Monday, June 30, 2014

Alleviate Menstrual Pain, Eliminate Heavy Periods and Reduce the Length of Your Period

*I am not a medical professional, supplements and exercise programs can have unintended consequences.  Please do your own research and consult a health professional for advice.

It is so hard to not sound like an infomercial when I talk about this because it is so crazy.  The bottom line is I alleviated my menstrual pain, eliminated my heavy periods and reduced the length of my period from 7 days to 3/4 days by doing calf and hamstring stretches.

I consume a lot of information and I love it, because I find all these weird connections and develop these philosophies, but when I try to explain them it sounds weird. There is so much back story, that it is hard to be coherent.  A small example would be my post about languages, tribalism and the Seahawks.  I also have a theory about high stakes testing, and the observer effect that I have yet to put into words.  So I come across this lady, Katy Bowman, and she has this blog, and at first what I read seemed a bit odd and random, but the more I read, the more excited I get because everything is connected and she explains how.

Katy is a biomechanist whose has dedicated herself to educating the masses on the importance of alignment. Alignment is not posture. Posture is in aesthetic way to hold your body. Alignment is a correct way to hold your body.  She takes principles of biomechanics, kinesiology, physical therapy, exercise, ergonomics, biology, chemistry, physics, anthropology among other things and finds the connections between the fields, and then uses that information in a practical way.  She tells you how to stand or walk, and then explains why you should, and why you don't, and why it is hard, and what will happen if you do, and what will happen if you don't.  It is a lot of information, and sometimes it is technical, but Katy is funny and explains it entertainingly.

Just a warning this will be way TMI about myself in case the title of the post wasn't enough of a hint.  I have always had heavy periods, except when I was on birth control.  My period has never been shorter than 5 days, even when on birth control, and it usually lasts 7 days. I have incontinence problems when I run.  After having kids it became much worse.  I have diastasis recti. After Allie was born my abs split apart which has the unfortunate effect of making me look 4 - 5 months pregnant despite being 5 years postpartum.

Katy Bowman had been floating around my internet for a while. The first time when I heard of her was this interview about how kegels can make incontinence worse and thus I tried to do more squats.  Then I came across a reference to her from the Mutu program which is for diastasis recti.  I read a few of Katy's articles and got her foot book from the library, but had to return it before I had read it all. I had been contemplating buying her Down There for Woman DVD when she wrote a post about how your period works.  The gist being, that painful and long periods are caused because the uterus is never getting enough blood which makes it take longer for your body to repair the lining that was shed.  I had read enough of what she had written to realize that poor alignment can restrict blood from getting where it needs to be. It was an aha moment and I immediately decided to get the DVD. When I went to her site I saw that she had duplicated the DVD in an iPhone app, which I immediately bought. It is $10 (which people inexplicably find too expensive for an app -- that type of attitude needs to be changed. ;) ) and has five stretches and a short informative lecture.

The main goal of the program is to get your pelvis into neutral.  A neutral pelvis allows maximum blood flow to the uterus.  Many women have their pelvis's perpetually tucked.  There are a few main causes of a tucked pelvis.  The first is shoes with heels.  Pretty much every shoe, except the new "minimal" shoes, has a heel.  To adapt to the heel, and not tip over, your body adjusts its angles, and this typically results in shortened calf and hamstring muscles, that then pull on the pelvis and cause it to tuck.  Sitting and running are also activities that can cause shortened calf and hamstring muscles.  Finally many women are told to tuck their pelvis to avoid a sway back.  Unfortunately this is usually a band-aid fix that can end up making things worse.  More often the correct correct adjustment is to drop your ribs.
The DVD/app has five exercises, but the two main stretches of the program are calf and hamstring stretches. There is also a pelvic list stretch that I found very difficult the first few times.  The crazy thing about these stretches was that I had never seen anything like them.  I did gymnastics for years when I was younger. I did soccer, basketball, track in high school and track and cross-country in college.  My sister is big into yoga and barre and we discuss fitness stuff frequently.  I used to work at a company that made software that contained drawings and instructions for thousands of stretches and exercises.  Overall I have a lot of experience with various exercise paradigms, and this one is subtly, but importantly different.
The stretch that seemed to make the biggest difference was the double calf stretch, which involves bending over keeping your hips over your knees, your knees straight, and sticking your tailbone into the air, and relaxing your back into a concave curve. Initially I could not relax my back into the concave position because it was too tight.  Fortunately I am a generally flexible person and wasn't too far off. After just a few days of doing the stretches 3 - 5 times a day my back released and went concave.  It is hard to describe how incredibly good it felt. My hips, butt, and especially my piriformis had been perpetually tight for years. I would get massages or do hot yoga, but never felt like they were relaxed. Essentially it was 10 - 15 years of tension released, and it felt awesome.

I started the exercises right after my period had ended, and did them for 3 weeks before I got my next period. Typically the first day of my period I feel tired, nauseous, and have very painful cramps that cause me to cry. In general I dislike using medicine (I frequently have negative side affects) and do have a high pain tolerance, but after being miserable for months I eventually succumbed and had been taking over-the-counter pain killers for the first two days of my period every month.  This time it was different. While I still felt tired and not well, I was not in pain and did not need any medication.  The amount of flow was significantly lighter. Normally I soak through pads/tampons/cups, etc within a couple hours, this time I was not at risk of soaking through anything. And my period ended after only 3.5 days, instead of 7.  It is a miracle!

From that moment I was on Katy's bandwagon, and spent over a month consuming every book, blog post, article, interview, and free video she offered.  I also ordered a few of her online classes. The cool thing is she has all these little tests you can do to test your range of motion and diagnose the spots you are tight, or areas that could use attention.  Since then I have been able to release my psoas so I can lie flat on the ground comfortably.  I can stand with my knees straight and my quadriceps relaxed.  I have reduced lymph accumulation in my armpits.  I have increased my lung capacity and am able to breath deeper and I have increased the range of motion of my toes. I have changed the way I walk, and stand, and sit.

The nice thing about her paradigm, is that it doesn't involve a lot of time or work.  If I happen to be standing around I just stand differently.  When I am walking the kids to school I pay attention to what muscles I am using.  I do add some stretches to my day, but they feel so good, they don't seem like a chore.

If you have any ailment at all, I highly recommend looking into what Katy Bowman has to say.  Foot, knee, back, hip, and neck pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, varicose veins, bunions, menstruation and fertility issues--all of these things have mechanical components to them, and the kinks in the mechanics of how your body works affect your body on cellular and hormonal levels (download for free the first two hours of her Whole Body Alignment course if you want to learn how).

*The links to the app and the books are affiliate links and I will get a small percentage of the sale if you buy  from the link.