Somatic Bodywork for Pregnancy

Editor’s Note: Today we have a post from Collective member Mandy Herrick, who explains how a somatic bodyworker approaches working with a pregnant mama. 

by Mandy Herrick, RSMT, GSP

We all know pregnancy is a time in a woman’s life that is full of new awareness, whether it be aches and pains or breath and bliss. Either way, it’s a time to relish in the self. To nurture, to savor, to behold. And to get some bodywork.

Not many of us remember our own self being born. But here at our very own birth we start a relationship with ourselves that continues through our life. How we relate to our body. How we relate to others and our environment. And through our hectic, adventurous lives we develop patterns – not just lifestyle patterns – but physical movement patterns that can intertwine with energy levels, emotional well-being, and musculoskeletal discomfort. The way we sit, stand, lie down and move around can all impact the balance of our tensegrity, the natural 3-dimensional tension system our bones and fascia create within our body.   There are several ways to approach these symptoms from a Somatic Therapy standpoint. And in the context of pregnancy and postpartum, these approaches can be very helpful in understanding your body – the main tool you will need to birth and nurture your baby.

Hands-on Healing

The body is a marvelous dynamic system full of muscles, bones, organs, fascia, fluids, ligaments, nerves, hormones, and energy that all communicate together in an interwoven network. My goal for clients is to find healing by attuning to the interdependence of all these systems. I combine Craniosacral Therapy, energy healing (Reiki and Vibrational Aspects™), gentle massage, and breath to find relief and restoration from sore and tight areas, stress and anxiety, and just feeling “off.” In pregnancy, the ligaments and fascia in the pelvis and sacrum are stretching and re-adjusting as the bones move to make room for baby. Here, energy work and “embodied massage” can be very relieving. Embodied massage is a term I use for hands-on palpation of a certain area that integrates the bone, the nearby joint, the ligaments and the fascia to allow the muscle to not only restore balance and fluidity, but for the tissue to have an inner awareness, or a mind, that can communicate what it needs. This is where the body/mind connection comes in – that to trust the body is in fact to trust the intelligence of our muscles, bones and organs. For pregnancy, birth and postpartum, it is essential to be reminded of our body’s wisdom and the wisdom of our baby, who swims in utero and spirals out into the world.

Other hands-on modalities I practice include Reiki, Vibrational Aspects and Craniosacral Therapy. Reiki and Vibrational Aspects work together to access the body’s delicate energy system, finding healing by channeling energy or vibration into tissues, organs, or a more global area of the body that calls for equilibrium. Craniosacral Therapy is a modality that uses very light pressure to work with the craniosacral system – brain, spinal cord, dural tube, cerebralspinal fluid, and sacrum. Relief is found by navigating the nervous system and allowing the natural healing process to unfold. Pregnancy is a wonderful time to receive both of these modalities as they seek to support body, mind and spirit.

Alignment Techniques

I recently participated in a webinar called “Finding your Root: Balancing Your Foundational Core and the Pelvic Floor Muscles” by Yoga Practitioner, Leslie Howard who stated that “sitting is the new smoking.” It turns out our bodies are not a bunch of bones stacked atop one another with muscles fixed to them.  The way we align ourselves in basic positions and movements throughout the day can affect our musculoskeletal integrity.  Sitting, for example, is an action that, these days, if practiced for long periods of time in inefficient postures (i.e. slumped over) can impact not only our low back and pelvic floor, but also our energy level, mental clarity, and general well being. And the epic proportion of people that follow the rhythm of Sit Sit Sit Sit all day (sit in the car to work, sit at work, sit in the car back home, sit on the couch) is growing exponentially in our country.

A pregnant woman’s body is in constant counterbalance. As the belly widens and reaches out into the open, the tissues and muscles living on the back of the body are contracting and pulling to regain balance as the mother walks, sits, reaches down, stands up, or even rests upright in meditation. We are subject to gravity, there’s no way around it. As a Somatic Therapist, I am interested in a base level how my clients:

  • Use their Breath

  • Relate to their Spine

  • Relate to their Pelvis

  • Integrate their whole body

Together we find landmarks of the spine or landmarks of the pelvis that help the client find anatomical neutral – where the body is aligned most efficiently. Landmarks such as our ‘sitz bones,’ pubic bone, kidneys (to support the back of the spine), heart (to support the front of the spine and opens the chest) all help in gaining more awareness to our body. And with more awareness, comes self re-aligning and re-patterning and ultimately healing.  

I also integrate the surrounding organs, not only as physiologic systems, but as complementary support structures for the bones. And we notice how the fascia, a weblike system of tissue with innervating nerves, moves and envelops around the bones, organs, and areas of imbalance. With nerves weaving in and around our every structure, there is no way we cannot attribute a ‘mind’ to our tissue. So we trust the body.

Movement Re-patterning

With every motion, there is an attention the body takes with itself and its environment. We learned this in our earliest movement explorations inside our mother’s womb. From playing with our earliest toy, the umbilical cord, to mouthing our tiny hands, to pushing against the strong intrauterine walls (sometimes into our mother’s rib) thereby understanding our boundaries, we have experienced the crucial developmental stages of becoming a human. Post-birth, we enter the world of gravity, and our strong and supple newborn bodies continue to repeat all the movement we learned in our comfy amniotic ocean. We then learn more advanced developmental movements that eventually lead us to crawling, standing, walking.  And although these small movements started early (we were moving even as embryos), they can contribute to the functionality of our brain, our emotional capacity, and the optimal capability of our movement potential.

In a nutshell, if baby is allowed free movement of limbs, these out-of-womb reflexive stages look like this:

  • Breath

  • Yielding with gravity into the earth (aka the floor)

  • Exploring core to extremities relationship

  • Exploring head to tail relationship

  • Exploring upper/lower body connection

  • Exploring body half differentiation (symmetrical)

  • Full integration of all the above

As we grow older, we may learn that some of these reflexes need more integration within our bodies. It may not be obvious because as adults we are operating with our cerebral cortex, our high brain, as we “successfully” live our fast-paced life. Practicing and re-integrating these developmental movement patterns can reawaken the low, reptilian brain and can potentially restore the needed physiologic experience into what is most essential for our complex body/mind connection: consciousness within ourselves tied with a gentle awareness to our outer environment.

I can’t think of a better time to get back into our reptilian brain other than pregnancy. It’s the brain that will lead us in to birth, that will guide us to our instincts.

So as you imagine yourself being born, coming into the world fresh and new, tap into that tiny newborn self. The part of you that might need skin to skin touch, swaddling, holding, or affirmation that you are you. In pregnancy and birth, consciously experiencing your own body can be a transformative endeavor. And you may not like it.  But it’s here where we open ourselves to the unknown.

Mandy Herrick is a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist specializing in pregnancy and birth. She is also a Global Somatics™ Practitioner, Prenatal Yoga Practitioner, dance artist and mother. For more information visit www.mandyherrick.com

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Filed under Complementary/Alternative, Pregnancy

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