In many parts of the world north of the equator it's pretty cold right now, even on east coast where folks celebrated the recent winter holidays in t-shirts! As I was walking down the street yesterday in Victoria, Canada, my down "sleeping bag coat" zipped up and snug around me, tuque, scarf and gloves in place, I'll admit that I felt somewhat overdressed, and even a bit self-conscious on a fairly mild December day.
Then I noticed something: while I was walking freely, swinging my arms with shoulders square and broad, neck relaxed and free to look around, other less warmly-dressed pedestrians were not looking quite so carefree: A quick scan of the sidewalk revealed a woman in skinny black jeans and a short acrylic sweater taking teeny-tiny steps while hunched over staring at the ground. A man in a light hoody huddled in with his girlfriend, who was sporting a jean jacket over light clothing, arms squeezed in towards her sides and shoulders hunched. The more I looked around, the better I felt about my down encasement ensemble. I wasn't rushing to escape the cold by getting indoors, in fact I was enjoying being both warm and outdoors. I wasn't shivering -- truth-be-told I was actually staring to sweat a bit; maybe I didn't need that mid layer after all.
Did I look as stylish as these folks braving the cold on the sidewalk next to me? Not even a little bit.
But let's talk about what's happening when we sacrifice warmth for style. As we've all experienced, the main reaction when humans get cold is to contract. In an attempt to keep our insides warm, everything pulls inwards toward the center of the body, even our blood vessels constrict, limiting circulation to our distal tissues. We are essentially pulling in towards a fetal position, that soothing shape that ensures protection for our organs in the front of the body, where we have fewer bony protections.
To unpack the effects even further, in an attempt to create a fleshy turtle-neck, our upper trapezius and levator scapula (the muscle you'd use to prop a phone between your ear and shoulder), shrug upwards towards our ears. Right next door, the anterior deltoids (shoulder muscles) pull in, bringing our pectoralis major and minor (chest muscles) along with them. The contraction party is raging. Because the upper trapezius are bringing the shoulders up around the ears, our rhomboids, which would normally rest tautly on our back between our shoulder blades, become stretched and ineffective at helping our collarbones stay broad. We become hunched. We're now fighting a losing battle: with the upper body so dramatically compromised, the lower body, starting with the pelvis, has no choice but to change its position as well. It will move from a neutral pelvis into a tucked pelvis, and the superficial hip flexors in particular (some of the muscles that lift your leg up to take a step), shorten. The quadraceps in the front of the legs may then become tight and the hamstrings slack, ensuring tight shuffling steps. It's no wonder so many of us complain of tight muscles in the colder months!
Employed every once in a while, our body's warming strategy is fantastic, but not if we use it on regular basis! So this winter you may want to consider ditching the light jacket and model-hunch posture for a warm and puffy coat and some wind-shielding accessories*. Then you can truly enjoy the freshness of the outdoors and rest easy in the cozy cocoon you've created.
*I recommend leg-warmers.
Téana David is the former Director of Pilates Education at David Barton Gym in New York City. She currently teaches Pilates alongside physiotherapists at FIX Healthcare in Victoria, BC.
We all know that it's best to make food choices that won't cause us indigestion in the first place, but sometimes our best efforts are derailed, particularly during the holiday season. Thankfully we have the wonderful herbal ally Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra), a remedy that has been used in North America for centuries to treat heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, as well as sore throats and coughs.
I recently had heartburn for the first time in my life so I turned to Slippery Elm for help. She didn't disappoint. As a tea, or as a lozenge, this powdered herb is soothing and quite tasty too. So get your hands sticky with the recipe below; it was passed along to me by my mentor Susun Weed, for which I am thankful.
Slippery Elm Lozenges
2 tablespoons of local honey
4 tablespoons of slippery elm powder
Directions: On a plate, spoon 2 tablespoons of honey, followed by 4 tablespoons of slippery elm. With a fork, mix the honey and powder into a doughy-textured paste and then separate the mixture into small balls, about the size of a chestnut. Add more powder if the lozenges are too sticky and use your fingers to press into a round lozenge shape. Put them in the refrigerator overnight or longer, as this will help to solidify them (though they will remain quite soft). When needed as a digestive aid, put a lozenge in the side of your cheek and let it dissolve over a period of 20 minutes or longer. Can be used multiple times a day if needed. Enjoy!
I've been reading about a mysterious magenta concoction for a few years now, and today I have finally attempted to make it: the famed lacto-fermented beverage Beet Kvass. This wondrous drink has a long history among Russian people, who are also known to make Kvass with rye bread, currants, raspberries, lemons and cherries. This particular recipe is a delicious combination of beets, lemons, and ginger left to ferment on your counter for 10 days. Unlike other beverage ferments like kombucha or water kefir, Kvass requires no special "starter." Beets, which are high in folic acid, magnesium, Vitamins A, C and more, are in season and therefore easy to acquire locally at this time of year. Try this simple recipe for something new this autumn, you'll be glad you did!
• 4 large beets, quartered
• 2 lemons, quartered
• small amount of ginger, chopped
• 1 tablespoon pure sea salt
• 9 cups filtered water
Combine all ingrediants in a gallon jar, leaving 2 inches of air at the top. Lightly lid and leave on the counter, out of direct sunlight. Stir daily to break up the surface yeasts that will naturally form. After 10 days strain and refrigerate. Share this tangy beverage with friends and they will be impressed. Can also be served over ice or combined with sparkling water.
Plant Ally: Common St. Joan's (Hypericum perforatum)
Parts used: flowering tops
June - August
Common St.Joan's Wort (many call her St.John's), has appeared just in time for Summer Solstice! Hypericum perforatum is a perennial plant with five-petaled yellow flowers that can be found in many temperate areas of the world. I usually find St.Joan blooming in abandoned lots, on trail edges, in meadows and near railroad tracks; look in places where there is disturbed soil and full sun. An an oil made from St.J's is great applied topically to heal a sunburn, and some even use it as an actual sunscreen with good results.
Apart from bringing sunshine back to your brain in the middle of winter (aiding depression*), did you know that a dropper full or two of the tincture taken internally will diminish muscle - and especially nerve - pain? Both tincture and oil are great for sciatica and any physical soreness, and, because it works on the nerve endings, to thwart a herpes outbreak. To identify Hypericum perforatum, look for a flowering yellow plant between approximately 1-3ft tall with leaves that are opposite each other, oblong, and about the length of your thumb nail. To be sure you've found Common St. Joan's Wort and not another member in the Hypericum family, take a single leaf off the plant and hold it up to the sun. You will clearly see tiny translucent dots over the entire leaf. While there are many species of Hypericum (genus name), this species, perforatum, is the only one with these perforations, thus the Latin name!
To make an oil of St.Joan's:
Harvest the flowering tops of Hypericum perforatum by cutting the top 1/3 of the stems /leaves/flowers with scissors. The more open flowers the better. Be sure it has not rained for at least 48 hrs. prior to your harvest as the plant material cannot be wet at all.
Find an appropriate size jar for the amount of plant material you've gathered.
Fill your very dry and clean glass bottle full to the top with the fresh flowering tops.
Pour your oil of choice (olive, almond, etc.) over the St.J's, stirring with a chopstick to be sure it gets in the nooks and crannies. Fill to the top then put a lid on the jar and label with name and date.
Keep your jar out of direct sun and heat, somewhere like a cabinet or shelf, for six weeks or longer.
*This article is not meant as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before taking any herb internally.
As part of Six Petals' commitment to Pilates and Plants education, enjoy a serving of Lamb's Quarters!
Plant Ally: Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Parts eaten: leaves, seeds. shoots, flowers
June - September
Lamb's Quarters is an annual wild edible that has an earthy, mineral rich taste, and like chard and spinach, is best eaten cooked due to it's oxalic acid content. From now into the fall I enjoy throwing it into soups or adding it to stir-fries. Look for a weedy green plant that appears to have a white powdery dusting near the tops of the leaves and on the undersides. Most of the leaves have small teeth along the edges, are somewhat diamond shaped, and resemble the shape of a goose-foot. Chenopodium album produces tiny green flowers that form in clusters on top of spikes. Like it's domesticated relative quinoa, the seeds are edible but need to be rinsed well due to their heavy coating of saponins. Find Lamb's Quarters as a common weed in gardens, near streams, rivers, forest clearings and along sidewalks. Harvest just the leaves or the entire plant, rinse and enjoy the free nutrition! You can also dry the leaves and save to toss into winter recipes.
Salt and Vinegar Lamb's Quarter's
5 cups washed chopped lamb’s quarter leaves
2 tbsps. raw apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 tbsps. of any finely chopped fresh garden herb of your choice (rosemary, basil, thyme, mint, etc.)
Wash and chop greens and place into a bowl. Add all other ingredients and mix well.
Bake for 20 minutes at 325°F. (Spread evenly on a baking sheet.)
Recipe courtesy of ediblewildfood.com