Here's 2 stretches that are part of the Release & Relief program that can help ease your tech neck.
Read more about the R&R program or reach out if you have questions!
Here's 2 stretches that are part of the Release & Relief program that can help ease your tech neck.
Read more about the R&R program or reach out if you have questions!
For so many years, Pilates and Herbal Medicine have been my 2 separate lives. At first I was overwhelmed with my pilates studio situation, and when that changed it was a relief but I no longer had the independence to be creative. I couldn't break down the gate between these two wellness approaches.
My entire pilates career, I’ve been hearing about how surprisingly great pilates clients felt once they got into their practice. At the same time, I’ve been hearing about how amazed herbal clients were that simple plants could change their digestive system, stress responses, mental focus, ability to heal, and more.
Now, as I write this, it’s day 16 of my own coronavirus shut down. I’ve only seen my pilates machines maybe twice, while I was picking up some items to try and make workout-at-home videos. And I’ve been seriously contemplating the overlap of movement medicine and herbal medicine.
Here’s what I believe: It’s all inputs. Nothing we take in or do “makes up” for past inputs. No amount of exercise “makes up” for sitting most of the day, or eating anything, or dwelling in spite or anger. I don’t believe there’s any subtraction or division or past- there’s only addition, or multiplication, and future. This is what my experience has taught me.
Maybe it's not a good time to introduce a new program. People are stressed. We're experiencing collective anxiety, fear, and trauma. Our routines have been trashed, our freedoms curtailed, our very ability to move restricted.
Maybe it's the perfect time to introduce a new program. Avoidance coping mechanisms mean we spend all day at the computer, or on the couch. Learning how to exercise in our living rooms and basements via Zoom and YouTube leads to unaccustomed tweaks and soreness. So many people adopting the WFH lifestyle are unprepared for the amounts of time they'll spend in a different chair, at a different desk, without the support and customs of their "normal" day in place.
I don't know. Maybe it's both.
The very fact that we're not supposed to leave our homes means that we should be deliberately trying to move more in them. The very stress we're sinking under has a multitude of outlets in Adaptogens, herbs that help us adapt to stressful environments. The very virus we're threatened with requires us all to look after our immune systems, one of many systems that traditions like Herbalism are very well prepared to build and support.
So maybe this isn't for you. Instead, it might be perfect for someone you know. Or it is perfect for you, but there's just too much "I can't even right now" for you to focus. All that is fine.
Here's all the details about my new online program that combines movement, herbal medicine supports, private coaching, and small-group learning. I'm calling it Release and Relief: Back and Pelvic Pain Edition
You're invited to join, share, or ignore- whatever fits you best.
Aren’t these Grape Hyacinth cute? They’re tiny too, just a couple inches high. If you wanted to, could you get your face all the way down to the ground to find out if they’re fragrant?
There’s 2 parts to that question- whether you have the mobility to get your face that close to the surface of the Earth without having fallen on it, and also whether your clothes allow for that much movement. Both can be improved upon! The first is something I can help you with. The second is something you choose.
Let’s think about the clothes for a second. I went to the Mutter Museum and looked in horror at the misshapen skeleton of a corseted woman. It’s incredible that anyone would have accepted that as not only fashion but proper and essential.
But then I thought about today’s fashion. I am not generally considered fashionable- tasteful, maybe, and sometimes even matching, but certainly not a trend-follower. And yet I own jeans I have to unbutton when I drive. I own boots that could break an ankle, or in fact one pair that could prevent an ankle break they’re so stiff. (They’re the ones that messed up my knee.) I own underwire bras, and too-small underwear, and narrow-shouldered button-down shirts.
Clothes that restrict movement are called body casts. That name makes sense, since they hold us back like a medical cast or splint would. And you know what- I love some of them. Those break-an-ankle boots are gorgeous. I traded an entire pilates training package for them years ago, they’re knee high stretch suede by a real designer, and heeled. Amazing. But. I rarely wear them.
The concern is really for when we wear our body casts day in and day out. When we train our bodies to lose mobility and support structures, or even damage circulation and lymphatic drainage. What good is, say, getting out in the garden if your pants cut off your lower body blood flow and your bra won’t let you take a deep breath? It’s not like torture, it IS torture!
What would it take to allow yourself the freedom to completely move, to have full Range of Motion, at least most of the time? Sure there are special occasions, but what would your life be like if your Usual Occasions gave you access to more movement? Movement is medicine too.
If you’re not sure what you’d even do with more range, then let me introduce you to the Release and Relief online coaching program. We’re learning to release long-held buttresses that have been holding you up while the rest of you couldn’t, and to move with newly aligned muscles. There’s also herbal supports built in, because that stress and GI inflammation isn’t doing your back pain any favors, for example.
If you have made the transition into moveable clothing, what has it been like?
Yay, a picture story! This is a slide I just showed to my last DIY Herbalism class, when we dug into Immune health and the herbs that act on it.
See, what we’ve got here is a hole in the skin up top, bad guys getting in, the first line of defense trying to contain them, and notifying the rest of the immune cells to the problem. This is a super simple, easy way to see what your immune system is doing against invaders.
Much of the time, when it comes to herbs and the immune system, you’ll hear people talk about “immune stimulants” that really get this process moving in overtime. ZoomZoom the defense cells arrive and Kapow! They knock out the baddies, regroup, and speed off to the next Bat Call. It’s a good visual.
But I like to question everything, like the assumption that we even have enough good guys to go around in the first place, and what happens if we don’t.
(In addition, this kind of Rapid Response team only functions on the say-so of your Stress Levels. Too much stress will actually shut down your immune system- when you’re trying to outrun the Sabre Toothed Squirrel your body doesn’t want to waste resources on a paltry cut finger. And it expects to quit running soon, either because you got away or you didn’t, so we’re not made for the constant high-stress environment we live in today and don’t have a mechanism to keep immune function under chronic stress.)
So here’s another story.
Imagine you’re cooking pasta and the water level gets a bit low. The water gets thick, sort of gloppy, the noodles aren’t circulating as much as they should to cook evenly. What do you do? You wouldn’t turn up the heat under the pot to get the noodles to cook as much as possible in the remaining water, would you? No! You’d add water to the pot so the system works as it’s supposed to.
The same is true of the immune system. Before turning up the heat and stimulating function, we’ve got to make sure we have plenty of immune cells to go around in the first place- fill up the system, if you will (bonus points for actually adding water, those cells float!)
“But hoooow?” I hear some of you wail. “I want my immune cells nooooow!” OK, Veruca, we’re coming.
If you wade into the crazy world of the internet you’ll find LOTS of head-scratching references to remedies you’ve not only never heard of, but ones that I’ve never heard of either. It’s just not helpful to tell people to find True Indigo Root, or patented TCM formulas, or dozens of other specialized and NOT local-to-whereever-you-are plants.
Instead, let’s focus on what we CAN do because these are things people have ALWAYS done. These are all age-old techniques for building the robustness and vitality of your entire self, including your immune system.
Take a deep breath, we'll get through this together
There are all kinds of Herbal Medicine makers out there. Let's support them!
This is NOT an exhaustive list, and I will be adding to it. Please send your recommendations or drop them in the comments below.
High Garden Tea- their Memphis TN shop was completely destroyed by a tornado in early March 2020
The Botanical Bus- a bilingual mobile herb clinic in CA
Bay Herbalism- a free holistic and mobile health clinic in Sonoma County CA
Commonweath Herbs Free Clinic- in Brookline MA
Rootwork Herbals' People's Medicine Project- provides BIPOC a safe, experiential education in working with common plants to help heal themselves and their communities
Ok, yes, technically speaking, “tea” is a beverage made from Black or Green Tea (of the Camellia sinensis plant). Other plants steeped in water, like Chamomile or Peppermint, are properly called a “tisane”. Phooey, I say! They all fall under the grand umbrella of the exalted Herbal Infusion, grandmother of the herbal remedies.
All an “infusion” is, really, is plants steeped in liquid for a while. Water, milk, vinegar, oil, wine, vodka... the options are endless.
When you hear an Herbalist talk about an Herbal Infusion, it’s generally meant that your herbs were steeped in hot water for anywhere from 20-60 minutes, or up to a few hours. A longer steep like this allows many more plant constituents, the “phytochemicals”, to make their way into the water and shift it from a simple beverage to a medicinal remedy.
Yes, this will change the flavor! One of my favorite experiments with students is to serve
Any guesses about how each tastes? DIY Herbalism students, do you remember ALLLL the way back to your first class- what were the 3 teas like?
So what about tea bags vs loose tea?
A simple herbal tea bag, like your Traditional Medicinals Gypsy Cold Care or Tazo Wild Sweet Orange or Yogi Echinacea (just a few of my favs!), usually contains enough plant material to make a nice strong QUART of tea- a simple coffee mug doesn’t do them justice. Besides, you can always drink more than a 4-6oz cup anyway- hydration hydration hydration.
Plus, tea-bag tea is usually pulverized, basically a powder, so it infuses much more easily and quickly into hot water than whole or even cut leaves and flowers do. This means you can get away with a shorter steep, maybe 10-15 minutes, than you would want for loose tea- more like 20-60 minutes.
That simple tea bag does come at a cost, though. Once reason there’s so much plant material in each tea bag is because the quality can much lower than whole plants. Imagine a Chamomile harvest- the best flowers are sold to the higher priced tea companies, the lesser flowers to cheaper brands, and the fluff that’s left over is scooped up and sold in individual tea bags. Given my druthers I’ll make loose tea every time, but a good quality tea bag for convenience is perfectly good enough
At the other end of the water spectrum are Cold Infusions. Some herbs do much better steeping without heat, usually because of mucilage or aromatics.
Fresh herbs like Chamomile, Tulsi, Fennel, Peppermint, Anise Hyssop, Rose- any of the yummy ones, really- absolutely shine in a Cold Infusion. And herbs like Marshmallow, Cinnamon, Linden, and Slippery Elm have a sugar molecule called “mucilage” that gets slimy and gooey in cold water, which is wonderfully soothing to the digestive tract and nervous system.
Cold Infusions are even more simple than the hot ones, since you, um, don’t have to heat the water. Just put your plants in your jar, cover with room temperature water, cap loosely, and let sit overnight. If your house is particularly hot you could put it in the fridge, but true cold will slow the mucilage from extracting
But what if you want to combine remedies with different times or temperatures? For example, a great combo for an angry gut is Chamomile and Marshmallow, but you’d want a long steeped Chamomile and a cold steeped Marshmallow. What to do?
The answer is- staggering. No, I mean that as a verb, not an adjective!
Do this: make your Chamomile tea in a quart jar around dinner time in hot water. Before bed, when it’s cooled off, add the Marshmallow, and wait till morning. Just stagger *when* you add different herbs to create your different combos.
Staggering is also a good solution for when you would like to include more gentle notes of strong flavors. Try stirring your tea with a Cinnamon stick, if you don't want an overpowering spice. Or add your Chamomile or Rose petals right before serving, if you want the aromatic bloom.
There are so many ways to infuse your plants in just simple water! What are your favorite flavors or techniques?
Herbalism in the US isn’t regulated. We aren’t degreed, licensed, or registered (for the most part). Our education and certifications are only as good as the people who taught them. Does that freak you out?
Not me- I like it this way.
I think Fiona Heckles from the UK said it best:
“You don’t have to have a medical degree to be able to practice herbal medicine, and that’s because the medical profession (the allopathic medical profession) doesn’t want to recognize it as a profession in itself.
But in doing that it opens up this amazing freedom to be able to study with apprenticeship programs or with whoever or however you want to practice, as long as you feel confident about it… what you really need to do is know your plants.”
Yes, legally, Herbalists have to be careful not to suggest they are impersonating a “medical professional” and need to stay on the side of education and information. But philosophically, that’s not hard.
We’re teaching people to care for themselves- the boring daily routines of good food and good rest and good movement
This all means that in the end, Herbalism's "place" in our world is in many ways outside of the usual way of doing things. Herbalists must follow the laws, but we make our own rules. I believe the care of your health is your own responsibility, a right that you deserve, and that is in sometimes direct disagreement with established health care expectations.
And this is OK, because Herbalists are also (often primarily) educators. We're all always learning how to be more healthy in these bodies we have, and that usually means learning new ways to think about everything. Someone like an Herbalist is well suited to help guide you through new experiences as well as new ways to understand them.
How do we practice? Let me count the ways
Professionally, this freedom gives Herbalists a simply fantastic scope of practice. There are SO MANY ways to practice the “act and art” of Herbalism, and SO MUCH we can we can learn from the established Herbalists of our time (not to mention the archived and salvaged documentation of practitioners past) that we can sample and try on and morph into our own practices.
These ideas span the gamut of practice from:
All kinds of practices are used by all kinds of practitioners to help all kinds of people, and have been for all of history. Sill, many will argue that it can’t work to have so many disparate practices, it’s just the placebo effect making people feel better.
So what? We’re out here helping people feel better using all the tools at our disposal, not treating our clients like machines missing some upgrades, or like disposable furniture.
Let me say it again:
I. Do. Not. Care. If. The. “Placebo Effect”. Is. What. Helps. You. Feel. Better.
Besides, there’s no line we can draw that says, “On this side it’s only the placebo effect; on that side, it’s real healing…” Even the word "healing" is rather non-specific and subjective- it's hard to define what being well or better or healed actually means.
In practice, Herbalism deals well with the vague and unspecific complaints people have that often stump Western medicine, which is mostly concerned with identifying the offending microorganism or organ and attacking it. Western medicine works well in many situations (believe you me, my time as an EMT taught me the benefits of Western medicine well.)
However, Herbalists are concerned with helping the body function to the best of its ability so our clients feel better, which is also vague and unspecific- plant medicine and people go together so well, you'd think we evolved together... oh wait, we did!
My own practice is changing
To this end, I’ve been mulling over my own particular kind of practice. I’ve been an Herbalist for a long time (a decade since I got my first certificate, though it’s been my calling wayyyy before that.) I’ve also taught Reformer Pilates for almost 15 years, and I’ve encountered some surprising parallels about the benefits of regular, thoughtful, whole-body movements and regular, thoughtful, whole-body plant medicine.
I want to ask you all, out here in the vast void that is an internet post- do you see any connections between your exercise/movement/work-out practices and goals, and your herbal wellness ones?
Or maybe even more to the point- Do you want to? How could connections like these serve you, help you, or even interest you?
I’m very interested in having a discussion with you about this. Comment below, email me, let me know what you think!
Have you ever asked your friends to praise you? An outright, blatant, shameless request to tell you what your best, strongest qualities are? Last Spring, an online course I was taking asked me to reach out to people close to me and ask them what they think my superpowers are. It felt SO. WRONG. Asking others to do this is humbling, terrifying, and rewarding.
I sent out an email in a surge of positivity. I just said “You all are my friends. What do you think my superpowers are?” I didn’t apologize, didn’t hedge. As I waited for my friends to answer my email, my positivity positively fled. I felt embarrassed. I felt flustered. I felt unworthy, and even a little ashamed for asking in the first place. And my friends proved me wrong.
I’m here to tell you, this is a GREAT exercise. Think about it- wouldn’t you be happy to tell your friends about the wonderful things you see in them? Wouldn’t it be fun to heap them with praise knowing they’d have to listen, because they ASKED for it?! Wouldn’t it be great to point out those things that makes your friends unique and special? They enjoyed doing this, many of them even thanked me for asking, and asked me to let them know the outcome of the exercise!
I hereby CHALLENGE you to ask your friends what they think YOUR superpowers are!! And please, let us know what they say #mysuperpowers
And in the vein of doing things that make me uncomfortable, I’ll toot my own horn here and share what my friends told me. It means the world to me that this is what they see, because these are important qualities that I’m not sure I always manage to bring. Doubting ourselves is human! Supporting each other is human, too. And learning what others see you bringing to the world is divine.
"Dear Friends. What do you think my superpowers are?”
Aw shucks, guys.
And yes, there are some herbs that can help you through this!
Tulsi springs immediately to mind- she can help calm the stress of doing this asking in the first place, and you may find she helps you transition into a person who believes what your friends are saying.
Rose is also a powerful friend in terms of opening your heart to receive the love your friends offer.
Chamomile can help you turn off the inner-child who is afraid and uncertain, and Calamus might help you digest everything you are told.
What other herbs would you work with? And I was serious- go ahead and ask your friends about your superpowers. You can thank me later ;)
There's lots of pressure each December to spendspendspend your way into others hearts or good graces or respect. I don't want to add to that. Besides, I don't really make or sell anything that's packageable in a gift-giving fashion anyway, so why add to the noise?
But I do want to showcase some of my favorite people who are making a difference in the world, so if you do decide you need a perfect gift for someone, maybe you'll find it here. Or just give them a hug. That always works for me.
In not much order, I present to you my favorites.
I've probably forgotten some people and places. And I'll probably update this list as I remember them. I'd love to hear about your favorites too, in the comments!
“Maximize Your World”
No matter how many creams and balms you pour onto your skin, an overloaded liver will keep pushing toxins out from under the skin as breakouts. No matter how much you reduce your diet variety, inflammation will continue to cause food sensitivities and systemic inflammation. No matter how much you rest, weak muscles will cause low back pain and reduce your quality of life.
Addressing problems, not just moving on from them, takes time, determination, practice, and quite often a guide. As an Herbalist, that's something I offer- guidance as you do your healing work.
Prevention Really is the Best Medicine
It’s really, really tough to be experiencing symptoms and to also step back for perspective, to try and find the roots when the branches are on fire. Doing preventive work when you are doing OK goes a long way here, to reduce or eliminate problems before they can even occur. And a skilled practitioner is trained to lead you through the acute symptoms now, so you can work on the chronic cause later.
So how do you go about finding the help you might need? Set up your health care team now before you have troubles, or more troubles. Get recommendations, try introductory appointments, interview professionals, attend events like health fairs. Vet everyone on your team, including your GP, OB/GYN, Dermatologist, Therapist, Chiropractor, Massage Therapist, Herbalist, Nutritionist, Acupuncturist, Fitness Trainers, and whoever else helps you feel better. You should always feel supported and empowered by our team.
And visit your teammates on a regular basis, at least for check ins. Make sure your wellness is going according to plan, and that no one sees a red flag you’ve missed. Self care isn’t selfish! We don’t tend to have the communities around us anymore that might have pointed out important things, like scary looking moles or an odd gait, so we need to assemble a team to help us with these things. As Terry Pratchett put it in A Hat Full of Sky, “And what you might need them for was to tell you, as a friend, that you were beginning to cackle.” I don’t want you out there by yourself, cackling.
What is Herbalism?
At the start of my journey, I experienced Herbalism as just an alternative way to treat conditions that my friends went to their doctors for- colds, earache, constipation, anxiety, and the like. Take this herb, instead of that pill, and then go on with your day.
Today, I see Herbalism as one branch of a lifestyle that has plants as wellness partners, instead of pills (or alongside them when necessary), and views western medicine as the outsider- it’s good for lots of big problems, but not very good at improving our day-to-day existence. Plants are everywhere, and they’re much cheaper than drugs, so I also think of Herbalism as an equal-opportunity system. Herbalism is people’s medicine. As Dr Nicole LePera (@the.holistic.psychologist) says, “In the old paradigm, we relied on 'experts' to tell us about ourselves and our bodies. In the new paradigm, we take accountability and advocate for our own healing. If we choose to have someone guide us, it’s a part of a large puzzle.” We get to be responsible for ourselves, if we choose.
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a pilates teacher. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one. 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.
Meet with Paula
In Person Herbal Office:
1200 Welsh Road
North Wales PA 19454
Online Herbal Office:
Via Zoom or Google Hangout