Get Your Body Back!!!

I always thought that personal trainers were for trophy wives. Which would not be me.

Plus, I hate gyms. I see no reason to subject myself to an environment full of clanking torture devices, fluorescent lights, TV screens, hideous music, sweaty odors and the sound of grunting. Not when the free, beautiful outdoors–for running, hiking, biking and dancing–is right there. The only reason I can think of to join a gym would be 1) unlimited pool access and 2) unlimited sauna access. No pool, no sauna, no deal.

Then my posterior tibial tendon gave out, and I was in trouble. Running was Right Out. Biking was fine, until it snowed. Even my favorite yoga classes were off limits–too much strain on the tendons.

Out of curiosity born of desperation, I tried a personal training session with Kate, of Bodywise Wellness. She has a private, quiet, stress-free training studio in the Northern Liberties, just a few blocks from Practical Bodywork.

Kate tailored a workout specifically to my concerns, my injury and my fitness level, which was fun, challenging and burned 647 calories, according to my Cardio Trainer.

The next day, I felt the kind of sore that feels AWESOME.

I started going regularly. She gave me a completely different workout every time. After three weeks, I was trotting up stairs, instead of dragging myself along by yanking on the banister. I dusted off my dance aerobic routines. I started getting more done, having more fun, and challenging my four-year-old to race me up the stairs.

After a workout with Kate, I feel that endorphin glow you get after skiing Tahoe all afternoon, minus the price of the lift ticket. That’s something I thought my ankle injury had taken away forever.

So I am sold. So sold, in fact, that I want to buy YOU a session with Kate.

Yep, you heard me right. Kate’s training is the bee’s knees, and the perfect complement to the kind of bodywork you get from me.

Because if you’re working through an injury, struggling with chronic pain, or just aching from too much stress, you come to me. You get yourself a structural myofascial package, because that’s the series that transforms your alignment, your energy level and your outlook, all at a sweet discount per session.

And from December 16 of this year through January 6 of 2014, when you buy a structural myofascial series for yourself or for someone else, I’m throwing in a gift certificate for a one-on-one session with Kate. That’s how awesome I think she is.

So if you’ve been thinking of making some personal transformations in the new year, this is the deal for you.

It’s also transferable. You can get bodywork for yourself, and give a training session as a gift, or vice versa. You can forward this article to your loved ones with the subject heading, “hint, hint.” You can give the gift of massage, and grab your training session as a reward for being so generous. You choose.

Happy holidays! Let’s thrive together!

The Problems That Can’t Be Solved

suntreewallMy brother-in-law, Leif Weaver, passed away on November 14, after an eighteen-month battle with aggressive mantle-cell lymphoma. I loved him a whole lot.

His memorial was filled with friends and family who were just as broken-hearted, many of whom had flown cross-country on a few hours’ notice to say goodbye. We spent the evening swapping hilarious Leif stories, hugging one another and openly weeping. Love was everywhere.

During the course of his illness, I and others close to him experienced a host of sympathetic, stress-induced symptoms. Back spasms, sciatic pain, the onset of MS. Medical treatment could only take us so far. The body and mind have their own methods and timeline for processing trauma, physical and emotional.

In my bodywork practice, I call myself a creative problem-solver. The truth is, a lot of problems can’t be solved. While going through Leif’s illness and passing, I’ve shared the pain of many of my clients who are dealing with similar situations. When someone you love is seriously ill, your mind has to do something with the inevitable feelings of fear and helplessness; often this manifests as intractable pain. As both patient and therapist, sometimes all I can do is acknowledge the pain, treat it with the skills at my disposal, and wait for it to pass.

It always does.

Touchy Topic Tuesday: Supermarket Horrors

Yes, there is a website called

I love to grocery shop. It’s grounding, sensual, creative and pragmatic. In a world full of anxiety, filling my cupboards with a week’s worth of healthy meals feels like putting a carabiner in the cliff face of my life.

But I’m also a professional health-news junkie. And now my local Superfresh is a minefield.

Top priority: fresh fruits and vegetables, of course. Except that I will no longer buy commercial tomatoes. Aside from the fact that they’re tasteless, odorless and have the texture of moist sand, they’re produced by slave labor under brutally toxic working conditions that lay waste to Florida’s wetlands. (This is not remotely hyperbolic. Read the book.)

I try to buy locally grown, semi-organic, in-season produce, without bankrupting myself by insisting on Organic Everything. But lurking in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I’m almost certainly buying something that was sprayed with something poisonous by a person making starvation wages, with no civil rights and no healthcare.

On to the deli. Home of nitrate- and MSG-ridden processed meats, with bread made with toxic dough conditioners. Salami made in countries where those things are banned costs twice as much, but occasionally I buy it anyway, because my family really likes it.

People ask me all the time if I’m a vegetarian. The answer is a resounding ‘no.’ Aside from the fact that cooking vegetarian/vegan is tricky and time-consuming if you do it well, new research is continually coming to light about the value of cholesterol in brain health, the role of high-carb diets in contributing to obesity and diabetes, and the difficulty of getting necessary amino acids from a vegetarian diet.

But then Andrew Sullivan posted about about the lives of factory-farmed pigs–how they spend their entire lives in cages too small to turn around in.  About the body parts that get cut off of chickens because they’re crushed into boxes too closely to avoid injuring one another, otherwise. And then there are the super-viruses which are created when we routinely pump animals full of antibiotics, and the health risks that come from eating meat and dairy full of added hormones.

So pork and bacon are off the list, unless I know the farmer who raised the pig. Instead of getting big packages of cheap chicken, I get small ones that claim to be humane and antibiotic-free. I get frozen seafood on sale, closing my eyes to the problems of overfishing, ocean pollution and the potential disease and toxicity of factory-farmed fish. Occasionally, wracked with guilt, I grab a steak, but I never buy frozen processed food-like objects made of ground-up gristle or Pink Slime, even when my daughter points them out.

For it is a fact of modern life that any package which bears an adorable cartoon character on it contains more than 50% sugar, high-fructose corn sweetener, artificial coloring, trans fats, and any number of other nutrition-free, metabolism-wrecking substances. When I say to my four-year-old, “No, we’re not getting that, honey, because it’s poisonous,” I am not joking. I read too freaking much.

I do not want to be a rigid, humorless hippie mom whose kid has never tasted candy. Neither do I want my child to grow up at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, obesity, kidney disease, autoimmune disease, and mental health issues (!). The twelfth time I have to say “No, you can’t have that, because it’s got TOO MUCH SUGAR,” I start to think that these goals are mutually incompatible.

By the time we get to the eggs (cage and cruelty-free, no antibiotics or hormones), cheese, milk and yogurt (organic? Not enough money in the bank this month–or this year, or this decade), I’m exhausted. I feel like a criminal. I want to grab the grocery conglomerates by the throat and scream, “DO YOU HAVE SOULS??? WHY, THEN, WHY????” Why is it so easy to obtain food that harms your body, other people, animals and the planet, and so difficult (and expensive!) to find food that nourishes and heals?

This, then, is why I braved the suffocating claustrophobia and militaristic organizational structure of the Park Slope Food Coop for nearly a decade. This, my friends, is why I joined the Kensington Community Food Coop when I moved to Philadelphia, and why I give a 10% discount to members.  Food is important. It’s what we’re made of. We HAVE to spend our money on it, and money is a powerful force for good or evil.

And we can’t put the supermarket Pandora back in the box alone.

P.S. KCFC is ON THE VERGE of negotiating a deal for a building. Now is the time to join, if you haven’t already!!!

How To Make Your Body Disappear

Some fun new research has discovered that turning your gym into an oversized, self-propelled boom box can boost your workout performance:

…the results showed that most of the volunteers had generated significantly greater muscular force while working at the musically equipped machines than the unmodified ones. They also had used less oxygen to generate that force and reported that their exertions had felt less strenuous. Their movements were also more smooth in general, resulting in a steadier flow of music.

Directional Flow, artwork by Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli Abstract Design
‘Directional Flow,’ Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli
Abstract Design

Earlier research has already demonstrated that music both inspires workouts and calms the nervous system, improving overall performance. Along with endorphins, it’s a natural pain reliever (as I can attest, having shredded my posterior tibial tendon by running with the assistance of Coldplay.)

But still, most of us treat things like music as incidental–nice to have, when we think about it, but not necessary or integral to our lives.

Music, however, can be a gateway to the state of consciousness known as ‘flow’; when we are so engaged in an activity that our sense of time and identity seems suspended. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes, in ‘Flow: The Secret to Happiness,’ our brains can only process about 110 bits of information per second. When our brains are immersed in a creative activity, there is not enough bandwidth left over for maintaining a sense of individual identity, and all that goes with it–hunger, fatigue, worry, and pain.

I don’t know how many of you experience this, but during my 20+ years as an artist, I routinely use music as a way to jump-start a state of flow. It’s like hopping on a train. The music seems to obviate doubt and paralysis by providing a clear pattern for moving and thinking. My brain is both attending and translating the sounds into a series of creative decisions which leave no room for extraneous sensations. It’s only when the album ends that I notice I’m hungry and have to pee.

How does this happen for you? Do you ever drop your body while you’re working? What about during a massage?

Touchy Topic Tuesday: Is Your Posture Hurting You in the Paycheck?

Interview with Sara Canuso, speaker, author, personal branding expert.

Sara is the founder of A Suitable Solution: Elevate Your Power, Influence & Income. She coaches clients on how to build their personal brand through non-verbal communication.

You have worked primarily with lawyers, helping them improve their image through non-verbal cues such as posture, body language and attire. How did this come about?

I used to be a high-end clothier; many of my clients were lawyers. When I visited their offices, I started to wonder, “Is every day casual Friday?” So many lawyers seemed unaware of how their body language, as well as their clothing, affected how they were perceived. I reached out to the Legal Intelligencer and started writing a regular column about how to project a professional image. Soon law firms started to bring me in to coach their attorneys.

What are some common body-language cues that work to our disadvantage in business relationships?

Body language is, in fact, a language. We are speaking it all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. Moreover, we are hard-wired to read body language. People formulate an opinion about you within seven seconds of meeting you. They decide how smart you are, how confident, how reliable, and whether or not they like you. That’s an awful lot to give away before you speak a word.

Your posture is the most important indicator of how you perceive yourself, and thus how you will be perceived by others. When your shoulders are back, your chin is erect, and you look people in the eye, you are perceived as powerful. When you are speaking in front of people, extend your hands with your palms toward you; this is a welcoming gesture, bringing people toward you. If your palms face outward, this repels.

Tell me about how you have helped someone transform their image.

I once worked with a lawyer who argued real estate cases in front of the zoning board. He had no public speaking skills, and the most terrible body language I’ve ever seen. He walked like he had no sense of purpose, and argued like his case was already lost.

They key to transforming how you are perceived by others is to change how you perceive yourself. Your self-perception telegraphs itself to the world through your body language. So we worked together on transforming his self-image.

I worked with him for sixth sessions; on the day of our final meeting, he was standing outside the office waiting for me, and I totally failed to recognize him. He had so increased his self-confidence that he seemed like a different person.

Is it possible to come across as TOO self-confident, bordering on cocky? What kinds of postures or behaviors tend to turn people off?

Cocky people tend to walk with a bounce in their step. (Note to self: uh-oh.) They will also not smile as much, or make a sincere effort to connect with others. If someone is cocky, it shows on their face.

Christine LaGarde, the personification of feminine authority.
Christine LaGarde, the personification of feminine authority.

What advice do you have for creative entrepreneurs who want to project a professional image while still expressing their originality?

If I’m going to hire someone for a creative job, such as web design or marketing, and they show up in a gray suit, I’m going to think they don’t know what they’re doing. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to your personal style; creative people should demonstrate their creativity by dressing with flair. At the same time, someone who is too casually dressed will not hold enough authority. That’s why I advise all professionals to wear a jacket, particularly when meeting with a prospective client for the first time. It doesn’t have to be a suit, but your arms need to be covered. Jackets project authority.

(Note to self: shopping for jackets with flair is in my near future.)

Tell me about your current programs.

Right now I’m offering a wonderful half-day VIP program which offers one-on-one coaching to hone your image, develop your personal brand and increase your income. Please contact me at, or go to my website for more information!

Touchy Topic Tuesday: A Jaundiced View

I’ve been spreading a lot of yellow around these days.

The latest Practical Bodywork space design project is a north-facing nursery, designed to evoke the Hundred Acre Wood. When mama and I sat down in the room with roughly 200 color swatches, it became clear that the background had to be ‘Peach Tickle,’ which leaped out at both of us. When held against each wall, this particular yellow seemed to create light rather than pulling it in, as all the others did.

Another recent project, Maria’s physical therapy gym, also required a lot of yellow–in an entirely different shade (Apricot Mousse). Ditto with my daughter’s bedroom (Resort Sunwash), my bodywork studio (Summer Wheat, hand-sponged), and my kitchen in Brooklyn (Butternut and Goldfish). Each of these yellows were radically different from one another when placed side-by-side, and each room has a totally different affect. But every one of the walls declared, upon first encounter, “I must be yellow.”

Which is strange, because yellow doesn’t even make my top ten favorite colors. Goethe has some choice words on the subject.

As I discovered during two decades of painting light, however, when you under-paint a canvas with a member of the yellow family, the finished painting appears to glow. And when you have a room for playing, or cooking, or working out, yellow is warm and lively without being too aggressive.

"Piano Bench," oil on wood, 1997, private collection
“Piano Bench,” oil on wood, 1997, private collection

And my therapy room?

Well, the other major factor is Compact Fluorescent Bulbs. Many of the artists in my network are hoarding incandescent bulbs, against the day when they’re no longer on the market. The technology of energy-efficient bulbs has come a long way from institutional tube lighting that flickers, badly enough to cause seizures in the susceptible and headaches in the rest of us.

But most compact fluorescents are still visually chilly. They’re much farther toward the blue end of the spectrum than incandescent bulbs. The human nervous system, when it comes home, wants to snuggle around a virtual campfire, not wander around the energetic equivalent of a convenience store or a hospital corridor. So the yellow on the walls is compensating for the blue in the fixtures.

What are your thoughts on fluorescent bulbs? Do they bother you? What do you do about it?

Touchy Topic Tuesday: How To Solve A Problem

“No problem can be solved at the same level of consciousness which created it.”–Albert Einstein

Last week we discussed the effects of scarcity on the brain’s ability to think. The more pressing and immediate our problems, the less bandwidth we have available for coping with them. This holds true for money problems, relationship problems, time problems and health problems. We get so wrapped up in a negative feedback loop that we enter a ‘stress tunnel,’ where we can only see the terror before us, and lose our capacity for long-range planning.

So, with thanks to Jeanna Gabellini, my lovely business coach, I present an all-purpose strategy for solving problems.

1. Notice that you have a problem.

The reason denial is such a common coping strategy is that it keeps things comfortably familiar. If you have no problems, there’s nothing you have to change. Moreover, if you ‘admit’ you have a problem, that’s tantamount to placing blame, which as we know is of the devil.

So if you can go so far as to say to yourself, “hmmm, there seems to be a problem here,” without attaching a value judgement to it, you have already taken a major step toward solving it.problem-solving-02

2. Study the parameters of the problem.

If you have financial problems, sit down and look at your accounts. If you are ill and/or in pain, contemplate your own mortality. If you’re on the verge of divorce, look over the brink. If you’re operating on a permanent time deficit, borrow an hour from all your pressing commitments and do nothing.

This will be scary. It will induce panic, despair, and the desire to consume copious amounts of alcohol. Stick with those feelings. Have a good long talk with them and hear what they have to say. Let them scream and cry and rage until they’re done.

Why this works: Your negative emotions are only parasitic entities when you try to sweep them under the rug. When you stop trying to evade them, they burn themselves out, reveal themselves to be illusory, or just start boring you to tears.

3. Notice what beliefs you have around this problem. 

If you are anything like me, you could write a book-length essay entitled “Why I Am So Screwed.” Boil it down to the essence. Describe, to your intellectual and emotional satisfaction, why it is impossible to solve this problem.

Why this works: Our beliefs determine our actions. Most of the time, our minds are operating under a set of assumptions which were formulated before we were seven years old. Trying to solve a problem by handing it over to a seven-year-old’s id pretty much guarantees sub-optimal results.

4. Quiet your mind.

For some people, this involves visualizations about stuffing your problems into a bloated weather balloon and watching it float away. For others, rigorous Zen meditation is the only way to go.

You might get some respite from mental chatter by going for a five-mile run, or watching George Carlin clips, or putting on the Bee Gees and imitating John Travolta until you spot the neighbors gawping and laughing their a***s off.

Do whatever works for you. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You merely aim to create a perceptible gap in your mental landscape.

Why this works: Your brain has access to amazing resources, once you clear some bandwidth.

5. Open up to a shift in perspective.

For those of you who are very smart, this will not be easy. You must consider the possibility that you–or your seven-year-old id–might be wrong. For many of us, this is scarier than Step 2.

On the other hand, there COULD be a solution to this impossible, miserable, soul-scorching problem. That would be really nice.

So just entertain the possibility.

Why this works: See the quote from Albert Einstein, above.

6. Ask your newly quiet, open mind some specific questions.

Tailor your questions in a way which allows for fabulous things to happen. For example, instead of asking “Why am I always broke?” try asking “How can we easily double our household income this year?” Or, “How can I best experience passion and romance in my life this week?”

Why this works: That clear bandwidth in your brain needs to focus itself on coming up with the most efficient solution to your problem. It can’t do this if it is grinding away upon irrelevant concerns. Therefore, ask questions that you really want to know the answers to.

7. Listen for the answer.

Your mind may present you with an image, a single sentence, or a detailed set of instructions. Write down whatever comes, without editing and without judging. If nothing comes, go about your day and check in later.

Effective solutions will not be emotionally charged. If your mind presents you with an answer that feels angry, judgmental, anxious, fearful, contemptuous, or cruel, this is your seven-year-old id talking. Pat your seven-year-old self on the head and go for another walk.

8. Act upon information received.

Lots of people skip this part, and then wonder why nothing ever changes. It’s the reason why people get addicted to psychics and Tarot cards. They’re looking for an answer that doesn’t require action on their part.

A good answer to a problem may not look like anything you recognize. It may not seem to be addressing the problem at all. It will, however, be sensible (or at least innocuous), and feel like a nice thing to do at the moment.

Why this works: Taking small, sensible actions that feel nice are the ONLY way to implement sustained changes. If a proposed action makes you feel bad, you won’t take it, at least not consistently. Thus it is not a solution to your problem, no matter how rational it appears.

9. Rinse and repeat.

If you get in the habit of using this process, you will not only get better at clearing your bandwidth, you’ll be able to continually tweak your actions according to your situation. You’ll discover new opportunities because your mind will be clear enough to notice and act upon them.

What kinds of mind-clearing and problem-solving techniques work for you? Please leave your insights in the comments!


Touchy Topic Tuesday: Blame Is Of The Devil

Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm but the harm does not interest them. -T.S. Eliot, poet (1888-1965)

A new book, ‘Scarcity,’ details groundbreaking research on what poverty does to the mind:

Worrying about money when it is tight captures our brains. It reduces our cognitive capacity — especially our abstract intelligence, which we use for problem-solving. It also reduces our executive control, which governs planning, impulses and willpower. The bad decisions of the poor, say the authors, are not a product of bad character or low native intelligence. They are a product of poverty itself. Your natural capability doesn’t decrease when you experience scarcity. But less of that capacity is available for use. If you put a middle-class person into a situation of scarcity, she will behave like a poor person.

The vampiric effects of scarcity extend to both time and money; people who are chronically short of time tend to spend it putting out one fire after another, rather than following a long-range plan; people who are dieting spend an inordinate amount of mental energy thinking about food. Chronic pain can have a similar effect, creating a scarcity of energy and mental attention which impoverishes your world.

But that would be the predictable thing to discuss. What I really want to talk about are the corrosive effects of blame.

Assuming that the poor make bad decisions because they’re lazy or stupid makes us feel comfortably superior; it reinforces our ‘just-world’ viewpoint, a bias in thinking and perception that assumes the world is just, and that bad things don’t happen to good people. It creates a distance between ourselves and the things we fear, and gives us the illusion of control over our circumstances.

It’s also incredibly cruel.

No malice; merely  ignorant contempt.
No malice; merely ignorant contempt.

This habit of blame often shows itself in how we treat cancer patients, the obese, the mentally ill and people with HIV. In addition to dealing with the disease itself, patients are saddled with the burden of answering judgmental questions like, “Did you smoke? What are your eating habits?”

Not surprisingly, these sorts of lines of questioning can exacerbate the emotional roller coaster of cancer treatment. A recent study found that at least one-third of men with colon cancer experienced some degree of stigma or self-blame related to their malignancy. That group appeared to be more vulnerable to depression as well, the researchers found.

Even if we’re not going around blaming other people for their problems, we often do it to ourselves. Self-blame and self-punishment can be used as a kind of talisman against abuse from others, as well as an attempt to motivate change: “see, look here, I’m beating myself up so that you don’t have to.”

But self-abuse alienates us from ourselves and from others, just when we need kindness and support. It can even give instructions to the subconscious mind which are diametrically opposed to what we want and need. “I’m a lazy, worthless, greedy slob. Might as well die now.”

I’m not even going to ask if you’ve done this, because you’re human. I will ask you to consider, however, that there is a vast difference between blame and responsibility. Blame is of the devil. Responsibility is the opposite.

(This last link will take you to Pretty Lady’s radical ranting upon the subject. Click at your own risk.)


Touchy Topic Tuesday: I Am Embarrassed To Tell You This, But…

…I’m wearing an ankle brace.

My new style.
My new style.

Turns out my crippled ankle wasn’t psychosomatic after all. According to my fabulous new podiatrist, I have posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, caused by the extra bone in my flat, flat foot torquing my gait and stretching the tendon until it is practically shredded. He says if I don’t wear this brace, I’m a candidate for surgical reconstruction of my entire ankle joint when the tendon gives way completely.

It took me awhile to assimilate this information.

Because it’s a lot easier to be the big, strong person who helps OTHER people with their frustrating pain and mobility problems. It is terrifying to admit that I don’t have all the answers, that I can’t fix everything, that most mornings I have a hard time negotiating my way downstairs, because my ankle won’t flex properly. It is hard to ask for help.

On the other hand, it’s great to be running up and down stairs again. A little support in the right place makes all the difference.

And knowing what I know about alignment, I am kicking myself for not recognizing the obvious. I was so focused on how the rest of my body was affecting my ankle, I failed to consider the possibility that the ankle was, in fact, the source of the problem. It’s a wonder my knee and hip and back aren’t completely wrecked; for this, I have yoga and foam rolling to thank.

The moment that mortified me the most was when my podiatrist said EXACTLY THE SAME THING to me that I say to my own clients.  “You need to take care of this now, so you’ll be massaging people for longer.” Ouch. I can spend my life telling people that self-care is not a luxury, but am I walking my talk?

It seems to me that the people who give the most to others are often the least willing to give to themselves. Are you one of them? Think about how many people are depending on you, at your job, in your family, in your relationships. If something happened to you–like, say, you stopped being able to climb stairs, or walk more than 30 feet, or started getting regular migraines, or collapsed under intolerable strain–how would this affect them? How does it affect them when you’re exhausted, anxious and in pain? Are you more likely to become impatient, angry or detached?

And if a child of yours were forced to endure the same level of pain, stress and fatigue you put yourself through on a daily basis, would this be okay with you?

Well, then.

Touchy Topic Tuesday: How To Avoid Being Swallowed

It’s impossible to overstate how big an effect your environment has on your nervous system.

Living in urban environments, it’s easy to forget that human beings evolved, literally, in natureOur nervous systems are attuned to cues that have been in place for millions of years–when to wake up (light gets blue), when to go to sleep (light gets rosy and orangey and fades away), when to run like hell (rustle in the bushes), when to grab your spear and jab it in all directions as frantically as you can, because you are actually being swallowed (light gets very red and black indeed.)

Then, a few hundred thousand years later, inhabitants of the inner city so far forget their roots as to paint their windowless bedrooms like this:

Actual interior of Williamsburg hipster bedroom.

and think that somehow they can avoid the repercussions. (Which, in my observation, usually range from nasty divorces, to arrests for assault and battery, to psychiatric hospitalization.)

This is one of the many reasons that we at Practical Bodywork take our wall colors so very, very seriously.

Our domestic partners may get annoyed with us. “Don’t paint the kitchen, we’ll just have to re-paint it when we move out, like, five years from now.” “We don’t have to hang that rug on the wall before the party, it’s no big deal.” “It’s just a rental, why are you bothering?”

These people may believe that their sense of well-being, productivity and ability to sleep at night does not hinge upon the color of their bedrooms, but these people may be wrong. Most of our nervous system responses are hard-wired and beyond our conscious control. And doing battle with stress-inducing ambient cues, day in and day out, has devastating consequences.

So, forthwith, we provide a primer on How To Choose Your Room Colors.

Step 1: Ask yourself how you want to feel in a particular room.

Nobody ever says to themselves, “I want to feel angry, nervous and depressed when I go into my kitchen.” Instead, their kitchen designer, who always orders take-out, says, “Kitchens should be elegant, timeless, and cave-like. Because our ancestors cooked in caves.”

A very elegant dungeon.
A very elegant dungeon.

This is the kind of kitchen that induces you to stick a Stouffer’s in the microwave and scarf it with a chaser of bourbon, because what’s the use?

Your kitchen, ideally, should inspire you to make fabulously creative, scrumptiously healthy meals for the crowd of awesome people who wandered over with a bottle or three of good wine, because it’s just so much fun to hang out there.

Come on over! We have everything!
Come on over! We have everything!

But in order to figure out what colors will provide that specific company-and-wine-attracting vibe, you must perform:

Step 2: Honestly analyze the quality of your natural light.

The biggest mistake I see enthusiastic room-painters making, in the upper Northern Hemisphere, is going into denial about how much light they have access to, or thinking that they can fake it.

Let me explain. The closer a person lives to the Equator, the drier the climate, and the higher the altitude, the jollier the colors they can get away with. This is why Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are painted the way they are.


Bright, strong, clear light, coupled with high ceilings, can carry a palette straight out of Romper Room. Nothing ever clashes in direct sunlight. The louder the better. There are walls in Mexico that you can practically see with your eyes closed, so saturated, enveloping and pervasive is the color. It’s not tacky or horrendous in the least.

But when you try to convert your low-ceilinged, north-facing, ground-floor apartment into your own little Buddhist temple, north of the Tropic of Capricorn, nightmares ensue.

Please, kill me now.
Please, kill me now.

General rule of thumb: the higher the ceiling and the larger the windows, the more you can use saturated colors. The lower the ceilings and the foggier your light, the more you have to dust it down.

That doesn’t mean you can’t go bright; it means you must go oblique. You use colors with earthier hues. Dusty rose instead of cotton-candy pink; butternut yellow instead of sunflower. You can get away with almost anything, as long as you mix a good dollop of some phlegmatic neutral into your glowing paint bucket.

I guarantee that every one of these colors contains a splash of ochre, umber or black.
I guarantee that every one of these colors contains a splash of ochre, umber or black.

Step 3. Don’t try to brighten up a dim room by painting it white, or beige, or pastel.

This is one of the most counter-intuitive principles in space design: white is not bright unless there is a ton of natural light to reflect off it. If you paint your basement apartment pure white in order to stave off a cave-like ambiance, adding a lot of excellent halogen lighting to ensure you don’t get S.A.D., you will merely create the effect of a refrigerated subterranean laboratory. Instead, pick warm, luminous colors in mid-range tones.

Step 4: Don’t be afraid to go personal and eclectic.

Matchy-matchy is tacky-tacky. Show me a room full of furniture that was all purchased at the same time (most likely from the same suburban shopping mall), and I will show you a room without a soul. A soulful room is curated, rather than designed. Before you go running out to buy a lot of stuff, take a good look at the stuff you already own. Do you like it? If not, get rid of it. If so, pick out the stuff you like best–like an Oriental rug, an antique table or a tiled mirror–and choose colors that show it off. Pick one of the tones in your rug and paint the wall with it; match the curtains to one of your tiles. Play around with visual jazz.

And if you have no idea what to do next, drop us a line and we will give you a free consultation!