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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Season 2 Episode 9 Transcript
I'm going to be running a free challenge soon, all about breathing better. So I put out a survey in preparation for that, asking people about their challenges around breathing, and breathing practices, and that type of stuff.
One big answer that really stood out to me was that when asked the question, “What could you use better breathing for”, 95% of the people that responded to my survey answered, “stress, anxiety and mindfulness”.
95% is a lot. That's huge. And that is definitely something I can work with here.
Now, to that one person who responded that they didn't need that- Congratulations! Please share your secret. To the rest of us, we've all heard about breathing techniques, we've all heard about doing breathing practices, and we know that they are related to stress and anxiety and mindfulness improvements.
There's lots behind this- lots of research, lots of resources. I will link to a few of them in the show's transcript. I have some colleagues that have some really nice resources, really nice programs that you can try. I also have some other resources in general that I can share.
I'm not going to get into all that right now. What I am going to get into here is the bottom line, which is that breathing helps everything.
Yes, it helps stress. A few episodes ago we talked about the Vagus nerve, and the parasympathetic (or the rest and digest system) and how that directly opposes the fight or flight system. Breathing absolutely helps you get into that rest and digest place.
You can also use breathing, to help control things in your body. When you're exercising, when you're moving heavy objects- whenever you're using muscles, you can use a breath to help control all of that as well, for fuel, for power, all of it.
But what does this have to do with your pelvic floor? Well, think of your body as two separate sections- there's your your midsection, your torso- everything from your neck to your pelvis; and there's your limbs.
Ignore your limbs ignore arms and legs for a second. In that torso, you have essentially three cavities, and they act like individual balloons. You have one in your chest. It's called the thoracic cavity. You have one in your belly, called the abdominal cavity, and you've got one in the pelvic bowl called, funnily enough, the pelvic cavity.
Each of these cavities makes and takes pressures from the rest of your body. So when you're breathing well, in that thoracic cavity, (which, spoiler alert, is where your lungs reside) It helps take the pressures, off of the abdominal and then the pelvic cavities.
Often, we're not breathing, with our rib cage with our thoracic cavity, however, And so, that balloon isn't functioning.
The belly cavity, that abdominal space, ends up doing most of the work of the breathing, and that is putting excess and unnecessary pressure into the pelvis. This is quite frequently one of the foundations of pelvic floor dysfunction.
And it simply goes back to, how do we breathe with our ribcage the way that the ribcage was designed. Now, that “how to”? I’m going to explain that in next week’s episode.
But today I just wanted to point out all of the layers here. There's layers in your body to help move things like breath around. And when used appropriately, everything works better.
But then the breath itself has so many layers of help for the rest of you. Yes that breath helps with stress, yes that breath can help with physically moving around.
But if you do anything like sing, or do a podcast, or any kind of public speaking, or presenting on a stage or in front of the zoom screen, if you play a musical instrument, if you have a manual hobby, like gardening or anything that requires some exertion a little bit more than knitting (both gardening and knitting, our hobbies of mine, I'm not knocking that!) but the manual exertion type hobbies- the breath is going to be something that is very important for your stamina, for your endurance, for your longevity in those as well.
So next week we’re going to get into a little bit more about how to breathe better. For today, I want you to just think about where does your breathing actually happen.
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Make Peace With Stress
Herbs and Stress
A Holistic Perspective on Stress
Exercise Your Systems: Vagus Nerve
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.
Herbal Stress Blends
Herbal Stress Blends are first
You can find these pre-made formulas in teas and liquid extracts like tinctures, and I mention them first because there's an excellent chance you already have one or more in your cupboard right now. In general, a stress relief formula is going to hit the major stress highlights of:
• emotional upheaval
• mental chaos
• and body tension
So they already have good herbal ingredients to start with! Go ahead and start here, especially if this is what you already have on hand.
Make your tea, or take your tincture, or whatever the remedy is, whenever you need. Before, if you know you're heading into a stressful event; during, if you see it building; and after, to come down and recover well. And also, try your stress relief formula when you're NOT stressed, so you have a baseline to know what to expect! Pay attention to how you feel as you sip your tea, and also how the next 10-30 minutes feel, so you know what to expect.
Now let's talk about Chamomile If you’ve followed me for a while, or taken my Sitting Pretty free workshop for sitting pains, you’ve heard a bit about Chamomile! It’s common, yes, and it’s pretty gentle, but Chamomile is also impressive plant medicine.
The part I want to talk about here is its incredible ability to relax skeletal muscles. What’s great about using Chamomile in a tea is that there’s no waiting around- the aromatic, volatile parts that do such a good job relaxing you evaporate quickly in hot water, so drink them up!
You can also find lovely topical Chamomile products like lotions and liquid soaps. The company Weleda makes a really nice baby line with Chamomile in it, and since it’s gentle enough for a baby’s skin it’s also gentle enough for a face or neck massage, or a nice hot bath. This isn’t an ad, it just a suggestion [transcript note- this is an affiliate link], and you can find other nice topical products with Chamomile in them, besides the Weleda line, though I do suggest using organic ones especially since your face and neck skin is so delicate.
One other Chamomile suggestion I have is a Chamomile Glycerite- it’s a remedy made from fresh flowers, full of their aromatic goodness, in sweet, gentle vegetable glycerin that you can take by mouth directly from the dropper or in another beverage. It's delicious! I’ve gotten mine through Herbiary- I’ll link them in the transcript.
That Weleda baby line I mentioned also uses Calendula because of its ability to quickly and gently heal skin, like from diaper rash. Calendula also is a wonderful lymphatic- it helps move lymph fluid just below the skin.
This is important because we have so much lymph coming from the face and sinuses, and what’s called “glymph” draining from the brain when we sleep, and it all has to exit through small channels in the neck that can get even more restricted from tension.
A nice self-massage using some Calendula infused in almond or jojoba oil, or in a gentle body wash, can help all this drain out normal lymph plus the extra lymph that's created as the body tries to heal damage caused by the tension. In addition, any damage caused by inflammation, or for example forcing tight muscles to move like by chewing with tense jaw muscles, will be helped to heal by Calendula.
Another lovely aromatic that can help with tension is Lavender. In addition to smelling wonderful, which is its own relaxing trigger for me, Lavender has a few specific actions of its own:
1. It’s cooling, reducing inflammation
2. It’s analgesic, meaning it can relieve the pain of tension, inflammation, and headaches
3. It helps heal by stimulating cell reproduction
You can find Lavender in culinary items like teas and even cookies! It’s also very common in topical products, everything from lotions to linen sprays to shampoos. I do always suggest using organic products, to reduce the synthetic chemical load on your skin, and I always suggest NOT using essential oils. They are a precious resource, and I much prefer them in their already well-diluted state.
One of my absolute favorites is the Lavender hydrosol that Barefoot Botanicals in Doylestown PA distills from their own plants in their homemade still. It’s water that’s super saturated with the Lavender essential oil, so it’s safe to spray on your skin, or even over the top of a beverage as a fancy finish to a drink! I’ll link this in the transcript too.
This is a little less well-known herbal remedy- it’s not an everyday plant like Chamomile or Lavender, but boy oh boy is it helpful here. This is Solomon’s Seal- this is a root medicine that encourages our connective tissue to heal.
Connective tissue damage is typically a long-lasting problem because it has so little blood flow- when you look at an anatomy picture of the muscular systems, the white tissue that connect muscles to each other and to bones is this connective tissue, and it’s white because there’s not much blood in it!
Typically, you can find Solomon’s Seal in an infused oil, which is a nice topical remedy to massage into your neck and jaw, and you can also find it as a tincture. This is an alcohol-based herbal remedy that you can use directly on the skin, though it may stain the skin a bit, and/or you can take it by mouth also.
I’ve gotten a really nice infused oil from Avena Botanicals in Maine, and my favorite tincture is from Angel Shockley in VA. She has agreed to let me mention her as a resource for her tinctures but she says, and I quote, “There's only one catch - I don't post tinctures for sale in my shop. Anyone wanting to get some would need to reach out to me.” So on Etsy you’ll look for VAHerbAngel, and I’ll link to her in the transcript as well. Then send her an Etsy message if this is something you wanted to experiment with.
Her Solomon’s Seal tincture is so rich and well made, I swear it tastes like chocolate! I just take a couple drops by mouth almost every day- not very much, because it’s so concentrated and so precious. When I’m consistent with this, my neck and face feel so much better, even if I’m doing an extra lot of talking or computer work.
There’s one more herb here I want to mention, and it's Blue Vervain. It’s even less well known than Solomon’s Seal in terms of general herbal knowledge, but if you’re either in frequent and great discomfort, or getting into herbs and wanting to step outside your comfort zone a bit, let me introduce you to Blue Vervain.
There are a number of plants that might be called Blue Vervain- I’m specifically talking about Verbena hastata. Blue Vervain is an intense bitter, that really shakes up the nervous system. The herbalist Matthew Wood describes it perfectly, so I want to read you the description from his book New World Plants:
“It is suited to people who are very intense, even fanatical, laying impossible standards on themselves or others. They strain to live up to these impossible standards, or to impose them on others. Yet, they have not the strength to sustain this activity, so that they are too intense mentally and emotionally, but suffer from physical weakness.” He goes on to say, “The specific indication to look for is stiffness in the nape of the neck.”
When Matthew Wood calls this a specific indication, that stiffness in the nape of the neck, a specific indication in the herbal world is a direct link. When you see this thing, think of this herb. In general, herbs aren't "for" our problems, but in specific, acute cases there are some very clear lines that we can draw between a problem and a solution, being a particular herb. In this case, Blue Vervain is the first thing to call upon for help when you've got stiffness at the nape of the neck.
Another one of my teachers simply said, “It’s good for whiplash, and tall people.” Which, I guess I'm considered tall, I'm 5'9", so I do keep Blue Vervain. And when my neck, especially the back of my neck, is acting up and I lose range of motion, I turn to Blue Vervain.
Bitters relax muscles, among other actions, and this deeply bitter plant has a specific affinity for relieving tension and heat at the base of the skull. It’s a serious bitter, though. In large or even medium doses it can be an emetic- that means it makes you throw up. I have a bottle from Barefoot Botanicals in Doylestown that is about 2 years old now. It lasts that long because I only take a few drops when I’m feeling stiff-necked, both literally and metaphorically.
It does NOT taste good, I'll warn you of that again. But it is very strong medicine and you don't need a very high dose.
So there you have it- a couple of my favorite herbs, specifically about TMJ, tongue tie, and headaches. I really hope you find relief, both with the movement in the last episode and with the herbal ideas in this episode. And I'd love to chat with you more about this. Reach out on the socials or in email and let me know if any of these are help you! The transcript for this episode will be on the blog on Friday.
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
If you’ve been following along with the stress series I’ve got going right now, you’ll recognize that the last few episodes were all about a broad, holistic perspective on understanding and starting to manage your stress with internal and external supports, like with herbs or movement, for example.
It seems like a good time, then, to get a little more focused and specific. While what I teach is all based on the idea of whole-body approaches to wellness, we accomplish that by looking at the little, specific parts that are foundational to your overall wellness and how we can improve them.
One of the most frequent specific parts you’ll hear be talk about is the pelvic floor, and there’s 2 reasons for this-
Everyone has a pelvic floor, and it serves as a huge part of your whole body’s stability, mobility, and functionality. If there’s a problem in one or more of these areas, the pelvic floor is involved
Lots and lots of people have mild to moderate issues with their pelvic floors that they are just living with, either not knowing or not willing to deal with it right now because something else is on fire and is more important. I get it.
So I call attention to the pelvic floor and its impacts on your health and wellness, because it’s something that not enough people know enough about, to realize they can change and improve their PF function without too much complication- without adding another dumpster fire.
I’m trying to put out the embers of minor PF issues before they develop into a 5 alarm problem, and it’s pretty simple and straightforward to start this work- it’s not as overwhelming and complicated as many people fear.
What does this have to do with stress? Well, a whole bunch, it turns out.
One definition of “stress” is “work”. The work your body does, whether it needs to or not, is stress for it. This is normal. This is how muscles strengthen and bones grow, this is how vision works and thinking works. But- it’s easy to see how you can create more work for yourself with internal stressors. Worries, beliefs, fears, all the things we think about, that we “stress” about, have physical impacts on our bodies. In particular, we can look at how what’s on your mind impacts your pelvic floor.
In general, chronic stress like from chronics worries, causes your muscles to tighten in your whole body. For example, your neck gets tight, usually in a forward pose we call tech neck. This will impact your shoulders and arms, your vision, your jaw, your sinuses and ears, and the rest of your spine down to the tailbone that connects to your pelvis.
Also, your digestion is a series of muscles so tension restricts it and slows things down- this adds weight! I’m not talking about the unhealthy, unhelpful “lose weight” pressures that diet culture dumps on us. I’m talking about the literal weight constipation causes in our abodmens, that puts pressure on all your other internal organs, ligaments, and such. That’s no good.
Another muscular tension piece to think about is your blood vessels- arteries are muscular! When they’re tense, they’re smaller, restricting blood supply AND increasing pressure through them. Also no good.
So emotional stress is a very real thing that impacts your physical, tangible body in very real ways. There’s lots you can do with, to, and for your whole self- body and mind- to help these impacts. For starters, I can refer you back to the three part podcast series I just finished about Holistic Perspectives on Stress! I talk about some external supports, like breathing and movement, and internal supports like herbal remedies, that can help. Relieving total, overall, general stress will help relieve the pelvic floor specific impacts you may experience.
Another way stress impacts your pelvic floor is through posture.
Think about the posture that is sometimes called a ‘human cashew’- all curled in on yourself. That’s a common pose when you’re worried or afraid or stressed, or working at your computer, or watching tv, or driving… I think you can see where I’m going with this! Posture is a big deal, and it impacts all of you.
When you‘re all curled up, and we’re talking about how this pressures your pelvic floor, think of squeezing a balloon. The bends in your belly from curving your spine displace all the contents of your abdomen and if you have any pelvic floor dysfunction, you’re going to feel it there. This could be back pain, it could be heaviness or dragging feelings, it could be incontinence or near misses in the bathroom department, it could be reflux or heartburn; or even headaches, TMJ, hip problems, and breathing restrictions. All these can be caused simply by posture.
Good posture isn’t about aesthetics, it’s not about just trying to look good. It’s about function in your body. When things are stacked and aligned appropriately, all the everything in your torso works better. If you’ve ever watched Downton Abbey, think back to the beautiful posture of the ladies in the show. It’s not only upright and regal, it’s relaxed! They're not stiffly holding themselves, it’s almost casual. That’s what I’m talking about- strength and ease through good posture.
Now, there’s lots to be said about finding and practicing good posture. The online pelvic program I teach, both 1:1 and in small groups, is focused on this functional stacking from the feet all the way up your body including the pelvis, for posture and form. But if you’re looking for the first, most basic step to start practicing better posture at your desk, check out my Sitting Pretty free workshop in the Free Resources section of my website. It’s a little training video that will teach you how to sit better, as the first step to improving your posture and its impact on your pelvic floor. Again, this is available for free in my Free Resources Hub at paulasherbals.com
Exercise and Movement Stress
There’s one final way that stress can impact your PF that I want to talk about here, and that is through exercise and movement. Now, to some extent, emotional and postural impacts of stress on your pelvic floor might be considered a little more “passive”. They’re just there, being bothersome, all day long, and if you use the tools I’ve given you in this episode you can start to make simple and profound improvements for yourself.
This topic of exercise and movement, however, is a bit bigger, and definitely what I consider to be an “active” ingredient of your pelvic floor issues.
Now, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think exercise should be a punishment. In practical terms, you aren’t ever going to “work off” food or being sedentary or whatever else you might feel badly about. And in cultural terms, you don’t DESERVE to feel badly about any of it!
Move because it feels good to you, let it feel good- or not, and then experiment with some other things to find something you DO like- and rest more than you have been because if you’re alive you’re probably working too hard! There, I said it.
Ok, all that being said, there’s very real, practical implications to exercise and the pelvic floor. If you’re experiencing stress incontinence- when you leak during exercise, or sneezing or coughing or laughing, or any time that comes from movement, you don't need this! And you don’t have to put up with it, it’s not something you’re destined for.
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.