Podcast 145: An Herbalist’s Guide to Successful Self-Experimentation

In this episode we explore the skills and disciplines necessary to conduct a successful self-experiment. Self-experimentation in this context might mean making changes to dietary, lifestyle, & movement habits; developing stress management skills; or trying out herbal medicines.

First we address why and how self-experimentation can fall into self-justification, and how to avoid this. Then we highlight the skills of perception, reflection, and connection which are the bones of a good n=1 experiment, and share some key methods for developing them. Finally we talk about the practicalities that make this work go more smoothly, and share a few thoughts on how this all applies to clinical practice work as distinct from individual efforts.

This is at the root of our work as herbalists, so we hope you’ll listen in! Plus, you just might have some intention-setting and some self-experimentaiton to embark on sometime soon, what with New Year’s resolutions and all. 😉

This is our last episode for 2020, so we’ll see you in 2021!

If you’re dreaming up new ideas for the new year, why not do so literally? Check out our Herbs and Dreaming mini-course and delve deep into the Sandman’s kingdom. The plants know the way…

mugwort minicourse

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:16):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:18):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of podcast. Well, here we are with our last episode for 2020.

Katja (00:00:29):
I think so.

Ryn (00:00:30):
I think it is. Yes. And I’m really glad that we’re getting to this topic before this year ends. Because this is very important subject. Today we’re going to be talking about self-experimentation, which is basically how do you make changes to your own health in a structured manner to figure out whether they’re really working for you or not? Yeah.

Katja (00:00:52):
And I think it’s worth mentioning that everything is an experiment, right? Like whatever it is that you’re going to try to feel better, whether it is eating differently or surgery or anything in between, it is always an experiment. There’s never any guarantees. And every body’s different. So we’re not going to know exactly how it works in your body until you try it. So, it’s really good to be thinking about what does it mean to try something? How do I know if it’s working? All that good stuff.

Ryn (00:01:27):
Yeah. All that good stuff. So that’s what we’re going to talk about. But before we get into that, we just want to give you a quick reminder that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (00:01:38):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good ideas to think about and some information to research further.

Ryn (00:01:59):
Yeah. And we just want to remind you that good health is your right and your own personal responsibility. And this means that the final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours. Yes. And if you learn how to do your self-experimentation successfully, then you’ll be really taking control of that responsibility and that right. Yeah. All right. So what are we really talking about here? It’s very simple, right? When we make a diet change or a lifestyle change, you know, ideally we would have some guidance. We would have some experienced practitioner who could help us out and give us good ideas. But that’s not always possible. Maybe they don’t live near you. You haven’t found one that suits you yet. Maybe there’s something you’re interested in, but there’s not like a teacher for that particular thing, or not one that you can find. Sometimes you hear a lot of good things about making a diet change or a diet itself, you know, or an exercise routine or plan or whatever. Or maybe you just heard about this really amazing herb called nettles. And you thought hey, maybe I should start drinking some nettle tea and see what happens. So you want to try it. But anytime you do that, you basically are doing an experiment on yourself. So it’s really simple. But at the same time, there are some pitfalls with self-experimentation. And that can cause you to come up with a confusing results or an incomplete kind of data set there, or you might jump to a conclusion that’s actually kind of unjustified. And sometimes the risk here, you know, in air quotes is very low, right? If you decide to start drinking ginger tea every day, and it doesn’t solve all of your digestive problems forever, then that’s not going to be a big deal. It’s not likely to create a new one for you. But with some things you really want to know if it’s going to be worth the effort or the energy or even the expense. So we want to be aware of that.

A System of Awareness

Katja (00:03:56):
I think aware of that is the key. Like I kind of think that what, what you’re really putting forward here is how do we create a system of awareness in our own bodies? Like how do we learn to be aware of what we’re doing and what we’re feeling? Especially because sometimes you say I’m going to try a gluten-free diet, because I’ve heard that it helps so much. But you don’t really read the labels carefully, and some gluten does sneak in. And then like on Friday at work somebody brought in whatever. And so you do it for a couple of weeks. And at the end, without much awareness, you say, eh, that didn’t really make much of a difference. But you weren’t being aware of the places where gluten got into the diet. And you didn’t even maybe recognize that gluten and dairy have a lot of crossover. Like all of those things, if we build a system to be aware of them, then our experimentation is going to be more valuable.

Ryn (00:05:00):
Right. Exactly. Yeah. And you know, it’s kind of like two sides, right? We’re trying to avoid false positives and false negatives in a way. We’re trying to not dismiss something that’s actually helping as ineffective, because we’re not perceiving the benefits that it’s giving us. And we don’t want to continue with something that’s not helping or even worse is having some kind of adverse effect. So, yeah, so we can prevent this though, right? And the way we prevent it is we recognize potential mistakes or errors that we could make. And then we find some tools and strategies to help us to avoid those. So there are really valid concerns about doing self-experimentation and making a lot of decisions based solely on your own perception of what you’re experiencing. The biggest problem is the way that we lie to ourselves, or we delude ourselves, or we have cognitive bias, right? We’re susceptible to that. All of us are. Even the ones who spend their whole lives studying and writing about these things are totally susceptible to this. And so this is just a part of being human. We need to kind of be aware of the way that our minds and our brains work in the world, in order to be aware of failure points and pay special attention when we approach them. So we don’t want our self-experimentation to become self justification. We want to understand that self-experimentation, it’s not a matter of just saying, well, this is what feels good for me, and so I’m going to keep on doing it. We need to be a little more rigorous about it. We’re not all trained to be scientists. And even the ones who are trained to be scientists don’t follow the scientific method in every aspect of their lives. You know, it’s very easy to lose sight of that. One of the ways that people comment on the failure mode here is to talk about this kind of work as n=1. And this is basically some language adopted from like scientific studies, where you need to make a declaration at some point about how many people, or how many rodents I suppose, were in the study that you were doing. And so, this term is used to say how many participants were involved, right? So a study that had 42 people who were doing the intervention or the placebo or involved in it, somehow you call that n=42, right? Any self-experimentation, you would be inclined to call it n=1. But a lot of times that’s also a point of criticism and to say, oh, well an n=1experiment, that’s really not an experiment at all. That’s not data, that’s just an anecdote, right? It’s only a single point. And that’s actually a fair critique as far as it goes, but it doesn’t actually go far enough. Because the truth is that when you’re doing a self experiment, it’s not really an n=1 situation. Because the end there, the number is data points. It’s not like heads.

Katja (00:08:07):
Right. So the data point is actually Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. You know, n might equal 30 because you did it for 30 days. Experimentation, like every body is different. So the experiment is not how many people did this work for. The experiment is, does it work in your body? And so the n is how many days of positive results did I see, or negative results or whatever. How many days of data do I have.

Longitudinal Data and Individual Variation

Ryn (00:08:38):
Right. So for our listeners who do research science and have these terms, this is the difference between a cross-sectional study and a longitudinal study. When we’re doing this kind of intervention on ourselves, and we’re collecting multiple data points, then we’re doing this collection of data over time. Right. Longitudinally. And that’s quite different. So that kind of changes the terms of what we’re really talking about. And this is why I like to use the phrase self-experimentation, even though this idea of the n=1 experiment is pretty common out there in like paleo blogs and a lot of other kind of alternative health world discussions on the internet. So, the real key here though, like I keep coming back to, is that if we have this immediate reaction to some kind of first feeling. Like, I feel good when I eat pizza.

Katja (00:09:26):
Yeah. It’s delicious.

Ryn (00:09:30):
That’s not an experiment. You haven’t done the work there. So, there could be some delayed onset effects. There could be some invisible effects that isn’t accounted for here. Like maybe you’re feeling an endorphin response when you eat pizza, because you don’t know that you’ve got a dairy allergy. And maybe there are some invisible symptoms that are happening. Like your immune system is attacking your own tissue. Based on that kind of molecular mimicry, they’re setting up this response where your immune system’s trying to attack your lunch and instead it’s attacking your body. So that might happen. Maybe it is that the effect is delayed. Like a lot of people with a food sensitivity, if they eat that thing, the symptom doesn’t happen right away. It could be that the migraine is delayed by six hours or by a day.

Katja (00:10:18):
Or by a couple of days. Yeah.

Ryn (00:10:21):
So, and you know if that happens, it might be hard to remember that the last three times that you had pizza, you had those same symptoms.

Katja (00:10:27):
Right. Because you had pizza on certain days and the migraine didn’t happen until however many days later. And it’s not easy to see that tie if you’re not actually tracking your data. Yeah.

Ryn (00:10:41):
So we’d love to know for sure. And it’d be nice if we had some like, perfectly objective thing that we could turn to that would have the answer for us. But that’s not available. And even if it was, it wouldn’t be cheap.

Katja (00:10:52):
Wait. I’m not certain that that would be good actually. Because a perfectly objective thing is still not actually perfect. You could think about in order to be objective about nutrient quantity in broccoli, they took it to a laboratory. And they do certain experiments to figure out how much magnesium is in the, or how many calories, or how many this, or how many that. But the thing is that the human body is not a laboratory. And not all of that stuff translates directly to how the human body metabolizes that broccoli. And furthermore, even if it did, not every body metabolizes broccoli with perfect efficiency. So, I almost feel like objective is not actually what we want to reach for. I think maybe honest, you know, accuracy. It is subjective by the very nature of it’s your body. It is in you and not in somebody else necessarily. So, I think that our goal can be like not delusional, like not… unbiased, that’s the word. Instead of objective, our goal can be awareness of bias and the correcting for bias.

Ryn (00:12:17):
Yeah. Look, there are some things that are concrete and that seem pretty universal, right? That trans fats are bad for humans. That it’ss good if you eat green leafy vegetables. Like there are some things that we can say are pretty much…

Katja (00:12:28):
You shouldn’t drink bleach.

Ryn (00:12:29):
You know? Yeah. That kind of thing. But there are a lot of areas of health intervention we might make where there’s a lot of individual variation, and that that’s much more important than any in a universal. And those are the areas where self-experimentation is going to be the most helpful and where it’s the most necessary. We can’t rely on evidence that’s sparse and contradictory and disputed from studies. A one size fits all prescription doesn’t really make a lot of sense in a situation like that. So some examples. How many grams of carbs per day makes my diet low carb, right? For my body. And a sustainable amount of low-carb that’s not making me too fatigued or having thyroid effects or whatever else. Can raw dairy be part of my personal paleo diet. Not me, not Ryn, but there are some people out there who it seems to work for them, you know? Should we avoid night shades all the time, or can I have some now and again. And how many potato days is too many in a row. Is white rice a safer starch then sweet potato again, for my body. Like always you have to add that contextualization: for the individual, for you personally. There’s not going to be consensus about these kinds of questions.

Katja (00:13:41):
I mean, I bet you can find a study that will say how many potatoes it’s safe to eat in one day. But that just doesn’t mean that that’s a good recommendation for how you’re going to feel great in your body.

Ryn (00:13:52):
Yeah. Right. So, you know, there’s either not consensus or it wasn’t studied at all, or it’s not something that can be answered in that way. So, there’s high individual variation. And in herbal medicine this is the same thing, right? Is valerian going to help me sleep really well, or is it going to make me stimulated and keep me awake? Is licorice in my tea blend going to raise my blood pressure? Is skullcap or blue vervain a better herb for me to work with when I’m feeling anxious? You know, we, as herbalists, we can see some factors that might make one or another of those answers more probable for one person in front of us, if we have some time to get to know them and how they work and everything. But especially when you’re doing this on your own, the interaction between plants and people can be surprising. It can be complex. There’s a lot of factors going on. So yeah, if you’re on your own and you want to get started, go ahead and try it. That’s not a problem. But we can keep working to make these experiments more successful. So when we take the criticisms of the sort of like n=1 experiment or the self justification process or whatever, they really come down to this argument. So, if you’ll bear with me for a moment, I studied logic and philosophy a little bit in college and…

Katja (00:15:07):
A little bit, he says.

A Little Bit of Logic

Ryn (00:15:09):
I found it to be really helpful for certain cases like this, especially when we’re trying to see what we can do with a line of thinking or an argument that we want to take apart. Honestly, most philosophy classes are about how can we tear that idea down. How can we take this argument and break it to pieces. You know? So…

Katja (00:15:28):
And because this is not a philosophy podcast, I’m not going to say anything about that. But I just want everybody to know that if this were a philosophy podcast, I would have some opinions.

Ryn (00:15:39):
This was very Western philosophy training, you know? So yeah, there’s a particular mode to it. But the idea here, the helpful idea is this. We can take this core argument from the critique of, oh, if you’re not basing it on like real science (TM), then it doesn’t count. They say self-experimentation relies on your own subjective experience. Your subjective experience is susceptible to cognitive bias, because you’re a human. Cognitive bias leads to unchecked or incorrect conclusions. And so you basically line those up together. It’s an, if A then B, if B then C, if C then D, therefore, if A then D. Right? You go down the line. It’s kind of like in math. If one is greater than…No, if one is less than two, and two is less than three, and three is less than four, than one is less than four. Same basic argument.

Katja (00:16:32):
That is true in math.

Ryn (00:16:34):
So the claim here is that you come to this conclusion: self-experimentation leads you to incorrect conclusions, right?

Katja (00:16:40):
We are not going to endorse this logical outcome.

Ryn (00:16:46):
No we’re going to attack it.

Katja (00:16:46):
No, we are not going to endorse this outcome of logic. Yes.

Ryn (00:16:50):
Right. Yeah. So in this kind of logical analysis game that we play, you can either dispute the premises. That’s those first statements. Or you can show that the conclusion doesn’t follow, right? So in this case, just based on the form of the argument, the conclusion has to follow if you accept the premises. So that means that we can attack each of those premises as points of vulnerability. And the way that we do that is to solve self-experimentation being too reliant on your subjective experiments. We can reduce our reliance on subjective experience. And the way we do that is to develop our skills of perception. Because what we experience subjectively, it shades over into objectivity when we’re careful about how we’re perceiving and how we’re recording our perceptions. We’re going to talk more about that in just a moment. So that’s the first key. The next one is, okay, so your subjective experience is susceptible to cognitive bias. We accept that as reality, but we can reduce susceptibility to the cognitive bias, if we are more reflective about what we’re thinking about. We can overcome cognitive bias, at least a little bit, if we have some cognitive discipline.

Katja (00:18:00):
Right. Or cognitive awareness, or bias awareness.

Ryn (00:18:04):
Yeah, exactly. And then with the last idea that when we have cognitive bias, that always leads to incorrect conclusion. Well, we can work to justify our conclusions more thoroughly. And making connections and discerning patterns and things, that can help us to become more certain in what we conclude. So those are the skills we’re going to work on: perception, reflection, and connection. Okay. So if we start with perception here, the basic idea is that there are some skills that we can put in play here to get better results. And it starts with sensory skills. Because these are like the borders. Our senses are the borders of our internal interaction with the outside world. And we can also get some sense of what’s going on inside of ourselves as well with this. Right? So first about sensory skills. Generally when we think about a measurement or some kind of assessment, we figure if it can be tested and communicated and especially reproduced, then we call that more objective. And when we do that, we can remember every time we do this. Every time you look at a microscope or you like take a reading with a tool, there is a perception that’s being involved here, right? It’s like, you’ve got a position on a gradient. You’ve got a density of amount of cells in a sample. Then you’re counting them, right? And you’re putting a number down. Or we measure some molecules in your body. And we look at their ratios. And we say like, oh, you’ve got bad cholesterol because the L number is too high, and the H number is too low. And we do these kinds of things all the time. So these are perceptions. They’re given specificity and all of that, but they are perceptions in the end. Measurement is a perceptive act, right? A microscope, a stethoscope, an assay, whatever it is, these are tools that we use to extend our perceptions or to enhance them. So when we reach a threshold where we’ve got enough breadth or enough depth going on in what we’re measuring and perceiving and putting together, we call it a measurement. But that doesn’t change the action. It doesn’t change the nature of what we’re doing here. And the thing is that there are these external tools that we rely on, but they’re also internal tools, right? Think about meditation traditions. They’ve taught for ages all around the world, and in their own unique ways, that perception is something that you have to practice and develop in order to rely on it or to trust it at all. Or at least to be able to see the places where it’s trying to trick you more commonly or more readily. So we can work with that kind of tool, and we can take internal measurements, right? We can get closer to that threshold between the subjective and the objective. So, to bring this down to earth a little bit, if we can engage in these disciplined efforts to become more perceptive of what’s going on in our own body, then we can learn to detect its responses to our actions. And that can be a guide for us when we’re thinking about what do we want to do next? What do I want to change about my habits?

Reproducibility & Mindfulness

Katja (00:21:04):
I want to just insert a little fly in the ointment here, because you sort of started that part off by talking about being able to reproduce an experiment. And when we are self-experimenting, there can be a little problem with reproducibility. Simply because let’s say that you’re experimenting with something that begins to help you a lot. Now it’s going to be hard to reproduce that experiment, because your body’s not the same anymore. And so sometimes it isn’t that that’s going to corrupt your data or anything like that. It’s just that we need to be aware of how the environment in which the experiment is happening is changing as we are doing the experiment. And so one thing that can happen is, you know, changing the diet is a really easy example, an easy framework to work in here. So let’s say that a person stops eating gluten or stops eating gluten and dairy, whatever. Stops eating something that they have a food sensitivity to. And they stop for for a while. And then they eat some, and they have a really strong reaction, a bad reaction. And then they’re like, whoa, okay, that’s data. I’m glad to know that. And then they stop for a while longer, and they eat some again, and they have a bad reaction. And they’re like, whoop, data. Okay. That’s good. And every time they do it. Maybe they stopped eating it for an entire year or three years, and then they had a little bit, and the reaction was nowhere near as bad. That doesn’t necessarily mean, oh, surprise. I’m not allergic to gluten anymore.

Ryn (00:22:59):
I got over it.

Katja (00:22:59):
Or I don’t have that sensitivity anymore. I got over it. Right. What it might mean is over time my body has healed enough that it can handle a little bit of insult to the system. It can handle a little bit of contamination by this thing that I’m sensitive to more gracefully than I used to be able to handle it. So, maintaining that kind of awareness around the reproducibility of the experimentation is important. It doesn’t mean that the experiments aren’t valid or any of those things. It just means to be mindful of the way in which the experiment itself is progressing as we continue to do work on it.

Ryn (00:23:46):
Mindfulness is a really key word here. I think about about mindful eating as a tool that’s really helpful and moves in this direction. Mindful eating, you could say, it’s like, well, eat when hungry, and choose the right foods for your body.

Katja (00:24:02):
Oh, that’s easy.

Ryn (00:24:03):
It sounds so simple. But there’s a little more to the story. When we do mindful eating, one of the goals is to pause for a moment before we eat anything, and to ask myself, am I actually hungry right now? Is this the right food for me? Or is this the best food that I want to be eating in this moment? And to consider it for a moment and then decide. And it sounds small. It sounds like how could such a little act make any difference. But if you really dedicate to doing it every single time, and not just when you eat food, but also when you’re going to go shopping or other times you’re going to interact with food, then it can really help. And of course there can be pitfalls to this. Sometimes you only get guilty messages when you check in with yourself. And there can be lots of damage around that.

Katja (00:24:48):
I mean, I think some compassion around this particular exercise is really important. I know that even just over the last six months, as I’ve been trying to deal with the way that I eat emotionally, and that I eat when I’m stressed, I definitely went through a phase of, I acknowledge that I am not actually hungry right now, and that I’m going to eat this gluten-free waffle because it is comforting. And I will not shame or guilt myself for that. Like there is a way to acknowledge all of the things and not hurt yourself. And eventually the more that I felt emotionally supported and emotionally in a place of more healing, the more that I was able to say, actually, I think I’ll save that waffle for tomorrow or whatever. And so there is this Goldilocks place of simply, oh, we can be objective here. Simply objectively saying, yes, I would like this waffle for comfort food. And I’m going to eat it and enjoy the comfort that it provides without putting any kind of guilt or shame on it, because it gets into our bias. Like, oh, if I’m comfort eating than I am bad.

Ryn (00:26:12):
Well, your goal here wasn’t to never eat waffles again. It was to like, get a little more control over your sugar cravings.

Katja (00:26:18):
Right. Or even just building awareness around it.

Ryn (00:26:22):
Yeah. So basically we’re taking something that had been automatic, the way that we choose food, the way that we snack or whatever else. We’re taking something that had been automatic and reconsidering it and reassessing it, and trying to put a little kind of stop in that moment or a little break to say, hang on, let’s be conscious about this. Let’s be intentional about it.

Katja (00:26:43):
Even if you are intentionally eating the waffle.

Intuition & Perception

Ryn (00:26:45):
Yeah, absolutely. No, if you’re going to have snacks, you should be enjoying them all the way, like the whole time. So, you know, but the idea is that over time, the need to make that intervention so fully, so consciously, it diminishes as the new way of eating or the new selection of options on the literal menu becomes more home for you, more reactive or more natural. So, that passes over and now it just becomes a reaction or a preset. And the nice thing here is that mindfulness about some area of your life, whether it’s food or it’s about your movement habits, or it’s about the herbs you work with, that develops over time into intuition about that area of your life, right? Intuition is a skill. It’s something that you can understand intellectually, something that you can initially learn just by focusing your attention. But it’s something that operates efficiently and more effectively if you practice it to the point where it becomes more instinctual and more of a reaction than something that you have to choose consciously to do.

Katja (00:27:53):
Right. When I think about intuition, I really like to equate it to muscle memory.

Ryn (00:27:58):
That’s exactly what I’m doing. Yeah.

Katja (00:27:59):
Intuition is a trained thing. It is not like the message I’m getting from the universe is that I should have kale. That intuition is that how we take our experience, we take our awareness, and we train ourselves with it so that literally, just like a musician who has trained themselves – like a highly skilled piano player or whatever who has trained their fingers to know exactly where everything is and they don’t even have to look anymore – it is that same thing, but on the mental sort of plane.

Ryn (00:28:34):
Yeah, exactly. So I love to think about these things as skills, because it has that idea. You know, I almost want to repeat myself here, but just the idea that you could learn this and just think your way through it. And like push your muscles through it in the order that you need to. But when you practice it more often, it becomes more of an instinct. I think about martial arts in this context. That was one of the first places that I really had an experience like that. The first time you learn how to throw a punch or to grab or whatever else. You’re like, okay, you’re looking over at the teacher and you’re like, I do it like this. Where does my finger go? You know, all that kind of stuff. But then eventually you do it enough times that it will just happen. It can happen spontaneously. So that same is true, you know, with herbal formulation, with constitutional assessments. It’s true for these kind of clinical skills. But the reflection of those is an individual’s life in like how do you select herbs for your body? How do you figure out what your needs are today. Assess your own constitutional pattern, or your own tissue state pattern as those change. So it’s about pattern recognition, you know? And again, it can be conscious. It can become semi-conscious, it can shade over to becoming unconscious. But it is about perceiving those things, and then identifying and recognizing those patterns. Yeah. Okay. So that’s a critical perceptual skill. We can also think about the ability to be aware of what’s going on inside your own body. Call it like interoception. And with that, I think one of the key important things to think of there, especially in the realm of herbalism, is about using your senses as a kind of a chemistry set, right? So when you smell your herbs, when you taste them, when you experiment with 12 different bitters and line them up and takes one after another, you’re developing this kind of sensory perceptual skill in a completely literal way. But that has consequences for your ability to perceive other things that are happening in what you eat and what you consume and drink, but also inside of your own body as well.

Katja (00:30:48):
Right. And you know, that inside of your own body awareness also is trainable. That is a key aspect of certain types of meditation practices, just to start to recognize, oh, I feel the muscles in my belly clenching up. That’s a tension response. That’s a stress response. What am I responding to in my environment right now? Or, oh, I feel my breath speeding up, or my heart speeding up. That’s a stress response. What do I need to do to manage that right now? Those kinds of awareness. A lot of times – and this was true in my life – a lot of times you maybe eat the thing, you feel terrible, but that does not actually equate to awareness of what’s going on. It’s just like, whatever, I eat and then I feel bad. That’s what happens. It sort of takes more introspection to think like, hold on. I eat and then I feel bad. That’s not right. I would prefer not to do that.

Ryn (00:31:59):
Yeah. Right. And you know, oftentimes these inner senses are somewhat outside of our awareness. But like you said, that this is something you can train, you can develop to be aware of it, and to be more specifically aware of it as well. One thing I would think of is the way that we label our sensations. A lot of times it’s like, well, I feel pain. Okay. As an herbalist that’s not quite enough for me to work on it yet. You know, even if we’re saying we’ve got digestive pain, which part of your digestion do you feel it in? Way up here, up top up high in the belly, or up in like near where the ribs come together, or like way down low, down in your belly close to your pelvis. That’s going to make me choose different plants. Does it feels sharp and local and tight, or is it that things are kind of roiling and bubbling all around in there? Or is there like a big lump that won’t move? So those are going to make us pick really different plants. And that is about not just perceiving that there’s a discomfort, but what kind of discomfort. And we often turn to the kind of tissue state or energetics language for that. Is it a hot or a cold sensation? Is it tense or is it too loose? That terminology is very helpful. And again, especially for an herbalist, it’s helpful. Because if we can start to identify the problem in those terms, it leads us naturally to the herbal solutions. Okay.

Katja (00:33:17):
Maybe one other thing there that with those terms, there is also very little value statement tied up in them. And so like I feel pain, it’s bad. I feel pain. I don’t like it. Those may be true.

Ryn (00:33:34):
I feel pain. Can I kill it?

Katja (00:33:36):
Yeah, all that might be true, but it isn’t actionable information. And if we can get to a place that doesn’t have a value statement and just simply say, I feel pain and it is stabby. All right. I can work with that. That’s something that I can do something about. And it can be very difficult to get close to those things inside of our own bodies. It is not comfortable. We would prefer to avoid them. And so having those words, those just basic, like, does this feel like everything has slowed down and is stagnating, or does this feel like everything is rushing too fast through my body? Those types of descriptions that don’t have any value statement attached to them, they are simply an observational description of what’s happened can allow us to approach discomfort in our own bodies in a less uncomfortable way, in a more compassionate way for ourselves.

Reflection & Recording

Ryn (00:34:42):
Yeah. Totally. Well, okay. So, perception comes first, and then the next step here is reflection, right? So I’d like to think about words, because we’re that kind of nerd. So reflection, flection is like flexing and it’s like bending. So reflecting is like bending back. And backbends requires some flexibility. That’s necessary for us. So when we’re reflecting on what we experience, we don’t want to get too stubborn about it.

Katja (00:35:10):
Too tight, too rigid. Yeah.

Ryn (00:35:12):
Reflecting is kind of like recording, you know. We want our recordings to have a lot of detail, a lot of fidelity. Fidelity is like, how close is it to the original? That’s going to give us the most information. But reflection is also kind of like recollection, right? We use that word for memory. But if you break that down, we collect things and then we recollect them and bring back together. We’re kind of reconstituting. We’re like bringing some pieces together. And then we need to glue them a little bit. So there’s something that’s kind of added to help them stick together, help them fit together. And it might prevent them from having the same kind of range of motion they did before. This is really just to say that when we remember things, we don’t always remember them as clearly as we think we do. There’s an inertia to our recollections in that they tend to emphasize only certain recurring surface patterns, the ones that are most familiar and that have the deepest grooves in our brains. And we diminish or dismiss things that are less common or more complex. So when we’re keeping records to help us with reflective work, we want them to be information rich enough that they can combat that kind of inertia. And that if there is a salient detail, then we’re not going to lose it in the shuffle. So, you know, records can help us this way a lot. We talk about health journals these days. You know, we struggled with a lot of words over the years. It started with food journal, or like a diet diary or whatever. And then it was like, no, that’s not big enough. It’s like for awhile I was like, well your intake output log. And that didn’t work at all, because people aren’t machines. So you know, a health journal, something like that. We could just say a record of what’s going on for you. And I think that’s good because not everybody is interested or needs to make a diet change. But they still need to keep some records about changes they make, if they’re going to get rid of all the furniture in their house and see if their backache goes away next month. If they’re going to meditate for 10 minutes every morning and see if they have 20% fewer arguments with their best friends.

Katja (00:37:24):
And the reason that the recording is so important, regardless of what we call it or what it is that we’re recording, is because how many arguments is 20% fewer arguments? Humans forget. We normalize based on the moment. And on top of it to make it even worse, we develop habits in the way that we tell our story. So, on one hand when pain was at a seven or an eight, that was normal. And when people said, how are you doing? We said I’m in pain, but thanks for asking. And we habitualized on that response. And so when later pain drops down to a four, but we’re habituated to our identity of I’m in pain, but thanks for asking, it’s not easy to see the progression of hold on a second. I’m only at a four now. If it happens in one jump, it’s easier for us to acknowledge. But if it happens slowly over the course of a month or whatever, it’s very hard for us to acknowledge that. It’s very hard for us to say, holy cow, my pain has reduced by whatever percentage it is to go from seven to four, because math. But so this is why recording is so important. And honestly, even why the way that we choose to record things is important. Because what does a seven really mean, or a four?

Ryn (00:39:01):
Yeah. We’re going to talk about symptom scores in a moment. But first when we were talking a record, say it was just as general as possible. You’re trying a whole bunch of different changes and interventions, and you want to track how things are unfolding in a lot of dimensions. So ideally we’d have a record that includes your food, your drinks, your medications, supplements, herbs. What happens when you go to the bathroom? If you menstruate, how that goes down for you. And daily stuff, like what your sleep is like and how your movements are in a day. Did you have a lot of movement? Did you have a big workout? Did you exercise or were you very sedentary? So that kind of stuff. Also your emotional state. And all those kinds of factors can be worth tracking and can be indicators for how your health is doing, or if things are moving in the right direction. But it’s really helpful to start this record before you make changes, because that will help you establish a baseline.

Katja (00:40:00):
Yes. And then to just do that again without value statements. You don’t have to write down, oh my God, I eat Cheetos every day. I’m terrible. Or, wow. I’m only getting five hours of sleep at night. What an undisciplined person I am. None of that. Just like, oh, this is what’s happening right now. This just is. It just is what’s happening right now.

Ryn (00:40:23):
So to break it down, you could write down in your record, everything that goes in, right? So that’s food, drinks, snacks, candy, herbal supplements, vitamins.

Katja (00:40:34):
But maybe, maybe also media, maybe emotional exchanges, all that kind of how much sleep went in.

Ryn (00:40:44):
All that stuff that goes in, yeah. When we’re doing a diet analysis, we’re going to often care a lot more about like the ingredients lists than like the number of calories. It’s going to depend on your goals and what it is you’re tracking and changing and so on.

Katja (00:40:59):
And it’s going to depend on your own comfort level with this type of tracking. So definitely finding a system that allows you to track the data that you need, but that does not engage feelings of guilt or shame for you. There are so many ways to track. So, doing a little experimentation to find one for you that does not bring up any kind of negative self-talk.

Ryn (00:41:28):
We also track things to come out. So yeah, that’s urine and feces. And like you said, it’s also emotionally things that emerge from you, right? So if there are feelings of anxiety or fear or discomfort or happiness or joy or elation that are coming out of you, then it’s good to keep a check-in on that as well. Yeah. Including everything you feel, your physical state, headaches, stomach ache, tennis elbow, whatever. And your emotional state, your psychological state include those as well and make notes about that. We also want to track how much you sleep, when you sleep and also. how much you sleep, right? The quality of the sleep is helpful to know. If you woke up in the night, if you had dreams, those kinds of things are really critical. And then other details about your day, right? Like you had extra work to do. There was crunch time. You went and had a workout. You got a visit from a family member. There was a national lockdown. Like all of these things might be worth including. Anything that’s going to affect you physically or emotionally. Also like if you got in a car accident, or if you think you got food poisoning, or whatever else. Make notes about that kind of stuff. This will be useful when we’re doing connective work in the next step. Okay. So if you’re also dealing with a persistent health problem or recurring health problem like that, then you’re going to want to include some kind of note about how that’s going as well. And again, this is because we have an amazing capacity to forget the extent of our pain once it’s passed. So, it’s easy to have a problem and then to do something that’s actually improving it. But maybe, like you said before, it happens slowly. It occurs over some time. And so from day to day, those changes aren’t perceptible,

Katja (00:43:18):
Yeah. The improvement doesn’t really register.

Ryn (00:43:21):
And then you might write it off. You might say eh, this isn’t worth doing. So keeping some record of the severity that you’re experiencing a symptom helps you to recognize when a change is having a therapeutic effect. So again, that’s why we want to make an inventory or take a baseline reading before we start to make changes. Take a note about any complaints you’re hoping to address. Like I’ve got this eczema on my elbow. I have brain fog every day. I get headaches a few times a week. And make a note about how often that is and how intrusive it is into your daily life.

Katja (00:43:52):
Yeah. I really like it that way. I like it to be narrative instead of numbers. And I mean, okay, I’m a person who likes words. So that’s what I like. But I think that I have a migraine three nights a week that causes me to change my plans, is something really solid, more solid than a number. Because a month from now, if I’m only getting a migraine one night a week that causes me to change my plans, then that’s a very clear change that I can see.

Ryn (00:44:27):
A big improvement.

Katja (00:44:27):
But if I say my migraines are a seven, a month from now, I don’t know. I don’t necessarily feel like anything has changed. I’ve normalized my situation. So maybe they’re still a seven. I don’t know. If a number scale works for you though, please go with it. Like the point is to go with whatever you work with. But I think that number scales are normalized in this kind of data collection and don’t work for a lot of people. So I wanted to show that.

Ryn (00:44:56):
Yeah. When I’m talking to clients I’ll kind of do a little bit of both. I’ll ask them to give me a scale on a scale of one to 10, where one is like least troublesome and 10 is most severe. You have to specify that, so I’ll do that. But then I’ll also record some of the things they say about it. Like if they’re saying that it’s so bad I couldn’t work, or it’s so bad I couldn’t sleep. Or it happens every week or whatever, then yeah. That’s going to be really helpful to record down and then check in again later. So when you’re checking with your record though, this is the time to put those perceptive skills to work, right? Tune into your body. Take a moment to turn your awareness inside. Take stock of what’s going on. Reflect on how that feels compared to what it’s been like in the past. And the idea here is that if you keep good quality records that has details that are going to be relevant to what you’re doing, then you’re going to have all the material you need to make connections between those data points.

Katja (00:45:53):
Or like to challenge your own bias. You know, if you have recorded, I get a migraine three nights a week that causes me to change my activities. And then a month from now you look at that. A month from now you might be thinking, oh, nothing has really changed. But when you look at that data that you’ve collected, it corrects for your bias. Because now you’re able to say, hold on a second. I am not getting a migraine three nights a week. And this is a way of saying like, well, yeah, humans are biased and subjective and all those other things that a logician would say.

Ryn (00:46:39):
It means that we’re doomed.

Katja (00:46:39):
It means that we’re doomed. But we’re not. We’re not. When you write it clearly, when you gather the data clearly and put it in terms that will work for you, which might take a minute to figure out correctly, or like most effectively. When you do that, you are correcting for those implicit biases and everything else. And suddenly you’re like, oh, thanks past me for writing this detail, because now I can see that in fact there has been a large change.

Patterns & Connections

Ryn (00:47:08):
Yeah. So our next step is to make connections, right? And humans are really good at pattern recognition. We’re kind of made for it or grown for it, I guess. And to the extent that we trick ourselves, you know, like the pattern recognition skill is what makes us see faces in clouds or bark patterns. Or to see a whole scene when they spilled ink on paper and say, now look at this and tell me what’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Katja (00:47:34):
What do you see?

Ryn (00:47:35):
So humans do that, right? But you can’t recognize a pattern if you’re not looking for one. So keeping your record is important. But it’s not going to help you if you don’t go back and analyze it. So, on the other hand you can feel a lot of accomplishment if you make a change for your health, right? Like I’m going to drink this green smoothie for my health every day. But you can’t really have confidence in it unless you can point to some kind of pattern of cause and effect that’s linked right to it. So we put these recognition skills to work. And the goal is to quell doubts about the value of your new habit, right? Whether it’s your own doubt or the doubt of like your coworkers who are like why are you eating that? Or even better, why are you not eating this?

Katja (00:48:19):
Yeah. By the way, you don’t have to care that they think that. But sometimes you do, so yeah.

Ryn (00:48:23):
Yeah. That can be helpful. So like we said before, if you started your record before you began changes then you can look for baseline patterns. And if you’ve got two weeks or even a month of data before you start changing your habits, that can be really great. Look back through that record, and look for some times when things are particularly interesting. That could be bad. It could be good. It could be weird. Maybe it’s like you look back and say, oh, here’s a migraine, here’s nausea, here’s panic attack. Or maybe some good stuff happened like I made a creative breakthrough this day. I smiled at a stranger. My back felt amazing even though I helped a friend move. That’s good things. I think this is easy to miss, but it’s important to record when things are good. Weird could be like I forgot my coworker’s name, or I lost time wandering around on the internet when I was supposed to be working.

Katja (00:49:20):
Yeah. I mean, that’s valuable data actually.

Ryn (00:49:24):
Or it could even be like today I had an experience in my emotions that isn’t the way I normally do emotions.

Katja (00:49:30):

Ryn (00:49:33):
So those are worth being aware of. And they could be isolated events or they could be like a flare up of some chronic thing or some recurring thing. Today I had a real flare up with my rheumatoid arthritis. Okay. You want to keep a note on that. But in this case we’re doing a baseline assessment, so you’re looking back. And you might gather data like how often did you get a flare up. Or how often was there an isolated event of a headache? Oh, it turns out it’s more often than I thought. Actually this is a chronic problem for me. So we’re looking for those kinds of details. All right. When we found an instance like that – something good, bad, or weird – look for other instances that are just like that. And then with those gathered together, look at the day that that happened and the days prior as well to see if you can find any differences in what came into you or what came out of you during that time. If you changed your workout routine, if you tried out a new restaurant, if you had ice cream for the first time in a month, if you…yeah. So those would be the kind of connections that we’re trying to make in retrospective data. And some of those patterns have a really short timeframe, like a few hours or a day. Like I skipped breakfast on Monday, and then I ate a lot of snacks that day, and I didn’t even realize it. Or I went to bed early on Wednesday and on Thursday I got a lot done. Other patterns take a longer time and it’s more kind of like on a weekly basis that you’re going to be able to see that recurrence. Every Tuesday we have this status meeting, and we sit down in this stupid chairs in the conference room for four hours. And then…

Katja (00:51:13):
And look. Every Wednesday, my back is shot.

Ryn (00:51:15):
Yeah, exactly. Some of these patterns happen every month, right? Like I drank nettle and friends every day of that month, and my PMS was not as bad as it is usually. Things like this. But in almost all cases you can find a connection like this. You can find a pattern like that. Okay. Now, if you did just jump right in. You switched everything around. You started making changes the same day you started keeping your log. Don’t worry. You can still get some good information. But it’s still good to take a moment and try to like reflect on what your normal is or had been when you begin that process.

Katja (00:51:50):
Or maybe your baseline.

Ryn (00:51:51):
Yeah, your baseline. Thank you. Yeah.

Katja (00:51:54):
I’m not sure that normal is like ever really a word that can be applied to humans.

Ryn (00:51:58):
It’s very fraught. Yeah. So we take some notes about your existing habits, your existing health status, health problems and whatever. And then anything you already suspect makes them better or worse, because that’s going to be worth checking in on as you go through your changes. So, okay. So we’ve got some idea about what we’re going to change. And you probably have some idea of why. Somebody convinced you this was a good idea, whether it was the internet or your best friend or doctor oz or us or whoever else.

Katja (00:52:31):
Sometimes you’re just like, oh, everybody seems to be doing this. I wonder if it’s helpful in any way. Oh, I’ll try it.

Ryn (00:52:38):
And usually along with that, there’s some idea about what the goal is like, why are we doing this diet? You know? And sometimes it’s like, oh, well this is really supportive to joint tissue health. Or this is really good for people who get migraines or whatever. But I think that in the ideal version of this process, we keep it real general. Don’t get too caught up in the adjustment of one number or another, whether that’s like your weight on the scale, or your cholesterol counts when you go into the doctor, or like how much you can bench press in one repetition or whatever else. Like try to see the whole picture. Try to see generalized patterns of change.

Katja (00:53:16):
And kind of recognize that if you gather data every day, and you make a point on the graph for that, from day to day it may go a little up and a little down. But over the course of a month you can draw a line that goes through. You’ve seen that graph picture that I’m trying to describe here. So even though from day to day there may be a little bit of jaggedness, in general the trend is going in a particular direction that you like or don’t.

Ryn (00:53:44):
Yeah, totally. When we have this kind of more general approach, we’re not going to be worried too much about isolating variables. Isolating variables is where you want to know what’s the power factor of this one specific intervention apart from everything else in my life. The individual effect of each of the changes you make, right? You would only do that, you would only try to isolate those variables if you were trying to learn something super specific. Like if I reduce my sugar intake by a hundred grams a day, do I get a two point reduction in my A1C number, or is it six points? And you would say, well, who cares, unless you’re really focused on that as the only thing that matters. Or if I take three squirts of hawthorn tincture three times a day, how much does that reduce my incidents of heart palpitations? That that might be interesting, but it’s not really our goal here. Our goal is to feel better. Our goal is to be more comfortable in our day, and ideally to do that pretty quickly.

Katja (00:54:47):
I mean, yeah.

Ryn (00:54:49):
So if we make multiple simultaneous changes, that’s going to be more effective. It’s going to be less precise, less isolated But you can always re-challenge some individual pieces later to sort out which ones are really most critical, or if you have some kind of doubt or whatever.

Katja (00:55:05):
Which ones are most worth putting your energy towards. But it’s so much easier to do that kind of a challenge when you feel better. So, okay. You know what? I’m going to go ahead and change 10 things, and I’m going to see how that improves my life. And then later I might say, boy, all 10 things every day takes up a lot of my time. And now that I’m feeling better, I’d honestly like to use that time for something else. So I wonder, can I get away with five things instead of 10? It’s easier to do that kind of experiment than it is to say, if I do one thing, will I feel better? You know, like feel better first, and then figure out how much can you vary from what got you there.

Ryn (00:55:47):
Yeah. That’s how we do it. It can also help if you decide to embark on a change, like make a note on that. Put big stars on it in your record that day. Like today begins the gut heal tea experiment. And be clear about what the experiment is. Like, I’m going to drink a quart of gut heal tea made with these herbs at this strength every day for this next month. And keep track about how well you stick to your goal in addition to the other things you’re putting in your daily health record.

Katja (00:56:20):
Right, because it’s really easy to say I’m going to drink a quart of gut heal tea every day, and then actually only manage to succeed once a week. And then at the end of the month, say, eh, it wasn’t really worth it. Well, you don’t really know. You only actually did it once a week. It was your plan to do it every day, but it didn’t actually happen that way. But honestly, yesterday I texted a friend and I was like, literally, the last time I texted you was one week ago today. Except it feels like it was yesterday, and I have no idea where that week went. Like that is such a common occurrence for humans. That it’s very easy to say, I’m going to do something every day. And then it turns out you actually only did it once a week. So keep your data.

Ryn (00:57:05):
Yep. Keep yourself accountable. And you can tell other people. They’ll help keep you accountable.

Katja (00:57:10):
Hopefully compassionately, but probably not.

Ryn (00:57:13):
Yeah. All right. So now we’ve done the work, right. We’ve collected some baseline data. We’ve made some changes. We’re keeping it up for awhile, and now we’re going to start making connections. So you’ve made your changes. You’ve made your sleeping space dark. You’ve gone soy-free. You walk 30 minutes a day, whatever the change was. And then you stuck with it for long enough for your body to adjust, which could be 30 days.

Katja (00:57:38):
It could be 30 months. Actually sure.

Evaluate & Adjust

Ryn (00:57:41):
Yeah. And now we’re going to evaluate for effect, right? And this is the same process as what we did when we were looking for those baseline patterns. Review the record for the whole period of the experiment. Look for those good, bad and weird spots. Keep a particular eye out for the symptoms you were hoping to see change, if there were any specific things. Note the frequency. Note the symptom scores. Look for impressions that you wrote down that day or quotes that you wrote to yourself about how you were feeling. And then assess whether they changed. Look for general trends. Are you feeling good more often than not, more often than you were when this began? Are your energy levels higher? things like that can also be helpful to keep a note on. And it’s really good, like I said, to compare your condition now after like a month of your experiment, to where you were at baseline before anything changed at all. Once you’ve seen those trends in those patterns, then usually a conclusion is fairly simple, right? If your complaints have lessened, your discomforts have lessened, if a previously deteriorating condition has stabilized or even started to turn around, that’s really good. If you’ve gotten more done, if you felt less stressed, if you’re meeting whatever your definition of health is, then your change is working. It’s pointing in the right direction. So if it is working, then stick with it. And if it’s not, then, well, you can turn your attention to other options. You could adjust it. And if you’re not sure, then you do have some choices here. Maybe you could eliminate some confounding variables. Maybe you could keep on going for another month or another period of time to see if the effects are going to emerge with a little more patience. Or just call it undecided and focus on other things that are more obviously helpful.

Katja (00:59:30):
You could also maybe change the data that you’re collecting. Maybe if you don’t see a certain outcome one way or the other, maybe there isn’t an outcome one way or another. It could be undecided. But it’s worth also looking at, well, what data am I collecting? Am I actually collecting what I need to know to be able to make that decision?

Ryn (00:59:49):
Yeah. Right. And when I record my data, am I working with my perceptive skills to make sure I’m really getting down to the root of it. I’m trying not to let it become too rote. Like, okay, I just fill in these things. I check these boxes. Now I’m done. Try to avoid that when we’re working with the record. So again, making space for this to happen is really critical. But that’s the process, right? We perceive, we reflect, we connect. We practice our skills of intuition and interoception and our mindfulness skills. And then we keep a record that accurately reflects our food, our feelings, our exercise, our experience. And then we look for those health patterns at our baseline and after making changes to see whether we’re having these effects we want. So a couple of things we just want to say about practicalities here that can make it go more smoothly. First of all, you want to keep a record, so you have to know where, right? Classically we’ve done this in small notebooks, something that you can always have with you that you can carry with you, and that it’s just easy to check in with frequently. Nowadays a lot of folks like apps for this, including us. I work with apps for this myself. But find one that suits your needs. Feel free to experiment with several variations, different ways of recording data and info and everything. And try them out until you find the one that really works for you, and really does what you need.

Katja (01:01:16):
The best method is the one that gathers the most data. So try to be really agnostic about what is best, and instead look and see, like, how do I actually successfully gather the most amount of data. Whatever that way is, that’s where I’m going with.

Ryn (01:01:34):
Yeah. And you know, with our phones, we like to avoid letting them give us notifications and things that are distractable. But we do like to have alerts or alarms. To set up some alarms on the phone that say, hey, did you write in your notebook today? Did you check in with your record, your health log?

Katja (01:01:53):
Right. I don’t want my phone to interrupt me. But I’m perfectly happy to interrupt myself later using my phone as a tool to do that.

Ryn (01:02:03):
Yeah, absolutely.

Katja (01:02:04):
Set a little alarm that goes off and says, hey, future me. Make sure you write in your thing today. Yeah.

Ryn (01:02:10):
Yeah. Track those changes. Next key point is to stick with your changes long enough to know if they’re working, unless of course you experienced some adverse effect. You started drinking cayenne tea and suddenly said I’m a little too hot. I need to readjust my formula here. All right. So, yeah. If you give up after too short a period, that’s going to give you false negatives. That’s the mistaken impression that it wasn’t working when it actually was. Your body needs time to adjust to the new normal, right? If it’s like a food allergy elimination we’re doing, we need at least a month. In a lot of contexts when we’re making food changes it’s better to give it a season, sometimes even longer. If it’s like an exercise regimen that you’ve shifted up, you’re going to feel a difference in your body after just a couple of weeks, especially if you’re tracking.

Katja (01:02:56):
I mean that’s true, but also that first month, especially if you’re a person who has had a very sedentary lifestyle, that first month or even three months might be like wooo, I am getting used to doing this. And it’s sort of like all uphill and less return. And then suddenly that balance starts to shift as your body comes into being more able to do it and sort of sloughs off the sedentarism.

Ryn (01:03:29):
I mean, that’s true when we eliminate sugar from the diet also. The first week or two is not fun. And it’s not a reliable indicator of what, when you get over the hump, you’re going to feel like. It’s very worth doing. It’s just, you’ve got to get there.

Katja (01:03:44):
Yeah. I mean, there is a withdrawal aspect.

Ryn (01:03:46):
Yeah. So if somebody did a sugar elimination and they were super strict about it, but only for four days, they would say this is a terrible idea. Let’s never do that again.

Katja (01:03:55):
Yeah. I feel awful.

Ryn (01:03:55):
Right. Right. So stick with your changes long enough to know if they’re working. And it can be good with certain interventions, like the sugar elimination, to get a sense of what that pattern normally looks like, or what that looks like for most folks. And then just be aware of that. Something we’ve always liked about the whole 30 diet program is that timeline article they have, where it says expect during these days to feel kind of like this. Expect a real rough patch around this time, then it tends to get better from there on. That’s very helpful.

Katja (01:04:25):
Yeah. Even if it happens on a slightly different schedule for you, just knowing that those types of reactions are common is very helpful.

Ryn (01:04:34):
Yeah, absolutely. And in terms of herbs, they vary pretty widely in how long it takes to work with an herb before they hit their effect. But in a lot of cases a month is solid. It’s kind of like food, you know. Especially the more food-like herbs, give them a longer time to really get in there.

Katja (01:04:52):
I mean it sort of also depends on the purpose and the goal and all that stuff. You know, if you are working with some blue vervain and motherwort in the moment of having palpitations to try to calm that down, well, you would expect to see something in that moment, to feel something in that moment. But over the course of a month of doing that work, that thing that you feel should be stronger.

Don’t Stop Recording

Ryn (01:05:18):
Yeah. Right. And then also if you are working with that herb, each time those palpitations happen, then ideally we’re also doing some other work, maybe with the same herb, maybe concurrently, to reduce the frequency that you have that experience in the first place. Okay. another key point, once you get a good result, don’t stop recording. Don’t stop believing. Don’t stop. Don’t stop recording. Don’t do it. Don’t stop recording a habit, because you’ve got to keep that going at least for another full period – like another full month, another full season, something like that – even if you don’t change anything else further. Especially in the case of herbal medicines or herbal remedies you work with. You’re going to find that the effect on your constitution is going to need a while to build up. And that an herb that right at the beginning was like super helpful and just right for you, maybe is no longer as necessary, right? So, we’re making sure we don’t overshoot the mark, and just allowing these things to unfold over a little longer period of time. And keep an eye on them, essentially. We’ve mentioned food allergy eliminations here a number of times. And that’s a place where sometimes the results feel inconclusive, where people are just not quite sure if it was worth all that effort after all. I think that keeping the record is probably the single best way to stave that off and give you something to turn to and check in to see if it’s really moving in the right way. But if you’re still not sure, then this is a good place to try a re-challenge. Especially if the doubt you’ve got is more like, just because it really tastes good, and you crave it. And because you’re surrounded by images of it all the time. So, okay, go ahead and try a re-challenge. And that means after you’ve strictly eliminated the food allergen from your diet for a full month or two months, go ahead and try eating it again in moderate quantities for a few days at a stretch. And observe your body’s reaction carefully. You may find that symptoms start to re-emerge right away, right at the first meal or during the first day. It may take a few days for that to appear and to show up. But usually this makes the picture pretty clear. When you do that re-challenge, if you have a sensitivity, it does tend to manifest pretty strongly.

Katja (01:07:39):
I also want to say that – especially if you are making changes around food, but actually this is honestly true for anything – as you are recording your data there might be a day that the experiment fails because somebody brought a pie to work, and you ate the pie. And there is a real inclination to feel shame or guilt or defeatedness around that kind of experience. But for me, I think that instead that’s data. And I think that’s very valuable right along this concept of a re-challenge. So maybe it wasn’t a planned re-challenge, but still, if you are chugging along, chugging along. I’ve been a whole week with no sugar, and then suddenly I ate a bunch of sugar. Then you’re not a bad experimenter. You didn’t fail. You aren’t a person with no discipline. But instead you have some data now that’s really valuable data, both about what happened to your body or in your body when that incident occurred, but also what it was that led to that thing happening. Like what is it that made it happen that I ate the pie that day. Another day I was able to say no to things. But how come on this day I wasn’t able to say no. And so that gives you data too. Oh, I was under slept. Oh, I was stressed out. Oh, whatever else. And so my ability to make choices based on my goals was lowered because I was stressed out or I was tired or whatever. So all the way around, you’re gathering data even if what we will call a re-challenge happened during a part of the experiment that wasn’t planned for a re-challenge. So if you keep it in that sort of a framework, then that will spare you spiraling into, Oh, I’m no good at this. Because you are good at this. Like life happens and things change. And it is really just about recording that data and making observations about it.

Ryn (01:10:04):
Yeah. I think that’s really helpful actually. All right. Oh, one other point here is if you find something that really, really works, and you’re just like, Oh, this is the best thing ever. Take a breath. Remember that your self-experimentation means that your conclusions don’t go any further than your own experiment experience. And you try not to give into the temptation to generalize. Stay open to new information, to people experiencing that same process very, very differently. If you feel solid in your own experience here – and you can, because you’ve done the work now – then you don’t need to feel challenged when somebody else reacts differently. When they say, oh, I tried that and it didn’t work for me at all. I can’t believe you’re doing it.

Katja (01:10:48):
Yeah. Well, the thing is every body is different. And you put in the time and effort to find what works for you. And it doesn’t have to work for anybody else if it’s working for you. And maybe it would work for other people, but they’re not in a place right now to try it or it isn’t available to them for whatever reason. It isn’t accessible to them for whatever reason, because of resources or because of time or energy levels or a million factors. And so the only thing that matters here is how you feel in your body, how you get through your day, and not about like, well, if Susie doesn’t also do this, then I must be wrong. You know? No, you did the work. If it’s working for you, it’s working.

Ryn (01:11:36):
So, there we are, all right? We’ve talked about self-experimentation. We broke it down a little bit. Looked at some of the key skills that we need to do this. So, this is absolutely critical to all of the work that we do, particularly Katja and I, you know. I won’t speak for all of the herbalists in the world out there. But this is really critical to the work that we do, the way that we think about herbalism and how it intersects with other healthy habits, and the way that we try to teach and offer herbalism to everybody. You’ll hear us say all the time that there’s a lot of individual variation, and that you’ve got to try it yourself. And don’t believe anything we say until you feel it in your own body. And it’s all based on the importance of these kinds of practices.

Katja (01:12:17):
Yeah. This is definitely what we teach our students and clients to do, but also like what we do in our own lives too. Well, okay, so also, I can’t believe how late I am to the party here. Because when you were talking about this being a podcast topic for this week, I was like, oh, that sounds great. Sure. And I’m only just now recognizing that like, hey look, it’s two weeks before the end of the year. It’s two weeks before everybody’s going to be starting their new year’s resolutions. Like you could get your baseline data and then presto. Like you planned that.

Ryn (01:12:52):
Start now. Get that health records set up, you know. Start collecting some data. Think about some changes. And honestly this kind of thing can make your…if you want to talk about it in the context of new year’s resolutions, I think a lot of them fail because people are like, I don’t know. Is this even worth it?

Katja (01:13:09):

Ryn (01:13:10):
This is the way we answer that question.

Katja (01:13:11):
Right. Well very clever of you to have planned this for today.

Ryn (01:13:17):
Aha! All right, folks. So that’s it for us for 2020. Thank you for listening to us this year. And we’re really just delighted to be speaking to you and to be in your ears as you’re out there harvesting herbs or wandering around digging snow or whatever it is your doing in your world.

Katja (01:13:36):
Or in your house, not doing the things that you wish you were doing. Whatever, really. It’s been a whole 2020.

Ryn (01:13:42):
Yeah. So, thanks for being with us. We’ll be back next year with some more Holistic Herbalism podcasts. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.

Katja (01:13:51):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (01:13:51):
Drink some tea. Bye.

Katja (01:13:51):
Bye bye.


Join our newsletter for more herby goodness!

Get our newsletter delivered right to your inbox. You'll be first to hear about free mini-courses, podcast episodes, and other goodies about holistic herbalism.