Blog Archive - 2015

November 15, 2015

Restful sleep...

Many people suffer from sleep problems, and the reasons for it vary widely.  Often, sleep is disrupted by pain or breathing issues, or poor support from the bed.  But many people simply have trouble relaxing enough to get the most out of their sleep time, both mentally and physically.  I have worked with so many people who, even though they say they are feeling relaxed during their massage, are not able to really sink into the table and let go of their joints.  Their muscles have gotten into such a pattern of holding on that they just never really relax.  I believe that this can contribute to both a restless mind and difficulty reaching or maintaining deep sleep, during which voluntary motor function is supposed to be inactive.

Muscles that engage in the same repetitive motions every day without many changes can easily get stuck in a pattern of contraction.  This does not usually result in pain, per se, since there is no injury to the muscles occurring.  Most people just feel stiff and tired because those muscles never let go and relax.  When this happens during sleep, it is hard to achieve the deep sleep that is so important for resting and restoring for the next day.

The good news is that it is not a complicated process to change these physical patterns.  All it requires is regular exercise.  The exercise does not have to be cardiovascular or intense, just a daily practice that moves your body in different ways than the pattern it gets stuck in every day.  Once your body gets out of that pattern, it can do its part to relax when it is time for sleep.  The bonus is that exercise can also disrupt the patterns of thoughts that might keep you up at night as well, as your exercise builds body awareness and reintegrates your mind with your body's movements.  Once both are able to let go at bed time, you can get better rest and be ready for the next day.

October 15, 2015

Relaxation is the key…

I have heard countless clients tell me during their intake, “I don’t want a relaxation massage”.  If I take that literally I would have to say to them, “Well, unfortunately, that’s the primary benefit of massage therapy.”  Of course, I don’t take it literally; I think I understand what they mean, which is that they want therapeutic touch that affects the way their muscles and nervous system feels afterward, rather than a simple application of lotion.  But the truth is that relaxation is the foundation of massage therapy.  There is certainly more to it than that, but a relaxed client is a prerequisite to relaxed muscles.   The reason for this is that your nervous system is what controls your musculoskeletal system.

Despite the fact that I know my clients want to relax during their massage, I do believe that many still believe that relaxation is “fluff”, something to be deserved or something to be placed at the end of the priority list.  But relaxation of the mind and body is the most effective strategy to staying healthy, resisting disease, staying balanced during stressful times, and being helpful and useful to self, family, colleagues and anyone else.  This does not mean watching TV (not relaxing for the nervous system) or drinking alcohol (not particularly relaxing for the body systems), both of which are common practices for “relaxing after a hard day”.  I don’t have any judgements about those activities, but they are activities of fun and recreation, not relaxation.  Relaxation is a state of being, not an activity.  Massage therapy is a great way to remind your body what that can feel like, which lets it “reset”, and makes it more possible to achieve it on your own.

September 15, 2015

This summer was incredibly busy, and unfortunately, the blog posts suffered the consequences.  But I am back to writing, and this month it is about one of the big myths of massage.  Have you ever heard that massage therapy "flushes toxins" and that you should drink plenty of water afterward for that reason?  Well, you definitely should drink water because proper hydration is important for every system in the body.  But as for "flushing toxins", neither massage nor water does this.  The liver filters toxins from the bloodstream, and things like lactic acid are created, used and metabolized regardless of massage therapy. And while massage therapy can and does affect local circulation at a specific point – such as with Trigger Point Therapy – general blood circulation is not significantly affected by the application of massage.  If you want to increase your general circulation, it's best to go for a walk instead.  Manual Lymph Drainage is a technique that many massage therapists know that can affect the circulation of lymph (which delivers cells that fight infection), but that is not usually practiced during general massage therapy.

However, regular and general massage therapy can make an impact on the body’s stress response. A body in stress is one that is focused on surviving through the stressor, not on digestion, rest or repair, so the physical and mental stress relief that regular massage therapy can bring can affect things like immune system function and digestion in a positive way.  One important impact of this understanding about "flushing toxins" is the knowledge that soreness after massage does not come from the toxins that are supposedly rushing through your bloodstream as they are being flushed.  It usually comes from tiny, microtears in the tissue.  Sometimes this is necessary, but most of the time it is not.

April 15, 2015

Awareness is one of the most powerful ways to manage pain.  Most of the time, pain is actually your body's way of getting your conscious mind's attention so you can become aware of things what is going on in your body.  Intentionally receiving massage therapy can improve your awareness of how you stand, sit, and move different parts of your body.  This can then lead to understanding of what patterns you have gotten used to that may be causing tightness and pain.

March 22, 2015

Stretching is extremely important in our routine of caring for our bodies and minds.  Our muscles work most efficiently when they are resting at and moving from the proper length, and regular stretching and full-bodied movement helps keep them at a good length.

Improper stretching, however, can hinder the process.  Many of us are “trained” to stretch as far as possible.  After all, if you want to stretch something, you should push it to the edge, right?  But all muscles have what is called the “stretch reflex” – cells in the muscle that tell it when there is danger of tearing or pulling.  When you stretch farther than you should, these cells tell the muscle to contract against the stretch.  This is to prevent your muscle from tearing and to keep your body from moving beyond its normal range of motion.  With time (15 to 20 seconds), this reflex will relax and allow the muscle to relax and lengthen.  So the most important things to remember while stretching are:
1.  Proceed gently.  Let your body adapt to the stretch and move past the stretch reflex.
2.  Do not stretch past the point of feeling mild tension.  Time is more important than effort in relaxing and lengthening a muscle.
3.  Regularly stretch the muscles that you hold still most of the time.  For example, if you sit at a desk and look at a computer, make sure you are regularly moving and stretching your neck and upper shoulders, or hamstrings.

4.  The ideal form of stretching is a working stretch – moving and using the muscles at the same time that you are stretching them, as in yoga practice.  This is a much more functional way of keeping your muscles from shortening up.

January 12, 2015

Health.  What does it mean?  The Webster dictionary’s definition is:  “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit;  especially :  freedom from physical disease or pain”, but also, “flourishing condition”.  The definition covers everyone along the spectrum, from those who believe that health is no more than the absence of illness or damage, to “flourishing condition”.

My personal definition of the word health is: “a proactive process of caring for one’s body and mind, with the ongoing goal of constant preparedness for the activity of life.”  This proactive process involves engaging in a variety of activities that seem to be “when I have time” priorities for many these days, such as quality rest, quality nutrition, physical activity, and minimal exposure to stress.  I think it is essential to look at health as more than just trying to fix things when they go wrong, for a number of reasons, including:

o    It is much easier to keep things from breaking than it is to fix them.  For example, an area that has suffered a muscle strain is at least slightly less functional after the wound heals than it was before.  It often loses flexibility, strength, or both, either immediately or years down the road.  And because the different parts of the body are so interconnected, a change in one part of the body can create changes, imbalances and pain in other parts with time.

o    Engaging in health can open up a new world of experience.  When a person explores themselves through activities like nutrition counseling, awareness based movement exercise, massage therapy, meditation, or any number of practices, they can open up their awareness of themselves on a number of levels.  The most obvious benefit of this increased awareness is better control over their body and ability to tell when something needs attention.  

Making health a priority instead of waiting for something to go wrong is worth the extra effort, especially since most people actually find health practices quite enjoyable.  Exercise, rest, massage therapy, and eating high quality foods are all things people generally enjoy anyway, but we have a tendency to get lost in the stressors of work and other elements of everyday life.  You only get this body and mind for this lifetime, so I encourage you to take control of it!