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.
Any specifics or details you want to discuss with me can be done in a private consultation- check out my Work With Me links above.
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.