can include this wonder food in your diet and enjoy its many benefits.

Karipatta Chutney

This is my MIL’s recipe which I love but there are lots of different recipes for the same on the internet, just google it!


One small bunch of karipatta

2 tsp oil

1 tbsp urad dal,

1 tsp channa dal,

4 to 5 dry red chillies

1/2 tsp whole black pepper

tsp jaggery powder

2 pieces Hing OR 1/2 tsp if using powder. (I like to use the crystal hing (brand SSP) rather than the powder for this recipe

1 small lime size ball of tamarind (can replace with amchur powder)

Salt to taste

Fry urad dal, channa dal, karipatta, red chilli, black pepper in oil till light brown.
Put all of the above ingredients in a grinder along with salt, jaggery, tamarind/amchur and grind into into a fine paste. Add water to adjust the consistency to a thick paste.

Talk to me! Do you like this post? Let me know if you have any other healthy ingredients that you are trying to add to your current diet…do you have any special karipatta or flax seed recipes? Would you like me to feature any particular food ingredient in a future post?

Pilates for runners

Whether you’re are serious marathon runner or just a casual runner on a treadmill you would obviously be looking at improving your speed or efficiency and the best way to do this is if you can manage to run without pain or injury.

Pilates complements running beautifully in that it focuses on strengthening the core muscles of your body namely the muscles around your back, hips and pelvis and the deepest layer of your abdominals called the transversus abdominus or simply (the TA)

Stabilizing the core results in smoother and more efficient movements in the rest of the body  such as your arms and legs.

Most runners  (especially the casual runners) don’t think about how they are running..I mean you put on your shoes and go right? Whats there to think about? Well lots actually…

When you run you are using you hip flexors to lift and pull the top of the front leg forward and the quadriceps to extend the knee joint and muscles around the ankle to flex your foot as you prepare to land on it. You also use the hip extensors (muscles around the back of your legs and your gluteals) to pull the leg back after you land. It is important to ensure that all the while you are maintaining a good posture and neutral alignment of your body; not going into a posterior tilt or an anterior tilt of the pelvis. Its important to keep the shoulders over the hips, open out the chest, keep the legs (femurs) facing forward and not turning in and having the knee, ankle and foot aligned.

When you run incorrectly supporting muscles begin to take over functions that they were not intended to perform resulting in aches and pains, stiffness and eventually injury.

So how does Pilates help?

  • Pilates helps create a supple, strong and agile body
  • Pilates focuses on creating dynamic stability i.e. stability while your body is in any kind of movement (running)
  • Pilates breathing is great for better blood circulation, oxygenation of muscles
  • Pilates evens out imbalances created by incorrect form while running which results in over or under utilization of certain muscles
  • It works on multiple muscle groups
  • Creates better body awareness and posture
  • Pilates creates long lean muscles and not bulk – lengthening of muscles that are typically tight in runners (calves, hamstrings, hip flexors)

A good Pilates instructor should be able to retrain your mind (over time) to not just think differently about how you move but actually get you to experience it and therefore use it in your next run!

What is the difference between Yoga and Pilates?

Many people ask if Yoga and Pilates are similar so I’m going to go through the similarities and differences in this post.

Yoga is more mind-body-spirit
I am not going to do a Yoga Vs. Pilates write-up because honestly that really irritates me when I see fitness professionals dissing forms of exercise that they don’t believe in. If millions of people are following any form of exercise over many years clearly there must be some benefit right??

So here goes; both Yoga and Pilates focus on breathing and a mind-body connection. Pilates exercises were originally derived from different forms of physical arts such a gymnastics , martial arts and yoga. (which is why some of the exercises in Pilates look similar to Yoga poses).

Both offer benefits such as better posture, better sleep, increased flexibility, better balance, stress release.

Yoga is much older, originating in India and was developed thousands of years ago. Pilates was developed around the early 20th century by a German named Joseph Pilates.

Yoga emphasizes a mind-body and spirit connection whereas Pilates focuses on just the mind and body aspect. To put it another way I would say that yoga is all about how you feel and Pilates more about how you look. Not to say that you don’t feel good after a Pilates class 🙂 it is just not meant or expected to be a be spiritual experience.

Diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing
While both forms focus on breathing in and out at specific points in the exercise, the way you breath in Yoga and Pilates differs. Yoga focuses on breathing into the stomach (diaphragmatic breathing) and Pilates into the side and back of your rib cage (posterio-lateral breathing). Also in Pilates you breathe in through the nose normally but breathe out through pursed lip (like blowing out a candle).

Yoga involves getting into and then holding the asana (static postures) before transitioning into the next pose. Pilates is a series of fluid movements all done using the core muscles in the trunk of the body to stabilize the body through any movement. It aims at creating “dynamic stability”.

Yoga is all about channeling energy through the body through different poses or asanas in order to keep the body supple and flexible. All Pilates exercises are focused on building core strength, long lean muscles and stabilizing the body and bringing it into a neutral alignment .

Pilates on larger equipment -Reformer
Larger Pilates equipment-Reformer
Yoga is done using our own body weight as resistance and done on the floor. Pilates has exercises that can be done on the floor but also a wide variety that is done on large equipment like the reformer, Cadillac, chair, ladder barrel etc.

Yoga is more than just an exercise; it is a holistic approach to fitness, hygiene, lifestyle and nutrition. Pilates is more about physical conditioning and developing core strength, and is increasingly being used in rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Neutral alignment posture compared with poor posture
Pilates focuses on the body’s neutral alignment
I’m sure there are more differences between the two. However increasingly the line between the two is also blurring where people want to combine the benefits of the two forms resulting in ‘Yogalates’. Individually too both Yoga and Pilates are evolving. From classical yoga to Ashtanga Yoga, Hatha Yoga and more recently Bikram Yoga etc. From classical Pilates to more contemporary approaches such as STOTT , Fletcher and Winsor Pilates.

Finally the way I see it, some form of exercise is better than none! If you are confused sign up for one and then the other do it for a few months and then see if you like both or just one and pursue it.

Disclaimer : I am not claiming to be an expert on either, these are just my observations through my limited experiences!

How does Pilates help with back pain

Many people who have back pain and practice Pilates benefit greatly from it. So what makes Pilates so effective in alleviating back pain?

Pilates exercises target basic structural imbalances in the body that are generally the reason for back pain. Lack of core engagement, pelvic instability, muscular imbalances, poor posture, and lack of body awareness all effect the back; this is exactly what Pilates helps improve.

Core muscles and how they help support the spine

Deep Core muscles of the trunk
The muscles that support the trunk (abdominals, back, hips and pelvis) are called core muscles. Lack of core muscle strength can be equated with a tree that has a hollow trunk and is trying to support heavy branches! Together the core muscles provide support and stability for the spine. As part of developing core strength Pilates teaches how and when to activate and release muscles.

Pilates focuses on deep muscles like the Pelvic floor muscles (think kegels), transversus abdominus (a built in corset!), deep muscles in the shoulder, and psoas (used when you bend at the hip); while these are not muscles of the back they are important because the prevent undue pressure on the spinal column especially in movement.

Improving posture is essential to a pain free back (other than the fact that you will look taller and slimmer!). Posture is how your body parts are aligned with each other. The ideal points to check for alignment are ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears. While standing in one place and keeping good alignment is not not too difficult, the challenge is to maintain good posture as you move around through the day at work or at home. This is what Pilates exercises teach you…maintaining alignment and stability as you move or ‘dynamic stability’ (I just love that phrase!!) .

A man in front of his PC with his cervical spine hyperextended

A man in front of his PC with his cervical spine hyperextended

A simple example is when people do ab crunches I have often heard of complaints that the neck hurts more than the abs! This is because typically the position of the cervical spine (the back of the neck) is not correct and as you lift the shoulders to curl up its the neck that’s doing all the work rather than the abs. Pilates will teach you how to align your neck in this movement so that the abs are targeted instead of the neck.

Pilates increases flexibility. A healthy spine should be able to bend forward, backwards, bend from side to side and twist. The deep supporting muscles once strengthened protect and work along with the spine to allow us not only to increase the range of motion but appreciate the subtle movements that the spine is capable of.

Pilates increases body awareness. What I find the most exciting is that from the first session onwards people walk out with better body awareness. Pilates teaches us to look at our body differently and pay more attention to how we carry ourselves through life. Something as simple as pulling the ears away from the shoulder can diffuse tremendous tension that builds up around the neck and shoulder causing aches pains in the back of the neck and head.

Finally to quote Joseph Pilates “The art of *contrology proves that the only real guide to your true age lies not in years or how you THINK you feel but as you ACTUALLY are as infallibly indicated by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life.”

*Pilates was originally called Contrology.

The man was truly ahead of his time…