In the midst of these uncertain times, we’re “All in the same boat, but not all in the same storm.” I wish I could remember who wrote those words, because the sentiment seems to perfectly encapsulate how differently everyone is experiencing the Covid-19 crisis. Personally I am alternating between fear and anxiety (which drives me to excessive production as a way to deflect the unknown) and acknowledging my decades of fatigue and exhaustion already brought on by excess productivity (which calls me to rest and contemplate and dream). As a result of these two states, I’m having bouts of insight that I’m moved to record here for the future shape of my work. However, I don’t want you to think that I am suggesting you should use this time to be, do, or change anything that doesn’t feel appropriate for you now. Even I can’t do that, and these are my thoughts. Just know that in the After Times, these posts will form the foundation of how I want to effect change in the world. Do what you can for yourself now.
For so many years, Pilates and Herbal Medicine have been my 2 separate lives. At first I was overwhelmed with my pilates studio situation, and when that changed it was a relief but I no longer had the independence to be creative. I couldn't break down the gate between these two wellness approaches.
My entire pilates career, I’ve been hearing about how surprisingly great pilates clients felt once they got into their practice. At the same time, I’ve been hearing about how amazed herbal clients were that simple plants could change their digestive system, stress responses, mental focus, ability to heal, and more.
Now, as I write this, it’s day 16 of my own coronavirus shut down. I’ve only seen my pilates machines maybe twice, while I was picking up some items to try and make workout-at-home videos. And I’ve been seriously contemplating the overlap of movement medicine and herbal medicine.
Here’s what I believe: It’s all inputs. Nothing we take in or do “makes up” for past inputs. No amount of exercise “makes up” for sitting most of the day, or eating anything, or dwelling in spite or anger. I don’t believe there’s any subtraction or division or past- there’s only addition, or multiplication, and future. This is what my experience has taught me.
Maybe it's not a good time to introduce a new program. People are stressed. We're experiencing collective anxiety, fear, and trauma. Our routines have been trashed, our freedoms curtailed, our very ability to move restricted.
Maybe it's the perfect time to introduce a new program. Avoidance coping mechanisms mean we spend all day at the computer, or on the couch. Learning how to exercise in our living rooms and basements via Zoom and YouTube leads to unaccustomed tweaks and soreness. So many people adopting the WFH lifestyle are unprepared for the amounts of time they'll spend in a different chair, at a different desk, without the support and customs of their "normal" day in place.
I don't know. Maybe it's both.
The very fact that we're not supposed to leave our homes means that we should be deliberately trying to move more in them. The very stress we're sinking under has a multitude of outlets in Adaptogens, herbs that help us adapt to stressful environments. The very virus we're threatened with requires us all to look after our immune systems, one of many systems that traditions like Herbalism are very well prepared to build and support.
So maybe this isn't for you. Instead, it might be perfect for someone you know. Or it is perfect for you, but there's just too much "I can't even right now" for you to focus. All that is fine.
Here's all the details about my new online program that combines movement, herbal medicine supports, private coaching, and small-group learning. I'm calling it Release and Relief: Back and Pelvic Pain Edition
You're invited to join, share, or ignore- whatever fits you best.
Yay, a picture story! This is a slide I just showed to my last DIY Herbalism class, when we dug into Immune health and the herbs that act on it.
See, what we’ve got here is a hole in the skin up top, bad guys getting in, the first line of defense trying to contain them, and notifying the rest of the immune cells to the problem. This is a super simple, easy way to see what your immune system is doing against invaders.
Much of the time, when it comes to herbs and the immune system, you’ll hear people talk about “immune stimulants” that really get this process moving in overtime. ZoomZoom the defense cells arrive and Kapow! They knock out the baddies, regroup, and speed off to the next Bat Call. It’s a good visual.
But I like to question everything, like the assumption that we even have enough good guys to go around in the first place, and what happens if we don’t.
(In addition, this kind of Rapid Response team only functions on the say-so of your Stress Levels. Too much stress will actually shut down your immune system- when you’re trying to outrun the Sabre Toothed Squirrel your body doesn’t want to waste resources on a paltry cut finger. And it expects to quit running soon, either because you got away or you didn’t, so we’re not made for the constant high-stress environment we live in today and don’t have a mechanism to keep immune function under chronic stress.)
So here’s another story.
Imagine you’re cooking pasta and the water level gets a bit low. The water gets thick, sort of gloppy, the noodles aren’t circulating as much as they should to cook evenly. What do you do? You wouldn’t turn up the heat under the pot to get the noodles to cook as much as possible in the remaining water, would you? No! You’d add water to the pot so the system works as it’s supposed to.
The same is true of the immune system. Before turning up the heat and stimulating function, we’ve got to make sure we have plenty of immune cells to go around in the first place- fill up the system, if you will (bonus points for actually adding water, those cells float!)
“But hoooow?” I hear some of you wail. “I want my immune cells nooooow!” OK, Veruca, we’re coming.
If you wade into the crazy world of the internet you’ll find LOTS of head-scratching references to remedies you’ve not only never heard of, but ones that I’ve never heard of either. It’s just not helpful to tell people to find True Indigo Root, or patented TCM formulas, or dozens of other specialized and NOT local-to-whereever-you-are plants.
Instead, let’s focus on what we CAN do because these are things people have ALWAYS done. These are all age-old techniques for building the robustness and vitality of your entire self, including your immune system.
Take a deep breath, we'll get through this together
There are all kinds of Herbal Medicine makers out there. Let's support them!
This is NOT an exhaustive list, and I will be adding to it. Please send your recommendations or drop them in the comments below.
High Garden Tea- their Memphis TN shop was completely destroyed by a tornado in early March 2020
The Botanical Bus- a bilingual mobile herb clinic in CA
Bay Herbalism- a free holistic and mobile health clinic in Sonoma County CA
Commonweath Herbs Free Clinic- in Brookline MA
Rootwork Herbals' People's Medicine Project- provides BIPOC a safe, experiential education in working with common plants to help heal themselves and their communities
Second Step: Take stock and make stock. What did I have on hand? What could I easily pull together to feed and hydrate myself? I dug into the freezer and the fridge and the tea basket. Since I needed to fill up the electric kettle anyway, I filled up the crock pot with water as well. I had one package of 'carcass parts' left- chicken necks and backs specifically bought for stock making purposes. Into the pot they went, lid on, heat Low, and forget about it. I'd have soup stock ready for tomorrow, when I had more energy to deal with it.
Third Step: Tea and Soup and Herbs, Oh MY. Meanwhile the tea kettle was hot. I added dried hibiscus flowers a pilates client just gave me (beautiful and delicious and high in vitamin C!) and Ginger Honey Crystals (these are magic) to a quart mason jar, filled it with hot water, and left it to steep. In a mug I dropped a scoop of organic miso paste and a sprinkle of dried kelp and more hot water. Instant soup!
I carried both of these into the living room and set them aside to cool. First I ate applesauce, with Multi Metabolite Immune powder mixed in. It's a sprouted seed powder with immune herbs and Lion Mane's mushroom. I demo for the company at grocery and health food stores part time and this is one of my favorite items. Then I had the soup and tea, warming me all the way and making me comfortable. I was still hungry so I reheated some pasta with meat sauce- you know, for dessert. :)
Echinacea is a great part of this routine, when I can remember to take it. I'm my own worst patient, for sure. In acute cases like this I SHOULD take a dropper of my tincture every half hour. But, well, now that I'm thinking of it I'll go get that dropper bottle and put it in my pocket. There, I just took a dose.
Fourth Step: R.E.S.T. Just do it. I watched a movie on Netflix. It wasn't very good so I won't tell you about it.
Then I went to bed. I slept for 12 hours, and rested in bed with my phone for another 2 hours after I woke up. THIS IS IMPORTANT. The main reason I got back up when I first got home was that it was only about 4pm, and I knew what it would mean to wake up at 4am, or even 6am, in the dark and starving and still not well. Had I needed to work today, I totally would have done it. But since I had today off I fed myself and then went to bed, so this morning I was free to be more leisurely.
Fifth Step: Recovery wasn't done in a day. Today has been a mix of doing things and sitting down with a bowl or mug of something. I know it sounds decadent but convalescing is something we don't allow ourselves to do, though it's really a necessary part of being ill. I'm still a little stuffed up and worn down but I feel 70% better than I did yesterday. Writing this is part of a 'sitting down' section of the day, though it is using more energy than Netflixing on the couch, and I have tea here with me.
Next I'm going to turn my chicken stock into soup, adding it to kale and potatoes and anything else I can dig out of the fridge in a big pot with some diced tomatoes and spices. I'll add a handful of dried nettle and a big sprinkle of dulse flakes for their trace minerals, and have dinner in an hour or so. None of my To Do list is getting done today, and I forgive myself for that. Yes, I'll be extra busy during the week, but I'd still be sick then if I didn't allow myself the rest time now.
Dealing with a spring cold involves prevention (I did not anticipate just how horrible the weather would be so dressed poorly), fluids, nourishment, and REST. Taking it easy the rest of yesterday and today has been crucial to my rebounding. If I had pushed today I'd have gotten more done, but struggled the rest of the week to get even this recovered. R&R is the most important thing we can do for ourselves, especially when illness strikes!
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The internets are full of "what to do" about a cold. Here's a snarky little list of "things to avoid" instead!
Every season, I meet people determined to catch a cold and keep it. I see people begging the flu virus to take up residence. I watch people roll out the welcome mat and fluff the pillows for a lingering cough and phlegm.
Here are 5 hard-and-fast rules to getting sick, to help you guarantee many more months of misery!
1. Not feeling well? Indulge yourself.
Who wants to cook when you're under the weather? Don't! Order pizza! Eat ice cream! It's Girl Scout Cookie season!
It’s a well-known fact that dairy increases mucous. And since flour really acts like sugar in your body, you’re getting a one-two punch with pizza- sugar shuts down your immune system for up to 6 hours at a time, so after inhaling all that snot-forming cheese (ooo, get the stuffed crust! Go for broke!) your defense system is helpless to respond, well beyond your next mealtime.
Plus, a sick body needs food that is easy to digest, like soup, so what energy it does have left can be routed to fighting back the invaders. So picking a dinner like pizza, that’s heavy and greasy and gummy, and following it with something totally junky for dessert, makes sure you have absolutely nothing left for the fight.
Bonus: Go ahead and feel virtuous- no matter what veggies you order as toppings, or what useless labels like "natural" you find on the carton, they won’t mitigate the complete lack of any redeeming value here. Organic junk food is still junk! Party on!
2. Start taking Echinacea at the start of the season
Echinacea is an immune stimulant, so constantly stimulating your immune system from the very start of cold and flu season is a great way to wear it out and make sure it can’t handle any illness once you do catch something. Avoid immune builders, too, like vitamin-dense fruits and vegetables, herbs like medicinal mushrooms or adaptogens, and mineral rich bone broths.
Elderberry is another great one to mention here. Since it needs a constant presence in your body to glom onto the mace-shaped flu virus and nullify it, enjoying elderberry syrup in fits and starts assures that the virus will be able to shake the elderberry’s sticky presence, mutate, and resume bashing open your cell walls with its little spikes just for the fun of it.
3. Keep On Truckin’
There’s a war going on inside you. But you have obligations! And deadlines! And commitments! And a life! So keep pushing through, keep working at the same breakneck pace that got you here in the first place.
Stress hormones depress your immune system (seems evolution didn’t rank killing a bacteria very high compared to the tiger that’s trying to kill you now). If you can keep up the stress load, all those illness-causing microbes will be able party like it’s 2099, and probably until then too.
Besides, stress absolutely destroys your supply of B vitamins and other nutrients, which are essential for energy. You’ll be extra good and exhausted during all this, as well. Whatever you do, don’t listen to those strident demands for extra sleep that your whole self is making.
4. Coffee. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee! And wine.
Your immune system has managed to mount some kind of response. It’s battling the bacteria and viruses that are trying to take over. The casualties of this fight are being swept away by your blood stream, filtered into your lymph system, broken down in your liver, strained out by your kidneys. You need help washing away all this debris. Don’t give in!
Coffee is a diuretic, removing water from your system. It also stimulates those poor, overtaxed adrenal glands on your kidneys, taking away some resources from the kidneys themselves. AND it stimulates the digestive system, one of those less-than-necessary functions during an immune response. Triple Whammy!
Don’t forget the alcohol, also a great diuretic. Go ahead, break the seal. Just make sure there’s no good, clean water to chase it. Alcohol also beats up your liver and kidneys MMA- style, so this a super time to go all out on them.
5. Go to the doctor at the first sign of anything
Last but not least, get rid of your symptoms all together, why don’t you? What an inconvenience a runny nose is, that chest congestion rattling around is, your pesky fever is. Go get yourself a prescription.
Fever suppressants, cough suppressants, decongestants (really anti-congestants, since they don’t help your mucous flow but rather just make it stop producing), antihistamines- begone, annoying symptoms.
What happens to the mucous when it doesn’t come out? Who cares?! Antibiotics for a viral infection? Who cares?! Why do you get a fever, really? Who cares?! I don’t care about being sick, so long as I feel perfect now. Those symptoms are the signs of a healthy immune system that is able to fight- shut that DOWN!
Obviously, people, serious conditions need medical care. But so do all your other minor conditions! Go sit in that office, bring your copay and leave your face mask at home. You'll probably pick up a more exotic bug than the one you originally came in for.
Have a merry cold and flu season, my friends!
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
And, some of my posts may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them I'll earn a few cents. Thank you for supporting my work.
This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition or mental or emotional condition. Working with us is not a guarantee of any results. Paula Billig owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.