Season 3 Episode 8 Transcript
Today's is special Meet Your Herbs episode, when I introduce you to another of my favorite plant friends. Since this season's theme is Get Moving, this is an herb that will help you repair your injured bits if you've gotten moving a bit too much. She's blowsy, spiny, voluptuous, a bit of a misunderstood outcast. Meet controversial Comfrey- poor thing, it's not her fault.
If you want to really understand the background of the Comfrey controversy and what pyrolizzidine alkaloids are, the Borage (and Comfrey) episode of Natasha’s Richardson’s archived podcast Listen is *fantastic*. I will link the episode in this show’s transcript. If you want to really understand Comfrey, grow some! She grows just the way you want your tissues that it heals so well to be- strong, vibrant, protective, and beautifully healthy. Comfrey leaves get HUGE and are prickly almost like a velcro, and Comfrey people are in an acute state that need some knitting back together. It's not a long term tonic plant, but rather it's like that gruff grandparent who is always there for you but really likes to be left alone the rest of the time.
Comfrey’s strength lies in putting your cells back together, and in doing so it stimulates cell replication. So when it comes to wounds this can actually be a problem, because Comfrey can get a wound to heal so quickly that it traps debris and dirt inside, that can cause an infection. So you need to be a little careful when you’re working with comfrey and not just slap it on right away. You really need to make sure that any kind of open skin wound is clean.
But any kind of injury, any kind of damage, can be helped with Comfrey. It’s not just necessarily something that will then become a scab. So- broken bones, strains and sprains, bruises, all kinds of injuries and damage can really be helped with Comfrey. It’s typically used topically, but if you listen to the Comfrey and Borage episode that Natasha Richardson put out with Marcos Patchett, you’ll definitely understand why that’s not always been the case and why it might not need to be the case.
Comfrey is one of the few plants where harvesting the roots isn't really a worry, since it grows so prolifically. You can also use the roots and the leaves similarly, most often infused in oils, but tinctures and even whole plant and fresh plant poultices work really well too. So try it and experience the difference in strength and energy of the different plant parts. Make a connection with your plants, learn how they work with you, instead of expecting them to be for your issues.
This season of Holistic Lifestyling is all about getting moving, and Comfrey is one of those friends always waiting to patch you up so you can keep going. Did you rub your skin off a toe in a damp shoe? Scratch yourself picking berries in the park? Did you reduce a mosquito bite to a scab? Fell out of the canoe and strain a rib? The list goes on and on, and Comfrey is waiting to be asked for help.
Season 3 Episode 7 Transcript
First, do you know what an RSS feed is, in the technology sense? It’s an acronym that’s defined a couple of different ways but the one I like best is Real Simple Syndication. This is the term for automatic updates of information that are compatible with many types of users.
So, for example, this is the way your podcasts are kept up to date in Apple or Spotify or Stitcher or Podcast Addict or whatever platform you use- each podcast has an RSS feed that all the players can access, so each time a podcast episode is published, it automatically becomes available on all the podcast players out there. The podcaster doesn’t have to manually go in and update every single platform that plays podcasts.
This is an automatic process, and it’s a simultaneous process. New information becomes available, and poof! It’s shared everywhere, all at once.
This is a SUPER metaphor for what’s happening in your body when you learn something new! One of the first lessons you’ll always get from me is how to set up truly parallel feet. But when you practice this, it’s not just about your feet. The practice of this position is automatically and simultaneously updating information all over your body- muscles are engaging and disengaging. Nerves are activating, proprioception is being built, balance is changing, even internal systems are being affected like breathing and digesting and circulating blood.
So my own, physical, holistic version of this RSS feed stands for Release, Stretch, and Strengthen. When these 3 things are practiced consistently and together, they create the environment your body needs to establish the movement patterns that release the tension, build the structures, and relieve the discomfort that we don’t want to live with anymore!
RELEASE refers to holding tension in your muscles. I focus on muscles with this RSS feed idea because they're the parts in your body that you have the most control over. When you improve how they work, you’ll automatically and simultaneously improve how all the other structures work too, like the tendons and ligaments and bones and nerves and blood vessels… all the stuff.
So, release. This is a passive practice, and that can be hard to wrap your head around since we’re usually taught that everything that’s good for us is active. But we often hold active and inappropriate tension in muscles when they’re at rest, that impacts how we move and how we feel, so it takes time and inhibition training to let that tension go.
The line I use here all the time is that “Sensation is not the best indicator of success!” So when we’re doing a release move in my PF personal training program, you might not feel the “stretch” in the body part that the move is named for. You’re releasing tension in a body part that is potentially so used to being tense, you don’t have the sensory nerves there anymore from training yourself to ignore it.
Try this- can you lay on your back without:
If not, maybe your psoas needs some releasing!
This is the same principle that’s in play when you wear toe spacers- you’re passively releasing the muscle tension that’s created by wearing narrow shoes, with a heel, that pitch you forward. Basically your feet clench to try and prevent you from falling on your face, and that’s become a totally normal state of affairs. Toe spaces are passive tools that help you regain a natural foot shape and mobility level.
STRETCH is the second part of my holistic RSS feed. When you stretch your muscles, you feed information back to your brain about your available range of motion- not just in that muscle, but throughout your whole body. Stretching your feet loosens your hips. Stretching your core improves your neck. Stretching your hamstrings impacts your shoulders.
The thing to know here is that muscles have 2 parts. The “belly” of the muscle is the classic, all-red-on-the-anatomy-pictures, part of the muscles. It’s all muscle fibers, which kinda move like a combination of velcro and tug of war. So a good stretch backs up those velcro hooks, and gives more space for the tug of war to happen.
The other part is the “ends” of the muscles. Muscles connect to your body though connective tissue, but there’s no hard and fast boundary where red muscle fibers become white connective tissue. They overlap, with fewer and fewer muscle fibers closer to the bone and fewer and fewer connective tissue fibers closer to the belly of the muscle.
This is important because these ends can stretch too, and worse- they can tear. So stretching with good form, slowly without bouncing, and with resistance, will not only give you more range of motion in the belly of the muscles, but also more elasticity in the ends of the muscles. This is helpful for when we have to use the ends of the muscles, like in emergency situations, so that you don’t tear things we don’t want tearing.
Finally, STRENGTHEN is the final piece of our holistic RSS feed. My thing here is functional strength. I don’t care how many pull ups you can do, if you can’t pull a suitcase or pick strawberries without throwing out your back. It doesn't matter how many miles you can run or how many pounds you can leg press, if you can’t safely pick up and put down your child dozens of times a day. Strength isn’t an aesthetic thing, it’s a functional thing.
At the end of the day, the point of exercise (at least according to me, anyway) is to be stronger than your average day, so that your average day is super easy for you to get through. Practicing these RSS steps benefits not only the parts of your body you’re working, be it limb strength line hamstrings or biceps, or core strength like your breathing muscles or pelvic floor, but it also benefits your whole self to work together in a more complete, functional way- automatically and simultaneously.
Listen to the Episode Here
Season 3 Episode 6 Transcript
Hi there, all you listening listeners out there. If you are a regular listener, you’ll have noticed that I took a bit of a mid-season hiatus there for bit. Where I live in southeastern Pennsylvania is starting to open up and get moving again- actually it has been, but I’ve been slow to follow! As I’m starting to open up myself more, I took some time to reassess things like how I’ve been connecting with you.
I’m starting on an alternate-week plan, where I’ll be putting out online content like this Holistic Lifestyling podcast, every other week because on the alternate weeks- drum roll please!- I’m going back to some in-person workshops! Now, these are going to be local to me here in the Philly ‘burbs, so if you’ve got a good idea for a location that might want to host me, hit me up on email and let me know what you’re thinking. And if you’re not local but you’re thinking, “Hey, I want a workshop!” then let's work on figuring out an online version for you!
Point is- this podcast is moving to every other week, and I’ll be working on my live and in-person, maybe through a screen, workshops so I can see your faces again!
Now, toe spreaders.
Before we jump into all things toe spreaders, let me reiterate that these little doohickeys aren’t your first step into the foot mobility game. Foot mobility is huge, I’ve talked about that before, and it’s a challenge to develop it because we’re constantly using our feet.
My approach to all things holistic wellness is to take mini steps, both so that you can incorporate them into your normal life and forget there was a time you didn’t do the thing, and also so that you don’t overwhelm your body with big huge changes. Yes, you could injure yourself, but it’s even more likely that you’ll just inconvenience yourself with some really inappropriate soreness and annoyances that override how important you know these things are, and you’ll just stop. Please don’t stop. Just take it a little easier, and it’s so much easier to keep going.
In regards to toe spreaders, these are a big-ish step. I always recommend starting foot mobility with two smaller steps first- toe fingers, and toe socks.
“Toe Fingers” is interlacing your fingers in your toes, like you’re holding hands with your feet. Do this while you’re sitting at home relaxing, and do it until it doesn’t drive you crazy anymore!
We tend to hold ourselves very tightly, literally and figuratively, and this is evident in the amount of discomfort, anxiety, anger, and even panic that comes out when we physically open ourselves up at our feet. Don’t be alarmed at the emotions that can bubble up, and take your time working through this.
When it’s not so uncomfortable to do toe fingers anymore, graduate yourself to toe socks, the ones with the individual toes like gloves. Toe Sock sare the next step because the fabric is thin and flexible, so it’s not as much work as Toe Fingers for your feet, but they’re persistent. So it’s less space than your fingers created, but you can wear them for minutes, or even- dare I say- hours.
Again, start with wearing them when you’re relaxing at home. You can peel them off when you’ve had enough, and work your way up to wearing them in shoes or during exercise classes. What a thought, right?
When toe socks are easy peasy for you, NOW is when we talk about toe spreaders. These are silicone contraptions that look like brass knuckles- and indeed, that’s how you wear them, but on your feet.
You’ve got to thread your toes into each of the loops, with the soft spacers between your toes. And again, start small, comfy at home. This isn’t just a mild suggestion, either. I have very flexible feet, and the first time I wore my spreaders my new toes were purple after 15 minutes. They’re just not used to physically being moved apart this way, and not only will your foot bones and muscles and ligaments and tendons strengthen and improve with this practice, but so will your foot circulation- I promise!
That’s the how- now for the when, and then the where.
Since foot mobility is important, wear your toe spreaders whenever you can! But if I had to prioritize, I’d encourage you to slip them on after you wear shoes that crunch your toes. When you put shoes on, check and see if you can lift and spread your toes. If your toes run into the walls of the shoes, that’s a toe spreader fix.
The other important thing to know is that backless shoes also crunch your toes, since you have to scrunch them up to keep the shoes on. So anything that doesn’t cover the back of your ankle- slides, mules, flip flops, you get the picture- also needs some toe separators to set you back up with good space and function.
So, the big question- what toe spreaders should I buy? Are they the same as pedicure separators? NO! No they’re not. Usually with a pedicure, you’ve got some stiff, disposable foam or cardboard separators that don’t have a bottom piece, and that’s not what we’re talking about here. Toe separators are like brass knuckles- loops for your toes to fit in, thicker bits of padding for between the toes, and made of silicone not brass.
The key here is the material. You want a nice, soft, flexible silicone- and the best way to figure this out is to read some reviews. Toe separators that are too small or too stiff are worse than not wearing them in the first place!
You’ll probably notice I'm not being specific here. That’s on purpose, because as soon as I recommend a specific brand they’ll change their manufacturer, or go out of business, or something will change. So read some reviews online, give them a stretch and squish to test them if you’re buying them in person, and get them on your feet! Once you’ve built up with toe-fingers and toe sock, that is.
I would LOVE to hear your experiences with toe fingers, toe socks, and toe spreaders. Have you used any of these techniques before, or are you using them now? What are your best tips and ideas for finding them, for buying them, and for remembering to use them? When do they help you the most? How long did it take you to feel semi-comfortable using them? You can email me or jump into the comments on my Instagram post for this episode. Talk to you soon!
Season 3 Episode 5 Transcript
Movement, mobility, flexibility, strength… these are all familiar words, but how do you know if you’ve got em’? And why should you care? The second question is easy- the way I see it, movement is medicine. And I mean that literally- I have some examples:
Now, as to whether you’ve got good movement- I have a pretty simple formula to determine where you fall on the mobility spectrum, because make no mistake, it IS a spectrum! The formula is this:
Flexibility - Strength = Mobility
Let’s dig into this. Don’t think of it like math class! This is a formula that’s about YOU, and how you work. So try to apply these pieces of the formula to yourself. Ready? Ok:
Mobility is movement. This is what’s after the equals sign. This is what we’re trying to get to. Mobility is what lets you move confidently through your world. And it’s made up of a number of different factors, that pretty much are facets of either strength or flexibility.
Mobility (movement) requires flexibility of your muscles and tendons and ligaments. We don't always think of the connective tissue, the ligaments and tendons, when it comes to flexibility but they’re very much involved and important.
When you’re not actively doing anything with a muscle, it’s called being “at rest”. When you contract the muscle, it shortens and moves a joint. This is called flexing. Then, when you’re done moving the muscle, it has to lengthen or extend to straighten the joint back out, which is actually done by an opposing muscle flexing the other direction- think biceps and triceps. One bends your elbow, the other straightens it. You can also open lots of joints past their resting length, which we call stretching.
Ligaments and tendons need to be flexible as well. These are pieces of connective tissue, the white stuff on anatomy pictures, that connects muscles to bones, and bones to bones. It’s white because, unlike red muscles, it doesn’t get much blood flow. A healthy diet and good hydration are important to keep connective tissue lubricated and flexible, and flexible muscles allow for their proper movement too.
All this ability of muscles and ligaments and tendons to lengthen is your flexibility. Sometimes, even lengthening TO their resting state can be a challenge if the muscles have been in a constant state of contraction. The muscles get stuck in a tight state because they’re not moving and exercising and being strong. Plus, the state of your muscles IS the state of your tendons, and the ligaments can get dry and brittle and stiff if there’s poor circulation happening in the joint because it’s not moving much. For example, do you have trouble walking barefoot? It could be because your calves and your feet have been contracted to help you balance against a shoe heel for your whole life, so you didn’t fall flat on your face!
On the flip side, damage or injury can cause inflammation in connective tissue, and the swelling that comes with that can further inhibit flexibility. Not to mention, the lack of blood flow to connective tissue means it won’t heal quickly so these problems can linger.
So improving your flexibility is a critical piece of mobility. The other piece of the formula is strength.
Strength is the power you have to either move or hold a joint still against resistance. Again, think of the biceps and triceps, and imagine you’re a baker. Your biceps come into play when you, say, stir a batter with a big spoon. You use your triceps to push the elbows straight when you’re kneading bread. And when you pull a tray out of the oven, you tend to hold the elbows in a bent position and use your back and legs to stand up and then put it on the counter.
I think most of us understand being strong. Here’s the kicker, though: strength and flexibility work against each other. This is why our formula is “Flexibility - Strength = Mobility The stronger you are, the less range of motion you will have around your joints. For one thing, this is because of the sheer mass of the muscle impeding the movement- the bulky muscle gets in the way of the movement. Also, the strength of the muscles pulls on the joints in both directions, so they can’t open or close as far. It’s like a swinging door- if the hinge is set too tight, they won’t swing as far or as easily.
This means it’s entirely possible to be overly tight and lose mobility because you are too muscular. However, that’s not usually what happens! Very few people train and work their bodies to this point. What’s much more likely in our world is to lose strength from NOT moving as much as we should or could be. Then, what little muscle you have left hangs onto the joint as tight as possible for dear life, trying not to let the joint become unstable and fall apart.
So lack of strength will lead to lack of mobility because of the tightness it causes around joints, and also because that tightness leads into decreased flexibility as well. It’s a vicious circle that gets balanced out when we incorporate THREE pieces into our daily movements, whether they’re traditional “exercise” or the normal life movements we already do frequently. And those 3 pieces, dearest listeners, are another topic for another episode. Tune in again to my Holistic Lifestyling show, and learn how to balance your strength and flexibility- next time.
Season 3 Episode 4 Transcript
Today's episode is a special one. This is a Meet Your Herbs episode, because I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite friends, Solomon Seal.
Here's the thing: If hydration is life, damage causes dryness.
Stuck, constricted, restricted, uncomfortable, lingering dryness can make joints crack repeatedly, restrict our physical and emotional resilience and recovery, reduce circulation and healing and impinge on our ability to shift between movements, and from stillness to movement.
Stuck, constricted, restricted, uncomfortable, lingering dryness can make joints crack repeatedly, restrict our physical and emotional resilience and recovery, reduce circulation and healing, and impinge on our ability to shift between movements and from stillness to movement.
Solomon's Seal root slowly, gently, gets down into the stuck dryness and goes to work. It nourishes, builds, strengthens, heals, all without any kind of fireworks. There's an idea that to be good for us, it has to be big/fast/hard/intense/complicated. But it's amazing how often being passive is the most healing thing. Solomon’s Seal passively, doggedly brings fluidity back to your All of You.
It turns out that a slow-growing, shade-and-water-loving plant is the perfect plant medicine for slow-healing, often-forgotten-about Connective Tissue- the ligaments, tendons, fascia, cartilage, and other hold-it-together bits in your body that never quite get fixed. Connective tissue also creates the transitions between all your structures. Muscles become tendons that merge into bones, and there aren't clear distinctions between them.
Think of Solomon's Seal people as stuck, dry, worn, and propelling themselves forward anyway. That old injury?? It's fine! I don't even notice it!!🤪 they cry, hobbling towards the next To-Do self-distraction. Connective tissue is already slow to heal, so it's easy to dismiss and accept a more limited "normal" once the pain is gone, or adequately ignored.
It's hard to transition out of emotional stuckness too, especially when the world changes regardless of your preferences: People that think they don't want to give up on the day and go to bed yet. Or , say, the kids are moving out? Or there’s new, unwelcome responsibilities at work. How well do you deal? Maybe you'd benefit from Solomon's Seal too. I talked a bit a bout SS in the second season of this Holistic Lifestyling podcast, in episode seven, about herbs that help TMJ, tongue tie, and headaches. The specifics of how I work with Solomon’s Seal are something I share in my new membership- check out Become a Patron at my website paulasherbals.com
Season 3 Episode 3 Transcript
We know it can be really helpful to talk about who exactly needs pelvic floor support, because there's classic pelvic floor dysfunction issues. But there's also less obvious, or less common things that come up with less optimal pelvic floor positioning and support as well. So, while you might not actually have full blown pelvic floor dysfunction, a lot of things, including the last year of the pandemic, has been pushing people over the edge into less common pelvic floor issues. So that's are going to talk about today so you can figure out whether or not that means you.
So who needs pelvic floor support beyond people with classic pelvic floor dysfunction issues?
My argument is going to be almost everybody, but that doesn't mean that it has to be intense, or overwhelming to fix some of these patterns and these habits that we have that are causing some of our problems.
First, a classic pelvic floor dysfunction is going to look like some of these things: It's going to be stuff like sneeze pee or exercise pee or laugh pee. These are examples of what's called stress incontinence. It's when you can't hold your urine when your bladder is under stress, like when you sneeze, like when you jump on a trampoline, you’re doing jumping jacks, or when you run.
There's also urge incontinence, which is when you feel like or maybe you actually can't hold it. When you suddenly have to go and there's no option insight, but to get yourself to a bathroom. Stress incontinence and urgent condoms are classic pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms.
Some people experience pressure or a heavy, dragging feeling in the pelvic bowl. You might be experiencing prolapse. Prolapse is when organs, start to fall down. In the very worst stages of prolapse, things are actually starting to fall out. But that initial stage where things start to sag and start to fall is also a pelvic floor dysfunction symptom.
Things like abdominal separation. This is called “die-ah-STAY-sis” or “die-ASS-tah-sis,” depending on how it's pronounced by the people talking to you. So Diastasis Recti is an abdominal separation that happens most often in childbirth.
But you don't have to be bearing a child to put enough pressure on your abdomen for separation to happen. So that separation can happen through lots of other stressful strenuous means.
And also hiatal or abdominal hernias or classic pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms. Now, you might not be experiencing any of those or you might think, well maybe but it's not enough to really be going on with.
There's also less obvious, and less commonly talked about symptoms that you can experience that ultimately lead back to a misaligned or an unsupported pelvis.
These are things that definitely can cause a lot of discomfort, even pain, and lack of quality of life that can have lots of reasons for them- lots of root causes- but a pelvic floor fix is often a majorly necessary first step to repairing any of them.
So people who might want to be on the lookout for having some pelvic floor support work happening in their lives include people who sit a lot. When you sit there's a bunch of things that can happen.
You might be not sitting on your sits bones, sitting on your tailbone instead. And that's going to cause all sorts of misalignments in both the muscles and the bones.
Also when you sit, your front of the hip muscles get really short and then when you stand up, now your pelvis gets pulled out of alignment because those muscles don't link, and as long as they need to.
People who stand a lot also need to be on the lookout for these types of pelvic floor issues because usually when we stand still, we're throwing out a hip, we've got feet crossed and one in front of the other- we don't tend to stand in a perfectly aligned parallel position. And that builds up a habit of having the pelvis out of alignment.
People who run are also going to want to make sure that their pelvis positioning is nice and square, because otherwise you're going to be leading to asymmetries in your muscles and your bones, and also a potential for things like low back pain if stuff is tucked in a direction it shouldn't be.
People who hike a lot as well, because as you're going up and down hills, up and down rocks around trees, the ability to maneuver and be nimble on your feet is coming from your center of balance, which is in and around the pelvis.
And also people who play sports like golf and tennis, because they tend to be inherently a symmetrical sports. You're always lining up your golf swing and twisting in the same direction, try hitting it from the other side it's going to be really difficult. Same thing with tennis players- you have a dominant arm, and that's the one that's going to be using all of the force. So, that tends to build asymmetries, through the rest of your body and that impacts your pelvis as well.
So these are just some samples of what are classic pelvic floor issues, less obvious pelvic floor issues, and the activities that people might be doing that could lead to some different types of pelvic floor issues.
Yes, I do teach pelvic floor support work. But I’m also launching a patron account so people can become members at a low cost per month, to my additional content. So I'm going to be extending the discussion from this podcast into more specifics about what is causing some of these less obvious problems and how you can start to adjust for that, inside of my membership.
It's not a good idea for me to be sort of generally giving advice like that open on a podcast, on a blog post, because people can do very inappropriate things with that type of information, but on the inside of a membership, that's where we can start to get more direct and more specific.
So head on over to my website paulasherbals.com. Check out how to become a patron, and what the two different tiers of my membership look like. And if you'd like to have some more information about what's going on and how to adjust your life habits to prevent and reverse some of these issues, you'll be able to do that right there.
Season 3 Episode 2 Transcript
It’s Late Spring here in the Philly area, and I’ve been watching the HBO series Mare of Easttown, and reading a bunch about the making of it. One of the frequent stories that I find about it is the accent, that the Philly accent is so. Hard. and that filmmakers and actors don’t really try for it. Apparently this show’s accent, from Delaware county, is even more difficult. My pilates clients are talking about it a bunch and I gotta say, it’s HARD to hear a regional accent from inside the region! But I didn’t grow up in this, and I was made very acutely aware of my coal-region accent when I did arrive about 20 years ago. So if you’re listening to my podcasts from outside Philly and its environs, the one thing I’ve been noticing but didn’t have an explanation for before all this accent discussion is the way I NOW say words like “o-v-e-r”. Most people would shape their mouth to say “ohver” but it turns out I have really embraced the relaxed mouth “oever”! So, listen on and who knows what else you’ll hear!
OK, Intentional Conveniences and Inconveniences. All the way back in season 1, episode 1, I introduced these ideas. Simply, they are ways to make things that you want to learn to do more convenient, and ways to make things you want to do less, more inconvenient.
For example, I want to walk more. So one thing I do is make it more convenient by keeping some appropriate weather gear and headphones in my car. This way it’s much easier to hit the park and listen to my audiobook or a podcast. I've also found that the closer I am to home the more I want to BE home, and the less likely I am to go to my closest park, so I’ve started coming home on a road that parallels the one I live closest to, that also goes right past my park. Since I’m already there, and to celebrate missing all the red lights on the main road, I might as well take a few minutes to do a few laps!
The other thing I’ve done is found a walking buddy. This way, it’s actually inconvenient to cancel on her, and we’re both much more likely to meet up as planned.
If you go back and listen to my season 1 podcast episodes, you’ll hear lots of tips for these intentional conveniences and inconveniences. Basically the idea is, how can we make it easier, or harder, depending on what you want to do? The solution is called “stacking”- layering things together.
Say you want to get better at a new habit, like stretching. You’re looking for ways to intentionally make it more convenient for you to practice, since the act of creating a dedicated stretching routine is where most people fall flat- that’s too BIG of an initial commitment for a lot of us.
Specifically, let’s say you want to stretch your hamstrings. These are some super helpful muscles to stretch- I highly recommend it! So, to stretch them you need to bend at the hips, right? What if you stretch them every time you reach to load or unload the dishwasher or the clothes dryer. Or maybe you stretch them as you brush your teeth. Or here’s a great idea that combines a number of good habits- use the Pomodoro technique to take more frequent breaks, during which you stretch! This is a time management technique that alternates 25 minute work sessions and 5 minute breaks to keep you focused, engaged, and not so “sitting disease” oriented. My favorite Pomodoro timers are the MarinaraTimer.com one and the Pomodoro chrome extension. I'll link them in the transcript.
The idea here is to combine multiple, short experiences of stretching your hamis with things you already do in your day, stacking them together so it’s easy- it’s convenient- to practice.
Now, intentional inconveniences make it harder to do something you want to do less of anyway, or harder to forget to do something. Say you’ve adopted the Pomodoro technique but you’re still not stretching- your break hits and you take off for the bathroom or a snack or your Instagram every time instead.
Ok, so leave your phone on the other side of your office. Sure, you can grab it and scroll on a break, but you have to go over there to get it and that’s a reminder to stretch- you put it there on purpose! Or maybe you throw a pillow on the floor by your desk chair or in the doorway- it’s in the way, it’s reminding you to take a quick stretch before you step over it- ha! Did you hear it? Before you step OVER it.
Stacking intentional conveniences and inconveniences are like tying strings around your fingers, except that the ultimate goal is to make these habits you’re trying to influence automatic and unconscious. If you ever watched the Great British Baking Show (that’s what it’s called in the US, but I understand it’s Great British Bake Off for real in the UK- sorry about the name change) one of the bakers a few seasons ago was Val, of the singing cakes. She was always moving, doing side steps and all kinds of little, almost fidgets, to get a little bit of extra movement in. That’s a habit she intentionally created decades ago for herself, and she doesn’t have to remember to do them now- for her, baking just includes exercise. That’s the kind of stacking and automation that we want for our own choices.
The challenge is, then, for you to pick a thing you want to do more of or less of, and to brainstorm a bunch of ways you can stack it. Then, start with just one or two intentional conveniences or inconveniences and start building. You’ll quickly find that you can make these tiny adjustments and influence huge changes in not a very large amount of time!
I would love to hear some of the intentional conveniences and inconveniences that you come up with! Share yours with me over on Instagram, I’m @paulasherbals
Season 3 Episode 1 Transcript
There seems to be a spectrum of hypermobility. At one end are people who are particularly flexible in one direction- something always stretches markedly better than the rest of them. This is the kind of thing that is often noticed in a yoga or pilates class, and it’s something that I’ve seen a lot over the years teaching reformer pilates.
At the other end of the spectrum is a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or EDS. This is a fairly serious condition where your connective tissue, which is what holds you together, is weakened. This can cause all sorts of problems, and EDS is not the main focus of today’s episode, although what I’m going to talk about can help.
For me, my hypermobility meant that I was actually very weak, muscularly. I’ll never forget, in my first reformer pilates instructor training over 15 years ago, our master trainer was excellent at encouraging us to adjust the resistance on our reformers during training because it was so exhausting over several days!
So I was doing an upper body exercise on the absolute lightest spring our machines have, and she called the rest of the class over and asked me to continue. First she pointed out the little bitty spring that I was using, and then the obvious muscle strain happening around my shoulder joints (I was wearing a tank top so you could see everything). It was a lesson to not simply assume springloads for people, to actually observe them and make changes based on their form and effort. Because even though I was there to be an instructor, so I presumably should have been able to do everything at what’s considered a ‘normal springload’, my shoulders couldn’t handle it. So making that assumption for me would have been dangerous for my shoulders.
For me, the whole experience showed me that while, for example, my shoulders could come out of their sockets on demand, I could also use the muscles around my joints to help hold them together if I had some more muscles around my joints!
Hypermobility is seen from the outside as being extra flexible, but really it’s not about the muscles- it’s about the connective tissue (CT) being extra stretchy and/or weak. This is a problem because CT doesn’t heal well. When you look at an anatomy picture you’ll see the muscles in red, and you’ll also see white stuff which is the connective tissue. The best image for this is a picture of the back muscles, there’s a triangle of CT over the low back. It’s there to support your low back.
The CT is white both on pictures and in person because it doesn’t get much blood flow. Therefore, it’s slow to heal and easy to re-damage. One of the types of CT are tendons, ligaments are another CT type, so when you do things like sprain an ankle you’re more likely to re-injure that ankle because it’s really hard to fully heal that.
The other thing about hypermobility is that while you’re stretchy and loosey-goosey at your joints, SOMETHING has to hold you together! A lot of times, that something is the CT line that runs from the front of your pelvis up the front of your body to your neck and throat.
This line can get really tense. A lot of hypermobile people have really strong pelvic floors, because that contraction of th epelvic floor muscles has always been part of keeping themselves vertical. It’s not necessarily supposed to be, but that’s how we’ve compensated. There's also sometimes intense tension in the jaw and front of the neck, which can be actual TMJ, or can share some of its symptoms.
Personally, I have a depression, like a channel or an upside down ridge, between the 2 halves of my sternum, the breastbone, and now I think that was caused by this CT tension up the midline of my body while still having extra flexibility- that extra mobility- around my ribcage as a child.
OK, but here’s why this matters. You might not have known you were hypermobile, or you thought you were but outside of party tricks like when I can dislocate my shoulders on demand you didn’t care much about it.
But it does matter, because over time your movement patterns are affecting things like your joints, and how your bones get built, and even things like how your digestion and immune systems can function, because they are’ really made of a lot of CT.
So there’s 2 main things you can do for yourself if you are hypermobile- you can strengthen around your joints, and you can align your movement patterns so the demands of moving through your day are evenly and safely distributed along those joints.
When I say “strengthen around your joints” I mean something specific. Most of the time, when people say “strength training” they’re talking about the big muscle groups- biceps, quads and hamstrings, calves- those sorts of muscles that stick out from your skin and are aesthetically desirable and don’t have much to do with actually stabilizing your joints- they’re more ‘power’ muscles. They’re important, but they’re not the stabilizing muscles that I’m talking about.
Your smaller muscles are the ones that are more responsible for your actual joint stability, and being small there’s 2 things that help them the most:
The second thing you can do takes awareness as well as consistency. Learning properly aligned movement patterns, ways to sit and stand and walk and hold yourself- takes some practice, but really what you’re doing is resetting your habits. These aligned patterns actually feel very comfortable and stable, so it’s not hard to learn them and to practice them and for them to become your new habits.
But that is a different way to move than the usual “exercise” we’ve all experienced.
All this to say that if you recognize hypermobility in yourself, there’s 2 ways I can help you. For one thing, you can keep following me. You’ll learn little bits, from these podcasts and from my freebies like the challenges that I run, and also from the First Steps mini courses I offer, and you can slowly incorporate into your life. Or you can directly work with me. I do take 1:1 clients, and right now as this episode is published the doors are open for my Foot to Forehead Fix, a small group version of my private coaching. Check out PaulasHerbals.com to learn more and to get started!
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Season 2 Episode 11 Transcript
Today I'm going to teach you how to breathe with your rib cage. Here's what we're going to do:
And if they're not comfortable, if the shoulders can't be down, then grab yourself a belt, or maybe the belt off your robe, or that Ace bandage or yoga strap or something, and wrap that around your rib cage instead.
If you've got a strap around your ribs, I want you to hold it snug against your ribs but not overly tight, not restrictive.
We tend to walk around with the rib cage thrust out forward, I talked about that in last week's episode about that “boobs out belly in” position.
A yawn is one of the simplest ways to relax your rib cage back down into alignment, so that your ears, your shoulders, your ribs, and your hips are all stacked on top of each other, instead of that rib cage being thrust forward, of that line.
So if you need to you on a couple of times, take a couple of big breaths and just let them out, and the ribs drop and the shoulders drop.
So, when those ribs come back down and stop straining forward, the rib cage gets some flexibility, right there at your spine, which can feel really yummy, but it also might feel really weird in the beginning.
So don't go too strong into this. We're not trying to force anything. We're just trying to take nice even breaths, feeling the rib cage, expand.
This is a thoracic breath.
It's going to help take pressure out of your pelvic floor. It's going to help you take a nice deep breath, which leads into all the things you want breath work for: stress, anxiety, mindfulness, lifestyle.
If you speak if you play an instrument, if you sing, if you have any manual hobbies, like gardening, like even exercising, being able to take a full breath, super helpful, I promise!
This is going to be the breath that we are trying to create, this thoracic breathing, this movement in your rib cage, in the breathing challenge, it's going to start next week.
So look out for that on my website, get on my email list if you're not so that you can join the challenge.
It is free. It's just a five day challenge teeny tiny steps, couple of minutes every day to just watch a video and listen to me and then practice when you can.
It's not going to be a gigantic investment of your time, but it is going to require some concentration and little practices throughout the day, so that at the end of the week, you are breathing better.
All of this is going to be super helpful, super important, and it should feel really good. I hope to see you in the challenge!
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Season 2 Episode 10 Transcript
If you're not breathing well, then while you're maybe not getting lightheaded and actually threatening to fall over on us, you're also not optimizing how you're actually getting through your day.
If you're breathing with your chest a lot, that can actually directly lead to anxiety. Your chest is made up of essentially the breast bone, and the collar bones, and the breastbone doesn't move. It doesn't flex. It's one large piece of bone, like a shield covering your ribs and also your heart. So in order to breathe with your chest rising and falling, what you're actually doing is arching your upper back.
That arching movement puts pressure on spinal nerves that come out of the spine and go into the lungs. So when those nerves get triggered they can believe that they're not functioning the way that they're supposed to, in the ribs and in the lungs, and the feedback that they give your brain is that you can't breathe.
So working your lungs, from your chest by arching your back, can cause anxiety or even a panic attack.
Most shallow breaths come from lifting your chest instead of breathing with the whole rest of your body. You've probably heard that before, about shallow breathing. But another way that you can trigger this is by driving when you're upset. A lot of people, myself included, have the tendency to push off of the steering wheel into your seat.
I think it has something to do with when you're frustrated there's not much physical that you can do about it that is socially acceptable. But when you're driving and you're upset, you can push, you can engage all of those muscles, without it being at all socially unacceptable. And that can feel satisfying!
But the pressure of your arms, pushing your upper back into the seat of your car, can have the exact same effect on those spinal nerves that go into the lungs, get too tense, and tell the brain, “I can't breathe”, and you can actually induce anxiety or even a panic attack while you're driving. Point is, please relax your grip and take a deep breath!
Now we've also probably heard about belly breathing. It’s very common, especially a lot of yoga practices and stuff, and belly breathing is really nice because we tend to have really tight bellies. I'm going to talk about that in just a second.
So doing a belly breath helps to sort of flip the pressure, where we're used to sucking in to releasing it and that can be very difficult, that can be a practice that a lot of people have to learn in the first place.
So belly breathing can help take the pressure off the chest, it can help take the pressure off the upper back, and it can help take the pressure off of the abdominal cavity a bit.
But if you're only belly breathing, then you're causing pressure in the pelvis. Because the belly moving in and out causes pressure fluctuations, up and down the chain, up and down the rest of your body. And so that pressure going into your pelvis, while it's a small amount, it builds up over the course of an entire day of belly breathing.
So in order to not put excess pressure into the pelvis, we want to look at the alternative here to both belly and chest breathing, and that is called thoracic breathing
The thoracic part of your body is the upper part of your torso. It's where your ribs are, and where your ribs attached to your spine. That's why the upper part of your spine between your neck and your low back is called the thoracic spine.
Inside your thoracic cavity is the lungs and the heart as well. Thoracic breathing means that you're using the rib cage- it’s also often called rib cage breathing- you're using the rib cage like fireplace bellows opening and closing opening and closing to move air.
And the belly is a supplement to that, instead of the moving of the belly, or for that matter the moving of the chest, being what's causing your air to move.
Remember you breathe by a set of vacuums. When you draw the diaphragm down, it creates a vacuum in your lungs which sucks air in and then you use muscles to squeeze that air back out again.
Engaging the rib cage to open will also create that vacuum, and then the rib muscles themselves can close that rib cage down to squeeze the ribs, to squeeze the lungs, all the way around.
However, we're not very good at thoracic breathing, we're not very good at using our rib cage like a fireplace bellows, and here's why
Basically, we are taught to walk around in the world “Boobs out bellies in.”
Think about that overdramatic military posture with the chest thrown out. Think about those old cartoons- I can't think of what the name of the cartoon was but I can picture a guy standing on a beach. And he's got a belly. And this little stick figure of a woman walks past in a bikini, and he suddenly sucks his belly in, and his shoulders get broad and his posture is huge.
And when she's walked past he lets his belly go again. And he returns to what we would now call a dad bod. That posture “belly in chest out” is, well, it's not a good posture! It's a fake good posture.
By throwing the chest out, you're arching the upper back. Go back to the beginning of what I was just saying here- arching the upper back causes not only tension in the spine, in the ribs, in the neck, but also anxiety in the brain, because of the nerve signals that are getting stuck with that constant arching.
By throwing the chest out we also then end up having to suck the belly in, to counterbalance that so you don't just fall over
Right now, aesthetically, our culture thinks having a flat stomach, having a sucked in stomach, is appropriate.
Functionally, that's not appropriate.
Functionally your belly needs to move in and out, it needs to have enough space in it as a container to hold all of your internal organs, to allow for things like digestion and elimination- the size of which then is going to fluctuate throughout the day.
And your belly is a supplement to your breathing, so it does need to move out and in. And most people that practice belly breathing, the first couple of times they try it (like for example a yoga class if you're sitting up and you try to belly breathe) people find they actually have to push their bellies out in order to expand that, because we have spent our lifetimes sucking in. When you suck in you're creating pressure, you're squeezing the balloon that is your abdominal cavity, and that pressure has to go somewhere- up or down.
Once we start breathing with your rib cage, once we let the ribs expand and contract the way that they're supposed to, we can take a lot of pressure off of the belly-
And in relaxing the ribs and moving through the breath through the rib cage itself, we take pressure and work out of the belly.
So, breathing well becomes a structural, a postural kind of thing that requires less tension, less concentration, less exertion than what we've taught ourselves to do over the course of our lifetimes.
That “boobs out belly in” position is hard to maintain, and it's hard on our bodies! Coming back into all of that alignment so that the ribs can actually move- it’s a relaxed place, it's kind of nice to hang out there.
So next week I’m going to teach you how to take a thoracic breath, how to feel your ribcage actually move when you breathe. And we’re going to play around with that in our next episode.
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