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Category Archives: Stretches and Exercises

So, a minute ago, I told you not to wear flip-flops, right?  And I talked about the importance of not wearing shoes that you had to grip with your toes in order to keep attached to your feet.  Now, we’re going to talk about the one aspect of footwear that everyone already knows about, but completely ignores.  Heel height.

Yeah, yeah, we all know that high heels are like cigarettes.  Sexy and terrible for you.  We get it.  But what so many people don’t realize is that any heel on a shoe is detrimental to your health.  This does not just apply to women’s shoes.  This does not just apply to fancy dress shoes.  Almost all shoes these days have an elevated heel compared to the toe.  That includes almost all running shoes, almost all slippers, almost all sandals…you get the picture, right?

The very best metaphor I have to demonstrate why wearing any heel at all is detrimental to your health is one I am shamelessly stealing from Katy Bowman.  I believe she uses this example in both Move Your DNA and Whole Body Barefoot, which are books you should probably read at some point.  But until then, let’s just talk about a bookcase, for a minute.

Imagine a bookcase, filled with books (and maybe a plant or a few rocks or shells or glass jars, or whatever else you like to keep on your bookcases besides books).  Now, imagine a wooden block, 1 inch high and 1 inch wide.  Go ahead a slip that block under one edge of your bookcase.  Is that bookcase functioning to the best of its ability?  Now, imagine that your bookcase is as tall as you are, probably somewhere in the 5 to 6 1/2 feet range.  Now, imagine your bookcase is as wide as your foot is long (maybe 9 to 14 inches).  How does that 5 1/2 foot tall, 1 foot wide bookcase look, leaned up against your wall with a one inch block under one side?  Super good?  Want to see what it looks like in a 4-inch stiletto?  I didn’t think so.

Now imagine your bookcase has to do more than just stand there, holding books.  Imagine your bookcase needs to walk the dog uphill in the snow, carry a giant pan of lasagna from the oven to the table, run after the ice cream truck, jump on the bed, bend down to pull a golden ticket from the gutter, hang from trees, do the twist and the hokey-pokey.  Do you think your bookcase is very well set up to do all these amazing things with that block under one side of it?

No; me either.  And yet, we ask our amazing bodies to do all these things and more with giant (proportionally) wedges under them, throwing them off-balance with every step.  So yeah, stop it with the heels.  Please.  Or do less with the heels.  Try slowly transitioning to shoes with less rise from toe to heel.  How about that?  Is that fair?

Flip flop season is just getting started and I’m writing to ruin your fun.  I would say that I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if I’m honest, I kinda love it.  So let’s just get right to it, shall we?

I could talk for days about foot health and how important it is (as the foundation for the rest of your body all day, every day), but suffice it to say that it’s really, really important and whatever you do to your feet, the rest of your body has to deal with as well.  And so, when choosing your footwear this summer, can I please, please, please entice you away from the flip flops?

I know nobody will be surprised to hear me say that high heels aren’t good for you.  But so often I see people trade their heels (and yes, that includes the gentlemen; anything where your heel is higher than your toes is considered a high heel in my book) for flip flops and consider the problem solved.  Not so, my friend, not so.

Ideally, as you walk, your foot should go through a full, smooth roll, from the outside edge of your heel to the very tip of your big toe before leaving the ground to stride forward to the next step.  I tried to find a video of this, but this animation (which is a terrible example of how to walk, but is great if you just watch the feet) is the best I could find:

However, when you wear flip flops, you need to hang on to them with your toes or they’ll go flying.  Which means your toes are contracted when they should be at their longest, most extended.  And you do this with Every.  Single.  Step.  No bueno, team.  It shortens the fibers in the plantar surface of the foot…which can lead to plantar fasciitis.  It prevents you from having a full, long stride, so you end up taking more steps per mile, compounding the problem with each step.  It causes a mirrored shortness in the pelvic floor, straining the super fun zone that’s located there, as well as the bladder and the urethra (but those aren’t that important, right?).  With a shortened anterior pelvis, a hyper-lordotic lumbar curve is encouraged, which is just a fancy way of saying low back pain is probably on its way.  Oh, and knee problems!  I almost forgot about knee problems!  They come with flip flop use as well because all that tightening and shortening in the toes happens mostly through muscles in the lower leg, which creates imbalance in the knee joint, and let me tell you, the knee is a tricky joint to rebalance once it’s out of whack.

So.  Flip flops are bad.  Sorry, not sorry.

But, I really am trying to help you live your best life.  Not just now, but 10 years from now.  And 10 years after that.  And if you spend half the year wearing flip flops, every year, for 60 years, then come to me with plantar fasciitis, knee pain, back pain, and pelvic organ prolapse…well, don’t say I didn’t warn you, but I’ll happily take your money and we can do weekly Rolfing sessions for the next 5 years to get you back on track.

OR, try going barefoot!  Or, try one of the (what seems like hundreds of) ‘barefoot’ sandal options.  Or, just find a shoe that securely attaches to your foot so your toes don’t have to grip with every step.  Remember, your foot should be able to move like this:

And if it can’t while wearing and walking in your shoes, you’re basically putting your foot in a cast, then expecting it to do its job, which isn’t exactly fair.  I don’t put your hands in mittens then ask you to play the piano.  Set your feet up for success and ditch the flip flops.

Until next time, happy moving!
Theresa

Can I talk to all my ladies for a few minutes?  We need to talk about boobs, or more specifically, bras.  Gentlemen, if you’re a life-long bra wearer, please, read on.  But generally, I’m talking to my women-folk here.

Dearest bra wearers,

For years, I have held off on saying something.  Like, from the beginning of my career as a Rolfer.  See, one of the things that drew me to Rolfing was that you (the client) got to do whatever you liked doing.  I had had a chiropractor tell me when I was in high school, that I shouldn’t go into landscaping, because it would be too hard on my back.  I’d had a surgeon, a doctor, and a physical therapist all tell me to give up on running after knee surgery.  I don’t really like being told what I can and can’t do.  Just ask my mom.  Rolfing never asked me to stop doing what I loved just because it hurt.  Instead, Rolfing attempted to make the hurting go away, so I could just enjoy the loving of the thing.  And that’s a major, major thing I love about Rolfing.

But.

There are things I see in my office, over and over and over and over again.  Things that make me cringe.  Things that make me sad.  And at a certain point, doesn’t it become my responsibility to say something?  As part of your healthcare team?  I want to be a good Rolfer and all, and not tell you what to do or what not to do.  But at the same time, I feel like I gotta say something.  What if I just tell you what I’m seeing and you can decide for yourself what you want to do or not do about it.  Okay?  Okay.

What I see is this: bras are suffocating us women.  When I think about it from a fascia standpoint, I’m not at all surprised.  If I wear a restrictive garment around any other body part, the body will change accordingly.  It’s like how shoes change the shape of our feet (and everything above them).  If you know anyone who has worn glasses their whole life and you ask them to take their glasses off, you can see the indentations in their heads, just above their ears, and usually at the bridge of the nose.  This is the whole idea behind braces and why they work to reorganize our teeth in our mouths.  How many of us have indentations in one of our middle fingers from where we hold a pen when writing?

So I understand why bras, too, would leave their mark with a tight band around the rib cage, just under the breasts.  Just like with shoes shaping feet and glasses shaping heads, you can see the indentations a bra strap leaves on the rib cage.

But then I started wondering about the benefits of bra wearing.  What’s the reason we’re wearing them all day, every day?  I understand there are several benefits to shoes.  Besides warms toes, protection from broken glass, and fashion, they’re required by the health department in restaurants.  I’m guessing most people who wear glasses their whole lives do it because they gain a benefit from having corrected vision and that benefit is worth the cost of having a slightly dented head.  Straight, well-organized teeth are highly valued in our culture, and probably easier to keep clean and healthy.  I will take a dented finger bone for the pleasure granted to me by writing.  But bras?  The cost-benefit analysis gets a little murky.

Why do we wear bras?  What is the benefit, here?  Well, they hold boobs up and in all sorts of positions that boobs don’t naturally come in.  They hold boobs still (or more still) during exercise and activity.  They make boobs look bigger, higher, smoother, and less dynamic than they actually are.  They minimize the appearance of nipples.  And they provide any extra layer of protection from the elements.  So, what it comes down to is mostly looks, with a little bit of function.  When I really take a good look, it seems like the number one reason I wear a bra is because it’s expected that I wear a bra.  I wear a bra because everyone else (with boobs) wears bras.  You know what they say about jumping off bridges just because your friends jump off bridges, right?

Really breaking it down, I realized despite my relatively high activity level, I ‘needed’ a bra for less than an hour and a half a day, on average.  I don’t like my boobs bouncing around while I run because it’s uncomfortable and I have sensitive nipples.  Same goes for when I play volleyball.  That works out to be about 9 hours a week that I ‘need’ the support of a sports bra.  And if I hadn’t coddled the damn things since I got ‘em, my boobs would probably be fine unsupported while I ran and played volleyball.  In addition to these ‘highly bouncy activities,’ I’m active in many other ways (walking, hiking, dancing, climbing trees, stretching, cleaning), but it’s actually fine if my boobs move during those activities.  That’s what they were designed to do. And it’s super fine for my boobs to be unsupported, free-flowing fat-bags while I do stuff like write, cook, read, watch tv, drink tea, and eat meals.

So, if I’m wearing a bra most of my waking hours, let’s say for 14 hours a day; but only 1.5 of those hours do I need a bra; then we’re looking at around 12.5 hours a day, every day of wearing a restrictive garment for no reason other than everyone else is doing it.  If I asked you to put one of your arms (even your non-dominant one) in a sling for 12 1/2 hours a day, every day, just because, how would you feel about that?  If I asked you to do this starting around the age of 10 and told you to do this every day for the rest of your life, how would you feel about that?  Why did we all agree to do this again?

Here’s the thing.  Your life would be severely limited if you put one of your arms in a sling for 12 1/2 hours a day, every day, but people live without arms.  Your survival does not depend on you having two functioning, sling-free arms.  You know what your survival does depend on?  Breath.  You know what a bra restricts?  Yeah.  See what I’m saying here?  See why I can’t just be quiet about this?  We need to breathe.  Yet every day, for 10-16 hours a day, most women (and girls who are on their way to becoming women) wrap a strap around their rib cages and voluntarily limit their breath.  The thing that keeps them alive.  Because everyone else is doing it.

What.  The.  Heck.

When I first started my practice, I thought, “well, that’s just how it goes with women.”  And I am so done with that.  It may be how it goes with women right now.  But, it’s not how it has to go.  There is no reason I can see, from a health perspective, for women to wear bras all the time.  They’re not cheap, or easy to maintain, or super convenient.  It’s not like any of us accidentally fell into the habit of wearing them because it was so fun.  If wearing a bra is more comfortable for you during certain activities (like me and running, per esempio), then by all means, be my guest.  But watching Portlandia?  Sitting at your desk checking emails?  Almost any activity besides jumping and running?  Think about it.  If we free the boobies, we begin to free the breath and the ribs, the shoulders and the neck, the sternum and the heart.  Sounds ay-okay to me.

I don’t want you to think that I’m this shining example of braless living.  I’m not.  But I am trying to wear a bra less.  Putting one on later in the day, taking it off as soon as I’m home at night.  Seeing if I can just be a little more conscious around my bra wearing instead of automatic.  I’m not going to tell you what to do or what not to do; I still want to be a good Rolfer, after all.  But if breath is important to you (and it is, trust me), maybe you might want to bring a little more consciousness to your bra habits as well.

That’s all for now, ladies.  Breathe free and prosper.

-Theresa

Can we talk about shoes (oh my god, shoes) for a minute?  I know, I know, we’ve talked about them before.  I don’t care.  It’s my blog and I do what I want.  Shoes keep coming up, so we’re going to talk about shoes again.

You know how we evolved running through the savannas of Africa?  You know how we evolved climbing trees and mountains?  You know how we did that without Doc Martens on our feet?  Yeah.

Your feet (and my feet, or any feet, for that matter) are awesome.  Not only are they strong enough to hold you up and carry you around all day, but they are so magnificently flexible and adaptable.  You can wiggle your toes.  You can flex and point.  You can supinate and pronate.  You can rotate left and right.  You can tell, even with your eyes closed, so much about your environment, just from your bare feet.  Is the surface you’re standing or walking on level, tilted, or uneven?  Is it smooth or textured?  Is it slippery or grippy?  Is it hot or cold?  Is it soft or unyielding?  Is it wet or dry?  Is it constant or constantly changing?  So much information!  Feet are like the wikipedia of human existence!  They might not tell you everything you need to know, and you might want to fact check what they tell you, but you can still learn an awful lot from your feet.

And what do we do with them?  We put them in casts.  We put them in their little leather (and canvas and rubber and plastic) casts as soon as we wake up and don’t take them out until it’s time to go to sleep, when, let’s face it, they’re not good for much besides regulating temperature.  Can you imagine?  (I’m sure you can because you’ve probably been doing this to your feet most of your life, or at least know someone who has.)  It’s like taking a well-trained, super-fit border collie and putting it in a crate all day.  Every day.  For it’s whole life.  Not cool.  And it wouldn’t be super-fit for long, would it?

We’re missing out, people! And the bottoms of our feet are connected to the tops of our heads, obviously.  When we stimulate, stretch, and move one, we stimulate, stretch and move the other, and everything in between.  Did you know there’s a huge correlation between foot function and pelvis function?  Don’t want to be incontinent as you age?  Keep your feet healthy and active.  Did you know that pelvis function is related to head and neck function?  No interest in headaches or TMJ?  Keep your feet fully functional.  And can we just pause for a minute and consider how important it is to feel steady on our feet as we age?  How often have you heard of an elderly someone who seemed to be in great health, but they fell, and broke their hip, and then they were hospitalized, and then they got pneumonia…and that was the beginning of the end?  I’m not saying that you’ll never fall again once you restore your foot health.  But functional, vibrant, healthy feet will not make you fall more.  Guaranteed.

I know, I know, we can’t all be barefoot all the time.  I get it.  We live in a place where winter happens.  We (some of us at least, myself not included) go to real jobs, where shoes are expected to be worn every day.  And quite frankly, for most of us, suddenly going all barefoot all the time would land us with tons of injuries and the accompanying pain.  Think about it like this: if you kept your hands in casts from your fingertips to just above your wrists, starting around age two, until now, and then decided to take them off today and go play a two hour piano concert, do some light carpentry, knead a double batch of bread dough, and write a five-paragraph essay, by hand, how do you think that would go?  Yeah.  Not super great.  Let’s think about our feet the same way.  Yes, the goal is to do light carpentry with our feet.  No, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  (I’m kidding about the carpentry.  Come on.)

Getting Started:  So what can you do, today, to start restoring your feet to high functionality?  Let’s get rid of the shoes once in a while to start.  Can you walk around your house without shoes on?  I’m guessing most (if not all) the walkable surfaces in your house are flat, level, in a narrow range of comfortable temperatures, not too slippery, and not very texturally interesting (ooh! carpet! how exotic compared to hardwood floors!), but also pretty gentle on your fresh-out-of-their-casts feet.  This is like going from a cast to a sling.

Other sling-like options include switching out your hard-soled shoes for more flexible-soled shoes.  Sure, there are lots of companies nowadays making ‘barefoot’ shoes and minimalist shoes.  Which is awesome.  And most of those shoes are hideously ugly.  (I still own them.  Stop judging me.)  And some of those shoes may just be too much for your recently-back-from-the-dead feet.  So, instead.  Next time you go shoe-shopping, try this.  Walk around the shoe store for a minute or two in just your bare feet, or with socks on.  Yes, you will look weird.  Who are you trying to impress? You can do this at home, first, to get a feel for it.  While you’re walking around, pay attention to how your feet feel.  How do they move?  Do your toes spread as your weight transfers forward over them?  How long is your stride?  How fast do you comfortably walk?  Where does your foot contact the ground?  Heel first?  Mid-sole?  Starting at the toes?  Really feel your feet as you walk.  Then, try on a pair of shoes.  Go for another walk.  Really feel your feet again.  What changed?  If the answer is “nothing,” this is probably a good shoe for you.  In fact, this is probably a great shoe for you (but is also probably imaginary, as even ‘barefoot’ shoes still feel different from actually being barefoot).  If the answer is “everything,” this probably a terrible shoe for you.  Try to get as close to “nothing changed” as possible within your style/budget/patience-for-shoe-shopping constraints.  See?  Easy.  If you do this every time you go shoe shopping, in 10 years, you will have totally different, and significantly healthier feet.  I promise.  (They’ll also probably be bigger.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

With your new and improved choice of footwear, you can now start mixing up the terrain you walk on.  Start with walking through the grass at the park instead of on the sidewalk or path.  This will help build up the stabilizing muscles in your lower legs and feet (and all the way up through your pelvis and back) that might have atrophied from always walking on flat, level surfaces.  Go hiking (not in thick-soled hiking boots, in your new, more flexible shoes).  Climb trees.  Scramble up rocks.  Go out in the rain and the snow and the ice.  Teach your feet to be good at handling as broad a range of experiences as possible.  This is also good advice for bodies in general.  Flat and level is for sissies.

Another option for improving foot health and slowly restoring function to your feet is taking shoe breaks.  We all know by now that sitting for four hours straight is bad for us, right?  Right.  We all know that even if we can’t be moving all day, we’re supposed to get up every hour (or 20 minutes) and walk around/stretch/just stand.  Same thing applies to shoes.  Can you slip them off at your desk and wiggle your toes?  Can you pad around in your socks while you’re on that phone call?  Can you go stand barefoot in the grass in your backyard for five minutes while you’re waiting for the water to boil?

Next Level Shit:  Once you’ve gotten your feet out of their casts, and comfortable in slings (and this could take several years), it’s time to take things to the next level.  Go ahead.  Take the slings off.  You might want to consider some of those ugly, but awesomely functional ‘barefoot’ shoes.  Work up to spending as much time as possible barefoot.  Strengthen the skin of your feet by walking barefoot on as many different textures (and in as many temperatures) as you can.  Strengthen the tiny little muscles in your feet and the big strong muscles of your core by walking on different terrain, at all sorts of angles.  You can even do some of this in your house!    Throw the couch cushions on the floor.  Throw the kids’ building blocks and Lincoln Logs (Do they still make Lincoln Logs?  Please tell me they still make Lincoln Logs.) on the floor.  Walk over it all.  The couch cushions will make you work harder to balance.  The Lincoln logs will challenge your skin strength and flexibility.  Rolled up towels, wooden spoons, pencils, a rolling pin, a candlestick holder, a bookend, heck, crumple up your junk mail and throw it on the ground.  The list goes on.  Throw it on the floor and walk on it.  (And you’ll get bonus movement points when you have to pick it all up and put it away!)  Keep seeking new and different challenges for your feet.  Don’t let them get bored.

You can get those border collies back in top shape.  It’s a long process, but you can do this.  I know you can, because I’ve done it.  And my feet continue to get stronger and more flexible.  And the rest of my body continues to thank me for it.  But we’ve got to start with the shoes.  For the love of your feet, please stop it with the high-heels and the flip flops and start letting your feet be the magnificent beings they are.  Oh my god, shoes.

I don’t know about you, but for me, summer is non-stop, and I absolutely love it.  There are just so many opportunities for movement that I don’t feel like I need to “work-out.”  It just happens.  Volleyball in the park, riding my bike instead of driving, a hike with friends, camping, dancing at weddings, long walks with ice cream on a warm night, the list goes on and on.  And as a general rule, I know I feel better when I move more (serious injury not withstanding).  More activity equals more joy.

I also love the fall, but as the temperatures drop, the hours of daylight lessen, and that myriad of movement opportunities seems to disappear just as quickly.  Volleyball leagues end, my bike seems like a chore because of all the layers I need to wear, hiking seems more tedious for the same reason, it’s too cold to camp, wedding season is over, and ice cream doesn’t hold the same appeal if I need to put on a coat first.  It sounds like a much better idea to cozy up on the couch with that book I’ve been dying to read and a blanket on my lap.

So this is when I really need to be careful that I’m still getting all the movement my body needs and wants.  In an effort to make sure I don’t lose my summer-time happiness, or, for that matter, my summer-time muscles, I’m trying to consciously up my movement wherever and whenever I can.  And I really mean wherever and whenever.  I’m trying to wiggle my toes and shift my weight from side to side while I wait in line at the grocery store.  I’m trying to do squats and calf raises at my office while I wait for clients (don’t laugh too hard if you catch me in the middle of a squat when you come in).  I’m trying to walk while I make phone calls instead of sitting on the couch or the bed.  I’m trying to dance while I fold laundry.  Can I do 5 push-ups while I wait for the water to get hot in the shower?  As I write this, I’m lying on the floor, kicking my feet behind me, just to try a different position from sitting.  I’m looking for races in the winter and spring to keep me motivated through the desire to hibernate.  I just listened to a Katy Bowman podcast where she mentioned building obstacle courses through her house, just to keep things interesting.  The cats will love me forever when I finally do that.  Maybe this is the excuse I’ve been looking for to jump on the bed to my heart’s content.  Just like I’m always trying to sneak more vegetables into everything I cook, I’m now trying to sneak more movement into my day.

What about you?  Do you have a plan to keep you moving through the fall and winter?  Got any tips or tricks you want to send my way?  I’ll take all the help I can get.

Happy moving and happy fall!

Okay, so today we’re veering away from the philosophical mumbo jumbo and getting on the practical-tip train.  Are you ready?  Are ya? This may be the quickest, most effective tip I’ve ever learned.  So I hope you’re excited, because I’ve learned a lot of tips in my day.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you, Super Brain Yoga!

It’s so exciting, I made a video.  But first, let me tell you why Super Brain Yoga is so damn exciting.

We know, from research and science and lovely things like research and science, that the brain works better when the two halves of it are communicating well.  For this reason, activities that involve contra-lateral movement are super good for the brain.  Contra-lateral means both sides of the body are being used in opposition, like when we walk, and our right arm swings forward as our left one swings back, but it’s balanced by our right leg swinging back, and our left leg swinging forward.  Get it?  So activities like walking, crawling, cross country skiing, and freestyle swimming, while super great for the body, are also super great for the brain, because they demand that the two halves of the brain work together.  Super Brain Yoga is like a condensed version of going for a half hour walk.  You won’t get all the physical benefits, but you will get the mental ones.  And the mental benefits of your brain halves talking to each other include improved memory, greater focus, and even getting smarter.

I was originally shown Super Brain Yoga as something I might want to teach a client who suffered from ADD and a general inability to focus.  But it seemed so easy (it takes 3 minutes and you don’t work up a sweat!) that I tried it myself.  I would do it in the mornings while I waited for the water in the shower to heat up.  And you know what? I noticed a difference.  More importantly, my boyfriend, who always made fun of me for my poor memory, noticed a difference.  Which was all the proof I needed.  Less teasing?  More remembering?  Done and done.  So, for a few months, I did Super Brain Yoga pretty much every morning.

Then I moved somewhere where it only took a few seconds for the water in the shower to heat up, and I couldn’t justify letting all that hot water just pour down the drain.  But even though I stopped doing Super Brain Yoga, my improved memory stuck around.  Now, I do Super Brain Yoga whenever I think about it.  Which, honestly, is probably about once a month.  But I should do it more.  ‘Cause it’s awesome.  And easy.  And effective.  And I like being smart.  Right now I do it when I’m tired, or feeling fuzzy, or unfocused, or ungrounded.  But really, doing it every day would be swell.  If you do it every day I’ll be so proud.  Also, I’ll be blown away by your superior intelligence.  So there’s that.

So, are you ready to learn how to do Super Brain Yoga?  Yeah, I bet you are!  Click on the picture to watch the video.  It’s just a minute long, so you have no excuse not to watch it.



Did you watch it?  See?  Isn’t it easy?  I told you it was great.  Just don’t do it right before you go to bed ’cause it’ll wake you up and then you won’t get a good night’s sleep and that’ll make you feel dumb, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to do here.

Oh, and Super Brain Yoga was on the news!!  Four years ago, but still.  It’s an interesting clip, I promise.

Now go, impress me with your super brain!  I can’t wait to be wowed by your intellect!

My dad’s parents were born in the same small town in northern Italy and until the day she died, my nonna would swear at my nonno in that Italian dialect and speak to us grandkids in strongly accented English.  I grew up knowing that “Santa Maria!” was the appropriate way to respond to spilled milk or outrageous prices and that “Ciao, bella bambina!” meant I was about to get my cheeks pinched.  I also grew up hearing “Con chi la ghettu?” quite a bit from not only my grandparents, but my mother, who loves this phrase more than all the others she’s learned over the years married to an Italian.

“Con chi la ghettu” isn’t standard Italian.  It’s all-the-way dialect, so it’s not something I learned in years of Italian classes, nor something I heard studying in Italy, as I wasn’t in that region.  I actually had to call my dad and ask how he thought it might be spelled, since my Italian dictionary has nothing resembling the word “ghettu.”  But the meaning was always apparent in my household: who are you mad at?  Literally, I think it means “with whom do you have it?”  But it was always used to ask the rhetorical question of who was to blame.  Mad that you got a “C” on that paper?  Con chi la ghettu?  Upset that you burned the pancakes?  Con chi la ghettu?  Pissed about the rain today because now you can’t mow the lawn and you knew you should’ve done it yesterday?  Con chi la ghettu?

And when I sat down to write this post, immediately, the phrase “con chi la ghettu” came to mind.  Because here’s the thing (in the words of Danielle LaPorte):

Everything that’s on your plate is there because you said “yes” to it.

Consciously or unconsciously, out-loud or in your head, you agreed to today.  You may have felt you had no choice, but there’s always a choice.  And so, if you’re not thrilled with how things are going, con chi la ghettu?

I was so thoroughly reminded of this on Friday, as I sat in agony on my couch, with every movement bringing more agony.  See, my sacrum was in open revolt.  Sitting hurt; as did standing; as did lying down.  And anything that made any part of my spine move, say like walking, or sneezing, or well, anything, made it hurt worse.  It was a pretty wild way to spend a Friday, let me tell you!

Also, it was my choice.  See, I’ve got this weird hip-popping thing ’cause my right sacro-illiac joint is stuck, since I fell down some icy stairs 8 years ago.  It’s not that big of a deal.  It’s loud and mildly uncomfortable, but on the grand scale, it’s really nothing.  But when I found myself in a yoga class Monday morning with only one other student, and the teacher asked if there was anything we wanted to focus on, I remembered that sticky sacrum joint and I said “I’d like some hip openers, please.”  And open those hips we did.  Which was great at the time.  Tuesday was a little sore; Wednesday, moderately uncomfortable; and Thursday night was awful.  But nothing compared to Friday.  I felt like I’d just fallen down those stairs the day before.  Groaning like an old man with every movement.  Wincing as I sat down.  Shuffling through the house at a snail’s pace.

And I thought to myself, “con chi la ghettu, Theresa?”  I had literally, out-loud, asked to open that hip up.  Unsurprisingly, there was some trauma stored in there.  At the time I fell, I was at a really low point in my life and there was a lot of anger, and shame, and hurt, and loneliness around that slip on the ice, not to mention the postcard-sized bruise on my butt for 3 weeks.  When I asked to open it up, the universe said, “Sure, if that’s what you want.  Have fun with that.”  So I tried to do my best and just be present in the process.  I looked at the anger and shame and hurt and loneliness that I had been feeling and welcomed each emotion, then reminded myself of how far I’ve come.  That heartbreak didn’t end me.  That loneliness didn’t kill me.  That shame was self inflicted and undeserved.  That anger was justified and has since been transformed into love.  And now this pain wasn’t going to end me either.  I could take a day or two to move slowly.  I could get some bodywork for myself.  I could practice energetic clearing on my own traumas.  No biggie.

So now I want to open it up to you.  What’s on your plate right now that you’re not thrilled with?  Can you figure out when you said yes to it?  Or how you continue to say yes to it with your choices every day?  Is that a choice you still want to make?  Ultimately, con chi la ghettu?  Pain isn’t the enemy.  But knowing why you’ve allowed that pain into your life can go a long way towards healing.

This question came up three (yes, three!) times in one day in my practice and I found it odd.  So I started asking the same question of friends for the following few days.  Ready for the question?  Here it is:  On a scale of zero to one hundred, where would you say your heart is?  Let’s calibrate the scale, shall we?  Zero is drawbridge up, moat filled with alligators, and an armed gunman on every parapet.  Not to mention the reinforced concrete walls, the electrified barbed wire, and the cannons loaded and ready to fire.  Oh, and dragons; lots of dragons.  On the other end of the spectrum at one hundred, what we have is more open and welcoming than a puppy dog.  You’re more vulnerable and less protected than a baby.  You’re an overripe peach, without skin.  Anything and everything that wants to get in is getting in, and you’re not even going to raise a tiny baby fist in protest.

I hope that for all of us, this is a question where the answer changes hour to hour and day to day, based on the situation.  Obviously we’re not going to go argue about the cable bill with our hearts at 100.  And hopefully, when you hang out with your bestie or your favorite pet, your heart’s not in full-lockdown mode.  But, on average, say for the last week, where would you put your heart?  I don’t really care where it was when you were 3.  Or where you hope it will be when you’re 90.  Or if it wasn’t for that stupid ex-husband of yours, it would be at 70, but now it’s at 31.  Tell me where you’re at, right now, in this life you’re currently living.  Or better yet, tell yourself.  Are you on the open and vulnerable side with 50 or above?  Are you closed and protected with 49 or less?  Much more importantly, do you feel comfortable moving around on that scale?

Once, I read about a study which showed that a heart which oscillates between beating fast and beating slowly is healthier than a heart that stays at a constant, calm rate.  (If I could find that study for you now, I would link to it, but alas; my 92 seconds of googling came up with nothing; I got frustrated, and I decided to just write this post instead.)  This report I read made the point that while we typically assume it’s better to be calm and even keel all the time, this is just not true.  Getting all worked up, whether it be physically or emotionally, is actually better for your heart, as long as you also have periods of rest and relaxation where your heart rate comes back down.  Living this way allows your heart to learn a sort of flexibility so that the highs aren’t so shocking and exhausting when they happened.

I feel like this applies to pretty much everything.  I don’t like air conditioning because I want to be hot in the summer.  It’s summer!  This is when you’re supposed to be hot!  I like to work out super hard, then sit on the porch talking with friends for hours.  I tend to get carried away when I cook and I have to remind myself that just because you can put every single one of the spices in a meatloaf doesn’t mean you should.  And at the same time, I’m perfectly happy eating plain crackers for dinner.  Go to extremes, then find middle ground.

Same goes for your emotional, energetic heart.  Your life experiences and your current outlook have led you to whatever number you came up with regarding the openness of your heart.  No biggie.  No need to judge yourself, or flaunt your number.  No number is better than any other (except 9, which is just the coolest number on the planet, but not any extra cool for this exercise).  What’s more important is, can you move from that number, when it’s appropriate?  26 may be a super comfortable place for you right now.  Safe, but not on full-lockdown.  Guarded, but you’ve got a good reason for that.  However, when the love of your life appears, do you have the ability to open up a bit more?  Can you get to 54 so they can squeeze through the door?  And if 78 is where you normally hang out, do you know how to draw things in a bit, when necessary?  Can you hear criticism without it destroying your whole week?  Are your boundaries well defined and well protected, in case an ill-wishing marauder comes your way?

If so, hooray!  You’re like a heart olympian!  If not, what stretches can you do to increase your emotional flexibility?  Imagine scenarios where your heart moves towards the bigger numbers along the spectrum.  Picture your heart lowering the drawbridge, putting the dragons out to pasture, and taking off the suit of armor.  What have you been missing out on, that can now come in?  Now go towards the itty, bitty numbers, put that chain mail back on, and grab your sword.  What challenges can you meet face first, with your heart protected like this?

Going back to your original number; is that something you’re happy about?  Are you comfortable there?  Does that rating of openness serve you well?  Again, if so, then super-duper!  If not, now may be a good time to point your nose towards the end of the spectrum you’d like to be closer to.  One day at a time, one decimal point at a time, make an effort to get your heart to a number that better suits you.  And remember, while it might be scary, it’s probably not a bad idea to Love Love Love.

What up, Sassy Pants?  Enjoying the heat?  I know I am.  It feels like summer, for the reals.

So, let’s talk about your adrenal glands.  Or, if that makes you uncomfortable, let’s talk about my adrenal glands.  Potayto, potahto.  See here?  I found a drawing of adrenal glands on the interweb.  Aren’t they cute, those adorable glands, sitting there like dunce caps on their little kidneys?  Interesting factoid:  your kidneys are the only abdominal organs not located within the peritoneum, which is a bag of fascia that holds all the others, like your stomach and your spleen and your liver and such.  Yep, your kidneys are behind all of those, just in front of and below your lowest ribs, if you’re coming in from the front.  Which means your adrenals are back there too, right up under your ribs.  Which is cool and all, until they get worn out.

Now, I can’t prove this, but I see it a lot in my practice and I experienced it myself for years.  I think your adrenal glands help to physically hold your lower ribs in place.  When your adrenal glands get worn out, your lower ribs suffer.  By suffer I mean they struggle to stay where they should, politely attached to your vertebrae, and instead tend to just sorta fall out of place.  And as anyone who’s ever had a rib out of place can attest, when your ribs suffer, nothing much matters except getting your hands on more vicodin.  And that’s just not a happy place to live from.  Trust me.  Under each rib head (the end that attaches to your spine) is a nerve ganglion, which is like a nerve hub.  Drop a rib on that and the whole area lights up like the 4th of July.  Fun times for all!  Unless you wanted to sleep, or breathe, or bend over, or anything silly like that.

So, how do your adrenals get worn out in the first place?  Well, adrenal glands, oddly enough, produce something called adrenaline.  Ever heard of it?  Just kidding.  We use adrenaline for all sorts of things.  Like escaping super-scary situations.  A moose sneaks up on you in the woods and you get scared and you get a huge adrenaline dump and all of a sudden you can run faster than you’ve ever run in your life.  Hooray!  Adrenaline just saved your life!  But the thing is, you also get a huge adrenaline dump when your alarm clock scares you.  Or a scary movie.  Or a super-loud crack of thunder.  But by the time you can explain to your adrenal glands that there’s nothing to be afraid of because zombies aren’t real (unless bath salts are involved) and it’s just a movie, it’s too late.  That adrenaline’s flowing through your veins and your heart is pumping hard so you can run away.

Your body asks for adrenaline at other times, too.  Like when we’re stressed out about that deadline for work.  Or if you have three shots of espresso.  Or if your body is worn down because you have the flu.  Or if your blood sugar goes up and down like it lives at Six Flags because you’re not careful about eating balanced meals and snacks at regular intervals.  Which is fine.  That’s what it’s for.  Adrenaline gets you through the rough patches.

But when it’s not so much a rough patch as it is your life, we run into trouble.  If you never take care to maintain a steady blood sugar, you’re getting adrenaline dumps all day.  If you never get enough sleep, so your alarm clock scares you every morning, that’s another rush, every day.  Then, you have two cups of coffee, to make matters worse.  If you hate your boss and work is stressful all day, every day, you’re burning through adrenaline like it’s going out of style.  If this is your life and then you get the flu, chances are you’ve just drained the last drop of adrenaline your body had to offer.  And now, your adrenal glands are pissed.  Or they would be if they weren’t so tired.  At this point, your adrenal glands feel like parents of newborn triplets.  They’ve given all they had to give and they need a nap.  A very, very long nap.  So when your ribs turn around and say, “Hey, can we get a boost?” your adrenal glands just give them a sleepy, incredulous look and go back to sleep.  And your ribs fall out of place.  And where did I put that vicodin?

Obviously, this is a situation that we should try to avoid.  But life happens.  And we all tend to go through rough patches that last longer than a few weeks.  So, you come to me and I do my best to get your ribs back into place so you can breathe and move and sleep again.  The thing is, that once you’ve drained your adrenals, it’ll take a while to get them back up to snuff.  Like months.  And that’s if you’re able to do everything you can to help them out, which you probably can’t, or you’d already be doing it.  So, your ribs may continue to thwart your desire for a pain-free existence.  Still, if your adrenals are drained you should try to get them rested and replenished.  Sleep, as much as you can.  Eat before you’re famished, and make sure you eat proteins and fats so your blood sugar stays as level as possible.  Avoid sugars (including alcohol) and caffeine as much as possible.  Try and reduce any mental and emotional stress.  Stop doing things you don’t have to.  Schedule a ‘me’ day once a week if you can, or take a weekend ‘staycation’ where you just don’t answer your phone.  Use your vacation days at work and stay in bed the whole time, or go for a leisurely walk.  Do all the things you’d want to do if you were the parent of newborn triplets.  And if at all possible, don’t let yourself get into this situation again.  It’s just not worth it.

Anxiety.  You hate it.  I hate it.  We all hate anxiety!  Yet, here it is, walking into my office for the third time today.  And there it is, just around the corner at the coffee shop.  Gross.

Unfortunately, we live in a time and place that produces copious amounts of anxiety.  Whether you tend to be an anxious person or not, I’m sure you’ve been hit by the anxiety sneak attack at least once.  And we can all agree that anxiety doesn’t feel so good.  Let’s try something together, shall we?  First, imagine you’re in your happy place, be that a cabin in the woods, or lying on the beach, or walking through a mountain meadow.  Go ahead, let your body and mind really get into it.  What does it sound like in this happy place of yours?  Are the birds singing, or is it that perfect quiet after a snowfall?  Can you hear the ocean waves lapping, or the wind through the trees?  What does it look like?  Is the sun bright and hot, or is it dark, on a moonless night?  How does your skin feel?  Is it humid or dry where you’re at?  Hot or cold?  Windy or still?  What are the tastes associated with this place?  Hot chocolate around the fire?  Cool watermelon on your tongue?  Trail mix crunching as you hike?  Can you smell the ocean salt or the mountain sage or that crisp, cold night?  Are you all the way to your happy place?  Down to your bones?  Okay, now that you’re there, what does your stomach feel like right now?  How’s your breathing?  How do your shoulders feel?  Got a good sense of how your body feels, as a whole, in your happy, calm space?  Good.

Next, let’s think about anxiety inducing moments.  You got the job, but you feel under-qualified and overwhelmed.  You’re about to close on the house, but you’re afraid you’ve made a huge mistake.  You just realized you won’t be able to pay all your bills this month.  You’re waiting for the results on the tests your doctor ran.  Your lease is up and you don’t know where you’ll live next.  You feel undervalued at work and you’re sure it’s only a matter of time before you’re fired.  Your kid is in big trouble and you don’t know what to do about it.  You’re sure your boyfriend is about to dump you.  Pick a scenario.  Whatever makes you feel the most anxious.  Then, go for it.  Step into it, just like we did before.  Where are you sitting, or are you pacing?  Are you talking to your best friend on the phone, or are you holed up in your bedroom with the curtains drawn?  Are you eating a pint of ice cream or throwing up in the office restroom?  Are you crying yourself to sleep or lashing out at the UPS guy and the neighbor’s dog?  Wherever you go when you’re stressed, go there.  Go all the way there, with all five senses.  Then, check in with your body.  How’s your stomach feeling?  What’s your breathing like?  How do your shoulders feel?  Notice a difference this time around?

Obviously, stress sucks.  There are a gazillion studies to prove it shortens your life and makes your body unhealthy, but after our little exercise, do you really need a study to tell you that?  Just from writing that last paragraph, I feel like I need a massage to help me relax.  I’m going to go back to my happy place for a second to reset.  Maybe you should, too.  Ahhh…that’s better.  Let’s continue.  So we know stress sucks.  Now, what to do about it.  Here, in no particular order, are 17 things that work for me, and work for people I know.  Hopefully, they’ll work for you, too.  Hopefully, you’ll tell me all the other tips that you use to deal with stress.  And the world will be a happier, calmer, less-anxious place.  Nothing wrong with that, in my book.

1. Take a walk.  Anxiety is generally a mental thing.  We get really caught up in whatever’s spinning around in our heads.  Doing something physical, outside, where we have to pay attention to more than the thoughts in our head, can be a great way to snap out of it.
2. Sit on the ground.  I think of anxiety as this tornado with the base being in my neck and it just spins out and up from there.  When I’m anxious, my thoughts are usually rotating about 12 feet above the top of my head.  Anything to get me grounded, like physically sitting on the ground, can help stop this madness.
3. Meditate.  A lot of times, when I’m anxious, it’s because I don’t know what to do next.  Which path to take.  Meditation brings me very quickly in tune with my intuition and therefore in tune with the answers to my questions.  A 15 minute meditation can usually solve the problems I’ve been wrestling with for weeks.
4. Drink some tea.  Because really, who doesn’t feel just a tiny bit calmer with a warm mug of tea in hand?
5. Exercise.  Again, anything to get you out of your head and into your body is probably a good thing.  Also, if you’re still wrestling with those questions, or you haven’t gotten around to meditating yet, you can sometimes get your big epiphany answers with exercise.
6. Put your bare feet on the earth.  I cannot repeat this enough.  Physically grounding is super-duper helpful.  Physically connecting your body to the actual earth is one of the quickest ways to do this.
7. Think about opening your pelvis.  When we tense up, we tend to tense our pelvises without even noticing.  Where do you think anal retentiveness comes from?  So, to counteract this, notice your pelvis, then allow it to open and breathe.  Let your sit bones get a little farther apart.  Let the floor of your pelvis sink low and heavy.  Think about your pelvic floor as a clock face and take the time to relax each segment.  12 to 1, then 1 to 2, and so on, until your entire pelvic floor is open and soft.
8. Do some gentle sacral rocking.  Lie on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and your heels close to your butt.  Focus on your sacrum (that awesome triangle-shaped bone at the bottom of your spine, in-between your hip bones).  Imagine your sacrum is a stamp and the floor is an ink pad and you need to get ink all over your sacrum-stamp.  Roll your pelvis forward and back, left and right, until you’re sure you’ve got it all inked.
9. Hang out with a dog.  But not if you’re allergic.  Dogs can provide an endless source of positive energy, if you’re feeling a little low.  Also, they loved to be walked (see number 1).
10. Hang out with a cat.  But not if you’re allergic.  Cats can ground an endless amount of negative energy, if you have an excess.  Besides, a purring cat is a pretty calming influence.
11. Do simple, grounding activities.  Try sweeping the floor, or weeding the garden.  Chopping vegetables for soup, or apples for apple sauce are good ones too.  Knitting or spinning yarn are simple, grounding activities.  Cleaning’s generally good (although I’d stay away from noisy stuff like vacuuming), as is cooking, or organizing, or simple crafts.
12. Dance.  Shake it off.  Sweat it out.  Laugh at yourself.  Dancing also prevents dementia, so you can stop worrying about that.
13. Spend time in nature.  This is my go to stress reliever.  Nothing like a hike (and we’re back at number 1) in the mountains to make my problems seem small and insignificant.  Even a few minutes in the garden can bring my stress level down from a 10 to 4.
14. Take a bath.  Not everybody’s a bath person.  But if you’re a water-lover like me, this may do the trick.  Especially if you really let yourself have a bath.  Light some candles, use the fancy bath salts or essential oils (see number 15), put on some soothing music and just enjoy.
15. Get some lavender in your life.  I’m not a doctor.  I can’t prove this works.  Please don’t get me in trouble with the FDA or the AMA or any other acronyms.  But I know that lots of people think lavender is calming.  You can put lavender essential oils in your bath, or in a diffuser, or just take a whiff from the bottle.  Dried lavender can be sewn up in an eye pillow for super-zen sleepy-time or a satchel to throw in your car to counteract road rage.  You can even eat lavender with strawberries and balsamic vinegar and fresh whipped cream!
16. Remove distractions.  Turn the TV off.  Turn the radio off.  Turn your computer off.  Turn your phone off.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “You know, I was super stressed out, but then I watched the news/checked my email/heard a commercial on the radio, and now I feel so much better.”  Do what you can to limit the input you’re getting.  You have enough going on as it is.  Try to keep things as simple as possible.
17. Remember your happy place.  You know, that one you went to in our little exercise a few minutes ago?  Take a few minutes to go there whenever you need it.  It might not solve your problems in the long term, but it will get your shoulders out of your ears for a minute or two, and that counts for something.

So, what’s your favorite way to put anxiety in its place?  Got a good one that I missed?  Send me an email with all the details, or leave it here as a comment on the blog.  Thanks for reading and I’ll catch up with you next week!