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Interview: Dr. Christina Helou
Episode 1311th January 2024 • PowerPivot • Leela Sinha
00:00:00 01:07:39

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"I coach folks on tapping into wonder and play so that they can experience more pleasure and joy in their lives, in alignment with who they are authentically and unapologetically. And knowing who you are, unapologetically, translates into improvements in your more meaningful relationships and how you run your business."

cw: this episode of PowerPivot contains some discussion of sexual abuse.

Meet Dr. Christina Helou (they/them), pleasure and play expert, private coach, thought leader, speaker and doctor of physical therapy. Join Leela and Dr. Christina as they discuss pleasure and joy; finding one's own power; pelvic exams and body sovereignty; why FOSTA/SESTA is terrible and harmful; false scarcity; and the serious importance of fun.

Connect with Dr. Christina at:

https://www.christinahelou.com/

Transcript and show notes:

https://dev.intensivesinstitute.com/episode/interview-dr-christina-helou


Recorded 30 June, 2023.

Transcripts

Leela Sinha 0:01

Hi everyone, and welcome to Power Pivot.

This is one of our special bonus episodes where we get to get somebody else on the show. And so it's gonna be a little longer, it's going to be a little more in depth and it's going to be at least as much fun as listening to me talk for 20 minutes. Our guest today is Cristina Helou PT, DPT, CFMT, CSC, CSE pronouns they/them, who is a pleasure and play expert, private coach, thought leader, speaker and doctor of physical therapy. Dr. Christina is an exceptional coach, thought leader and curator of life changing coaching experience, experience retreats to help you tap into your most authentic, optimal pleasure and play-filled life and expand your joy in both your meaningful relationships and professional work. Welcome, Christina, thank you so much for joining us.

Christina Helou 0:55

Thank you so much for having me on. What a wonderful intro. I really appreciate it. You have such a soothing voice, Leela.

Leela Sinha 1:02

Thank you. So why don't we start with you just telling us a little more about yourself. That was a very impressive and probably for most people impenetrable string of letters at the end of your name.

Christina Helou 1:16

There's 15, but no one's counting. Right.

Leela Sinha 1:18

Right.

So So what is the heart of your work?

Christina Helou 1:26

I love this question. So the heart of my work is my love for people and seeing and affirming them for who they are and reflecting their inner wisdom back to them. So that translates to two different branches of what I do. So my first love was physical therapy. And you know, I'm trained as a doctor of physical therapy, I did orthopedics for a while, pivoted to pelvic floor. And after treating pelvic floor for a while, I realized there's so much more than just the physical body. I mean, I always knew that right? But I started diving deeper into sexual health and wellness. So that I actually had tools to help my clients aside from just the physical skeleton muscles, joints, nerves, etc. And then that kind of took a pivot to where I am in the second kind of arm of my business where, you know, I coach folks on tapping into, you know, wonder and play so that they can experience more pleasure and joy in their lives, in alignment with who they are authentically and unapologetically. And knowing who you are, unapologetically, translates into improvements in your more meaningful relationships and how you run your business and whatnot. So that's kind of the heart of my business really is people, I love people, I love humanity. And I am committed to doing things different. So I, I see the world is so beautiful. And there's so much that I have to give in terms of love and joy to others. And seeing people for who they are and reflecting that back to them. That I just always go back to humanity and my community and you know, my skills lie in being able to be a thought leader and private coach, as well as physical therapist.

Leela Sinha 3:22

So what is so different about your way of doing it?

I have to say, I love this question for people because some of my best clients and some of the people that I work most closely with as colleagues are people who are committed to doing something radically differently. And of course, my work is also about doing business radically differently. So So I always love to hear like, how are you doing things differently? Because obviously, the system we have is not working. So we're all out here like poking it with a stick trying to get it to change. So what is your, what is your variation?

Christina Helou 3:59

Yeah, so I am a human who is non binary and queer. And I'm trying to run a small business that's not toxic, and capitalist in nature. Although we do know that like businesses do need to make money but you know, I value the people that I hire and I work with. I value paying people a living wage, and providing really high quality care and coaching to my clients. Another thing that I feel very strongly about is, you know, being publicly nonbinary and queer and in my messaging and my branding and on my website, I am nonbinary and queer. And I elevate LGBTQIA2S+ folks. You know, it's part of my community. I see anyone of any gender and sexuality, you know, whoever you are as long as you are an open human to LGBTQIA+ identities, then I absolutely love to work with you. And I think it's important to outloud claim that those are the folks that I support. And I am not going to shy away from it or hide that that's who I am. And those are the people that I care most about.

Leela Sinha 5:20

Yeah. So how does? How does? How does your awareness of the world from a nonbinary perspective, impact or change the way that you do your work?

Christina Helou 5:35

I think one of the biggest things and I don't know, if that's, you know, me holding my own nonbinary identities, or the Cancer, double Libra in me, I don't really see- I- a lot of the benefit I see is from not seeing the world in black and white, but the both-and. That there's always a middle path, there's always a gray area, you know. It's not just this or that. It's not just male or female. It's not just, you know, gay or straight. Like, there's so much in between, and there's so much variance between everyone. And so I feel like from my own personal perspective, and growth. And just, you know, that Libra energy in me, I can hold the both-and, and help reflect that back to people. And so I think part of part of my, I guess, skill is being able to not see everything as black and white, and to see where we can do things differently.

I don't know if that answered your question.

Leela Sinha 6:40

Yeah, sure. And what delights you about that?

Christina Helou 6:43

the possibilities? I think, at least for me, and I know a lot of the people that I worked with, we've only seen one path. You know, that heteronormative checklist of go through school, get the job, find the partner, get married, have the house, have the kids Check, check, check

Leela Sinha 7:04

Get on the relationship escalator,

Christina Helou 7:06

yeah, yep, without actually doing a lot of the inner work to see if that's even what you want. If that's what you want, that's great. But I think it's magical to be able to look inward and decide for yourself. And I get so much delight when I have feedback from my clients, where people just feel so happy in their own bodies and their lives and, and they feel like they had that agency to advocate for themselves and their needs and their wants. And I can't- Is there anything more beautiful than someone being like, "This is who I am, and I'm starting to love myself for that?" like?

Leela Sinha 7:45

That's so gorgeous.

Christina Helou 7:47

Yeah.

Leela Sinha 7:48

So. So do you find that a lot of your clients don't have a sense of their own power?

Christina Helou 7:56

Yes. And that, I mean, that definitely started where I started seeing it when I was solely doing clinical work in physical therapy, especially pelvic health. Where folks have no sense of power in terms of their agency in the room with a medical provider. Knowing that they can, you know, asked for the provider to go slower, or to do an exam this way, or I want to talk to you with my clothes on before I have to undress for a pelvic exam. You know, or even asking for what they want from their partners or asking themselves what they want. So I started seeing that in the pelvic health world. And then when I was moving over into the coaching a little bit, it really is- people don't necessarily see how much power they have in terms of agency and self advocacy. And that affects their relationships, and it affects their sense of self and their power and sense of power. So I think it's, you know, it's one of the things that I, I try to do is empower all of my my clients, right? To say, like, I was- sometimes I feel like I'm giving them permission, but I'm not really giving them permission, they don't need my permission. But sometimes people need reminders that they have permission from themselves to be whoever they are, and explore whoever they are, and live however they want to live.

Leela Sinha 9:29

So tell me what you've learned about desire in your work.

Christina Helou 9:35

Oh, desire? Well, one of the, you know, most common misconceptions is that people think that they should experience desire just naturally or spontaneously, or when they're with their partners. Or it should just kind of like come up or come to them right. Where desire, especially the older we get, is something that we need to actively and intentionally tap into. Or are the kind of if we're going specifically clinical and sexual health world, it is something that, you know, when we're younger teens, lots of hormones, it's more spontaneous. And the older we get, it's more receptive, right. So we need to set up our life in order to be open to receiving a lot of the desire that we want.

Leela Sinha:

And does that translate to nonsexual contexts as well?

Christina Helou:

Oh, absolutely.

Leela Sinha:

Is it the same, we get older and we get more receptive and less initiative?

Christina Helou:

I think so. You know, I think it's a lot of that we get stuck into our own patterns and habits, or we have like what I consider, like an unexplored sense of identity, or, like wants in the world. And so we just kind of move through life. And just do step after step after step without really thinking, like, Is this even what I want? And so being- I think it's important, and I teach my clients how to be intentional about their desires, and exploring who they are and what they want and validating that whatever it is, as long as it's hurting no one, is fair game. Like you, you know, it's judgment free, you have to just figure out what you want.

Leela Sinha:

How do people learn to be judgment free at say, age 40?

Christina Helou:

Well, therapy, coaching, unpacking your own childhood stuff. You know, figuring out where those learned behaviors come from, of why you're so judgmental, especially why are you're so judgmental of yourself. Because a lot of times we project that judgment on to others. Ans-

Leela Sinha:

oh that, that's a juicy one.

Christina Helou:

So I the one of the first steps I teach you is to step back and say like, am I projecting. And a lot of the times we are projecting our own internalized judgment on to others. And so then looking inwards and figuring out like, why Where did that judgment come from? Where's where's that narrative? Those stories? Why have you been telling yourself this, your whole life and exploring through that realm.

Leela Sinha:

So I want to tell a short story here, because my listeners will be somewhat familiar with intensive and expensive frameworks. But what a lot of folks don't know, is that the absolute worst gatekeepers for intensiveness are in fact, the squished intensives. They are the intensives that have learned that intensiveness is wrong. And they are then the ones who are out there making sure that nobody's being intensive in the world ever. And wagging- Y'all can't see, but I'm wagging my finger at the camera, because it's that kind of energy. And this feeling that, that if I am holding this internalized judgment, then I have some kind of moral authority to project it and share my internalized judgment with the world and everybody else who did not ask whether I wanted to approve of their behavior. And, and releasing that that the process that my clients go through when they realize- some of my clients come in, they're like, I'm just intensive, this is just the way I am. But a lot of my clients come with this kind of judgment built in and the freedom that comes from putting that down and just being like, No, I'm going to be intensive, and then suddenly, they're nicer to everybody.

Christina Helou:

Yeah.

Leela Sinha:

And the people around them are like, "you know, you're a lot, but you're a lot nicer than you used to be, even though you're a lot."

Christina Helou:

Yeah. No, I mean, you can even like feel kind of like that energy of a person who is intense and intentional, about not being judgmental for themselves, or projecting it to others or doing the work. Because I don't think it's something that you can just do the work. And then it's, then you're not judgmental, judgmental, right. I think it's a lifelong process. And but the first step is awareness. And then you can start catching yourself and then working through those things. But it's not like a I'm going to work through this and then I'm never going to be judgmental, right. Like those. Those pathways in our brains have been so ingrained since we were little. And it takes a lot of one unwork, work to kind of unpack and rewire those things. And so it's not going to happen overnight. And it's also not going to be 100% judgment free for your whole life. And it's it's ongoing work.

Leela Sinha:

It's one of those things where you're peeling an onion for sure. So what's your favorite starting point for that releasing of judgment?

Christina Helou:

Okay, there's a couple of things. I think journaling, as always a really good one and therapy, I always, you know, therapy is a really good starting point. For me, I like to use wonder and play. And so when I think of wonder, and something that's just so majestic and out of body, and so big and beautiful. So one activity I have is like, if my clients have access to whatever they feel like it's epic scenery, right? Because if you can step out of your body and put yourself in perspective, the planet that we live on the universe that we're in, right, like this whole big, expansive universe, and in that, there's like, the sky, the stars, all the galaxies, and then this planet, and we're on this planet. And there's like this magical like nature. And if you're on top of a mountain, it's so easy to kind of, or it's not so easy, but it's easier. And I find that my folks really like this activity, to like, ground yourself into the perspective, that of all of the things that you could have been in this universe, you got to be you. And then another activity is literally play. And so when I talk about play, it's what feels playful to you. Right? And if people are like, I don't know, they're so far gone from there are so you know, so far away from like, the playfulness that they used to have in their life. It's like, what did you like doing as a kid? Did you like jump roping? Do you like figure skating? Did you like coloring? Like, what can you tap into to even just kind of revisit, so that like those pathways in your brain are like, oh, yeah, we do like to do these things.

Leela Sinha:

ok but like I was accused as a child of not wanting to have fun. I thought that fun was like sitting and having long philosophical conversations with my friends. And that's when I was like, eight. So how would someone like me who like, has not got a historical neuronal pathway set? In fun. Like, somebody who's like, super serious as a child.

Christina Helou:

Yeah. So one I would like, but you had described it as something you thought was fun, right?

Leela Sinha:

I mean, that was what I assumed fun was because it was like, interesting.

Christina Helou:

Yeah. So that could be something that you tap into, are conversations like the one we're having, right? Where, like, this feels fun and playful for you. The other thing is, just try something. Like, is there anything you've ever wanted to try? Have you ever seen someone play a sport that you're like, wow, I really want to do that ever. Have you ever seen someone dress up in a costume? And you're like, yes, I want a purple wig, and a cobalt blue suit and I want to just go to the park? I don't know. I don't know, it really is so individualized.

Leela Sinha:

But, um, but I have always wanted to learn to surf. And I started to learn when I lived in Maine, and then I moved to the West Coast. And ironically, the West Coast is a much harder place to try to learn to surf. But But yeah, so I can feel that kind of like curious openness. Coming up. When I think about things that I'm like, oh, I want to try that. Or like, I'm an absolute- See, this is the problem is I'm like, Oh, I think learning to be fluent in another language would be fun.

Christina Helou:

Okay, but is there anything that would be fun for you, that is like an embodied activity. So that something you are doing movement wise, not just talking or thinking

Leela Sinha:

I'm making a think-y face. I, you know, the things- I find that the things that I do for pleasure that are that are like that are embodied tend to be crafts.

Christina Helou:

they're you go.

Leela Sinha:

They tend to be like, I'm making a table or I'm making a pot or I'm weaving something or I'm knitting something or I'm spinning yarn or I'm- I have a long list. Anyway. That that creativity is kind of where I go for that thing. But I've always been a little mystified by fun. Like I literally two weeks ago, I said to someone- in fact, I think I made a post on Facebook and I was like, fun. Let's talk about fun. Because it was this kind of foreign. I realized from somebody else's question somewhere else that I didn't really know how to grasp fun.

Christina Helou:

Again, so if we go to like the actual dictionary definition of fun, it is literally just something that brings you enjoyment or pleasure. So if crafts Is it for you Leela, then you don't- Like? That's the thing about kind of getting out of your head and into your body or getting out of that self judgment. There is nothing wrong with the way that you like to have fun.

Leela Sinha:

I guess the question that I've had and I am assuming that some of your clients may encounter this in themselves as well is like it does that qualify as fun? Like because pleasure and fun we have? English is such a rich language. In a lot of languages, those are probably the same word. But in English, we have different words, and it means different things, and they carry different connotations. And so I can tell you all day, things that bring me pleasure.

Christina Helou:

Okay, well-

Leela Sinha:

but I'm never sure if that's like a qualifying fun.

Christina Helou:

To who?

Leela Sinha:

Well, that's the question, right

Christina Helou:

It's your scale.

It's your life. And so those are the things you find fun, amusing, pleasurable enjoyment. That is how you define fun for yourself. Right? Like, I can't tell you that. Okay, so one thing I think is really fun is swinging on swings.

Leela Sinha:

Oh, yeah, that's fun.

Christina Helou:

Right?Other people are like, I get vertigo. And that's not a fun activity for me.

Leela Sinha:

No, having vertigo is not usually fun.

Christina Helou:

You know, one of the things that I think is fun is having, like, one on one conversations, or really close connections with people. I think hiking is fun. It's also hard and not fun sometimes, right? It's- the work is to figure out what you find fun. And if you don't know, if it qualifies, then I would say, try to define what fun means to you? And are you living in alignment with how you define fun? Not necessarily help other people to find fun. Because what I don't find fun is living in an oppressive, toxic capitalist society, that tells me I have to do all these things that I don't want to do, just so that I can have a paycheck so that I can then maybe go on a vacation to have fun, right? I want to find fun in my daily life.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah, no, no, I'm not waiting until I can what retire? Like is retirement a thing for our generation? I don't think it is. So if let's imagine a world in which somehow magically, the kind of work you do, I'm not saying that you personally have to have done it. But the kind of work you do has spread throughout the world. And everybody, or almost everybody has a deep sense of what they want and how to enact it. And they're in touch with this, this fun oriented, like, lens on the world. How would the world be different?

Christina Helou:

I think there would be much less hate oppression and terribleness. Just I don't know if that's a word I made it up. Because I, I truly believe that a lot of people in power, who are oppressing others and making miserable systems for the 99% of us to live in. I don't think they're having fun. I don't think they're living a joyful or playful life. I think they are probably sitting with a lot of self judgment and misery. And they're alone with their wealth. And I feel like if there were more people who were intentional about having fun, or pleasure or play, and were like, we aren't buying in to these systems of oppression anymore. Right? Like, if think of if, if most people were like, I'm not doing this demeaning work or getting paid cents on a dollar, or- I don't think people would have time to be as hateful and miserable as they are. ...but this is also a dream world.

Leela Sinha:

That it is, it is, you know, it's funny, I was, I was watching this tik-tokker yesterday, who has been teaching himself to read on tick tock. And it's an incredible journey for an adult to learn to read and suddenly gain access to everything that's written. And have you ever seen fifth element? The movie?

Christina Helou:

No.

Leela Sinha:

Okay. So so the, there's a character named Leeloo, who is actually an alien who comes to earth for reasons and she needs to understand what's going on on Earth. So they- and she's incredibly- like her brain is just amazing. So she sits down in front of a computer and they just like feed her all of this, essentially Wikipedia entries about everything. And she just absorbs it all at like hyperspeed. And as she learns the history of humanity, she, she's like, Oh, this is great. This is interesting. And then there's this moment where she just starts, she just collapses in wracking sobs. And she's like, why, why? Why am I even trying to save humanity? Look at what you've done to yourself. And so this-

Christina Helou:

that's relatable,

Leela Sinha:

right? Right, like that movie has a as movies go to that movie has aged ridiculously well. And and the this idea that like, what if? What if we? What if we just took care of each other? Right? Like, what would it be like for us to start from this sense of our own needs being met and our own pleasure being addressed. Our own desire our own playfulness? And then like, what does that how does that change how we interact with the world. You know, all those studies about how people become less socially and politically conservative when their needs are met, when they're less worried about their needs being met? Like,

Christina Helou:

I mean, I think that would be a beautiful world. And, and I do think about that often, because, you know, I was talking about like, sometimes when I will, like, go climb a mountain or have like, go to a very scenic area to kind of put myself in perspective, I think of that sometimes in reverse. Where I'm like, humanity could have created anything. And this is what we made? And I, and I get sad about it, but then I'm also like, okay, but if we made this we can unmake it. And we can make something bigger and better and more beautiful. And, and I do agree with what you were saying in terms of like having your own needs met, right? If we think of like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, like you need to be able to have food, water, shelter, clothing, access to health care. And, and know yourself, and you have the right to be your own individual human who has access to pleasure and joyful activities, or just joy in general. And while I don't think you can move through life with just joy, I do think there would be so much less hate in the world if people really focus inward on their own personal journeys. Meeting their needs, and not fighting others that have a false sense of scarcity.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah, the false sense of scarcity is real. I, I'm always... so I'm thinking about the ways that like indigenous people, in what is now the US and Canada created, like an an active like food forest. Nourished, like, like, basically lived in relationship with the land in such a way that it was co created. And it was beautiful. It was so beautiful, that the Europeans couldn't imagine the people did it. And so they just decided that it had been like that magically, and then destroyed it. And, and thinking about the way that Maslow's hierarchy is this kind of weird inversion of the Blackfeet theory, I don't know if you know about that.

Christina Helou:

I'm not, familiar, no.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah, Maslow got his ideas from the Blackfeet. But then he like turned it upside down. And, and so thinking about the ways in which individual pleasure is important. But also, like collective and interdependent engagement is vital to this kind of, to this kind of world that we're imagining. Like, we can't just be after our own individual pleasure. We also have to be after like, how, how are the people around me doing?what am I going to do to help to take care of them? How How are we going to be engaged with each other? How can I care for- and not just the people but the all the beings around?

Christina Helou:

Yeah,

Leela Sinha:

how are we in relationship? How are we in interdependence? I've been I just finished reading Braiding Sweetgrass like last week, and I'm now deep into Rest is Resistance. And it's, I thought about all these things before but the way those books are changing my approach to this stuff is really profound.

Christina Helou:

Yeah, I-

Leela Sinha:

Thinking about how am I in relationship with everything?

Christina Helou:

Yeah, and I think a lot of though, so the work that I do, it's like we start with ourselves. But when we're joyful with our self is when we convince start working with community and relationships and, and kind of growing in that way. I love both of those books too. I just started Braiding Sweetgrass. And I've read on Tricia Hersey's Rest is Resistance as well. And I do think it's possible to have- I can't think of the word right now. But like a complementary relationship with our surroundings and our community, versus exploiting humans and the earth. And I think growth and beauty for humanity and in the earth that we live on, come comes from thinking of everything as a whole and not just living in isolation or independence.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah, and then. And then like, how are things different? If we don't have to figure our own stuff out, and then go be in community? What if What if the community holds and nourishes us into that other way of being? Like, I feel like the more work that you do like this, the more work I do, like what I do, like the more of us, we're out here doing this kind of stuff, the more people there are available, who are thinking in this other way to create an actual container out of that other way.

Christina Helou:

Yes, so I mean, I don't think you can just do all the work. And I think for folks that have a hard time tapping into their own inner work, starting with community can be really a helpful place because you don't feel isolated and alone. And I also feel and the more of us that are out there that are visible and loud, about the fact that we are doing stuff different, helps to amplify and empower others to do the same thing in their own life and in their own local communities.

Leela Sinha:

Absolutely. So what does visibility look like for you?

Christina Helou:

Ah, gosh, this word is such a charged word. And when you're trying to run a small business. So okay, so how does it look like to me? I think it is starting with my personal relationships, starting with my family, my friends, my local community, just sharing about what I do and how I believe, like,

Leela Sinha:

And do they understand? like, do they really understand,

Christina Helou:

whoo, sometimes they don't. And so I then will turn to finding more online spaces, because sometimes that everyone in my local community, you know, understands or gets it reaching out networking, giving people the chance to kind of share about their story by, you know, being open to networking and having one off conversations with others. I feel like today, people always talk about in, like, visibility and exposure with social media, and I have, you know, feelings about social media. Where I it can be great at like, connecting people. And then it can also be really harmful in terms of like the Doom scrolling misinformation, side of things. And it's kind of, at least for me, is it's a balance of, I know, it's not the best for my own personal mental health. But I want people to know my message. And so I will put stuff out on social media, but not so much that I feel like I'm contributing to other people doom scrolling, because that I feel could be harmful. But sharing-

Leela Sinha:

What if you put out the good stuff? Like you put out how could the world be different you put out how to access your own pleasure you put out how to access your own, your own play. Like then you're not contributing to the Doom scrolling, you're interrupting the Doom.

Christina Helou:

I mean, I hope I'm interrupting the doom. right, but like whenever people talk about this, like, algorithm that nobody actually knows what it is, and it's ever changing. I'm like, Where do I even fall or fit in? Or somebody's finding me? I don't know. But I'm so committed to helping people tap into their own pleasure and play in life that even if I feel like I am contributing, maybe to doom scrolling, maybe I'm not I don't know. I want people to know that there's help out there for them. And they don't have to live in isolation when they're trying to do and live differently.

Leela Sinha:

For me, even just knowing that there are other people who think remotely like I do, is such a healing bomb like the internet is- for all the challenges that the internet has. I've been on the internet since the beginning of college. And it has saved my life. It has given me community when there was no way I was going to find community locally. It has given me ideas. But most of all, it has given me the sense that I'm not the only person who's thinking and working in the directions that I'm thinking in.

Christina Helou:

No, that part I think is beautiful. is to not know that you're alone and to be able to like find people to reach out to. You know, like we met on a some random training, I don't even remember. And I was just like, messaged you privately. It was like, I feel like your name's come up. And I think your stuff's really interesting. We should be friends and chat.

Leela Sinha:

And now we are.

Christina Helou:

and I wouldn't- Right. And that wouldn't have happened without social media either. So. So I mean, it is I have a love hate relationship with it. You know, there, there are really good things about it. And then there are some things that I, you know, I don't know. But there's also other ways to get visibility, right. Like community talks, newsletters emails.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah. Yeah.

Christina Helou:

Chatting with a random person at a coffee shop.

Leela Sinha:

Right. Like, we keep circling back to that conversation about like, okay, the algorithm aforementioned, is absolutely disastrous for authentic human connection. So if we're not going to algorithm- it is and it isn't right, like the TIC tock algorithm is a little frighteningly good. And also, that's partially partially because of the way TikTok is built, they get a lot of data very rapidly about what you want to engage with. And then they act on that immediately. And keep you engaged that way. But, but in large measure, the algorithm is not helping us stay connected with the people that we want to stay connected with or the people were interested in, or that taking the conversations deeper. So then we do have to go offline. We do like, a couple of days ago, I met up with somebody, Aurora Remember Holtzman, who has a whole thing about twice exceptional kids and being an adult who's like emerging from that, from that thing. And we sat in my backyard and talked for two hours, because I have now moved to the city where she lives. And, and I've had so many of those encounters in my lifetime, where it's like, I've known you online for whatever number of years, and now we have the opportunity to meet up in person and they're just as awesome as they'd seemed, online. You know, there was an era way back in the beginning, where people were like, nobody's ever who they say they are online. But that's not true anymore.

Christina Helou:

There are some people that really are.

Leela Sinha:

I like to think that I'm basically the same person online and offline.

Christina Helou:

I mean, I do too, except sometimes I'm like, you know, as a pleasure play expert, am I posting too much happiness? Because that's not real life. There are days where I am sad.

Leela Sinha:

But I think it's also possible to be like, I want my content to do this in the world in the way that we would if one were publishing a newspaper. Right?

Christina Helou:

That's true.

Leela Sinha:

We can be like, we're the New York Daily News, we're the New York Times those are two different papers. And they do two different things. And so, you know, do I want to be the Daily News with like, all of the clickbait headlines, or do I want to be the New York Times ostensibly fairly reputable, although probably being tugged around by some behind the scenes strings? Or do I want to be like the city Reader, which used to be a tabloid format? You know, what do I want to be? How do I want to be in the world? And it's okay to say like, Yes, I'm sad today. But I'm not going to talk about that. Because that's not, that's not the content that I think that I want to publish. Or to say, I'm only going to talk about being sad after I've dealt with it.

Christina Helou:

Yeah, usually after I've dealt with it.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah. Which is, which is a very like ministry approach to things. To be like, you can talk about your hard stuff, but you have to have processed it yourself. You shouldn't bleed all over the page. And then there are people who are like, my thing is to bleed all over the page. And I think that's fine. And so we have all these different- I imagine everybody's social media, like aggregated social media feed is like their own personal newspaper.

Christina Helou:

I like that. I like the reframe around that. Because I mean, I'm so intentional about like, who I follow, or not even necessarily who I follow, but like, I will- there are some people I follow for various reasons. But then I will mute all of their posts and stories because I don't actually want to see them. And so my feed really is truly people that I want to see and hear from. No, I do like that reframe. I think that's really nice.

Leela Sinha:

So like, it's perfectly legitimate to be like, I want you to know that I have bad days. And also I'm not focusing on that because I'm aware of how much Doom scrolling goes on. And I'm not interested in being part of the Doom. I want to interrupt your doom. So my job on the internet is to interrupt your doom with a little piece of hope, or a little piece of pleasure, a little piece of joy, a cute picture of my dinner, like whatever it is. And my my personal newspaper is a little bit of a mix. It's like sometimes I talk about the hard stuff in depth, but usually in a way, usually in a way that's meant to elicit a conversation that will nourish the people who are reading it. And sometimes I just ask interesting questions. And because I'm fairly careful about who is in my space, I get these beautiful, rich, deep conversations.

Christina Helou:

Yeah, I think where I've struggled is because my background is in pelvic and sexual health, and I do like part of my brand is talking about like sexual wellness and the impact of pleasure play wonder has on your sexual wellness. The algorithm does not like the word sex, sexual

Leela Sinha:

Doesn't even like the word pleasure-

Christina Helou:

orgasm. Intimacy, sometimes I can get away with. But I also kind of, you know, like, as an expert and a professional I, I hate having to misspell words on purpose so that I can play the game with the algorithm. And I think that's also kind of where I have some my own hangups is where I'm just like, I don't want to have to censor myself so that I can make it past the algorithm to get to the people that I want to talk to, right.

Leela Sinha:

And I don't want to reinforce the kind of culturally built in shaming, there's enough of that,

Christina Helou:

right? Like, I there is no shame in what I do. And and there is no shame in any of these topics. And yet, it's you know, I've done so many behind the scenes things to say like only show my content to people who are 18 Plus, so that I don't necessarily have to censor myself, or misspell words or kind of play the game. But I, I still somehow, like feel that pressure. Yeah, and I don't like it.

Leela Sinha:

It feels it feels icky.

Christina Helou:

It feels icky because I'm like, No, there is literally nothing shameful about wanting to talk about why you're not having the sex you're having, or why you're so stressed at work your your relationships are suffering, or why you're so stressed at home or being a stay at home parent, that you'd never want to have sex with your partner, even though you like really want to, but like your body doesn't really want you because your body is so overwhelmed with stress. And there's nothing shameful about any of those topics. And even in terms of the pelvic health, like, that's all medical knowledge, people should feel empowered to know about their body parts. And the algorithm doesn't like it.

Leela Sinha:

You're right, and those are, I think of, I have a lot of friends who are sexuality educators. And I find that the amount of hoop jumping that everyone has to do, and I used to do more active sexuality education. Now it's just like one of those things that I have in the back of my head. And when it comes up, that comes up. But But I feel like content like that, in today's Internet is really relegated to non social media spaces. It can happen under discord, because Discord is like a different kind of space. It's it's not really social media, it's conversation. And it can happen on the blog, which is you have a lot more control over that. And as long as you're just talking about it, and really doing educational content, very few web hosts will complain about that content being there. If you try to do anything that involves payment, payment processors will have a holy fit.

Christina Helou:

Oh they do.

Leela Sinha:

But but just getting the data out there, just getting the information out there having the conversations is a lot easier in spaces that we control more tightly Which is terrible. But that oh, I'm living in right now.

Christina Helou:

Yeah, I mean, it's the- Squarespace hosts my website, which is great and fine, I've had no issues with them. But one of my payment processors kind of pulled their- one of my accounts because they- and this was when I was literally only advertising pelvic floor physical therapy. So medical care. And they flagged it saying it was one of their prohibited business types, which was in the same category as like a gentlemen's club or pornography.

Leela Sinha:

It had the word 'pelvic' in it...

Christina Helou:

And that is not anything that I do. You know, and at the time, it was one of the first kind of like, things that kind of you know, was a loud Hey, we don't like this. I was you know, was pretty upset about it for a while and now it's just like well, whatever you don't deserve my my credit card fees.

Leela Sinha:

No, no you don't. And, and the, the challenges are like this podcast is marked as explicit. Because sometimes I talk about sex on it and sometimes I swear on it and Apple Podcasts, which is the Grand High Poobah of podcasts doesn't like those words being in you know, publicly available material, but it means that my podcast doesn't show up in search.

Christina Helou:

I mean, it's so frustrating too, because I feel like the people who are being censored are the people that are providing safer spaces for folks to do the work to become better people.

Leela Sinha:

This is the downhill effect of FOSTA/SESTA. FOSTA/SESTA was legislation that happened a few years ago now that really cracked down on internet spaces that had sexual content. And they, they mixed up sex work and trafficking. Basically, they like put them all in the same pot. And as a result of that sex workers who had found some fairly safe ways to do their client work and find clients had to go back to a lot of people ended up back to soliciting on the street, which is a lot less safe for them,

Christina Helou:

right? So much, less safe.

Leela Sinha:

And a lot of educators ended up in the same thing, because there's a basically, it made these terrible penalties for anybody who happened to have any of that material come through. And there's no way for somebody to know, if they're running like a, you know, a kind of classified ad space. And as a result, all of the sexuality related work on the internet became a lot harder to do. And so all my sex educater friends, and my sex worker friends, all have been scrambling. That's when all of this like misspell the word stuff started because platforms started censoring those things, at least to a level of plausible deniability. And then people started working around it. And that's, that's how we ended up where we are.

Christina Helou:

Yeah, I mean, it is frustrating, especially, I mean, like, I obviously, do not want to create any sort of harm. I am wildly against human trafficking. And I also know that there is less trauma or SA for people, when they actually have proper sex education. Accurate access to sex education. Right, if you know, the parts of your body, the names of the parts of your body to be able to communicate with a guardian or a medical provider, like- To know your body and to be informed, helps prevent some childhood abuse. I'm just gonna throw that out there.

Leela Sinha:

It does.

Christina Helou:

It truly does. Because a lot of the times, right when, let's say, you know, I, I've heard this story from someone in my life. They, someone had, you know, they had a terrible experience with abuse as a kid. And they only knew their body parts as like cutesy names like cookie and whatever. So when they were telling their teacher and asking for help, their teacher didn't know what they were saying. Because they were like, well, it's a cookie, like, you know. But like to teach people the names of their body parts. So important- oh, God, I'm gonna get emotional thinking about it. It's so important. And, but it's almost like, you know, the internet, the algorithms, it was just like a blanket, like any mention of the word sex was bad. Which is also harmful, right? It's like, the intention was to protect,

Leela Sinha:

right.

Christina Helou:

Traffic victims,

Leela Sinha:

the intention is always-

Christina Helou:

the impact-

Leela Sinha:

Right. Right. And

Christina Helou:

It's probably that

a little bit and then but also, it's harmful when you're trying to provide medically accurate information.

Leela Sinha:

It's not protective. It doesn't work. Like the people it's it's like the thing that went through Congress a little bit ago where they were like, We need to outlaw TikTok and half of the people, at least in the conversation, didn't even know what TikTok was. Like, they had no idea. It's like that, but worse, because we all have bodies. We don't like opt out of having a body if we don't want to think about it or don't want to talk about it. We have a body anyway, it has those parts anyway. We're gonna have to interact with those parts in certain ways through our lives. I can't tell you how mind blown I was the first time I went to- I was actually not in a medical office. I was at a workshop and someone said, you know, you can ask to put the speculum in yourself.

Christina Helou:

I know. Did you know that?

Leela Sinha:

I was fully an adult. I was in graduate school. When I found out that I could put the speculum in for myself.

Christina Helou:

Oh, yeah, I mean, you can hold your own labias open you can hold your own, you know, glutes open if you're having an intra-rectal exam. You You can do so much more. But like the speed at which medical providers are forced to move, there's no pausing for like being trauma informed or, like empowering you.

Leela Sinha:

And I mean, I've had some really great experiences, especially in California, I had some really good experiences with well trained practitioners who were great about all that stuff, but it should not be the exception.

Christina Helou:

Correct.

Leela Sinha:

If you want an exception, you have to be like, hand me the speculum. Like, you have to sit up on the table and be like, give me the speculum. I'll put it in myself. Because otherwise, like, you can't interrupt their flow. They're like, What? What? Give?

Christina Helou:

Yeah, I didn't even know how much I could advocate for myself until I started doing pelvic exams, as a clinician.

Leela Sinha:

Oh my gosh.

Christina Helou:

So when I was a patient before, I would just like lay there and be like, I guess this is just what happens. This is terrible, right? Like and maybe sometimes I would find, like the courage to be like, can you use the smallest speculum first, when really, it actually didn't matter the size, it was just, I needed to be the one to put that in my body. And then okay, I can't actually scrape my cervix from that position, you can do that part. But every part that I actually can do myself, I feel like I should be empowered to do so. Taught to do so. Or given the option. At the minimum.

Leela Sinha:

absolutely. And, and when we learn that we have body sovereignty, and we could do a whole other show about like, giving children access to their own decision making around their bodies. But when we learn that body sovereignty at whatever age we learn it, then we start realizing all the places in our lives where a) we can have other kinds of sovereignty that we don't have and b) where we could grant that sovereignty that others.

Christina Helou:

Yes. Abso-

Leela Sinha:

go ahead.

Christina Helou:

No, I just one of my favorite things, is working with my clients who've never had like a pain free or not super traumatic pelvic exam, and, and the one that they have with me in the clinic, for specifically my physical therapy clients- to have a successful, pain free, fully grounded pelvic exam for the first time in their lives. And a lot of the times these folks are in their later 30s 40s and 50s.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah, you mean I didn't have to dissociate?

Christina Helou:

Whic seems out of control. Yeah. Wait, I didn't have to just be like, just get it over with just get it over with no, actually, I'm listening to your words. And I'm also listening to your body. So even though you're telling me just get it over with, your body language is saying, hell no, we're not doing this today. And then because I run my own practice, I have the time, the space and the honor, to be able to honor my client's words and their body.

Leela Sinha:

Can we talk about how capitalism is the opposite of honoring people's needs? I mean that's the thing, right? Like, I have a friend who's a doctor who told me that in order for her to keep her private practice open, she has to be triple booked.

Christina Helou:

Yes, and, and I choose instead to be a fee for service only, or a cash based practice. Because I can't fix capitalism, myself, and I can't fix the medical system myself. And I truly don't believe I can provide trauma informed care if I have to be somebody that triple books, double books. Or bills insurance and then insurance is a third party who's not medically trained in my specialty, decides halfway through my client's treatment-

Leela Sinha:

and is interfering in your care.

Christina Helou:

Yeah, you know, that they Oh, they're done. And I'm like, No, we just started building that trust and that rapport. And they're finally like, comfortable doing a pelvic exam or addressing their pelvic floor concerns, or whatever it is, they're in there for. Even if it's like a neck pain or shoulder pain, like I approach everything so similar, and it's just like, let me educate. Let me you know, we're gonna use diagrams, I'm going to show you with my hand, I'm gonna show you my arms, I'm going to use models. And then I'm going to give you the choice for you to make an informed decision on whether or not you want to proceed with either the exam or the treatment. And sometimes it's just deferring to the next session. But again, it is a luxury because I choose to be fee for service. And it also is really hard on my heart, because I know that's not financially accessible for many people. And it's like, holding, I guess the tension of both. Where to provide the quality of care that I know every human that walks into my office deserves, I have to be fee for service. And it also does hurt my heart a little bit, to not being as financially accessible to everyone. And then for me to do my own inner work and being like, Okay, I can't solve the like, US health care system myself, and I can't solve healthcare as a business. And I can't solve capitalism myself. So and I can only do so much. And I also deserve to be well paid, especially as a queer nonbinary person who is an expert in what they do. It's so there is a lot of like, holding the different kind of tensions between things. But I mean, I love the work that I get to do.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah, yeah, I mean, the work is beautiful. When it is- you know, it's the difference. They say, you can have it fast, cheap, or good. Pick two.

Christina Helou:

Yep.

Leela Sinha:

And, for me, my solution has been to keep my rates high enough, that I can afford to give away some work. I can't necessarily give it all away, but I try to hold and, you know, coming out of the church, I just picked 10%. I was like 10%, seems like a good place to start at least. So I try to keep 10% of my labor, for people who can't access my- you know, who can't pay for my, for my fees. But also, I make an effort- this is another place where social media comes in, right, I make an effort to put enough content out there for free that I can make once. I put, you know, I put out a book. I do all that stuff, so that there's a range of access there, there really is a range of access points to my work.

Christina Helou:

Yes, I do for like local clients have a sliding scale. I am doing like developing some, like community workshops. And like the goal, right, is that like, part of my business can eventually fund more sliding scale and low cost offers so that more people have access. But it's also, I'm at the beginning of my own entrepreneurship, you know, and figuring that out, because I also still have bills to pay, and I have student loans, and I have, you know, normal human things and needs.

Leela Sinha:

being alive in capitalism costs money.

Christina Helou:

It does, I can't pay my bills with air.

Leela Sinha:

By the time you get to the end of Braiding Sweetgrass, you're gonna be like, Why? but, you know,

Christina Helou:

I can't wait. I already kind of feel like that.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah, right. It's like, oh, this is, for me, what it did was it gave me a larger context to put those feelings into. Like, Oh, I'm not the only person who has been thinking about this or feeling about this, or, you know, looking for- and to understand that, that that way of thinking, that existence should not actually cost money is is actually like, the older, more human, more wisdom-based way of doing things and that this nonsense of "it costs money to exist" is very new. And like a terrible branch idea that needs to be trimmed off the tree.

Christina Helou:

I agree. I wholeheartedly agree with that. You know, it's, it's been it's been so interesting, especially the last year because I had left my quote, unquote, steady hospital job for my own mental health. And, you know, I was raised middle class, I always had everything that I needed, and some of what I wanted. And, you know, I have a doctorate degree. And so I was making decent money, but it still never felt like enough to just even do basic things. And this year, I've, I hate, like, I hate saying this, but I've had the luxury of being able- the luxury of a different perspective, because I left my job. So I didn't have that steady income. And so I'm seeing things different that I never even saw. And like the idea of like, how much it cost to literally be housed, to have health insurance, to pay for medical, like, obviously, I always did those things, but I never really thought about it because I was just like, paycheck paycheck like whatever. And now I'm like, Ah. Sometimes I wish people were had more perspective or varying perspective, because I think that really can change the world. Like meeting new people experiencing different things. Not saying everyone needs to experience hardship. Like I don't wish that on anybody. But I also I feel like there are some people that are so far removed because of privilege that they forget It how hard it is to live in this capitalist society.

Leela Sinha:

Absolutely. And it's gotten worse in the last 10 years.

Christina Helou:

Terrible. Yeah.

Leela Sinha:

And in our lifetime. I mean, if you look at the comparison between incomes and cost of basic necessities since 1970, it's... {sighs.} yeah, anyway. We've not done a good job of making the world a better place during my lifetime. And I feel a little guilty about that. But also, I was a kid for half of that.

Christina Helou:

Yeah.

Leela Sinha:

And, and it does it. It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And so my, my kind of big question, and maybe this is where we can end is, what are the things that we can do? From knowing what you know, what are the things that we can do? We can't fix capitalism. But what can we do right now? What can we do to make the world a better place, more sustainable place, a more humane place. Right now in the middle of the dumpster fire that we're living in?

Christina Helou:

Whoa.

Leela Sinha:

Because that's the question that literally kept me up last night and the night before that, and the night before that, and has been keeping me up at least for the last 10 years.

Christina Helou:

I I truly believe one of the first steps is looking inward to see how we are perpetuating the systems. And then looking inward to see how we can change and if we want to change. But because the problems are so so big, if we start with like the bigness of the problems, I think it can get really overwhelming. And I think a really good start is figuring out, like, do you even believe in these systems? Do you benefit from the systems? How do you benefit, if you do? What would an ideal world look like? How are you contributing? Can you see your own privilege in these positions? I think that's a great start. Because without the awareness of knowing how we're contributing, or how we are, you know, victims to capitalism, we're just going to keep going through life and doing the same things over and over and over. And we need change, folks. We need change.

Leela Sinha:

We do, we need change. So I'm gonna ask you one follow up question then. Which is, how can engagement with play inform that process for people?

Christina Helou:

it's getting out of your own head, getting out of your own life, tapping into your body, feeling grounded and centered and embodied in your experiences. And, you know, play from like a science level, it's one of the things that can help complete our stress cycles. And so even if you just started tapping into play, so that you can access your own brain space and creativity, I think is a great start.

Leela Sinha:

So do something- you know when I was in, when I was doing my internship, which it feels like a million years ago now, my internship supervisor said, You need to go practice being bad at something.

Christina Helou:

Yeah, well, that's the thing. I feel like a lot of times people are like, Oh, I'm bad at painting. I'm bad at art. I'm bad at this. So then you don't try. But you can be an artist and not be very good. And what is good, and by whose standards?

Leela Sinha:

Right or you could just not be an artist, you can just like mess around with paint. You don't have to be an artist

Christina Helou:

That's true.

Leela Sinha:

you don't have to monetize your hobby. You don't have to put it out. But nobody ever has to see your paintings unless you want. You can put your own pictures on the fridge and that can be the total extent of your gallery work.

Christina Helou:

You don't even have to put it on the fridge you can close it back up in the in your notebook and call it good. But it's

Leela Sinha:

or use them to start your next fire. Like you absolutely have complete control over your work. But but the idea of- so it was in fact painting he literally sent me off with like 15 bucks to go get some paints and some paper at the local art store because I was an intern I didn't have any money. And and I got back to my apartment and I sat down and I started painting. That was 2005. And I haven't- I haven't really painted much for the last couple of years, but I have sold a couple of pieces because as it turns out, if you keep practicing being bad at something, you eventually at least develop your own bad style. And then people are into it. But it remains a place where I don't try to do things

Christina Helou:

I like that. And I I think it kind of goes back to where we started. little bit on not judging yourself. Especially when you're playing, right so that you it like carries over into the rest of your being. So that you- accessing play and not judging how you play or how you do art or how you are creative, and just being helps- you see the world in a different way.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah. I feel like the keywords here are expectation and regret. And if I, if I go into that we're gonna be talking for another three hours, so I'm not going to do that. But yeah, just being just be in that thing.

Christina Helou:

Be in the thing. Be in who you are. Be who you are. You are enough and you're valid just as you are in every moment of your life.

Leela Sinha:

Yeah. And then people should go back and listen to the episode I recorded with Sarah Rihanna and about on shaming. Sounds great. I need to go listen to that one, too. Mm hmm. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much. This has been absolutely phenomenal. I always love talking with you. And as always, I have to be like, okay, Leela, you can't just keep talking forever. There are limits on this. So if you want to book a coaching or strategy session with Dr. Christina, and or subscribe to their newsletter for their most up to date, insights, musings and offers, we will put the link in the show notes. There are links here also for one on one sessions for subscriptions and the website is https://www.christinahelou.com So you should be able to find everything that you need there.

Christina Helou:

Thank you for having me. Thanks, everyone.

Leela Sinha:

Thank you. This has been a pleasure. Take care.

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