Author: Admin

Strawberry Basil Quinoa Salad

Strawberry Basil Quinoa Salad

Delicious Quinoa Recipe

Quinoa is a flowering plant grown primarily for its edible seeds.  And it is one of the only plant-based foods that is a complete protein.  A complete protein has all nine amino acids that your body can’t produce. Most animal products are great sources of these amino acids, which makes them complete proteins. But as those following a plant-based diet know, it is very difficult to find foods containing these nine amino acids in the necessary amounts. 

But while quinoa is amazing, it also has an acquired taste that most people don’t like.  This recipe makes quinoa approachable to the average person.  So give it a try.  You won’t regret it.  Bon appétite!!


Strawberry Basil Quinoa Salad

The folks who promote California strawberries sponsored a national cook-off for kids and challenged them to come up with a quick creative recipe. A 12-year-old from Maryland took the prize for this grain salad, which the cook-off judge, a former MasterChef Junior winner himself, proclaimed easy, healthy and, of course most important, delicious.


  • 3 cups water
  • 1 ½ cups quinoa
  • ¾ teaspoon salt, divided
  • ⅓ cup lemon juice 
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 cups diced strawberries
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese


Step 1 Combine water, quinoa and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook until the quinoa is tender and the water is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Step 2 Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice, oil, maple syrup, pepper and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.

Step 3 Add the cooked quinoa, strawberries, basil and feta to the dressing; stir to combine.

Creamy Fennel Kale Chicken

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Creamy Fennel Kale Chicken | Courtesy of Being Brigid.

Jump to recipe

This dish has all the benefits of a healthy serving of daily greens wrapped up with the subtle flavors of fennel and leeks. Paired with the chicken for protein, this is a flavorful dish that comes together almost as quickly as any convenience food, and is sure to leave you feeling both nourished and satisfied.

Improved Cognitive Health

Kale is a healthy nutrient dense food that is a versatile and tasty addition to any meal. Like many leafy greens, is high in antioxidants, Vitamin K, calcium, and folate. Folate and calcium are important for normal bone health. Folate is one of several essential vitamins that plays an important role in DNA synthesis. It’s presence in your diet encourages healthy cell and tissue growth. Additionally, a recent study published in Neurology, showed that consumption of 1 serving per day of green leafy vegetables was associated with slower cognitive decline.

A Note on Fats

This recipe is baked at 400 F, so choosing the right oil is important. We use avocado oil because, in addition to having a beneficial fatty acid profile, can withstand high temperatures without oxidizing. Avocado oil also has a high smoke point (485F). We are concerned with the former, while culinary professionals are concerned with the latter. The point at which an oil smokes (and thus affects the flavor of the food) and the point at which it oxidizes when exposed to heat, can be very different. Smoke point is a metric that is easy to define. Put simply, it is the point at which an oil, when exposed to heat, begins to produce smoke. Oxidation can occur at much lower temperatures. When a fat is oxidized, it produces free radicals that can be toxic and disruptive to the body.

You may have heard of unsaturated and saturated fats. This classification refers to the number of hydrogen molecules attached to a fatty acid. Saturated fats are fully saturated with hydrogen molecules, whereas, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats have several hydrogen molecules “missing”. The more hydrogen molecules the fatty acid lacks, the more unstable it is, and the more susceptible it is to oxidation. Most oils are a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, so the fatty acid profile is what we need to decipher in order to determine the suitability of a particular oils for cooking.

makes 4 servings


  • 2 medium leeks, thinly sliced 
  • 2 medium fennel, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil  
  • 1/4 tsp himalayan salt 
  • Dash black pepper
  • 5 cups curly kale, chopped
  • 1 lb organic chicken breast cutlets, skinless
  • 1/2 cup organic chicken broth, low sodium 
  • 1/4 cup almond yogurt, unsweetened
  • 1 Tbsp whole grain mustard 


  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. 
  2. On a baking sheet, place prepared fennel and leeks. 
  3. Toss vegetables with 2 tbsp avocado oil, hHimalayan salt and dash black pepper. 
  4. In a separate bowl, massage kale with 1 tbsp avocado oil, dash of salt and pepper and set the kale aside. 
  5. Bake fennel and leeks for 40 minutes and add kale to the baking sheet for the last 10-12 minutes of baking. 
  6. Heat 1 tbsp avocado oil in a large pan, over medium heat. 
  7. Add chicken and sauté until lightly cooked, about 3-4 minutes per side. 
  8. In a small bowl, mix almond yogurt, chicken broth and mustard and pour on top of chicken.
  9. Add the roasted vegetables to pan and continue to heat for 3 minutes. 


Vegan Pumpkin Seed Pesto Pasta

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Vegan Pumpkin Seed Pesto Pasta | By Chef Amanda DeLaura 

Veggies, veggies, veggies! 

I made this recipe with lentil flour pasta and it was delicious!

1) be sure to remove the stems and buds from your basil. This will ensure you do not make a bitter pesto. 

2) if you use frozen peas, place them in your strainer before draining your pasta. Drain your pasta over the peas and the boiling water will quickly bring the peas to room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6 Ingredients: 

  • 12 oz Jovial’s Brown Rice Fussili 1 batch pesto
  • 1 zucchini, sliced 1/8” thick on diagonal
  • 1 yellow squash, sliced 1/8” thick on diagonal
  • 1 head brocollini, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup petite peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 Tbsp minced parsley 

Pumpkin Seed Pesto: 

  • 3 oz basil, rinsed & dried
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp pink Himalayan salt
  • 2 small cloves garlic 


  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for the pesto and process in a food processor (or vitamix) until very smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the processor 1 or 2 times. 
  2. Once pasta water has boiled, add 1/2 teaspoon of pink Himalayan salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the pasta and cook according to packaging, about 12 minutes. Drain pasta through a strainer and return the pot to the stove, leaving the pasta in the strainer.

  3. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil to the pot (and/or clarified ghee, if desired) and add sliced zucchini and squash. Season with salt and pepper and cook until browned and tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add broccolini and continue to cook for one minute. Turn off heat and add the pasta, peas, pesto and cherry tomatoes. Toss and then add chili flakes and parsley. Season with extra salt and pepper, as desired


Shoes are so much more important to your health than you may realize

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Shoes are so much more important to your health than you may realize


This is indeed a blog about wearing minimalist shoes.  But, I want to disclose up front that I do still wear pretty shoes with heels for fancy occasions.  I admit that this is not an optimal strategy for my feet and my alignment.   It is a bit like having an occasional cigarette (which i do not do.)


Let’s start at the beginning.

Your feet and ankles have 25% of the human body’s bones and muscles. They articulate about 33 joints, and the tissues in between all these joints are full of proprioceptive abilities that signal to the pelvis how to make adjustments to keep you balanced when upright. It is logical to me that: the best way to optimize your balance is to allow all of the built-in engineering of nature to do its work. This means barefoot or minimally constructed shoes.  


Let’s talk about the effect of wearing shoes

Shoes were invented  to protect our feet from dangers on the ground.  Sadly, the stiff and bulky soles of today’s shoes make it difficult for your feet to feel the ground, and they also force your foot into unnatural shapes. The act of wearing shoes every day has created a mitten hand situation for your feet.  We have weak underdeveloped muscles within the foot and we have off- loaded a large part of weight bearing onto the lower leg and the joints in the foot.  Your toes should be able to move separately from your feet and your toes should also be able to move separately from each other.  Additionally the front half of your foot should move separately from the back half.


A stiff sole makes it hard for your muscles to do all of their work, and that affects your balance and your arches.  Fallen arches  can lead to pain and dysfunction along the chain.  Purchasing arch supports is often recommended by foot doctors,  But, just like wearing your arm in a sling or your leg in a cast, you have outsourced the work of your muscles and you will have atrophy from the sling or cast being in place.  This cycle can be broken, but it will take slow bit by bit work on your part.  


The shape of shoes affects your feet as well. Bunions are a result of undo pressure from shoes that pinch your feet.  Essentially when the toe box is too narrow.  They also result from walking with a turned-out foot.  That is because the turnout forces pressure into the side of the big toe joint.


Next on the chopping block.  High heels.  High heels are any height that is above the rest of the foot.  Go ahead and take a look at your “sensible” shoes.  It is quite likely that they have a positive heel.  A positive heel changes  the angle of the foot from its normal axis.  This geometry changes your alignment.  We compensate for the high forward pitch by adjusting the way our knees, pelvis and spinal curve are sitting above the shoes.  Our bodies will have individual differences in how we compensate for the heels, but rest assured, you will compensate.  This leads to pain anywhere along the chain.  In addition, the positive sole in your shoe reduces your ability to have a glute muscle and hip-building gait through a posterior push off.


The good news is that there are things you can do no matter what your age. 

  1.  Let’s start by getting out of your positively-soled shoes. The changes in your alignment from any elevation changes your center of mass and thus the path of weight through your body.  Start small, it can take a year or two to shift to minimal shoes.  Start with a slightly lower heel and the exercises on this video:
  2.   Begin with a small amount of time in the slightly lower shoe or sneaker.   Gradually increase the amount of time you spend wearing them.  You are slowly strengthening the muscles in your feet.
  3. Get a wider toe box.  Trace the outline of your barefoot on a piece of paper.  Put the shoe you wear most often on the page and trace the toe box of the shoe.  This will tell you if you are squishing your toes.
  4. Find a more flexible sole.  A stiff shoe prevents you from using all your muscles and joints.  You need more movement to increase your foot strength and the ability of your feet to feel the ground below them.
  5. An attached front and back of your shoe is, in reality, safer than slip-on shoes.  It can seem beneficial to slip on a shoe without having to bend over.  However, clenching your feet onto the shoe bed creates a clenching that shortens and stiffens the muscles in your toes and ankles, which once again inhibits foot strength and flexibility.
  6. Toe spring is a piece of the puzzle that I would be remiss if I did not mention.  A majority of athletic shoes have an upwardly curving toe.  This toe spring decreases the work of the muscles around the joints that connect the toes to the foot bones. The higher the upwards curve of the toes in respect to the rest of the foot, the less work the foot muscles have to perform to support the joints when walking. 


Choosing Minimal Footwear

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I wrote last month about how important your foot and shoes are to your alignment and bone density as well as your ability to reduce or eliminate foot, knee and ankle pain.


One of the things that I always advise people to do is to take things in small manageable steps, and I take that same approach to changing your footwear.  If you think of a rigid shoe with a positive heel as an orthopedic cast, taking it off and walking your 5 to 10K steps a day is a little bit like taking off an arm cast and trying to bench press hundreds of times. If you’re wearing traditional padded walking shoes and try to switch to minimalist footwear in one go, I promise you won’t like it! Switching over slowly will protect you from unnecessary pain, and support you in reducing leg and foot pain over time.


Last month I gave you some foot exercises to help you train to make the switch.  Here is another video that gives you more exercises, this time for plantar fasciitis.  These exercises here are helpful because Plantar fasciitis is oftentimes a result of underutilized over stretched feet or worse, flip flops.


Create an expectation that this will be a slow process.  Take your time and wear the new shoes for 30 minutes each day for a week.  Continue to do your exercises and gradually increase your minimalist shoe time by 15 minutes a day if you can tolerate it.


Now that we have the training out of the way, how are you going to choose a pair of shoes?


Transitional Shoes

If you have been wearing heavily padded sneakers or trainers with a lot of arch support and any amount of toe spring (an upward curve of the toe), I suggest going to a transitional minimalist shoe first.


I wore a transitional shoe by Altra for 6 months and it was worth the investment.  Altra features a wide toe box and claims that the heel and toe are always the same distance from the ground. The pair of running shoes I had 5 years ago had a bit of toe spring, but maybe that has changed. The shoes are not as flexible as some of the true barefoot shoes out there, but because Altra offers a variety of cushioning options, I think they are a great choice for someone who has been in highly structured walking or running shoes.  They carry many types of shoes and have a shoe finder program to help you find the right pair for you.


Joe Nimble is an American company that I am thinking about having my husband try.  He still wears traditional running shoes and we think it is time that he transitions to something with less toe spring and drop.  He really doesn’t want to leave the cushion behind.  Joe Nimble makes a shoe that is 10mm thick with lots of science behind their tred and wide toe box.  This is a zero drop shoe with no toe spring, but I would not call it barefoot.  They carry a broad range of US sizes.


Another company is Merrell shoes.  They have some shoes that they list as barefoot shoes that I would consider transitional.


And still another is New Balance who has a nice transitional shoe.


And yet another is the Camper shoe linked here:


And finally this transitional shoe named Kiouri from Skora Shoes.


Minimalist Shoes


There are a great variety of minimalist shoes for walking or running that I would like to share with you. There are even more companies than I can get to in an article, but for the most part these companies ship worldwide.   Let’s take a look at them.


Baer Shoes is a European company with an expensive price tag.  I have heard good things about their quality and the range of products.


Belenka shoes describe their footwear as urban sneakers.  They also have sandals and boots.  This minimalist shoe is described as having a wide toe box and a super flexible sole to give you the feel of the ground below you.  Although I have not seen them in person, the range of available sizes is one of the most inclusive of any barefoot shoe company I have researched. Their sole is 4mm.


Davinci shoes are designed in California and made in Mexico.  Their leather shoes and boots are expensive but beautiful.


Drifter Leather shoes have been around for a while and are fairly established in the minimalist shoe world for people who want a custom handmade leather shoe or boot.


Earth Runners are sandals, but they are designed to be used for more than just walking.  People run and hike in them.


Luna Sandals are another sandal company that is rugged and secure on your foot.  It is designed to be used for walking and running as well as some light sports.


Feelmax shoes are European and are available in adult and children’s sizes.. They are at a good price point. I am not familiar with them but wanted to share everything I have heard of.


Freet barefoot shoes are made in the United Kingdom, but they ship worldwide. I do not know anyone who has tried them yet, but they have an interesting approach with some of their shoes offering what they call 4+1.  Basically there is a separate section for the big toe.  They make traditional shoes as well.


Fit Kicks are a fun brand that specializes in simple sizes (S, M, L) and a pull-on flexible shoe.  They may be a nice around-the-house or casual shoe for people who can wear the general sizing. They also make a slipper that resembles the shoe.  The price point is so affordable that maybe you will want one shoe and one slipper!


Gea Soles are made in Spain by a woman named Esther.  Like many other barefoot walking or running enthusiasts she started making her own shoes after becoming frustrated with what was available. Her shoes are leather and without any type of insole.  If you love direct contact with leather and then the earth, these handmade shoes may be worth it to you. It appears that Esther will work with you on customizing your sizing as she asks for lots of measurements. You truly are getting a shoe made for you. They ship worldwide.


Groundies are another English brand that is new to me.  They specialize in very stylish walking and casual shoes. They do not come in a big variety of sizes but they may be just the inspiration you need to try out minimalist shoes. They’re not cheap, but they sure do look good!


Luks Shoes are handcrafted in Czechoslovakia.  They are a good option for people wanting a leather shoe or boot for walking or casual wear that is made in and shipped from Europe.  The price point is a little high for most USD customers.


Leguano shoes are new to me but everything I have read sounds quite positive.  They are from Germany and were created with a technical fabric that is antibacterial.


Lems are a shoe that I wear. They have a light insert that true barefoot people remove. I leave it in, as it is very minimal and by some people’s standards not really an arch support or cushion.  Lems have walking/running shoes, hiking boots, and casual shoes. My 90 year old father actually wears them!


Muki Shoes are made in Northern Portugal.  They have casual shoes for the entire family.  They produce their shoes in limited edition batches so size availability will vary a fair amount.  Their flexible sole is 3.5mm. The toe box is wide as well.


Paperkrane is an Australian shoe company whose shoes are made in Vietnam.  The two moms who collaborate on their fun designs began with children’s functional shoes and now include adult shoes in their offerings.


Sockwa is a company that began making a glove-like, thin footwear line for beach soccer and volleyball.  They also have a casual shoe now as well.  I do not know anyone who owns a pair, but I do find them intriguing.  If anyone reading this walks on the beach, this shoe company may be for you.


Softstar Shoes have been around for a while and they make children’s shoes as well as adult shoes. They hand make everything from flats and sandals, to running shoes, to suitable office shoes.  I have heard both good and bad about these shoes.  I understand they are very comfortable.  I have heard some people who were underwhelmed by their durability (athletic shoes) over time.


Tadeevo is a Polish shoe making company that handmakes ballet flats and running  shoes for women.  They have a slightly broader range of men’s shoes available.


Unshoes are an American, handmade, minimalist footwear company that started with sandals for hiking and rugged outdoor pursuits.  They also feature casual flats.


Vibram Five Finger shoes are exactly what the name states. I have a pair of original 5 finger lightweight shoes that look quite a bit like a shoe you might wear at the beach.  They now make 5 finger shoes with significantly more structure to them so that you can have a lace up running shoe that happens to have five toe slots.  I enjoy them, but I wear them on 1 or 2 mile walks.  I tend to prefer wearing socks when I walk for 5 miles.


Vivo Barefoot is an established minimalist shoe brand that makes everything from casual shoes to running shoes, to hiking boots and even waterproof winter footwear.  They carry kids and adult shoes.  The quality is high and the price reflects it. The shoes ran big back when I tried a pair.  Maybe it is time for me to try again.


Xero shoes have been in my closet for many years.  I like their price point and they hold up quite well.  They now offer more than a running or walking shoe.  They have a sandal and a casual shoe, as well as hiking shoes.  They are an American-made company that has a lot of positive energy about serving their customers.


Zaqq is a German minimalist shoe company that does not carry a size small enough for my foot, but their models look like they will do the job.  They are quite expensive for Americans but may be the right price for anyone whose currency is the Euro.


Tieks and Yosi Samra’s are both ballet flat companies that feature a flexible sole.  The Tiek is stiffer than the Yosi Samra.  The Tiek is more expensive than Yosi Samra and you can feel it in the materials.  But this is not to say that the Yosi Samra is inferior by any means.  The Tiek is hand stitched, the Yosi Samra is not. The Yosi Samra is a bit more cushiony.  I have tried both and prefer the Yosi Samra, but I think it is a matter of personal preference. Many people will want to order both and see how each feels on their foot.  I mention both because people have asked me about an alternative to slippers inside the home, and this type of shoe (with a secure back) is a simple alternative to a slip-on for around the house. Finally, Yosi Samra has now ventured into flip flops and slide shoes which I would avoid.


Some Helpful Accessories


There are a number of accessories that can help us transition to minimal shoes as well as deal with the decreasing natural padding in our feet as we age.


Metatarsal pads are designed to support the ball of one’s foot with a bit of specially designed cushioning. The pads can cushion any spot on the ball of your foot that experiences pain in minimal shoes. Many of the pad manufacturers also claim that the pad will help position one’s toes correctly.  


Toe spreaders like Correct Toes and Happy Feet socks are easily available online.  Toe spreaders help your foot move out of its crunched and compressed form from years of wearing narrow shoes with positive soles.


Take Your Time


I’d like to encourage you to make the switch to minimalist footwear over time, as it will be kinder to your body, and use any of the accessories you might need to make the switch work for you! 


Have you tried any barefoot or transitional shoes? What was your transition like? Are there any brands or types of shoes that you’re excited to try? Let us know!



I think of breathing in two different ways, after we acknowledge that breathing is mandatory for life and air always enters into the lungs.

#1: I use breath in a way that helps me to harness my reflexive core in exercise or to manage load (think picking up your grandchild).

#2: I use breathing as a practice when lying down or seated to manage my mind/body connection. This is better known as stress management or meditation.

Breathing for Core Strategy or Load Management

Air enters your body automatically because of pressure differences between the atmosphere and your internal body. By virtue of this automatic flow of air into your body, you need to increase volume somewhere to accommodate the incoming air.

This shape change is what we call breathing. We can change shape in our ribs and our chest as well as our stomach. The artful design of our body created the lungs to take in the air and they happen to live in our ribs which are designed to expand.

On the other hand, our stomach expands with increased food content. But if our abdomen expands when we take air into our lungs, it is really a bulge because no air actually changes the volume of the stomach. Think about a water balloon and how if you squeeze it, the rest of the balloon pushes out. Essentially that is what is happening on a belly breath. The ribs tighten so the belly can jut out.

Hopefully, it makes sense now that optimal breathing for movement and exercise utilizes mostly the movement of the ribs, which are designed to expand. The overflow of pressure then moves into the belly.

When you expand your ribs to breathe, you do not push down into your core. Nor into your pelvic floor. However, when you belly breathe, you do push down and out because of simple body mechanics.

Is a yoga belly breath bad? No, I enjoy lying on my back and allowing more shape change in my tummy as part of relaxation. Would I belly breathe when doing a goblet squat? A FIRM NO!

Find out how to assess your breathing and breathe for optimal core and pelvic floor health during Sarah’s free Short and Sweet webinar on July 15, 2021.

Breathing for Meditation or Stress Management

Breath work was my entryway into meditation. I found guided meditations difficult and distracting, but breath work kept my mind on my body and allowed for meditation to occur. There is a lot of good scientific research now on the power of meditation of any kind to lower stress levels and blood pressure levels, in addition to helping patients recover from trauma.

Let’s look at some of my favorite breath work guides.

Ana Lilia

Ana suffered from various stress related symptoms until she discovered breath work. She became a certified breath coach and has guided thousands of people to connect with their breath. Her healing journeys include music and guidance. I have enjoyed her free breath work offers and you may as well. She has been featured on NBC news, BravoTv, the LA Times, and Harpers Bazar.

Tai Hubbart

Tai says “For the majority of my early life I struggled with depression, and for over a decade, I suffered with chronic headaches. While I was able to remain high-functioning professionally in the Advertising & Design industry, I had little capacity to enjoy life, and spent the majority of my resources trying to track down the root of my dis-ease and simply feel better.

“In 2009, I decided to leave my corporate position and take a life/healing sabbatical in which I could listen more deeply and redirect my life’s compass.” She leads group breath work sessions, and one-on-ones. In the breath work section of her website you can enjoy a 28-minute introduction to breath work.

Annalise Sullivan

Annalise Sullivan is a writer, energy reader, and autonomy activist. In addition to her academic achievements in sociology and social work, Annalise has spent over a decade honing her methods as a breath work facilitator, intuitive guide, and NARM trained trauma-informed practitioner.

Annalise offers a breadth of techniques and resources to support you on your healing journey. I appreciate Annalise’s reasonably priced group breath work experiences on Zoom.

Rohi Coustage and Energy of Breath School

I experienced a true breakthrough when I practiced gamma breath with Rohi Coustage. She offers this description: Breathing into Gamma is a great daily practice, from a few one-minute breaths throughout the day to longer practices.

This brings us to a baseline Gamma state and all our life reflects upgrades into a higher energy state with unlimited fulfilling outcomes in whichever area we choose to focus our breath. Cultivating our gamma state leads to the unlocking of our higher sensory abilities, the development of our higher brain processing power, total manifestation power, and the evolution into our Light Bodies as we enter this era of accelerated consciousness evolution and next level awareness.

Two Types of Breaths to Try

A Basic Gamma Breath

Breathe deep – 3 seconds to inhale, 3 seconds to exhale, following this sequence:





Do 3 sets of the above and finish with:


Then relax and tune in for a few moments to the effects.

Square Breath

Advice from Navy Seals: The military has found square breathing to be the best technique for on-the-go stress management. Although they teach many types of breath in the military, the Huberman Lab has worked with the military and revealed in a podcast recently that square breathing is their go-to technique for maintaining equilibrium in stress filled environments.





Repeat for at least 3 rounds.

What have you noticed about your breathing?

Is it deep or shallow?

Belly or ribs?

Have you tried doing meditation?

Which breathing technique do you use?

Please share below!

Stiff Neck and Shoulders? Make them Strong with These 5 Exercises

Stronger Muscles: Solving Stiff Neck and Shoulder Problems

We learned in my previous article how the positioning of our arms in our shoulder girdle affects muscle use and overuse in our upper back, neck, and shoulders. To ease the resulting pain and tension, we did some strength workouts or exercises that engaged the latissimus dorsi instead. 

Today, I am bringing you a fabulous concept: the armpits of power. The exercises that follow will help you make progress on gaining the strength you need to allow your overly helpful traps to go on holiday.

The Problem

For most of us, when we lift our arms overhead, our shoulders will shrug, or the ribcage will flare upwards.

Both of these compensations place you in a precarious position, especially when you’re holding a weighted object. (Think lifting a jug of water out of the refrigerator or putting luggage in an overhead bin.) 

With either compensation pattern, the lats are not turned on, and you already know that lazy lats cause your neck and shoulder girdle to work too hard, resulting in neck and shoulder tension. After gaining awareness of how to release your traps, you still may not feel much going on in the lats

Armpits of power is your next step. It will help you really wake up your muscles.

The Solution

We want to wake up the armpits of power, which include your lats. Did you know that the lats attach at your armpit?

These 5 exercises are my go-to steps when helping clients get acquainted with the armpits of power.

Find Your Armpits of Power for Stiff Neck and Shoulders

Here is another movement for stiff neck and shoulders.

Lift your arms to shoulder height, straight in front of you as if you were a zombie. Notice how your armpits feel. Now, externally rotate your arms so that your palms and elbow pits are facing up.

this is an image of sarah purcell doing the workout Armpits of Power for Stiff Neck and Shoulders

Can you feel the muscle engagement in your armpits? Can you feel your back near your armpits awaken?

Feel this directly by taking your left hand to your right armpit while holding your right arm out in this zombie arm position. Externally rotate your right arm so that your elbow pit is facing the ceiling. Feel the muscles turn on in your armpit, making it bigger and stronger. This is your ARMPIT of POWER!

Now, go back to two zombie arms and externally rotate to find your armpit of power. Hold the armpit of power for 10 to 15 seconds. Be careful to keep the muscle engagement in your armpits and your mid-back, not up near your neck. This is definitely working! Repeat 3 times.

this picture of sarah purcell doing workout for Armpits of Power for Stiff Neck and Shoulders
Super Charge Your Armpit of Power

Shake out your arms and wiggle around a bit. Come back to standing with your zombie arms. Put a little bend in your elbows. Imagine you have ice cream scoops on your elbows and use that image to scoop the elbow as you externally rotate your arms. Now your elbow pits are facing the ceiling.

Can you feel the scooping and a simultaneous wrapping of your shoulder blades around from the back to the front of your armpit? Now that is a BIG armpit of power.

Add onto this with the image of holding a clutch purse in the armpits. Can you try to lift your arms up overhead while holding onto this power and clutch purse? Find your edge or boundary where you might lose the feeling of strength in your armpit. Stop when you find your boundary.

Hold at this edge without lifting your ribcage. Your arms may shake here and that’s good. You are working hard.

Work Within Your Boundary Right to the Edge

For Stiff Neck and Shoulders

Take a block between your forearms. Externally rotate your arms at the shoulder and create the muscle engagement by imagining grabbing a clutch purse in your underarm. Hold onto the clutch purse with your armpits of power, and slowly lift the block up toward the ceiling.

this image shows Sarah Purcell showing workouts for Armpits of Power for Stiff Neck and Shoulders

Try to keep your arms straight and long while you do this. Go only so far as you can go without losing the armpit of power engagement. Hold for a count of five and lower down. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

Baby Push-Up

Come down to your hands and knees with your hips over your knees and your hands under your shoulders. If you cannot come to the floor, you can do this standing at a wall with your hands on the wall and your arms straight.

We begin by pushing through our palms and broadening our shoulders. Keep that width on your back and take a slight bend in your elbows, allowing your elbows to wing out to the sides. (Your torso will come closer to the floor or wall.) 

Imagine you have ice cream scoops on your elbows, and you are scooping out ice cream as you bring your arms back to straight. Feel your armpits come alive as you do this. 

Hold the armpits of power and take a little push up. Do you notice how little tension there is at your neck as you hold this position? Do you feel stronger than usual?

If you are looking for more challenge, move your arms a bit further forward and try your mini pushup in this ½ plank. Remember all your boundaries for armpits of power and keep your ribs in your body!

Doorway Hang

Now, for a new movement adventure! We are going to add hanging strength to the armpits of power!

Find a pole or doorway you can hold onto. Stand with your side to the doorway (at least 12 inches away) and hold onto it with your grip.

Allow your weight to pull you away from the doorway and approach it in a lazy hanging out fashion. It is almost like a shoulder shrug. But this approach is not ideal for the ligaments in your shoulder girdle and rotator cuff.

Now, try this again but keep your armpits of power engaged. Remember, your ribs belong in line with your hips. It is not a hip move we are doing here. Feel the armpits of power giving you support in what is essentially a hanging exercise.

Stay Strong with Armpit Power for Stiff Neck and Shoulders

When you engage your Armpits of Power, you are gaining both strength and stability. You may have found a smaller boundary for how high your arms can reach up while maintaining this newfound stability.

Of course, there may be times when you need to reach higher for household tasks, but you can practice this new strength and stability skill when you exercise.

Having a clear intention and boundary when you exercise will help you build strength faster and slowly increase your range of motion too (how high you can bring your arms up while respecting your armpit of power boundary).

Follow along with these exercises in this video!


Experiencing Neck Stress? Try these 5 Simple Exercises.

Exercise for Neck Stress Even During Holidays

The holidays often bring a change in your routine that can cause stress and pain in your neck. You’ve probably heard the saying “it’s all connected” in the mind/body world lately. This is never more true than with the relationship of your neck and shoulders to your posture.  Most people have overly helpful upper traps—yet other important muscles (like your lats) remain underused. Let’s wake up those underused muscles! These strength workouts may look simple, but if you sit, type, text, drive or read a lot, this work is important for you, and you’ll feel the results fairly quickly. And if you’re a visual/kinesthetic learner, you can follow along with the video! Just scroll down to the bottom of the page to find it.

Exercise 1: Notice what your arms are doing

The pulley system that supports your cervical and thoracic spine (neck and mid-back) can be viewed with your x-ray vision by taking a look at your arms.  Stand in front of a mirror with your arms relaxed by your sides. 

What most people see is that both arms hang hand down, landing a little bit in front of their bodies. Often the backs of their wrists are facing the mirror. Ideally, in this natural, relaxed state, you’d see your thumbs facing forward. However, what most of us see is the backs of our hands. What you see is an important indicator of how things are working at your neck and shoulders.

This posture means that your arm bones are not in a place where your upper arms can even get toned without creating neck tension. Let’s fix that!

Exercise 2: Squeeze it in exercise

Standing in front of the mirror, bring your hands alongside your body as if you were trying to touch racing stripes on the side of athletic pant legs.  Press the palms of your hands into the sides of the thighs.  Once your hands are flat on the side of your leg, try working all the muscles in your arms, shoulders, and mid-back to get as much of your entire arm to touch your body as you can. Now you are working all the little muscles at the shoulder, as well as the big latissimus dorsi! Hold for about 10 seconds. Do this 5 times.

Exercise 3: Independence for your shoulders

Sometimes our arms and shoulders move as one; other times they move independently of one another. This independence is vitally important for the health and mobility of your neck, upper back, and shoulder area.  The rhomboid push up is a great way to create more movement in your shoulder blades so that your mid-back and neck don’t get tense and knotted.   Stand with your feet solidly planted beneath your hips and reach your arms out in front of you. Shoulder height is great, but if you feel neck tension at shoulder height, drop your arms a little lower.  Now pretend you’re reaching for a yummy dessert about three inches in front of you. With straight arms and outstretched fingers, invite your arms to reach for the dessert by allowing your shoulder blades to get wide on your back and wrap to the front. Now pull that dessert back towards you without bending your elbows. The dessert gets closer to you as your shoulder blades come closer together.  Invite the bottoms of your shoulder blades to get closer to each other. If you concentrate on the tops of your shoulder blades, your neck may decide to join the party—and we don’t want that. 

Exercise 4: The no-grip hold 

I know that this exercise looks pretty darn easy.  But it is VERY difficult. Many will perform it with the elbows out to the side, rather than the photo with straight arms. Straighter arms are what we’d like to see, to strengthen the correct muscles. For this exercise, you’ll need a yoga block or a book about 8-10 inches long. The longer the object is, the easier the no-grip hold will be.   All you need to do is hold the block behind you by pressing your palms into it.

Hold with no gripping for 10 to 20 seconds, 3 times.  If your elbows were out to the side: it’s those darn lats that we need to work with again. The latissimus dorsi is the largest muscle in our upper body, but our shoulders have gotten so tight that our lats no longer generate much force.   As a bonus, think of how your metabolism might rev up if it needs to power this big muscle more often. This will help you muster the strength for one more hold!

Exercise 5:  Simple wrist puzzle

What is the puzzle you ask? Getting the backs of your hands to touch in a reverse prayer shape in front of your chest. Try to replicate the shape I am making in image 8.  Although the goal is for the entire backs of the hands to touch, including your thumbs, it takes time to undo the tension and get to this point.  Play around with how close to your body and how far up or down you need your hands to be to make this work.  It may look like images 9 or 10 and that is ok. Do not worry about how much or how little is touching right now.

The practice alone is the work. Remember, we are looking for progress, not perfection. There are no hard and fast rules about how often to work with these exercises. If you find them challenging, then you need them! And if you are someone who has an attitude of “a little is good, a lot is better,” I urge you to please not overdo it. Change is slow. After 60 change is slower.  But it’s never too late. I have clients in their eighties who have reduced their neck tension and improved their posture as well. It takes patience, and sometimes six to nine months for real change. Then one day, you’ll be surprised to have a friend or colleague notice that you walk with more energy, or you look brighter and lighter as you get up from your chair. They may not realize that your head is no longer hanging forward and your neck isn’t in pain, but they will know something is different and that it looks and feels awesome on you.

Check out the video and follow along!

How I Reversed My Osteoporosis

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Sarah Purcell – From Reversed Osteoporosis – Bone Density Improvement

Three years ago, I received a bone density scan result that indicated my femoral neck bone density was in the Osteoporosis zone

My T score was -2.8. Although my spinal density number was better, it was still -1.7.  Bottom line: I was very  concerned. I am post menopausal and petite as well as fair skinned and small boned. These are many of the risk factors associated with developing Osteoporosis.  I was aware of my risk and thought I was doing positive things to protect myself.  Supplements and a high level of physical activity were my tools. I practiced Pilates or Yoga and walked Daily.  But, this activity was clearly not enough.

The advice I received from my Gynecologist involved taking drugs and assuring me that I could not build bone without them. I had certified in Pilates for Osteoporosis 4 years prior to my diagnosis and through that education, I had some basic knowledge about the chemistry of bone drugs.  I knew enough to confidently reject the bone drugs as a choice for me personally. The side effects alone were troublesome and the long term outlook is a complex situation depending on the drug one takes.

Additionally, I was aware of natural bone building strategies.

Studies have shown that muscles and bones are a connected system.  Strengthening your muscles with external load (weights) creates force that sends signals to the bones to build more bone as an adaptation to the force. In addition, the load is site specific. Thus, one must load at the hip, the spine, the wrist and so on to protect all these areas. There is a direct dose relationship with using load.  This means that even a little weight has some benefits (there are studies to support this.)  Heavy weight and more than once a week would create even more benefit!

An interesting and often overlooked component is that rest is required for the body to build bone. Sleep is crucial

It’s also important to know that AGE is not a barrier.  A woman can build bone at any age.

Let’s get back to the issue of a pharmaceutical solution.  If your doctor finds your bone health situation so serious that she wants you to take a very powerful drug, then your situation is serious enough to warrant a full medical workup to determine if there is an underlying medical reason for your bone loss. You may not need to build bone with drugs; there may be a separate medical issue affecting your bones. Make sure you have ruled out the medical possibilities.

After I was diagnosed, I researched natural ways to enhance the bone making process. I created a plan that my GP and I were satisfied with. We reviewed my nutrient intake and added supplementation of key elements that I needed to support bone formation. Contrary to popular belief, it takes more than calcium and vitamin D. I changed my diet to emphasize more alkaline foods (more veggies and sweet potatoes.)

Finally, I purchased a weighted vest for my daily walks.

Ideally, the goal is to wear 10% of your body weight in your vest.  I started small and built up to my goal weight. I was a good candidate for walking with a weighted vest because I am not highly kyphotic in my thoracic spine, I do not have fractures in my spine, and I do not have a history of any spine-related dysfunctions. I diligently followed a new, heartier routine for two years. You can find the weighted vest I used down below.

Two years after that diagnosis my General Practitioner ordered a second bone scan.  The results showed that I was now out of osteoporosis in my hip and I had edged my way towards getting out of osteopenia in my lumbar spine.  My femoral neck score went from -2.8 to -2.3, which is osteopenia.  My lumbar spine went from -1.7 to -1.5. I was thrilled with the positive change.

While I was walking my way to stronger bones, I was also researching weight lifting for bone health.  

As I stated previously, bone responds when you put load (weight) on it. I created a weight lifting program that I adapted from the Australian LIFTMOR study where men and women with Osteoporosis improved their bone mineral density scores with a heavy lifting program.  The study showed that heavy weight lifting can be safe for women with Osteoporosis.  

The LIFTMOR study was a  heavy resistance program with  30-minute sessions of high-intensity resistance training at 80–85% of the “1 rep max” weight — that being the weight they could only lift only once with maximum effort. The exercises included deadlift, overhead press, and back squat along with jumping chin-ups with drop landings. The study began with a month of training in form with low weight.

I built on this programming and created a progressive loading schedule for myself three times a week.  I began with light weight and skilled supervision to teach proper form.  Progressive load is the best way to create bone strength, so I would follow that process for my own program.

I will be having another bone scan and I am excited to share those results when they are in!

Below you’ll find all of my bone building steps.  

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