Britt Reuter, MS: Hi to everyone who’s joining us. This is another Conversations with Women in Wellness where I get to introduce all of you to a female professional with a heart to serve others and talk a little bit about what it is that they do, who they support, and what resources they may have available for you to explore. I’m Britt Reuter and I’m a Functional Medicine Nutritionist, serving women experiencing gut issues, hormone imbalances, and autoimmunity. I run an online virtual clinic from my home in the Boston area. If you want to learn more about me and what it is that I do, you can visit my website www.brittreuter.com or find me on Facebook or Instagram @nutritionbritt.
My guest today is Katie Mack. Katie is a personal trainer located in New York City with a degree in kinesiology from University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is passionate about mind-body medicine, especially when it comes to exploring the connection between past trauma and current health status. Katie does more than help clients with strength training, she helps clients learn nervous system regulation techniques and tools that they can use during emotionally or physically challenging situations.
I’m really looking forward to this conversation, so without further ado welcome Katie!
Katie Mack: Hi, Britt! Thank you so much for having me.
Britt Reuter, MS: Yeah, I’m so excited for this. And I think that people are going to get a lot out of this conversation. So, let’s go ahead and jump in. I know I just gave you a little bit of an intro and I shared a little bit about what it is that you do, but could you expand on that and just help the gals that are listening to this conversation understand what it is that you do and how you do it?
What it is that you do and how you do it?
Katie Mack: Yes, so I consider myself a trauma informed personal trainer and to me that means that I’m just aware of how a traumatic experience or experiences could affect somebody’s body. One traumatic experience could be a car accident, it could be a surgery. And I mean, a car accident could impact you in certain places and that might have an ongoing issue with a bone and muscle, some type of movement pattern. Same with a surgery. Another type of traumatic experience might be one that would happen through childhood, it could be emotional. Because of how we see emotions come up in our body, like, right now I’m a little anxious so that means that I’m feeling maybe a little jittery in my body or I feel a little sensation in my chest or my throat. A feeling or an emotion is not just a thought. It’s a physical feeling. When somebody has things that come up, because it’s just not affected with the brain, it’s affected on your body we can use the body to help regulate ourselves and calm down.
What I do is I use strength training, stability work, mobility work, breath work, some yoga, and then some nervous system tools I’ll talk about later that help ground you make you feel more stable, help you feel more secure, maybe help instill feelings of joy or happiness in your body. Those are all really important to help us feel more resilient.
Britt Reuter, MS: So, we might experience trauma in more of the mental/emotional sphere. There are those physical manifestations and you’re going from mind/emotion to body, and then in your work, you’re going from body back up into mind/emotion?
Katie Mack: Yeah, so we’re trying to affect the body so that we can affect the emotions.
Britt Reuter, MS: Got it.
Katie Mack: So, talk therapy might not always be a great venue for somebody. It is a great venue, but not for everybody. Depending on where you are in your process of recovery, if you’re in trauma healing, it might not be great for you to talk about a certain experience or you might not even be able to tap into the memory of the experience. It’s just manifesting in your body in some way and you have no idea why this is happening. Talk therapy is typically referred to as top-down work. What I’m talking about is more bottom-up work.
Britt Reuter, MS: Yeah, that’s so interesting. I could see how that would really help people experience breakthroughs who maybe feel talk therapy hasn’t quite got them to where they want to be in healing from those past traumas.
Katie Mack: Yes. And even putting somebody or telling somebody to do a power pose – I don’t know if you’ve heard of that – it’s supposed to increase your testosterone, your cortisol. Just being here for three minutes, research says it will make you feel better and feel more powerful.
Britt Reuter, MS: Wow. We don’t really think about those things, like how we carry our body and how we use our body impacting our hormones and our mental outlook. That sounds such fascinating work that you do.
Katie Mack: Yeah, it’s so fun.
Britt Reuter, MS: I can tell that you’re really lit up about it, really excited about it!
I know that you talk a lot about the mind-body connection in the work that you do. Can you just explain a little bit more about that cross-talk between the mind and body and maybe share a few examples of how you see that manifest in your work? What is it that some clients that you work with might be struggling with?
What is it that some clients that you work with might be struggling with?
Katie Mack: So, the mind-body connection. I’m really glad is getting more attention lately, because there’s a lot of mysterious conditions that are coming up: autoimmune conditions that you talk about that people don’t know the cause of, fibromyalgia, no one knows the cause of that. From my understanding, and I know when your nutrition work you’ve mentioned the vagus nerve before. The vagus nerve has influence on the digestive system. The vagus nerve also has an influence on the social engagement system, or it is part of the social engagement system. So, when that’s not properly working, we might go into a state of collapse depending on the trauma or however we experience life and learn how to deal with life then we’ll go down a certain path that feels safest to us, even though it might not be the best for us. Being able to work with the vagus nerve will help overall health. Also, there’s a lot of research on psychoneuroimmunology which talks about the effect of the mind on health and immunity, and how emotions really affect your immune system in your nervous system and how that will eventually manifest into some physical symptoms, physical conditions. Also, there is a sector of mind-body medicine, it’s called sensory motor psychotherapy and they talk a lot about how certain movement patterns and certain postures become ingrained in us as we’re growing up and how we stop ourselves from doing certain movement patterns. Maybe when we when we’re a baby and we go to reach for somebody we might not get what we want, so we stop reaching for things. Then over time we just lose that pattern in reaching for somebody and going through that movement pattern, reaching for anything (like, asking for help) might play out in our life, because we couldn’t get that when you were younger. That was never developed in us.
Britt Reuter, MS: It can even be things that are before conscious memory where we might not even be able to trace it back to a specific event. It’s just a learned pattern.
Katie Mack: Yes, a learned pattern. Especially like attachment disorders or attachment issues that come up over time and we see them in relationships, or maybe in how we even deal with money, how we deal with our health, how we deal with our work. That can usually be the result of how we were treated as a baby and we might not have gotten what we needed as a baby so that will just play out in our attachment. Typically, how I see (because I work in New York City and a lot of people are very stressed out very frantic very type A want to be perfectionist all the time) I see a lot of that and a lot of this. I love those people because they’re so driven and motivated, but they have sleep problems. Sometimes they have adrenal fatigue, they have fibromyalgia, they have all different things. Overweight because maybe they’re using food as a clutch, for fun, for love, for things that they’re not getting in their life. I see it in all different ways, but I really liked helping these people feel strong and grounded because that will manifest them being more calm and getting better sleep and them eating better. Just because they’re more settled. Also giving them tools that they can use when they’re alone, that they are with somebody else that will help calm them down and maybe help them sleep too. Or just help them with some type of emotion.
Britt Reuter, MS: That’s so interesting. From my perspective in Functional Medicine Nutrition I’ll see people who are say struggling with some digestive issues, or maybe even autoimmunity, and we trace it back to digestive issues where it’s like, “Oh, that’s interesting. You have autoimmune thyroid, and you also have some sub-optimal digestion and when you eat foods, you’re experiencing heartburn.” So then, we might evaluate their digestion and see that they have low stomach acid. I remember in school doing case studies and they would kind of lay out a client. The correct answer would be, “Oh, you need to add a digestive enzyme supplement that’s how you help this person. That’s the root cause of their autoimmune condition is that they have low stomach acid.” I would typically get some strange feedback from professors because I’d go way deeper than that. If that’s the answer I was like, “Why is their stomach acid low? Did they experience trauma? Do they have poor vagal tone now?” Because that is the root cause!
Katie Mack: Right and if that’s not being addressed then who knows how else that’s going to show up later.
Britt Reuter, MS: Yeah exactly. We know from observing the Western Medicine model that’s so obsessed with symptoms, and silencing and suppressing those symptoms that’s not how you achieve true health. That true health can’t really be found in pill bottle – and that doesn’t mean just prescription bottle. That’s also a supplement bottle. You’re just masking the issues.
Katie Mack: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, supplement bottle, lifestyle bottle…
Britt Reuter, MS: Haha, yeah. It’s so nice to learn about resources like you when you’re really in a position like where I’ve been, and maybe where a lot of people that are listening to this conversation are. Where it’s like, “I don’t want to just feel better, I actually want to be better. I want to heal completely.” It’s so important, from my perspective, to find people like you that are like, “Hey, let’s go deeper. Maybe there’s something hidden that needs to be probed.
Katie Mack: Right? Absolutely. I mean, I’m not a psychiatrist. I love being able to help somebody with this discovery process and just feeling better. Seeing how they deal with emotions differently over time, because they do feel better in their body.
Britt Reuter, MS: Maybe it’s one of those things where you have to approach it from multiple different angles. Where you’re one of many people that women can partner with in order to overcome some of the stuff that they’ve been through. Maybe they need the Functional Medicine Nutritionist and the talk therapy, and work with you.
I know that we’ve talked just a little bit about this already in this conversation, but can you share your perspective on what trauma can look like? And I’m wondering if you’ve ever worked with clients who have felt that they couldn’t really use the label of trauma because what happened to them didn’t match what they thought trauma was?
Can you share your perspective on what trauma can look like?
Katie Mack: Yeah, no so I’ve heard that. I personally haven’t got that because it’s just the last two or three years when I’ve started to get into this yet it medicine trauma approach. I don’t get anybody coming to me necessarily with those saying they haven’t had trauma. But now that I have sort of some 3, 5, 7-year relationships with some clients, I know their life no one’s ever said trauma, but I’ve heard this like, “I don’t feel that was a bad experience. To somebody else this wouldn’t be a big deal.” But trauma can look like anything to anyone. If something happened to you when you were seven, it might not be that big of a deal if it happened to you when you’re 27. It really matters where you were in your life, what type of resources you had at the time. Maybe it was too overwhelming and too big for you to deal with at the time. Usually then your body considers it traumatic, your brain considers a traumatic. From what I study, I know that it can play out in your behavior, it can play out with how you deal with money, how you deal with relationships, how you deal with work. It could be GI distress, it could be autoimmune conditions, asthma, chronic pain, cardiovascular diseases, adrenal fatigue, eating disorders, exercise addiction, and anxiety, depression, and the list goes on and on and on.
Britt Reuter, MS: Yeah. Wow. So, it’s really unlimited. It could just it could show up in any way and everyone’s unique. Don’t look around and say like, “Well, they’ve got a trauma. I don’t have trauma.” Because maybe trauma just looks differently on you.
Katie Mack: Yes, totally. Everyone is different. That’s what say like, even from a nutrition standpoint, you have to be different. Everybody gets a different diet, not everybody can follow the same diet for their goals. Not to say that all those things I mentioned were necessarily caused by a trauma, but you can trace them back to some nervous system dysregulation happening. It also might have something to do with how you view yourself and your self-worth, your self-acceptance, your self-image, and how that plays out in your behavior.
When you don’t have that core musculature activated, you maybe feel vulnerable, you don’t feel as powerful as strong or stable or secure. Doing any core work is really great for people.
Britt Reuter, MS: I’m curious, this has been some of my experience. Experiencing something that I’m thinking could be traumatic. Then maybe I’ll take it back to my family, maybe back to my parents or my siblings and say, “Do you guys remember this? Like, that was really terrible, right?”, and them saying, “Oh, you’re blowing it way out of proportion, it wasn’t that big of a deal.” Do you find that? Do you or some of your colleagues in your field to hear that a lot where people are maybe talked out of their emotions, or maybe it gets downplayed a bit by the people that’s around them? Where it kind of makes them question their experience?
Katie Mack: Yeah, totally! But to me I always wonder is it really that they feel what you’re saying was too much for you and not too much for them? Or, did they just not even want to deal with it? They don’t talk about it.
Britt Reuter, MS: Yeah, that’s pretty deep. That’s their trauma.
Katie Mack: Exactly! Because I’m used to people dissociating and pretending everything’s okay. When really like, “No, we should probably talk about this. But you don’t want to talk about this, so I guess I’ve got to go talk about it with somebody else.”
Britt Reuter, MS: Right. Maybe you need to do a family package. Bring everybody in. Haha!
Katie Mack: Maybe not at the same time depending on the dynamic.
Britt Reuter, MS: Like get a talking stick. “Okay mom, here you go.”
Katie Mack: Yeah or like, “You do squats, you do ball slams. Get all your anger out. You do yoga.
Britt Reuter, MS: One of the primary things that you help clients with is learning nervous system or self-regulation techniques. Can you give us an idea of what some of these techniques might look in practice?
Can you give us an idea of what self-regulation techniques might look in practice?
Katie Mack: Yeah, so I like said earlier, a lot of them are just being able to feel resources of stability, strength, security, groundedness, peace, joy. A lot of these I’ve learned over time from my strength training and just been able to make sense of how they can make sense with helping somebody feel those ways. Also, from my teacher Jane Clapp in Toronto. She’s a trauma informed strength coach. Her Instagram is great. Her information is great, I’ve learned so much from her. Some of the things I like to use in the gym specifically would be just focusing on feeling. It’s easy to just blow through an exercise and squat up and down for how long I don’t know. However, 10 reps or 30.
Britt Reuter, MS: What? Squats aren’t easy! I don’t know what you’re talking about. Haha!
Katie Mack: No, right! You can blow through an exercise and get your heart rate up but you don’t necessarily feel your muscles. People don’t want to feel their feelings. People don’t want to feel certain muscles because it is uncomfortable. It sucks. Getting somebody to feel certain places when they’re not used to it, even though it’s uncomfortable at the time, I see it transfer to some slowing down after. You actually cannot walk as fast because you’re tired, right? Your muscles are fatigued. So that calms you down, both physically and mentally. I know it personally and I see it with my people and they tell me the same thing. Core strength. So, doing any core work can be really powerful because your core protects your spine. When you don’t have that core musculature activated, you maybe feel vulnerable, you don’t feel as powerful as strong or stable or secure. Doing any core work is really great for people.
In terms of grounding is that anxiety is the opposite of grounded. You can play with that in all different ways. One way I would do it is to get somebody’s hands on the ground or against a wall and just have them feel a ground. Whether that be the ground, or a wall, or even themselves, you can make a ground with yourself like in stands. Feeling your feet and how the ground supports you. A lot of times just using certain language can help people. So just saying like, “What about you lay on this floor and put your feet up on the bench and just feel the support of the floor, feel the support of the bench, holding your legs up”, sometimes that can help people just feel supported and feel better and calm. You can also ground through your pelvis. I shouldn’t talk about this because I’m not a yogi. Sometimes you can just while you’re sitting, you can feel your pelvis grounding you down in the chair or on the floor wherever you are. So those are different ways. Foam rolling. Finding foam rolling that feels good. Rolling out your feet feels really good. I think maybe rolling out your chest, rolling out your back, whatever feels good to you is regulating and being able to really take the good feelings in. Jumping and shaking, just jumping on a trampoline. Shaking your leg really fast. Anything that can help if you’re in a heightened state. That will help bring you down a little bit. Balance work is great. For grounding also I’m actually using one right now – a weighted blanket? Weight is just supposed to make you feel grounded. The way I’d use it in the gym would be we have sandbags, we have sand bells. I mean, I don’t think having a dumbbell or a kettleball on somebody but whatever. If you can use it on your belly, typically usually your belly or your chest that those things feel good. Or your lips.
Breathing can be really regulating for people. But I know that it’s not regulating for people because it’s too much for some people. They don’t want to lay down, they’re already too worked up that they can’t even think about doing that. So I know who I can usually work with breathing on and who I can’t work with breathing on. Because some people it might make them feel more anxious, or triggering almost. Especially when somebody’s diaphragm is really locked up and they’re not used to breathing properly. Or the rib cage feels really tight because they’re not used to breathing 3D, fully expanding. That can be really hard for somebody and triggering because then they don’t feel they’re getting air. Then you’re just instilling stress from that.
Putting somebody’s legs up a wall is great, because that can help lower your blood pressure. And again, using the support of the wall, using the support of the ground can help ground you. Even giving yourself a hug! Your brain doesn’t really know that’s not somebody, hugging yourself. A pat on the back. That’s really great.
Something else I like is since we always have our phones, you can either write it down in your phone or you can make it a photo album, a gratitude journal, or a happiness/gratitude photo album. Because I think when we get down and we get angry or whatever, it’s easy to just sit with those emotions. But if you have something that’s with you all the time, your phone, you can just go on your phone and look at your happy photo album and be like, “Oh, I had so much fun at that birthday party. I miss that friend.” Just trying to bring up good feelings in your body.
I know who I can usually work with breathing on and who I can’t work with breathing on. Because some people it might make them feel more anxious, or triggering almost.
Britt Reuter, MS: Yeah. Oh, so it’s almost like the work that you’re doing from the outside maybe it would look like someone’s just doing an exercise. Like, “Oh, they’re just doing a lunge.” Really a lot of the work that you’re doing is internal and how you’re positioning yourself mentally, increasing awareness strategically, maybe doing the lunge and thinking about how solid you are and grounded you are and really feeling all of the muscles in your feet, and your calves, and all the way up. So, it’s not necessarily that the movement is unique from the outside looking in. It’s more of your internal experience of those movements.
Katie Mack: Yes, totally. Yeah, that’s it.
Britt Reuter, MS: And it’s nice to work with someone like you because maybe someone would have just dove right into breathing techniques, “I’m going to go to yoga and do some deep breathing”, and then felt even more anxious, even less safe, less grounded. And then gotten confused or discouraged and were like, “This is not for me.”. But, maybe it was just something that they weren’t prepared for and maybe that’s something that you could help them with.
Katie Mack: Right. And that’s the other thing is sometimes a diet isn’t for everybody, sometimes strength training isn’t for everybody. It’s not that fun or doesn’t do anything, doesn’t feel great to them. So, you really have to explore and play and see what it is that you like, maybe go do Zumba class go do gymnastics, go do rock climbing. Anything that you have fun with or that you feel brings you emotions that bring you power, and joy, and freedom.
Britt Reuter, MS: Do you think that resistance around doing some of those activities could be kind of a gateway to deeper self-awareness? Like, if you felt that you were not enjoying deep breathing techniques, or not enjoying strength training, could that potentially be an indication that that there is some hidden trauma there that people would want to work through?
Katie Mack: That’s a good point too, because that makes me think of a lot of things that I don’t or like, have come across that I don’t like because at certain times in my life, I don’t think I really yoga until I found a teacher that I really liked. Or I remember when I was at the trauma conference in Boston last year, we did this big group exercise where everybody was walking around and we were talking like babies. We were babbling to each other. I hated it. The woman working the seminar she was like, “If you don’t like that, the technique, then it probably just means that you have something to look at about not being able to communicate the way you want to communicate. Or, maybe feel you look funny so that’s why you feel that way. So, I think, yeah, that’s a great point. I think that certain things that you might see as like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that, or I don’t like that.”, or “That looks stupid” it might just mean something more. It really might mean you just don’t like it. But it might also mean that there’s something inside of you holding you back that maybe you’re just insecure about, “I’m not going to be able to do that. So, I’m not going to do that.” But maybe it will make you feel good if you go in and actually try it and you can accomplish it.
Britt Reuter, MS: Yeah, maybe just having that curiosity there where you’re like, “Oh, that’s interesting that I’m having these emotions come up.” Like, “I wonder what that means? Is it just an activity that doesn’t resonates with me or is it triggering something?” That would be so interesting, because I know that I’ve never thought of myself as a very athletic person. And I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I know that that’s been a barrier for me to do things, like go to the gym, because I’m like, “Well, I’m not going to be perfect, then I’m not going to go.” Ans then, “I’m not the kind of person that works out.” By kind of leaning into that I had a lot of emotions come up, and it’s been a good learning process, like self-exploration. But it would have been much better if I had partnered with someone you that could has more experience with this. At first it just seems so simplistic where you’re just like, “I just don’t working out.” But, maybe it’s something more.
Katie Mack: Exactly. Or it might be something that you’d be working with somebody in the gym and then you’d learn. I know some emotions come up for me when I’m working out and I mean, I’m fine with working out wherever you know, but emotions come up for me and I’m just like very curious, like, “Why do I think that way? This feels really hard right now, and I feel I can’t do it, and I feel I want to cry because I can’t do it.” To me that’s just an indication of something bigger. Like, I have some problem with feeling I can’t do something. That I get overwhelmed or something that.
Britt Reuter, MS: Yeah, it’s kind of goes back to what we talked about at the beginning of the conversation, that cross-talk, where it’s like, it’s never just a mental thing or an emotional thing or just a physical thing. We’re just one being and there’s a lot of cross-bleed between those different buckets that we like to think of them as. We’re just one person, holistically connected. So, maybe it’s like you’re saying. Something physical going on, that’s tying back to something mental, or something mental that’s going on tying back to something physical.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is just waking up to how their past trauma may be influencing their life today?
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is just waking up to how their past trauma may be influencing their life today?
Katie Mack: Yeah, that’s a good one. So, actually my teacher puts it best, she’s mentioned this before. My teacher Jane talks about like, imagine that you’re a statue and that you are trying to break out from that hard mold. And you’re really rigid. And just breaking off little pieces at a time. And not thinking that you have to do everything at once and crack yourself to be able to move freely all at once but be able to just maybe move a finger. It’s going to be little baby steps towards recovery. It’s also like peeling an onion, there are multiple layers. When you unpeel one layer, there’s going to be more underneath that. There probably will be more underneath that. Going forward there’s going to be even more and more and more. You really just have to be patient and compassionate with yourself, which is probably the hardest thing. I keep seeing more and more people talking about self-compassion. It’s easy to be compassionate with other people, at least for me, it’s hard to be compassionate with yourself.
Also, being able to find resources and support that will help you, a community. I know a lot of people have had their crap on CrossFit for a long time. But that’s one way that you can find a community. Maybe go to a yoga class that as a community, maybe find some type of book, book club, I don’t know any type of club where you have unity. That’s going to be really good for you and your nervous system. And again, finding what feels good in your body and playing. There’s going to be plenty of times that we feel like crap. But the more that you can actually let the feelings of good sink in when they happen and actually absorbing them and being able to tell yourself like, “Oh, I have the capacity to feel good. I deserve to feel good.”, I think it’s really important.
You really just have to be patient and compassionate with yourself, which is probably the hardest thing.
Britt Reuter, MS: In fact, you’re creating a new pathway.
Katie Mack: Yeah, that’s the science of neuroplasticity. Rewiring yourself.
Britt Reuter, MS: It’s so cool to think about that we have the capacity to do that. Because I think from someone who’s been through trauma, it feels like things happen to you. That you are product of your circumstances and your history. I think it’s really empowering to acknowledge the bad things that may have happened, but to not stay in that place of victimhood. Where it’s like, “Hey, I can feel empowered to create these new neural pathways, to create new behavior that’s going to serve me.”
Katie Mack: Yes. I actually heard a friend say this earlier: Learn to ride the waves of life. But, if you think about it, you can’t go and control the water. You just learn how to ride. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you react to them.
Britt Reuter, MS: Yeah. And it’s kind of cool too because I can picture a surfer being really strong and having good grounding and excellent balance, core is engaged and all those things that we talked about. So, it’s like, it’s full circle!
Katie Mack: Oh, totally! I did surfing one time in Australia and I my core was so sore the next day. I couldn’t I couldn’t even handle it. Surfing was so hard.
Britt Reuter, MS: You’re so grounded it hurt. Haha!
Katie Mack: Yeah! Life is hard. Surfing’s hard and life is hard. You gotta like, learn how to ride with it.
Britt Reuter, MS: I love it. I love it. So, tell anyone who’s watching this where they can learn more about what it is that you do, maybe explore working with you, or connect with you on social media.
Where can people learn more about you or stay connected?
Katie Mack: Yes. I just use Instagram mostly. So, that would be Katie Mack Fitness. My website is www.katiemackfitness.com
Britt Reuter, MS: Great. Well, that’s so easy. This has just been so much fun for me! I really enjoy nerding out on this stuff with you and I get so much out of our conversations. I know everyone that’s listening to this is going to want to connect with you and going to want to learn more about the work that it is that you do. I just really appreciate you taking the time today, Katie.
Katie Mack: Thank you for having me.