Muscle Spotlight: Serratus Anterior, Spread your wings…

I remember when we learned about the Serratus Anterior muscle in my Kinesiology class when I was attending East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, OR. I was struck by the grace and beauty of this wing-like muscle that wraps so lovingly around our ribcage. As it turns out, Serratus Anterior has many important jobs.serratus_anterior1310237542939

It originates on the surfaces of the upper 8 (or 9) ribs, travels between the ribcage and the shoulder blade, and inserts onto the medial border of the anterior side of the scapula. It’s often called the “boxer’s muscle”, as it is largely responsible for the protraction (or pulling forward) of the scapula, such as when one throws a punch. It is also an important stabilizer for the scapula, and assists in respiration. Place your hands on your ribcage, just beneath the armpits – take a deep, deep inhalation – try to notice the fan-like muscles on either side expand and contract with each breath, helping your lungs to take in more life-giving oxygen.

But when your Serratus Anterior muscles are weak, problems can radiate throughout your body. Under-developed SA’s can contribute to neck issues, rotator cuff problems, poor circulation of both blood and lymph (and poor lymphatic return through the lymph ducts in the armpit may contribute to the build up of toxins in breast tissue and lymph nodes in that area).

As an important scapular stabilizer, SA is very important in many yoga poses, especially for inversions and arm-balancing poses (such as downward dog, handstands, crow pose, etc.). These poses are a great way to get in touch with and strengthen this muscle. If you aren’t a yogi, weighted punches can help tone SA as well.

As for stretching, the easiest stretch for SA is the Crescent Side Bend: To achieve this pose, stand straight and tall and lift your arms toward the ceiling, placing palms together if you can. Slide your scapula down your back, taking your shoulder blades away from your ears. Slide your hips toward the left as you curl your torso to the right, creating a crescent moon, or “C” shape, with your body. Hold the stretch for about 20-30 seconds, breathing deeply and evenly, then repeat on the opposite side. Take care to not push your stretch too far – you should feel a fascial pull on the side being stretched, but never pain. Over-stretching can cause injury to both muscles and connective tissue.

But I think that the absolute best way to keep your Serratus happy is to bring your attention and intention to this little-known, beautiful muscle. Keep your body happy, keep your wings strong, and spread them wide and free!

More Links about Serratus Anterior:

http://breakingmuscle.com/yoga/getting-to-know-your-serratus-anterior-strengthen-your-wings

http://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/important-muscles-women-ignore/slide/7

http://www.sensational-yoga-poses.com/serratus-anterior-muscle.html

http://www.livestrong.com/article/420995-how-to-stretch-the-serratus-anterior/

Natural and calming remedies for your pet

Me and my 13 year old anxious Border Collie, Penny.

Me and my 13 year old anxious Border Collie, Penny.

My anxious, lovable dog Penny
First off, Im a big sucker for rescue dogs. Anyone who has spoken to me in any length has probably understood that I have a deep place in my heart for dogs–older rescue dogs in particular. Over the years I have had the pleasure of sharing my life with many of these wonderful, funny, amazing, loyal creatures. And as any animal lover knows, our beloved pets often have personality quirks–just like humans do. It also seems that many of us who share our lives with these animals also have to deal with some of the quirks that are not so fun–namely anxiety.

Take my older Border Collie Penny, for example. When we adopted Penny from the Oregon Humane Society 7 years ago she was a “last chance” dog whose adoption fee was a tellingly low $50. When we met her at the shelter, both of her ears were turned back, tail tucked, and she ran around and around the cage, coming to rest in front of us panting, but with that look that begged us to take her home and make her a part of the family.  The perky Humane Society volunteer plopped Penny’s 1″ thick paper veterinary file in front of me, and smilingly pushed the adoption papers forward with a pen.

Flash back 7 years ago…
When we got her home, we started to realize how severe her anxiety was. Penny’s vet file (and the well meaning volunteer’s) information was woefully inaccurate and incomplete. We finally came to find out that Penny had been on massive doses of Clomicalm (the animal pre courser to Prozac). She had been shuttled in and out of homes and shelters for 4 years because of her extreme separation anxiety. One afternoon shortly after her adoption, I discovered her on the roof of our house upon coming home from an hours trip to the grocery store. She had panicked when I left and jumped out of a screened window on to the dormer roof below to try and find me. My neighbor fished her off of the roof with his ladder just as I arrived gaping open mouthed, groceries falling to the street. Needless to say, Penny and I delivered chocolates and wine to our neighbor and were extremely grateful! I never made that mistake again, and after that incident, Penny was never alone again, either.

Flash forward 7 years…
Penny is no longer on massive doses of anti-anxiety medication to control her fears.  And although she still needs a small amount of Prozac to help regulate her fear, the discovery and addition of some tried and true natural anxiety remedies has helped create a much calmer and happier dog. She no longer has permanently turned back ears and tucked tail, and she can even be left alone for a few hours at a time without any damage to our home or herself. A very happy ending for a dog who was “last chance”.

The natural anxiety remedies that really work!
First, something to remember: not all remedies work for all animals. Remember that just like humans, animals personalities, degree of fear intensity, brain and body chemistry, etc. are all factors of a remedies efficiency. I have known pet owners who swear by one remedy, and for another it didnt work at all. The key is persistence and the ability to try it all once. Below is a short list of some of the remedies that have worked well for Penny, and some that didnt work so well for her, but that have been reported to work well for other animals.

Herbs and Herbal remedies:
Adding herbs to  your dogs diet in the form of powders or pills to the food or water can help even out a dogs fears. Make sure you have your vet approve of these herbs before administering so you can avoid any unpleasant or dangerous interactions with your pet’s medications or health conditions that might be contraindicated.

  • Chamomile: This herb reduces anxiety in dogs that are stressed out. It calms the nerve as well as induces sleep. You can give chamomile tea to your dog before a long drive or soak a treat in the tea.
  • Lemon Balm: A sedative herb that is effective in treating excitability and dog anxiety.
  • Oat: Oat is an excellent nerve-calming herb and is nutritious as well. Cooked oatmeal can be added to your dog’s food.
  • Valerian: Valerian reduces tension, anxiety, overexcitability in dogs.
  • Skullcap: Skullcap is effective for nervous tension. It also helps epileptic dogs.
  • Echinacea: This herb has immune-strengthening qualities and can be used continually (in moderation) to boost the body’s immune system under stress.
  • Bach’s Flower Remedy “Rescue Remedy

Compression Wraps:
Compression wraps or “thunder shirts” are tightly fitting fabric wraps that seems to calm dogs who wear them. Published scientific studies on the wraps is scant, but scientists say they are likely to take the edge off the anxiety in some dogs. Two popular brands are the “Thunder Shirt” and the “Anxiety Wrap”. Penny has the “Anxiety Wrap”, and while it wasnt a miracle cure, it certainly does help.

Pet Pheramone productsDog pheromone products are used for general stress, separation anxiety, noise phobias, such as those caused by storms or fireworks, and travel. Pet pheromone products are said to mimic natural cat or dog pheromones and come in various forms, including sprays, plug-in diffusers, wipes, and collars.

Massage: Massage reduces anxiety in humans, and it turns out it does in pets, too. Simply sitting down and stroking your dog or cat can relax both of you pretty profoundly. Research shows that petting your dog stimulates creation of the hormone Oxytocin–the same hormone that is created between human touch. Aside from massage, owners of anxious or fearful dogs should be encouraged to explore other types of therapeutic touch, including Tellington Touch or “T-Touch” training, developed by Linda Tellington-Jones for which a variety of books and videos are available.

Traditional western medications: Although this post is about natural remedies, it is worth mentioning that there are a variety of prescription drugs that were originally developed for human use, but have many uses for pets as well. If your pet’s anxiety is severe, a combination of both natural remedies and prescription drugs may do the trick. Consult with your vet on what is best and appropriate for your pet.

And finally, be aware that the following factors can contribute to behavioral or emotional problems in pets:

  • Medical – Pain from medical conditions can cause an animal to act stressed, to stop eating and drinking, and to pant excessively.
  • Environmental Stress – A family pet can sense discord in a household and may act jumpy, distrustful or defensive. Evaluate your environment to see if there are ways to alleviate tension so that your companion feels safe and valued as a member of your household. Check where the animals bed is placed to make sure he/she feels safe in that area especially.
  • Anxiety – Kenneling and travel can produce anxiety in pets.  Some pets experience nausea in the car, while others may associate a ride in the car with being left at a kennel or a trip to the vet.  This type of anxiety, as well as separation anxiety, can result in a range of unwanted conduct from your pet.   Acting in a calm, unhurried manner will help reduce some anxiety.  Products containing natural calming herbs such as valerian root, chamomile and passion flower help to sooth the nervous system. Flower essence (Rescue Remedy) have been used successfully for many years to reduce anxiety.
  • Exercise – Lack of exercise and attention often results in destructive or annoying behavior such as barking, digging or chewing on the wrong things.  A daily walk or game of catch provides an outlet for your dog’s energy. And it is good for your health too!
  • Loud noises – While you can’t always prevent loud noises, you can reduce the fear or anxiety your pet feels by providing companionship during holiday celebrations or thunderstorms.
  • Nutrition – Make sure that your dog or cat is getting a high quality diet with the proper balance of nutrients. For example, an all protein diet can cause anxiety or hyperactivity and chemical additives can lead to aggression or hypersensitivity.  If your dog or cat begins behaving badly or has sudden changes in their demeanor, evaluate what they are eating.  As the old saying goes,you are what you eat.

 

Why are you still at that spa chain?

small-chain-infographic

Click image to enlarge

This month I decided to tackle a subject I have tackled once before on this blog: the difference between being a client at a spa chain (like Massage Envy or Hand and Stone--just to name a few), or being a client at a smaller locally owned spa that has one or two locations, and is not franchised.

In my last post on the subject, my focus was on the fact that both the spa chain and the deep discount sites that sell massage deals (think Groupon or Living Social) tend to center around cost savings as opposed to the quality of experience that you receive. Everyone loves a good deal, especially during financial hardship, but do the spa chains really deliver the value for cost that they claim?

Big vs. Small–the problem of scale
The internet is bursting with complaints about spa chain customer service, policy and pricing tactics–they even have a whole website devoted to complaints about spa chain heavy Massage Envy.  And just last week, a woman came forward with a tale of sexual misconduct by a Miami Massage Envy employee. The client is suing them for their alleged lack of policy that would prosecute sexual misconduct through proper law enforcement and legal channels.

Problems of the aforementioned can arise in all massage business environments and aren’t limited to spa chains, but the difference between problems at a spa chain vs. problems at the smaller local massage business level seems to be based on scale and policy, which trickle down to customer service issues. In a larger franchised spa chain, your business policies and procedures are dictated by the larger entity which govern all of the spas within that franchise with the same rules. Conversely, in a smaller local spa business, a business owner is not beholding to the rules and policies set by a larger corporate entity and things like employee wages, pricing and promotions, policy and customer service can often reflect a more regional focus and have more freedom to measure the needs of the clients they serve.

Freedom to offer more and better to clients
Smaller, localized spas often offer amenities, pricing, and customer service that beat the spa chains, simply because of the freedom they have to develop a deeper relationship with the clients they serve and respond to customer requests and preferences. For example, booking an appointment with a specific therapist may be feasible at a spa chain, but very often you have to take the therapist that happens to be working at the time. Spa chains traditionally have high employee turnover because of low wages and overwork. The therapist you got this week wont necessarily be the same one you will get next week. Once you do get an appointment, how is the customer service and atmosphere? Many clients report feeling rushed through the experience, lacking atmosphere or personalization. The therapists massage skills and experience may have been less than desired (again, think low wages), with little follow up or charting to help regular clients meet their wellness and pain reduction goals.

Pricing and Promotions–are the chains really the value they say they are?
This is where the spa chains would seem to shine, but let’s take a closer look at the Massage Envy subscription model as an example. Massage Envy sells an introductory 60 minute massage for $49, and then does the hard sell for a membership for the cost of $59 per month. That $59 monthly fee entitles you to one 60 minute massage, and other “amenities” that might include a facial or discounts on additional massage.  $59 per month for a massage seems like a pretty good deal, and it is. But when you compare the pricing and amenities of the spa chain to that which you get at a smaller spa like Catalyst Massage studio and spa in Portland, you will notice that you actually get better amenities, environment, monthly specials, and better pricing on multiple massage packages, without the hard sell and commitment of a subscription.

Let’s look at this info graphic that spells out the differences. So why are you still at that spa chain?

 

The Doshas seen through the prism of Spring

Photo by Randi Hausken

Photo by Randi Hausken

As the old adage goes, “April showers bring May flowers”. It’s the final ‘act’ of Spring and with it comes somewhat of a catch: allergies! It seems every “allergy season” is not only longer, but stronger with many people experiencing such a ramification on congestion it can be difficult for one to assume if they’re simply suffering heavily from seasonal change or actually have a cold.

To take a look at allergies from an Ayurvedic perspective, we might look at the results of a common phenomenon to an accumulation of one of the three founding Doshas, or archetypical energies that make up matter around us, Kapha.  Kapha is the archetypical energy that metaphysically represents “water” and “earth” together. In the body, most all WATER-like substances of matter {i.e. mucuous, fat, plasma, etc.} are considered to have a KAPHA nature. During the Winter, we store up Kapha and during Spring that Kapha is meant to be released. One could suppose that this may largely be where the inclination for things like “spring cleaning” or even “spring fever” comes from; the need to shed excess Kapha in the body by burning fat and releasing toxins through increased movement resulting in an increase of energy and joy.

Dealing with issues such as a slowness or sluggishness of energy, digestion, poor elimination of fluid or wastes from the body resulting in a build up of toxins or excessive oiliness are all signs of high amounts of KAPHA in the body.

I like to think of Spring as a time to take on some of our biggest challenges by using the transformative and whirlwind nature of this season to make big changes in our day-to-day lives. You may find yourself making big changes to you lifestyle routines or habits; a new job, moving to a new place or even changing your interpersonal relationship or how you participate within them.

So how can all this change, even chaos, of Spring play into receiving more massage? Let us first take a look at how change, Spring allergies and even the dosha Kapha relate to the physiological nervous system:

When allergies start, it’s difficult to get our nervous system to cease its sensitivity to environmental stimuli. It is from this perspective that receiving REGULAR massage may actually have a preventative and calming effect in allowing what may be an overworked or over “toxified”(sometimes both) nervous system the ability to have a fighting chance to not react so heavily to environmental allergens in the first place. This can not only reduce your severity of symptoms to allergies but in some cases may effectively act as a preventative to allergies in the first place, much in the way chronic allergy sufferers might, in a preventative effort, take an allergy pill BEFORE exposure to allergens begins for better allergy relief.

As mentioned, allergies will be stronger in bodies that have a higher accumulation of toxins. Individuals who tend to have higher amounts of “Kapha” in their bodies, or who have accumulated excessive Kapha during the preceding Winter, may also notice a higher incidence of allergy symptoms.
Slow, rhythmic touch along energy channels signals particular types of hormone and chemical releases through the endocrine and nervous systems. When we use this same type of “informed touch” in reducing tension, hypertonicity, metabolic waste or toxins, increase circulation and relieve muscle fiber bundles(when multiple muscle fibers get ‘stuck’ together creating trigger points or ‘knots’) that cause pain, hypertonicty, stiffness or blockages in the musculoskeletal system we get a largely detoxifying effect.
The pleasurable sensation of relief from muscle spasms or chronic tightness in muscles also creates a calming effect on the nervous system, which only increases our ability to reduce environmental sensitivity.

When we are highly stressed however, we may become easily overwhelmed resulting in excessive emotions, particularly grief, anxiety or even suppressed emotions resulting in apathy or depression or a general numbness or sensation of feeling disconnected to that which gives us purpose or satisfaction, joy.
In this way, we can experience something very similar to what our nervous system experiences during allergy season; when we’re calm, we’re more comfortable being fully present in each moment, we have a stronger ability to make sound choices using reason and intuition (the ability to use multiple senses at once to perceive or understand) to creatively solve problems.

There are many ways to bring oneself back to balance, but when we look to massage as part of our lifestyles in aiding us to find an inner peace from which to move forth and really live, the results give each individual who chooses to pursue and utilize them an ability to have more choice an action rather than an overwhelming need to react to every action or under-react, even ignore, the things not just happening around but inside of us as well.

It is in this state that many of us find the secret to what it means to be feel truly “alive”; and with such a beautiful array of blossoms, sunshine and that sense in the air that change is coming, what better time to feel alive and really thrive!

The four balancing elements of Spring: Earth, Water, Air + Fire

Photo by Trevor Leyenhorst

Photo by Trevor Leyenhorst

  There are many age-old healing modalities that all share a common, “holistic”, thread—that the universe, its planetary systems, the Earth and our own bodies share a common oneness through energy that could generally be described such as: energy + atoms = matter.

 In many of these modalities the study of physiological and energetic characteristics of particular natural elements, seen as the building blocks of ourselves and our environment, illuminate a greater picture into the science of biology and healing. We see many different examples and viewpoints in the 5-Element Theory of Chinese Medicine or Polarity. In Ayurveda, a similar collection of elements are organized into three DOSHAS, each Dosha being comprised of two elements, each having a synergistic effect within its self and interactions with other Doshas.

 While each one has its own unique perspective, a (very) generalized frame of reference on some of the basic commonly agreed upon characteristics of the Elements as applied in medicine could be described as follows…

AIR [thought; the mind]
Wind energy ‘opens’ and moves things through the body; touch, sound and other kinetic stimuli bring electrical impulses from the brain down nervous system passageways bringing ‘awareness’ to those areas.

WATER [emotions]
Removes blockages, clearing the path it travels, often decreasing or moving one energy out or away so another energy may contain that space instead; all liquid, like blood or plasma, in the body is represented as water. It’s a medium the body uses to remove toxins, deliver oxygen, revitalize tissues and relieve or reduce cases of excess or insufficiency in temperature, pH, nutrients etc. A common example could be how lymphatic fluid moves toxins out of the body, or immersing the body in hot or cold water has an effect on increasing or decreasing circulation of the vascular system.

EARTH [body]
Earth energy ‘builds’ strength and structure where an area is too weak or damaged. Sometimes performed by administering plant ingredients to particular areas of the body to add nutrients and vitamins. We may also recommend building or strengthening parts of the body with exercise to protect that area.

FIRE [energy; spirit]
Ignites or ‘energizes’ an area that is dull, lifeless or lacking in oxygen; by adding or creating heat (a form of energy), increasing circulation, blood cells containing vital energy for the body’s molecular structure travel to cold, DE-oxygenated tissues and increases the energy available to those parts of the body. A dramatic example of ‘fire’ energy in medicine, beyond just increasing circulation through manual manipulation and movement of muscles, could be the practice in Chinese medicine known as ‘cupping’. There have been several adaptations into varieties of styles in terms of types of cups used and how they are administered to the body to create a ‘suction’ effect, creating what is essentially a myofascial release. There is however a traditional method that does in fact involve actual fire heating glass cups which NEVER burn the client’s skin but create a detoxifying effect and a deep release in the muscles and surrounding fascia.

Taking the above guidelines into account, one might use WATER to purify and renew themselves. You get a sort of renewal from this process; when the body’s natural flow of movement, energy absorption and exchange or use, and removal of wastes is unimpeded by blockages(congestion, weakness, damage) we find the human body far more adept at maintaining homeostatic conditions even when the environment is stressful.
In this way, water prolongs us, it gives us extra room for endurance or strength to continue and endure without drying up or cracking. The show really can’t go on without water!
We can also easily see what happens when anything is over-accumulated or used in excess.
 Too much air and ideas become may chaotic, in excess the mind seems clouded with thought. Too much heat exhausts and depletes energy rather than making us feel lively and revitalized. Too much earth and we are weighed down with congestion of organs or tissues, instead energy is exhausted trying to feed imbalances caused by blockages, accumulations, congestion, etc.
 In this way, too much water drowns or removes too many resources creating a more drying and aging affect than a moisturizing, renewing benefit. If there is a constant “washing away” of something with water, the area being overly cleansed often becomes weakened and may deteriorate, as energy and substance cannot build and create a ‘presence’ when they are constantly being removed.
 
So, when the onslaught of April’s showers seems to be flooding your flowerbeds, remember that the archetypes of Spring and nature shows us opportunity to bring out the ‘sun’ to give a new energy back to what the water has washed away.
 Light candles, sing or dance to your favourite song, do something that ignites your passionate side with someone who helps you to feel your emotions strongly. Rediscover where you’re most creative, what subjects do you seem to have a boundless amount of energy to talk about with others?
When waters flow, let them flow and don’t hold them back—but once the deluge has subsided or appears to ebb, allow some sunshine to trickle in; feed what has been washed away. Ask yourself what energy is needed to replace what once lived here and bloom into something special.

Marching into Spring

image by Eileen M. Kane

image by Eileen M. Kane

Spring is edging nearer! March 20th will mark this year’s Vernal Equinox, also commonly referred to as the “First Day of Spring”; and in the Pacific Northwest Spring time is especially sweet.

The Vernal Equinox and its meaning
The equinox represents an almost neutral moment in time where the earth’s axis prepares to begin rotating its tilt towards the Sun resulting in what we experience as then end of one season’s cycle and the eve of another season’s beginning. It represents not just a neutral point between longer days and shorter nights for the Northern Hemisphere but a transition from darkness to light, as the Sun appears to travel the equator giving us warmer and warmer days leading up to what we all hope will be a glorious (and not TOO short) summer!

Inner Spring Cleaning
While we prepare for the Sun to return we reflect upon the goals many of us have made over the winter. We feel a subtle spark, a resurgence of hope that new beginnings are just around the corner and may prepare to in fact take out the old to make way for the new. Not surprisingly our bodies go through such a similar cycle when we encounter a major new environment or season change. You may notice a spike in common flu or allergy-like symptoms going around; many of us experience an excess amount of mucous or toxins preparing to leave the body. Indeed, Spring is the “detoxification” season of the year.

While a full body detox should always be done under the supervision of a healthcare professional and given plenty of time free from stressful obligations (like work or school) to complete and recover from, there are lots of little ways in which we can assist our bodies own detoxifying efforts to keep us healthy as well as a preventative form of self care to keep your immune defenses high during the year’s “cold/flu/allergy seasons”, combat stress and keep your inner fire strong!

Tips:
Body Brushing
A dry ‘bristle-brush’, like the ones you find in the bath section, can be used all over the body, brushing in a gentle circular motion always moving towards the heart. Brushing upon waking and/or before bedtime, especially, is a relaxing and meditative form of self care that can be easily incorporated into any routine. It’s not only relaxing to the central nervous system, but the bristles buff away dead skin cells, keeping pores clear and skin soft. Superficial brushing movements utilizing light pressure help move LYMPH, a clear almost plasma-like substance full of white blood cells that bathes your tissues carrying away toxins and draining into the channels of the ‘lymphatic system’ to keep your body healthy. This is one great way to ensure toxins actually LEAVE your body, as oftentimes stress factors and poor diet or environment create blockages preventing lymph from traveling channels through which the body disposes of toxins. Assisting the process speeds up recovery from illness and in a daily routine will keep you feeling healthy and relaxed at the start and end of your day.

Eating Well
What you eat is a large factor in the ‘building blocks’ your body uses on the cellular level for growth, change and especially repairs. When our diet leaves out key nutrients we need for cellular repairs or to combat the stresses of our lifestyles or environment we don’t recover from stress as well and notice signs of aging. If stress levels are very high we are more accident prone and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep focus calmly in the present.. We may notice we make more mistakes at work or home, that we seem to ‘bump’ into things or even incur physical mishaps which may seem to recover slower than usual. A diet that incorporates seasonal foods doesn’t just keep allergies at bay but are more likely to provide key nutrients to combat the illnesses or stresses you are most likely to incur, season to season. Even getting a dose of local honey just a couple weeks before major climate changes each season can cut down many seasonal allergy sufferers’ symptoms.
 By keeping ‘in rhythm’ with your environment you can keep the toll stress has on the body low enough to adjust to season changes as well as lifestyle changes which can be equally overwhelming, though experienced in a different way.

Focusing on Your Sleep Cycle
Who couldn’t use some more sleep in their life? We all know sleep is the best time for the body to make serious changes and repairs but did you know that WHEN you sleep also may impart many factors into the quality of sleep you get, as well as your energy upon waking. In Ayurveda, a long-standing traditional Indian form of science, the body will respond to certain activities based on their energetic nature at certain times of day, which have their own energetic nature as well. For example, many yogis and people who meditate will utilize the ascending currents of the earth which are strongest between roughly 2:00am and 6:00 am for deeply significant spiritual meditation whereas between 10:00 am and 2:00pm are considered the body’s high points of metabolic activity and noon is considered the best time to eat your heavies to or most difficult to digest meal. As Spring approaches we notice the light waking us earlier and staying with us longer; while it may take a few tries to get into a rewarding rhythm, slowing things down as early as 6 or 7pm and aiming to get into bed and asleep by or before 10 or 11pm gives the body the best chance at getting the most out of it’s sleeping cycles, which includes waking refreshed with more energy as early as 6am. Many of us find waking early to be difficult, but getting deep restful sleep is a great combatant to lethargic mornings, especially for people who must start their days early. So aiming to get your sleep between 10pm and 6am is not only a great way to ensure your body is able to heal, grow and adapt to change but also an excellent regimen to inspire and refresh your mind and energy while you’re awake.

Kick Up The Heat!
Many of us make new year’s resolutions to incorporate or ‘beef up’ our exercise routine for a variety of reasons; weight loss, increased energy and stamina, a cleaner and healthier physical body and a calmer,less stressed mental/emotional body. Getting a daily dose of physical expression to exert energy, pump blood through the body and to give our over-stimulated minds a break is definitely a staple in any health care regimen. So what kind of exercise is indicated when you take a ‘seasonal’ approach to your self-care? To take another cue from Ayurveda, we might consider the stagnation of the state Winter tends to exhibit with the budding rebirth and renewal of Spring. While we prepare for increased light, increased energy and a general increase in life it makes sense to pick activities which feel stimulating to the heart, mind, or lungs- the same areas most prone to the ‘stagnation’ of Winter. So, what gets you passionate? What makes the juices flow for YOU? An evening solo or family ‘dance hour’ is a fun tradition to add to your household. A ‘pool pass’ instead if a gym membership is also a good way to get into the flow of Spring and re-inspire your aerobic exercise routine. Yoga or Qi Gong can provide a myriad of movements and exercises aimed at increasing energy, moving blood and Qi (“chee”) through the body and to stimulate the release of toxins. And of course, what better way to enjoy this year’s Spring ‘comeback’ than an early morning stroll through your neighborhood or favorite park; long walks give the mind space to relax and unwind increasing its ability to tackle problem-solving tasks with more creativity, while brisk strolls stimulates the extremities and invigorates the lung stimulating the expulsion of any excess chest congestion. Any physical activity that involves lots of movement, is stimulating or gets you to sweat and most importantly inspires your inner passionate side is an excellent tonic to release the Winter’s cobwebs and get a fresh, creative jump into the upswing of Spring!

Get Moving!
In addition to incorporating seasonal produce into your diet, adjusting to an early morning start and enjoying plenty of exercise to keep the flow going, remember to incorporate body work into your self care to keep healthy.

Along with invigorating exercise that gets the blood flowing and lets an over-active mind run its course adding massage to your self-care can help incorporate those many changes on a deeper level; from moving lymph, stagnant toxins and stimulating new blood flow through the body’s tissues you can also give yourself an extra “circadian reset” by taking time for deep relaxation allowing one’s central nervous system to make a ‘switch’ from a constant sympathetic “fight or flight” frequency to that restorative reset we get from the parasympathetic “resting and digesting” state. It is in this state that the involuntary systems are able to gear organ function into high gear and is thus how and when the body is able to not just help make major change happen but also deep healing. It is this same reason that getting deep, restful sleep is so integral to physical healing and regeneration.

This month’s Special, our new March into Spring hand, foot, and body treatment is a combination of relaxation and renewal as a form of detoxification, aimed to help clients not just get a physical but a psychological reset so you can tackle the onset of Spring with a little less ‘sneeze’ and a little more ‘skip’ in your step!

–Post authored by Chloe Phelps, LMT

How emotions affect your health — a direct correlation

Original article by Gemma Tarlach | December 30, 2013 2:00 pm | Image from Discover Magazine online

By Gemma Tarlach | December 30, 2013 2:00 pm | Image from Discover Magazine online

We all know how it feels–a deep sadness feels like a catch in the throat. Anger burns in your face,  and the feeling of surprise hits you right in the chest.

Turns out these physical responses to emotion are universal, and now scientists are proving that they also map directly to certain parts of our bodies. New research reveals that emotional states are universally associated with certain bodily sensations, regardless of individuals’ culture or language.

In the study, more than 700 participants from around the globe participated in experiments which mapped both positive and negative emotions in response to stimuli. These emotions were then computer mapped by coloring in two computer-generated silhouettes — one to note areas of increased bodily sensation and the second to mark areas of decreased sensation. The results are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What is considered “good” emotional health and hygiene, and how does that effect our physical body?
According to most psychologists, people who are emotionally healthy are in control of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They feel good about themselves and have good relationships. They can keep problems in perspective. In other words, they maintain a good balance between life stressors and reactions to those same stressors. Stressors directly affect our health in terms of heart rate, release of stress hormones that affect weight gain and obesity, and stress that affects sleep and the ability to relax.

Tips on dealing with emotions:

  • Think before you act. Emotions can be powerful. But before you get carried away by your emotions and say or do something you might regret, give yourself time to think.
  • Strive for balance in your life. Make time for things you enjoy. Focus on positive things in your life.
  • Take care of your physical health. Your physical health can affect your emotional health. Take care of your body by exercising regularly, eating healthy meals and getting enough sleep. Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol.

Positive emotions can actually improve our health (original article by By Lauren Klein | June 20, 2013 | greatergood.berkeley.edu)
Now a new study goes one step further, not only showing that positive emotions improve health but identifying precisely how they have this effect: by making people feel more socially connected. 

In the study, published online in Psychological Science, researchers divided 65 people into two groups. One received training in the ancient practice of loving-kindness meditation; the other was put on a waiting list for the meditation training. The participants in the meditation group attended one hour-long class per week for six weeks, which they were asked to supplement with daily practice at home. The researchers also assessed participants’ health before the training started and after it ended. To do that, they took readings of participants’ heart rate and breathing patterns—a way of measuring their “vagal tone,” or the activity of their vagus nerve, which regulates heart rate. Vagal tone has been linked to cardiovascular health, and the researchers viewed it as a good objective measure of physical well-being.

People in the loving-kindness meditation group showed greater increases in positive emotions like amusement, awe, and gratitude over the course of the training. And the people who showed greater increases in positive emotions were also more likely to feel more socially connected over time, saying they felt closer and more “in tune” with the people around them. Those feelings of social connection, in turn, were linked to improvements in vagal tone.

HAPPINESS TIP:
Want More Positive Emotions? Learn how to practice loving-kindness meditation from the GGSC’s Christine Carter, or download the audio for a compassion meditation created by Helen Weng of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.

Why do you feel “high” after a massage? Why and how massage works!

4734545741_d8ce3fb338It’s all in your head
Ever try to walk, drive, or try to multitask right after having a great massage? Most people find tasks that require intricate coordination of mind and/or body difficult in the minutes that follow a massage. Most people report feeling “high”– an extreme sense of well being, relaxation, and pleasure is very often the result of having a massage. And remarkably, these sensations do not require even an hour of massage to develop. As little as 15 minutes of massage can produce feelings of relaxation and well being.

So why does massage feel so good? What is there about the physical action in massage that sends these feel good messages to our bodies? The secret lies in the brain.

Douglas Nelson, a neuromuscular therapist  and founder of Precision Neuromuscular Therapy Seminars says this about the science behind the mind/massage/body connection:
“For many decades, the prevailing wisdom was that emotions are experienced in the mind and, as a result, those powerful emotions then affect our body. For example, when someone offends us, we have the emotional experience of anger. Shortly thereafter, we experience physical symptoms of anger, such as increased muscle tension, constricted breathing, and an increased heart rate. On the other hand, powerful positive emotions like joy and happiness also have corresponding physical effects. Our emotions and thoughts have physical consequences. As it turns out, however, the new scientific understanding reveals that these mind-body experiences are at least bi-directional, if not completely the other way around. The emerging science is providing some really good evidence that the physical sensation can lead to the emotion, instead of the emotion manifesting as a physical experience. Your mind is always trying to make sense of what the body experiences. The brain needs a reason for what it experiences; we interpret meaning so we know how to respond appropriately. As an example, let’s imagine you have an increased respiration and pulse rate. Are you excited or are you fearful? When you think about it, the physical experiences of excitement and fear are almost identical. The mind must decide which emotion it is based on the context of the experience. The experience of physical ease is then interpreted by the brain as being a sign of emotional ease. Relaxation of the body is also relaxation of the mind, as evidenced by the fact that the same class of drugs (benzodiazepines) given as muscle relaxants is also used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Furthermore, when you return to work with that emotional framework, it changes what you notice around you as well. Little annoyances don’t seem as disturbing. Since attention is selective, your peaceful and positive emotional state predisposes you to notice lots of little blessings that you previously might have overlooked. This process becomes very self-reinforcing.”

The brain/body connection
In addition to the brain synthesizing experience into physical reactions (and visa-versa), the brain also releases hormones that create physical responses to both stress and relaxation.  According to the MAYO clinic, “When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.  This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.”

Conversely, studies have shown that relaxing situations and activities such as massage stimulate the “feel good” hormones of Oxytocin, while reducing the “stress enhancing” hormone adrenocorticotropin, promoting a feeling of well being, relaxation and pleasure after only 15 minutes of moderate-pressure massage of the upper back.

Why Interrupting stress hormone cycles is important
According to MAYO clinic, interrupting the body’s stress responses could save your life. 

The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. And everyday stressors include commute driving, work related stress, bad diet and lack of exercise.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

You listened to your body’s cry for help and got a massage–now what?
You feel great leaving your massage therapists studio. You want to keep this feeling for as long as possible, realizing the stresses of life will creep back in soon. How can you reap the most benefit from your massage sessions? Practice these “self care” and the benefits of your last massage will last a little longer:

Drink plenty of water!
Your massage therapist will most likely advise you to drink plenty of water after your massage. Water is one of the most important elements of your body’s ability to function efficiently. When you have had a massage, the muscles, bones and facia (the sticky stuff that coats your bones and muscles) have been manipulated to increase circulation of both blood and lymph. Lymph is the clear fluid that “cleans” your body of waste in the form of dead cells that pass through the lymph node system. Increased lymph circulation can result in an increase of movement of waste through our bodies. Waste is eliminated through the urinary and persperation apparatus. Increasing your water intake will help your body rid itself of waste more effectively.

Continue to relax your mind and body
If at all possible, don’t jump right into driving a car, going back to work, or going to a difficult gym class. Instead, read a book, take a hot bath, or do something that promotes and extends the body’s relaxation responses and doesn’t trigger counterproductive stress responses.

Monitor your body’s response to the massage
Sometimes, especially if you are unused to having massage or the pressure used was heavy, you will experience soreness. In the cases of soreness, icing and heat, 10 minutes of ice alternating with 20 minutes of heat, may do the trick to soothe these areas. Over the counter pain relievers that reduce inflammation, such as Ibuprofin or Asprin, can also help. Drinking plenty of water will help the sore muscles recover more quickly.

 

 

 

 

Avoid winter cold + flu bugs with immune boosting massage

sick

Boosting your immunity through diet, rest and stress reduction is a good way to keep those winter sicknesses at bay. But did you know that massage therapy has been proven to help boost your immunity through clinical studies? Its true!

Initial studies revealed that Swedish massage therapy caused a decrease in vasopressin and a lesser decrease in cortisol levels (cortisol is a hormone brought on by high stress levels). A single session of massage therapy seems to have depressant effects on vasopressin and cortisol for as long as 60-minutes after the intervention.1

In another study, immune depressed HIV positive men were given 45 minute massages five days a week, for a month. They showed an increase in serotonin and an increase in natural killer cells, viewed as the first line of defense in the immune system.

Another benefit to the immune system with massage, is the stimulation of circulation of blood through the heart, as well as the stimulation of lymph through the system. Lymph is the body’s “cleaning crew”. This clear fluid sweeps toxins, dead cells, and infective organisms out of the body through our execretory channels. Stimulation of lymph happens when we exercise, or when we get a massage, where it is manually pushed through our systems. Increased blood circulation through massage brings fresh oxygen and nutrients to the entire body, helping to heal injury and illness.

Increased stress is also known to weaken the body’s immune response by increasing the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone that prompts increased heart rate while decreasing our immune response. Massage was proven to decrease our cortisol levels  while at the same time, increasing the feel-good and well being hormones of seratonin and dopamine chemicals in our brains.

So while you are getting that flu shot, eating right and practicing good hygiene, schedule a massage or two during the winter to boost that immune system and feel comforted all over.

 

References:

  1. Rapaport MH, Schettler P, Bresee C. A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Sep 1. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 20809811; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3107905.

How to give a sweet massage!

mad_skills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don’t have to be a Licenced Massage Therapist (LMT), or even Napoleon Dynamite (although that might help) to give a sweet massage to a friend or family member. Great massage techniques are easy and come very naturally with just a little practice.

Let’s start with the basics:

Tip #1: A little pressure goes a long way
You might be tempted to press as hard as you can into the muscle area when you first start with the massage, but by taking your time and easing into the pressure, going from lightest to heaviest, your partner will be the most comfortable and it will be the most effective. It also gives your partner’s nervous system time to adjust to what the body is receiving. Once your partner is comfortable with the pressure you are using, communicate with them and ask if they would like a little more or if they are OK where it is at. Talk with them to find out what feels best–everyone is different, so dont assume–ask!

Tip #2: Work the muscle, not the bone
Deciphering the difference between muscle and bone takes a little practice, but it is worth the effort because direct, heavy pressure on bones and joints can be dangerous–and won’t feel good to your partner. Sometimes muscles that are extremely tight (or hypertonic) might feel a bit like bone, but with a little palpation (feeling the body area using a soft touch) before you begin will help you figure out the difference. Muscles will generally feel a little softer and more moveable than bone, and you will be able to manipulate muscle under your fingers. After palpating the area, if you still arent sure which is which, ask your partner to move a joint while you palpate the area. This should help identify what is muscle and what is bone (the shoulder blade on the back is an area that often gets mistaken for muscle). Remember, if you can find a bone, you can palpate around that bone to find the muscles that attach to it and work on those instead! And NEVER press down on joints or the spine directly!

Here is a great video of how to do a palpation of the back and shoulder blade area.

Tip #3: Work slowly, thoroughly and gently!
Once you have found the muscles you want to work with, take the work slowly, and try to work the muscle all the way to the end (until you reach bone). Working slowly instead of quickly helps trigger the body’s Parasympathetic nervous system — the one that helps us rest and relax. Working the muscle its full length will help release tension in the muscles attachment areas.

Tip #4: Use little oil or lotion sparingly
Most often it is a good idea to use some kind of oil or lotion while you are giving a massage to bare skin. It helps reduce friction and is much more soothing than massage without any lubrication. However, using too much oil or lotion can reduce friction so much that the effectiveness of the massage is reduced. Use only the amount of oil or lotion that is needed to make the glide over your partners skin smooth, but not so much that they are slipping out from under your grasp. Try to use a vegetable or nut based oil such as Avocado, Sweet Almond or Jojoba. If you are using a lotion, make sure it will be viscous enough to give you some slide on the skin.

So now that we know a little bit about how to approach our partner while doing a massage, here are a few technique videos and tips to help make your next massage a sweet one.

Massage #1: The Back Rub
Video Demonstration

Anyone who sits at a desk or a computer for a large period of time during the day, or anyone who does heavy lifting or repetitive retractive arm movements will most likely have sore Rhomboid, Trapezius, and Posterior Cervical muscles. These muscles are the most commonly over exerted muscles in the back, neck and shoulder areas, and ones that most people find great relief in having massaged. The Rhomboids are the muscles that run in an angle from your upper spine to the edge of each shoulder blade (or Scapula) on each side. The Trapezius is one of the biggest muscles in the body and covers the top of the shoulders, the back of the neck and part of the upper back. The Posterior Cervical muscles are the neck muscles that run from the base of your skull to the upper part of your back.

Massage #2: The legs and feet
Video Demonstration

There is very little that feels as good as a nice leg and foot massage! It seems to melt all your troubles away in a very short amount of time. The feet contain a dizzying array of nerve endings and can trigger a relaxation response to your whole body. Chinese medicine practitioners believe that Reflexology massage can help heal your body of illness and toxins because the feet are channels to the major organs. When you do a foot massage, be sure to include the ankles (gently!) and the lower leg. Tip! Some people have sensitive calves and lower legs, so be very gentle and avoid any spider or vericose veins.

Massage #3: The arms and hands
Video Demonstration

Most of us work on computers these days, and all that tap tap tapping and mousing can really take a toll on tired hands and forearms. Like the feet, the hands and wrists hold many nerves. These nerves run up through the upper arm, forearm and through the chest and on to the shoulder area in many cases. When the nerves in the wrist or hand become entrapped from overuse or repetitive motions, they can cause pain in the arm and neck, and restrict full range of motion there.

Now you are ready to give your partner a sweet, safe massage with your mad new skills! As Napoleon would say…“LUCKY!”