My Hypermobility Story
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!
Listen to the Episode Here
The Holistic Metaphors Episode
Season 2 Episode 8 Transcript
I wanted to talk about what it really means to have a holistic perspective, not only in terms of the pelvic floor that I focus on so much, but in that whole body, inside and out, top and bottom side to side, front and back setup that I am so passionately interested in, as well.
The best way I can describe it is that your body is a system of levers and pulleys- your bones and your joints- and they are covered with rubber bands- muscles.
So, any misalignments in your bones, any stuckness in your joints, and/or any tightness in your muscles, affects everything else.
The point is, everything is connected, and I don't mean that in any wishy washy kind of metaphor, it's literally the case that the foot bone is connected to the head bone.
So whenever you've got aches and pains, so much more than just that part that's having the ache and the pain is affected.
And chances are that where you're feeling pain is just where it's landed, and not actually where the problem is.
This idea of muscles as rubber bands is a good one. Because there's all sorts of sizes and tensions of rubber bands, think about ones that you can buy at an office supply store as compared to the ones that come wrapped around your vegetables. There's all kinds of different tensions different thicknesses different widths of rubber bands, and the exact same thing is true of the muscles in your body.
There's all sorts of length and thicknesses and strengths and sizes of your body muscles. And they have to be balanced, to keep you vertical and ventilating.
So think about those rubber bands for a second, think of an old rubber band, that's been wrapped around something that it's held together forever. And when you finally go to move it, that rubber band, just crumbles because it's been held tight, stretched out in that one position for so long. It's lost all function as a rubber band.
Or have you ever used a rubber band in the freezer? I just pulled a bag of veggies, out of my freezer and I had wrapped a rubber band around the length of the veggie back to keep it closed.
So when I took the rubber band off the whole bag, it stayed all stretched out, and only as it slowly thought, did it shrink back up again. because again it had been held in that one position for so long that it just held it shape afterwards
Or, one more here- how about if you've ever gotten a hot meal at a grocery store, and it's gotten, you know they wrapped a rubber band around the meal container, and it got melty, it got sticky and gummy and lost its stretch. Muscles can do all of these things too.
They can be so tight and so held in one place that they lose their stretch and they lose their function, or they just fall apart or, it takes them a long time to get back to the shape that they're supposed to be in.
And we want to keep your muscles supple and moving- again, not just in and around that pelvic floor that I focus on, but in and around your whole body, since we know that everything is connected.
So try this. Make a fist. That clenched fist represents a tight muscle.
I know there's a lot of muscles in your hand, there's a lot of muscles in your forearm that caused this. Just imagine the whole thing is one tight muscle.
From here, how can you strengthen that muscle? Well, you can't. It's stuck there. You have to loosen your grip and pull your fingers back, let go, stop making the fist in order to be able to do anything to that muscle in the first place.
So sometimes the answer to a tight muscle is stretching. But all the time, the answer to a tight muscle is to stop holding the tension in the first place.
And that tension is probably coming from somewhere else. So my holistic approach is to reposition the whole body from the foot to the forehead, so that all of the levers and pulleys and rubber bands, all of the tensions in your body, even out and go backto where they actually belong. This lengthens, and releases and loosens tight muscles so that we can then begin to strengthen them.
And even then, it's not strength for strength sake that we're building. It’s strength to hold the good posture and the good form positions that prevent that unnecessary tightness and pain.
So when I talk about a holistic perspective to your health, when I talk about a holistic full body approach to pelvic floor health, I'm not just giving that lip service.
I'm really thinking about how all of the structures in your body interact with each other, and how we can make that work for us as we relieve not only your pelvic floor symptoms, but all kinds of other things, all kinds of other living pains that you've just been living with, in your daily life. And instead of just getting by, you can actually live comfortably, strong, graceful, and holistically.
Holistic Lifestyling Podcast Season 2 Episode 6 Transcript
If you've ever experienced TMJ, tongue tie, or headaches coming from your face and neck tension, you know what I'm talking about. The best graphic I ever saw of it showed the tension lines going over the jaw and coming out of the eyeballs like lightning. That was perfect to me.
First things first: I'm not going to fix your tongue tie, TMJ, face pain, or headaches during this here little podcast episode! I want you to get your expectations set early. This is a complex issue, with skeletal, muscular, nerve, and habit components. Plus, I understand that watching demonstrations of things that can help is often more helpful than just listening to me describe them, so I encourage you to go check out the additional resources I'm going to share with you.
What I am going to do is talk to you about some of the factors that contribute to exacerbating your discomfort, that you probably have some control over. I'm also going to talk about some stretches and moves, that might help you be less uncomfortable when you have an episode.
If you're wanting more specific moves, then I want you to take a look at my Face Tension and Pain mini course at my website, paulasherbals.com. I also have some ribcage and back stretches in my free Resources hub on my website as well.
First, let's get aware of the things we do that are causing muscle tension in your face and neck in the first place. There's familiar things, like gritting your teeth. There's also less familiar ones. A big thing I experience, and that others have been surprised to realize they experience too, is working my whole jaw, or sometimes just my tongue, when I'm doing some kind of manual task. This is usually when I'm cooking or washing dishes- during these repetitive tasks like stirring and chopping, I find myself mimicking the motion with my face! I don't know definitively why this happens, but I have a theory.
Personally, I have tongue tie, which means that my tongue doesn't move very much because of how it's attached behind my bottom teeth. So my face and neck muscles have to do almost all of my talking- which is no small task, since I talk for a living
And also, as a pilates instructor, I have frequently found myself cuing clients to relax their shoulders during a completely unrelated stretch, like a quadriceps stretch. The line I use is, "Your shoulders don't stretch your quads, no matter how hard they try!"
I think that's what's going on here. My face and neck muscles are accustomed to overuse, so when my arms are working they try to as well. It's really hard to stop this- it takes constantly becoming aware of it, stopping it, and repeating that indefinitely. Eventually you start anticipating it and trying to not let it happen in the first place- this is how you know you're making progress! But catching yourself straining face and neck muscles when they're not needed is certainly an important step to lessening the strain on those muscles in the first place.
Another contributor to your pain is Tech Neck, I'm guessing- this is the situation when we spend too much time in a forward head thrust looking at screens, usually, but also driving, reading, and such.
A forward posture like this means that everything behind your face- the back of your neck, the base of your skull, the muscles on your skull, and the muscles down over the back of your shoulders- they all stiffen. They're trying to pull back and prevent a forward collapse of your heavy head, while your head is dragging them forward. And they end up stiff and frozen, and also overstretched so you can't even strengthen them like this. You can't build strength into an overshortened or an overstretched muscle.
It means that everything in front stiffens as well, in an attempt to prop up your head. The muscles at the front and side of your neck, into your jaw and your collarbone, and into your face, start trying to brace you up.
We need to get your ears back over top of your shoulders, where your head is balanced between the front and the back of your neck, and nothing is working in a way that it's not supposed to be. The passive way to do this is to lay flat on the floor on your back. You can put something under your knees, or even rest your lower legs up on a chair or the couch, but the point is to let your neck relax in line with your shoulders.
When you're really tight like this, laying on your back is going to have your head tipped up. This is because that forward position forces your neck to bend up, to lift your chin so you can still see. Pay attention to where your gaze is when you're lying down- it should be going straight up; if you had a Nerf dart suction-cupped on your forehead it would point straight up, not diagonally back, in an ideal world. Let your neck relax so that your forehead tips more straight up, instead of backwards. Your ribs are probably arched up towards the ceiling too, so relaxing them down and relieving the excess curve in your upper back is necessary as well.
Now, I do have a mini course available specifically about Tech Neck, if this is a big problem for you. That is available on my website, PaulasHerbals.com, under Work With Me. This mini course has more active stretches that you can do to actively draw your ears back over your shoulders. This lying back and letting your neck stretch is a passive stretch that works. If you need more active things, check out my mini courses on my website.
The Eyes Have It
Here's one tiny move that has been amazingly helpful to me. We know that staring at computer screens all day isn't good for us. And you also may know that the act of looking at a distant object or vista or just anything further away requires your eye muscles to relax- which is the opposite of the computer strain.
So, try this. Give yourself a few neck stretches- a few slow, deliberate Yes's and No's, a few side to side tilts, a few gentle full circles in both directions, paying attention to your range of movement.
Now, hold your hand out in front of you, with your index finger up like you're saying "Number 1!" Focus you eyes on your finger, and slowly and smoothly pull your arm in until your finger touches your nose or the center of your forehead, then reach it all the way back out. Keep your eyes focused on your finger, and feel your eye muscles shifting to stay on your finger.
After you've done this, repeat your neck stretches. You should feel more range of motion. There's some quirks of anatomy here that closely tie your eye muscles to the the base of your skull muscles, so moving and stretching and reliving tension in one of those sets of muscles relieves it in the other set at the same time. Wild, right?!
Next up, the herbs
This has been a little look into three physical things you can do to help your face and neck and jaw tension, whether you're suffering from TMJ, headaches, tongue tie, or anything else.
I always recommend doing these things BEFORE you're in pain, so you know what they feel like and then you'll also know if you're doing them right when you need them! So practice these things- they might help stave off a flare up of your pain, or help you relieve some discomfort if you're in the middle of one.
Next week, I'm going to talk to you about some herbal remedies that have also saved me a lot of grief from my tongue tie over the years. These are plants that can relieve tension, heal inflammation damage, and are particularly, specifically helpful with the kinds of pain and problems these face and neck muscles give us.
Listen to the episode here
Meet Your Self- Your Stacked Spine
Life is like a… no. That’s not right.
Your spine is like a stack of teacups. There, that’s the one!
Think I’m just being silly? Well, that's entirely possible but look at it this way: Your vertebrae (that’s the name of your spine bones) have flat surfaces, so they stack together. And they have padding between them, so the edges don’t chip. And they have handles, for attaching things to so they make it safely to where they’re going. Just like teacups.
Now imagine carrying a stack of 33 teacups. That would be quite the feat, wouldn’t it?? All wobbly and unbalanced and shifting… it’s a terrifying thought for someone as not-graceful as me!
You know those sets of cables that anchor telephone poles into the ground? (As an aside, now that they don’t carry telephone wires, what do we call them?) There’s usually two cables, coming off in a V-shape, held in the ground by the biggest metal tent peg you’ve ever seen.
Maybe these cables have something to do with electrical grounding, I don’t know. But they definitely help with stability of those poles- and now apply that to your spine. Each vertebra has one or two bits of bone that look like wings, and they’re there for muscles to attach! Go figure.
So all along your spine, right up against the spine bones themselves, are bits of muscles connecting the vertebrae with little V-shaped buttressing. They act like little fingers, holding the vertebrae together and allowing them to bend a bit, and also helping bring them back upright too.
Ohhhhhhh, your back muscles say. We don’t have any of them! ::ouch::
But really, you do. Yours might just be tired and tiny and overtaxed, from constantly fighting poor posture and gravity and “tech neck” and scoop-shaped car seats and everything else we do to ourselves.
And here’s the key- it takes tiny movements to work tiny muscles. A big move, like a forward bend or a deadlift or a burpee, really hammers the big muscles in your torso and limbs.
But the little adjustments you make in yoga, the incremental relaxation you get in a float tank, the itty bitty shifts you unconsciously make when you walk on texture instead of smooth, even, flat surfaces- that’s where you start getting movement and love into those tiny spine muscles.
So do your inner teacups a favor and slow down, change things up, rest a bit more, and see how that feels in your spine.
Your Stiff Foot Joints
Pop quiz- how many joints do you think you have in each foot? Five? Ten or twelve?
Thirty-three. There are more joints in each of your feet than there are days in a month! Isn't that wild?!
Now, the total number of joints in the human body depends on some variables, including things like whether your call the plates in your skull joints, or when you're counting- babies have more bones than adults, which fuse together as we grow. In general, we have between 250 and 350 joints.
If we assume 250 joints, in an adult, counting only the places bones both meet and move, 66 foot joints is 26.4% of your body's total. That's over a quarter of ALL your body's joints that you're standing and walking around on every day.
Here's why I care- we don't use most of those joints. And just like when you take a cast off an arm and it's weak and thin, both the muscle and the bone wasted away, when you put casts on your feet they waste away too. This leaves you with weak joints, and a tendency to injury. And feet injuries quickly impact the rest of your body in not-good ways. When your feet have problems, the ankles, knees, hips, spine, and even shoulders can take on the work of moving you in inappropriate ways, and cause further injuries quickly.
But, wait, back up a few sentences, you say. Casts? On your feet?
Sure! A cast is something hard and immobile, that prevents movement. In the case of a broken arm, a cast goes over the elbow joint (or wrist or shoulder) so the joint can't move because that would pull on the break, preventing healing. In the case of feet, a cast goes over the feet so they don't have to feel things in the environment that are hard, sharp, cold, hot, wet, etc.
We call them shoes.
I get it- shoes are helpful, and they can look awesome, and there's lots of people that can't handle the thought of going barefoot in their own house, let alone outside. But we have to take off the casts to be truly strong in our whole bodies!
Yes, I'm saying don't wear shoes- but not all the time! I'm also saying, wear less shoe-y shoes, as much as you can. Here's what I mean:
In order to strengthen a newly-healed broken arm, you'll start doing "normal" things again but find that the weak arm needs to build strength back up. OK, you'll move that cast iron pan with the other hand. You'll carry that grocery bag with both arms. Maybe you'll ice it or rub it or elevate it at the end of the day.
But your feet, all the way down there, as far away from your brain as they can get? If you just start living your normal life in bare feet or minimal shoes, after a lifetime of wearing the stiff, structured ones, you'll be injured before you notice it. So we have to do this gently:
1. Wear thinner, flatter shoes more often. Get used to feeling more of the world underneath you
2. Stretch your toes, feet, and ankles
3. Wear yoga socks to start separating your toes
4. Practice lifting your big toes, scrunching and spreading your toes, pointing and flexing your feet, when you're barefoot
Don't just ditch your shoes and go full Hobbit- for starters, you'll never be allowed in a public space! But start paying attention to how stiff your feet are, how many ways you can move and stretch them, and how much work you can get them to do in your day. They'll thank you for years and years to come.
Work With Me to learn more
Unsquish Your Feet
FUN FACT: your feet aren’t the blunt end of a pogo stick, they’re more like the springy part of the pogo stick! We’re supposed to roll with and propel from our feet, not stump around slapping them down.
You’ve got 26 bones in there- that’s 25% of your TOTAL bones between those 2 feet- but can they move or are they all smashed up next to each other?
Feet are designed to have just about as much movement as our hands do! Not many people can spread their toes out even a little, let alone like their fingers, and this has massive implications “up the chain”
✔ for stability at the ankles, knees, and hips
✔ for balance
✔ for gait
✔ for pretty much everything
So UNSQUISH YOUR FEET and get some space around those foot bones. Use yoga socks, your own fingers, foam pedicure forms, or silicone toe separators (gold star⭐for these!) Practice your toe spread and see if it impacts your other aches and pains too.
Meet Your Self
Have you ever really stopped to think about just how complex and mind-boggling you are?
Well, I've been thinking about it. And I've been thinking about how many descriptions and metaphors I've used in the last 15 years or so to try and describe our selves to my clients.
It's time to make a series out of those descriptions.
Everyone is different, yes, but we're all very similar too. And our bodies tend to move (or not) in familiar (at least to me) ways.
The more you can understand about these functional, "physiology" ideas, the more you'll understand the deep, intertwined connections you have- why your breathing is connected to your digestion and your knee pain and your hearing and vision, for example.
This leads you down the rosy path of "the foot bone is connected to so much more than the ankle bone" as one of my teachers Claire Mockridge says. Why do you care? Living with ease and grace means avoiding strain and overwhelm, and since we tend to be so much more familiar with the latter, the former takes deliberate awareness.
Hence, this series happening about monthly, where I'll start introducing you to your own self! Deliberately, cheekily, colorfully, and clearly.
Coming up first:
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.