Recently, I was interviewed by Lisa Tener, author and book writing coach, as a followup to the book concept meeting we had had about 6 weeks before. Already curious about my work from prior conversations, Lisa was very open to experiencing the functional medicine style that I have been pioneering with patients and explaining in my YouTube videos.
If you, like many writers, are sedentary and lament your lack of movement during your workday, then watch (or read) our conversation about how Lisa felt after our “workshop meeting” and how she wants to help her writing colleagues learn how they can develop strength and elasticity simply by leveraging their most basic daily movements.
00:17 Tener: So welcome, I’m Lisa Tener, and I’m here today with Dr. Cathy Kim, who I met at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course several years ago. And I was just fascinated by the work she does, and as I got to apply it in my own life, even more fascinated and it’s helped me as a writer. So I look forward to sharing it with all of you today.
After more than two decades in primary care is a board-certified family medicine physician, Dr. Kim transitioned to the world of functional medicine, and she’s now a consultant as a body function specialist, she helps patients recognize how imbalances in their diet and musculature are the root cause of their symptoms and educate them on how to heal themselves with awareness and mindful movement. So welcome, Dr. Kim, it’s so wonderful to be here with you today.
01:16 Dr. Kim: Or it’s great to see you and be with you also. This is a wonderful chance.
01:22 Tener: Thanks. Well, as a writer, we spend a lot of her time sitting in front of a computer or maybe sitting elsewhere and reading, but just lots and lots of time sitting, and you’ve helped me watching your videos has been so instrumental in helping relieve back pain, neck pain, headache and foot pain. And so I’m really excited today to share that it’s not just your back that might be impacted by all this sitting, but really your whole body, and maybe… Do you wanna start with how you got into this work and making these connections because it’s not really part of your formal training from medical school… Right?
02:04 Dr. Kim: Definitely not. Of course, we cut right through the connective tissue layer to get to the important stuff to get to the muscles with the nerves, arteries pass that we were trained to learn in anatomy, and it turns out that this layer that’s covering everything, the fascial layer is the one that’s the one that’s unifying the whole body in all of its systems, which I hadn’t recognized, of course, ’cause this is not the way we were trained decades ago, maybe even now. I had broken my wrist and after it was healed is when I suffered a lot with nerve pain in my neck and my hand, and I knew that it was after the bone had healed, so… I thought, what could that be . . . except for something that I couldn’t see.
I took the opportunity then to pursue chiropractic acupuncture, a holistic kind of physical therapy approach, and my eyes were open to how my hip was actually the cause or one of the causes of the pain that I was having up here. And then I would see patients with similar symptoms to what I had, I would say, Let me try a little bit of this on you, ’cause I was seeing how the mechanics was changing their symptoms, not taking the medicine. Because I could see how the mechanics would actually get them out of their plight. My eyes got more and more opened or aware of what else was going on that I had been missing for all of these decades years of practicing.
03:48 Tener: So it was the fascia, the connective tissue, that was really causing these imbalances that created pain in all kinds of areas of the body, is that right?
04:01 Dr. Kim: Yeah, so that was just amazing that it was. You know, ‘cause everyone blithely says, Oh, it’s all connected. So we kind of jump from this segmented way that the body is made with different joints and then seeing different specialists, GI and neurology, and so we jump from that to this… then we go immediately to this abstract. There’s a big leap to the psychiatric kind of meta-level where . . . yes, the stress up here . . . trauma up here will manifest as body symptoms. So we have this huge gray zone in the middle, where the practicality of understanding how geographically distant areas in your body can actually affect the function, not just just the pain, but the function of an area farther away, there’s a big gray zone in there and that… That is where I now operate. I’m like “the gray area” physician.
05:09 Tener: So let’s go to that thing that writers are doing all the time. We’re sitting at a computer. And you really helped me identify what was going on in my body when I’m sitting and particularly what I’m getting into and out of my seat; that that’s actually the point of the most impact and where we can have an immediate impact. I was so amazed how quickly I could feel better and lighter.
And when… I guess the second time we met, when you demonstrated for me what’s going on, I was really tired, I was really dragging, and my body felt really uncomfortable and heavy, and since that time I’ve not felt that way again, and that was just really from focusing on that getting into and out of a chair. So can you tell us why even more than sitting itself, getting into and out of the chair has such a negative impact the way we usually do it.
06:17 Dr. Kim: That is fabulous. I’m happy to hear that. What is happening . . . if you think of yourself as wearing a costume, like a Spider-Man costume . . . that’s too small . . or one that many of us can relate to is, back in the day, when we wore jeans that had no Spandex in them. And we wore them out of the dryer . That was really . . . putting them on out of the dryer, that was kind of a difficult process, right?
So if you remember putting on these jeans, that kind of represents what’s happening to our fascia, the covering of our muscles. If you remember that . . . actually the most uncomfortable position to be in, and that’s the one you used to stretch out the jeans, was to be sitting or squatting. It would cut behind your knee and you would feel it in your tush, and around your waist. So these showed that this was the most difficult… Actually, this is the one that challenged the jeans the most. So I think people feel that sitting is actually the problem, but I think sitting actually stretches a lot of things on your outside of your body, and so what happens is that you think sitting is bad, because when you get up, you don’t feel good, or after a while of sitting, you don’t feel so good, but what’s happening when you’re sitting is that your body is doing this kind of zone defense, borrow from Peter to pay Paul situation.
07:45 Tener: What about getting into and out of a chair, ’cause that is actually worse than the sitting piece itself, right? Why is that?
07:56 Dr. Kim: So yes, so to explain that, I say to people, Okay, if you were an elderly person in church or you watch someone elderly or weak in church or a function, and you see them sitting and standing when they’re sitting already, they don’t need a lot of assistance. And when they’re standing, they don’t need assistance, most of them.
The time everyone needs assistance, when they’re getting weak or having some kind of a health issue, is the transition from sitting to standing or standing to sitting, which is… That’s when you’re recruiting all the muscles and you need the balance and to do all that, so I focus on doing that, changing that for people because that is what develops your muscle strength and the habits and the movements that are demanding that your fascia adapt… It’s not doing as much when you’re already sitting or already… Does that make sense for why I focus on that to stand?
09:04 Tener: It does, and I think in your videos, you even kind of give us some really rough physics equations, so we can see something like two full tons of pressure force that’s on our body during the course of a day, from just getting into and out of our chair, right?
09:23 Dr. Kim: I feel that what’s happening in modern society, because we’re so technologized and we’re insulated . . . when you see people go back to homesteading or more off-the-grid living, they’re paying attention to the sun and the weather. And I realized when we lived off the land, we would have to notice migration patterns, whether it’s a good time to hunt, whether that day was gonna be raining or not, because if you’re gonna do laundry, and what’s the point of hanging up your clothes… right? So we had all this awareness of our environment that we had, that those are kind of atrophied too, and that extends also to our own awareness of ourselves and the physics of how we move. I say that gravity spares no one, and somehow we’re… The less grounded we are, we’re a little bit unrealistic about whether or not gravity would affect us, like it does other objects.
10:36 Tener: That is so true. And I love how… What you’re saying now too, is a lesson for us as writers, so I’m gonna take a pause and just say, You know it’s so true, how we’ve lost touch often with our environment, and as we pay more attention, not only do we get more comfortable in our body and feel less pain, but we will be better writers too, so I love that distinction.
11:02 Dr. Kim: I tell people, all this sensing, it will improve your relationships. It’s just more awareness. This is what we wanna evolve into, being more aware, not less aware. It’ll be rich, like regenerative agriculture! Regenerative agriculture, you just plow it back in and it’ll come back and give you more.
11:26 Tener: Beautiful. I love the metaphors, Cathy. Cathy, because one of the things that’s so important is getting into and out of a chair, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your videos because I think they do such a great job of teaching us how to do that. Why it’s important as well, but really showing us what’s going on and what to do to get into and out of a chair so that we’re not feeling pain in our heads, or our feet, or our neck, or anywhere because of this activity that we repeat so much in our day as a writer.
12:04 Dr. Kim: Sure. I will say that… What happens about this standing and the sitting . . . First, I’ll back up a little bit and say that I think . . . when you look at us, evolutionarily, I thought, Why are we having this problem? Why do so many of us have this problem? And I realized that this idea of sitting in these chairs and modern toilets, for instance, these are all modern day ideas, this is not how we actually evolved, and what do we lose when that happened?
So when I compared what happens between when people don’t use chairs and have to use their own bodies to sit, I thought, Gosh, the mechanics of that are completely different. And so, I am not expecting people to go to squatting the way we have done in our evolutionary history. What I wanna do is use those principles and just incorporate them into using modern chairs. And it turns out, for most all of the patients that I work with, they get the benefit… You still get the benefit of doing that. And so when people will say, Well, how many squats should I do… Or how long should I sit down there? I say, That is not where it is. Let us just do . . . change the sit and stand the way I suggest, and I direct them to my videos because it’s a kind of visual to see how that works.
13:41 Tener: Yeah, these videos are free. If you go to Dr. Cathy Kim on YouTube, you’ll find her videos. And they’re fairly short, I would say, for the amount of material you cover. They’re just very clear. They have fantastic drawings and some wonderful metaphors, which I love, so I would direct everyone… Just check out these videos. They have really changed my life and my body, and I can’t recommend it enough, and like I said, it’s a free resource, so I hope people will do that. We’ll all save a lot of money and time just doing what you teach us in these videos throughout the things we do in our life. And it’ll be so much more effective, right, than going to the gym, but then coming home and doing our sitting and standing all wrong…
14:35 Dr. Kim: Oh, that’s so true. Why spend them this time making your squats perfect at the gym, when you sit and stand 100 times a day, in a way where you’re just turned off… You don’t even pay attention to that. So you could see, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Make life, your gym, which is make life . . . you’re everything. Instead of, I only do this here . . . and I only do this here. If you’re true-dyed color all throughout, it’ll be there everywhere, and it won’t be extra work.
15:12 Tener: Yeah, it reminds me of a phrase that I’ve heard you say, and I know you coined this, the fountain of youth is in your thighs. I just love that.
15:21 Dr. Kim: Well, I have prescribed many raised toilet seats for someone when they’re elderly and they can’t get down to a regular toilet, so what is that? That shows that they’re too stiff in there to actually lower to something that’s already been raised for us from . . . I don’t know . . . the 16th century at least?
Come on, let’s foam roll. The fountain of youth is in your thighs. Use those heels. Listen to me. Get that butt back.
15:50 Tener: So you mentioned foam roll. That’s one of the pieces of homework you give people, and it’s something that we can discover on those videos. But do you wanna say a little bit about… About the foam rolling?
16:00 Dr. Kim: Sure. When I first did it, this is several years ago, I thought, how could… How could I ever do it in a way that doesn’t hurt? I thought, How does that hurt so bad? Then what is happening when I go and walk and walk upstairs, do yoga, run? Why doesn’t it hurt when I do that? How I came to be thinking about this idea of. . . borrowing from Peter to pay Paul or the zone defense kind of situation where your body is always borrowing from someone else. I thought, that must be what’s happening is that you’re getting the movement done, but you’re just pulling on another area to be able to borrow that flexibility, right?
16:47 Tener: When you say borrowing from someone else, you mean like one muscle is kind of using . . . it’s not working well and it’s so a different muscle is having to do the work, is that right?
16:56 Dr. Kim: Right, or a group of muscles where the fascia is covering. They kind of work together as a team, and they kind of… And then when they’re pulling like that and they can’t do it, your body is a little adaptable, so you might arch your back a little and help your other part of your body to help with the flexibility. So I saw that the foam rolling was important for improving the flexibility of this very important section of the body that we need. I tell people, you’re only as flexible as your stiffest player.
17:31 Tener: It might be more painful, but it’s way more effective . . . right? The benefit that you’re getting is so much greater…
17:44 Dr. Kim: Absolutely. I tell people, the reason it is so painful . . . is apparently fascia has more pain receptors than your skin. So that is why it’s so sensitive and challenging to work on it. And if you can just mentally understand that when it’s all this tight and then it’s not really moving and when you’re pushing on it it’s separating it . . . And actually, I tell people it’s like a natural body lift. It’s taking your body back through time.
18:16 Tener: Wow, wow, that’s really something I remember you’re showing me some photographs of Here’s a child, and here’s how she standing, and so here’s an older woman, and that’s where that child is going just by the way she’s standing. So it really is a way to, like you said, turn back the clock and achieve a level of usefulness and vitality, and I think that’s a really important distinction too, it’s not just letting go of the pain that you’ve been feeling on the discomfort, but what I found is there’s a vitality?
It’s like the body has a certain vitality, but when it’s tight in all these places, we’re not really accessing that vitality, and I know as a creative person, and we’re all creative at some level, but as writers, our vitality can only help us to be more vital in every activity, including our writing, even though it’s a mental activity, I know the more relaxed my body is, the easier it is to get in that state of creative flow, so this really does all come back to a foundation that we’re not writing outside of our bodies, we’re in our body, when we’re writing, and so it’s important to realize that all the activities that we do with our body are influencing both the joy we can experience when we’re writing and the effectiveness to the creativity that flows.
19:54 Dr. Kim: Yes. About that, could I mention something about that? About you, when you’re… I tell people who say that they don’t have time, they’re so busy thinking that they don’t have time, and to think about the transitions, which you have completely admitted to paying attention to… And I say to them, You know what, notice how much pain intrudes on your life. It changes . . . you won’t do certain things ’cause it’s gonna hurt . . . you think twice before you’re gonna bend and reach for that thing ’cause it’s gonna hurt . . . and while you’re working . . . you’re actually… Part of you is distracted by the pain.
So how about instead of the pain intruding on you, you decide you’re gonna do this and you’re gonna… So it’s probably, net net, maybe the same amount of time spent thinking about it, but now by you making these changes, the pain then would subside a little.
And it’s the same amount of mental energy, not the same quality, but a similar kind of mental energy. And then you’re more free, you’re not inside a suit of armor that rusted and getting restricted, you’ve oiled it up. And it can move and now mentally and in every way, you’re more free.
21:20 Tener: That really summarizes that so beautifully. So is there anything you’d like to add to help enlighten our listeners?
21:29 Dr. Kim: I would say that just like anything’s possible up there in your creative brain beyond your belief, your body can heal, if it’s not forced to fight gravity in ways that are just impossible to fight.
21:46 Tener: That is fantastic. So you have these wonderful videos on YouTube, they’re a free resource and so powerful. It really is a course in how to move in your body to create a more vital and enjoyable experience just living and writing and sitting in all the things we do. So that’s Dr. Cathy Kim on YouTube. How else can people get in touch with you?
22:17 Dr. Kim: Well, they could also look at my website, which is the same name, drcathykim.com, where I explain a little bit more about my background . . . and has these articles that I have written
22:31 Tener: And you’re working on a book. So if people are interested, I think this book is going to change all our lives… I have one book that really helped me during . . . I used to get sciatica, and especially when I was in the car, a long period of time. And the book is called Live Pain-Free by Lee Albert, and that became a Bible. And I gave it to friends when they got pregnant. And I know your book is gonna be a similar book that just changes people’s lives and gets them out of pain. And so I’m sure that people want to get on your mailing list, and I encourage people, Go to Cathy’s website and get on her mailing list, follow her on social media, because when this book comes out, it’s something that you’re gonna wanna have and probably give to others. I know that other book I gave to a lot of people because it helped me so much.
This is that kind of book. So it’s not written yet, but be prepared for it. Make sure you’re on the list because you are going to wanna read it and share it.
Cathy, thank you so much for joining us today. It was such a pleasure to speak with you and I was so excited to share this information with everyone.
23:41 Dr. Kim: Well, thank you for having me, Lisa. And it’s always a pleasure to talk and learn with you.