Aromatherapy: The surprising connection between mind, body and scent

Aroma Oil in Bottles with Lavender, Pine and MintAromatherapy: it’s more than just a pleasant smell

Ever walk into a relaxing spa or a home kitchen when someone is baking, and instantly feel calmer because of the scent? Or the reverse—walking into a dentists or hospital’s waiting room and feel anxious for the scent that is there? That is Aromatherapy at work.

Aromatherapy is defined as a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person’s mind,moodcognitive function or health. Plants are generally steam distilled to allow thier natural oils to be harvested. These oils carry with them the essence (or scent) of the plant they were distilled from, and carry with them not only the scent in concentrated amounts, but also the natural healing benefits those plants deliver.

Aromatherapy has been used to treat illness and injury since the eleventh century. A French surgeon, Jean Valnet, pioneered the medicinal uses of essential oils, which he used as antiseptics in the treatment of wounded soldiers during World War II, and is still being used today in some french hospitals as an air purifier.

How Aromatherapy is used

Essential oils can be applied topically to the skin, usually in a carrier oil to aid absorption, or can be inhaled from a diffuser or directly.

Applying Essential oils to the skin is purported to have many beneficial health qualities which include infection treatment of wounds or injury to the skin and reduction of eczema-induced itching. Stated uses of inhalation include pain and anxiety reduction, enhancement of energy and short-term memory, relaxation, hair loss prevention.  Tea Tree and Eucalyptus Essential oils are often used to combat fungus and bacterial infections of the skin, due to their anecdotal anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.

Essential oils are often applied to the skin in a carrier oil during massage. The benefits of oils such as Lavender, Eucalyptus, and Sandalwood are often reported as aiding brain and body relaxation during the massage, making the body work that much more effective at easing stress. Oils such as Peppermint, Chamomile and Clove are natural pain relievers when mixed with massage oil and can aid in topical pain relief for sore muscles.

Choosing the right oil for you

Choosing the right Essential oil depends on your state of mind, mood, or health at the time. You may choose an oil to use as a daily energy booster, or one to inhale or apply to aid sleep at night. Some Essential oils can be applied topically to prevent fungal infections of the feet, or to use in the shower to uplift your mood in the morning. Below is a list of some Essential oils and thier applications:

Lavender: Balancing, soothing, clarifying, normalizing
Eucalyptus: Purifying, invigorating, balancing, cooling
Peppermint: Revitalizing, refreshing, energizing, cooling
Rosemary: Clarifying, warming, invigorating
Ylang Ylang: Sensual, euphoric, romantic, alluring, exotic
* Sweet Orange: Cheering, refreshing, uplifting
Bergamot: Uplifting, normalizing, confidence building
Lemon: Energizing, uplifting, refreshing, strengthening
Geranium: Uplifting, balancing, relaxing, normalizing
Patchouli: Romantic, uplifting, soothing

Analgesic (pain relieving) oils:  German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus ), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana), Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct. linalool)

The next time your massage therapist asks you if you want any Aromatherapy with your massage, consider the many benefits of Essential oils, think about what you want to achieve with the session, and choose an oil which will help the therapist get you there.


Topical Analgesics: What they are, what they do, how they help with pain, and a comparison of products.

What they are

Topical Analgesics are a category of products that are used to treat pain topically, when applied to an area of the body that is feeling topical pain such as a sprained or strained muscle, muscle cramping, joint or bone pain such as arthritis. These are over the counter (OTC) medications and can be sold by a pharmacy, a health care facility or an individual health care practitioner such as a Chiropractor or a Massage Therapist.

Topical analgesic products are available in a variety of formulations, including gels, ointments, creams, lotions, and patches, and are intended to be used for mild-to-moderate pain for no longer than 7 days, unless otherwise directed by a physician.

What they do + how they work
Topical Analgesics relieve pain at the surface nerve level of your skin, rather than “sinking in” to the muscle level (despite what advertisers may claim), however, the interesting part of how they work is that they STIMULATE the nerves there rather than depressing them, the way analgesics such as aspirin or topical anesthetics do, creating a “counter irritant” effect to the external nerves of your skin, providing temporary pain relief. Topical Analgesics may be used in combination with other oral analgesics such as aspirin or Ibuprofen when appropriate for extra relief.

Comparisons of product formulations 



Counter Irritant (Topical Analgesics) come in a variety of active ingredients. They vary in the way the active ingredient affects the nerves surrounding the application area. Some products such as Sombra Gel, used in many acute pain applications such as overworked muscles and sprains, rely on Capsicum or Capsaicin, which is the “heat” element that is found in hot peppers. The slight irritation that the capsicum gives to the skin and underlying nerves is then felt to our brains as “heat”, bringing blood to the area of the skin and providing pain relief.

Products such as BioFreeze provide a cooling sensation with the use of Menthol and Camphor, which It works on the premise that cold signals travel to the brain faster then pain signals. The brain puts its attention on the sensations of the cold signals instead of the pain signals. However, unlike ice, it does not constrict the blood vessels.

Products such as Aspercreme and Bengay contain aspirin as an active ingredient, which may cause concern for some individuals who cannot or do note want to take aspirin for medical reasons.

Contraindications and cautions
Areas treated with counterirritants should not be covered with tight bandages or occlusive dressings, and they should not be used over broken or damaged skin.  The use of these products should be discontinued if the patient experiences excessive redness or blistering of the skin. Patients should also be advised not to use heating devices in conjunction with topical counterirritants.1 Patients on anticoagulation therapy should be advised not to use topical products that contain salicylates, because use has been associated with prolonged prothrombin time.Patients should be advised to use these products as directed and to apply topical products only to intact skin. Finally, pharmacists should encourage patients to seek medical care from their primary health care provider if pain worsens or persists after 7 days of self-treatment.

1. Wright, Eric. Musculoskeletal Injuries and Disorders In: Berardi R, Newton G, McDermott JH, et al, eds. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. 16th ed. Washington, DC: American Pharmacists Association; 2006: 94-113. – See more at:


Natural Remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD)


What is SAD, and why is the Pacific Northwest so prone to it?
Living in the Pacific Northwest we get plenty of fresh air and green landscape that is the envy of many of our southern western states, and what makes it so beautiful year round. Accompanying all that green, however, comes a hefty share of rain, drizzle, cold weather, and grey days that seem to linger on far into the Spring, when other parts of the country are starting to burst into sunshine.

Combine the long stretches of grey weather and no sunshine with the continued barrage of dismal and violent news lately, and you have the recipe for the “winter blues”, or for some, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called SAD, is defined by the Mayo Clinic as ” a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you’re like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression in the spring or early summer.” 

If you find yourself feeling blue on yet another overcast day, you arent alone. Interestingly, cases of SAD are rarely reported in the tropics, but is measurably present at latitudes of 30 degrees N (or S) and higher (the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Seattle being 45 degrees and North). Seasonal mood variations are believed to be related mostly to daylight, not temperature.

Symptoms of SAD

Winter-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating

Natural Remedies for SAD
So what can you do to break out of the grey sky funk? According to Mayo Clinic, There are several natural remedies to treat Seasonal Depression. Here are a list of a few to try:


  • St. John’s wort. This herb has traditionally been used to treat a variety of problems, including depression. It may be helpful if you have mild or moderate depression.
  • SAMe. This is a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body. SAMe hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat depression in the United States. However, it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.
  • Melatonin. This natural hormone helps regulate mood. A change in the season may change the level of melatonin in your body.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help relieve depression symptoms and have other health benefits. Sources of omega-3s include fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Omega-3s are also found in certain nuts and grains and in other vegetarian sources, but it isn’t clear whether they have the same effect as fish oil.

Mind & Body Therapies

According to Massage Magazine and several clinical studies, receiving massage with the goal of releasing the structural collapse associated with depression will bring the person from a hopeless, helpless collapsed structure to one that is supported and erect. This sense of support will give the person feelings of being stronger and more capable of dealing with the issues of their depression.

Dr. Mason Turner, Chief of Psychiatry, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, said that massage therapy can help with depression by relieving muscle tension and improving physical health, which is important to helping the body relax so the mind can relax. Massage, he said, helps with the body-mind connection, which can improve overall health and aid in stress management.

“Anything that helps the person connect their mind and body together can be helpful,” he said.

Massage Therapy and those feel-good brain chemicals
When done correctly, a massage usually provides immediate gratification. It is safe, and people often feel relaxed and calm from the time the massage begins. The National Institutes of Health, in one a recent study concluded that:, “Research supports the general conclusion that massage therapy is effective. The studies included in the analysis suggest that a single session of massage therapy can reduce ‘state anxiety’ (a reaction to a particular situation), blood pressure, and heart rate, and multiple sessions can reduce ‘trait anxiety’ (general anxiety-proneness), depression, and pain.”

No doubt, massage is a great way to reduce stress and to help heal injured or sore muscles, but one over-looked use for massage is to help treat depression. Massage does this by increasing the feel-good chemicals in our brains. The key chemical or neurotransmitter released during massage that research shows plays a major role in depression is serotonin.

It is believed that serotonin is linked to our feelings of happiness. Serotonin levels are also key to our ability to stave off anxiety and stress. It is interesting to note that many of the anti-depressants you can take for depression work similarly, by increasing serotonin levels.

Massage also does WHAT?
So if that isnt enough to make you book that next appointment on a rainy day, listen to this: Massage therapy actually CHANGES YOUR BRAIN WAVES. Yep.

This is similar to the effect that meditation brings, a feeling of calm and relaxation. The brain wave pattern that massage promotes is the alpha wave. When your brain is producing alpha waves it stimulates certain groups of nerve cells that produce certain chemicals, one of them being serotonin. And increased production of serotonin has been shown to be a factor in helping depression.

Studies done on alpha waves show that increasing the levels of alpha wave activity in the brain decreases levels of:

  • tension
  • anxiety
  • depression,dejection
  • anger/hostility
  • fatigue

The research is clear that increasing your brain’s alpha wave level helps fight the symptoms of depression at least temporarily.

Of course, everyone is subject to feeling blue, but when these feelings become overwhelming and last for long periods of time, they can keep you from leading a normal, active life. That’s when it’s time to seek medical help.

The antidote to SAD?
So maybe one treatment for SAD might just be a good massage, a silly movie, a chat with a good friend, a good meal, and a good bar of chocolate. Not necessarily in that order. 🙂





Making Massage Fat Freindly


I am blessed with all kinds of body sizes and shapes visiting Catalyst Massage.  Every day, we have the opportunity to treat pain relief, help people relax and feel good in their own skin.  I love the diversity of working on different body types–it keeps our practice strong and real, varied and interesting.

Many times I get asked what kind of body types I prefer to work with. I get asked if there are any body types that I am offended by or would rather avoid. I can genuinely say that I (nor any of the therapists who work with me) feel that any body type is offensive. A body to most massage therapists is a puzzle to unlock–we are concerned not with the outward appearance, but with the challenge that each body presents to us. How can we be most effective at relieving pain? What techniques are best used to address client’s complaints, and how can I make this client feel their best when they leave? The element of judgement simply does not come into play with a skilled and professional therapist. It is not within our scope or thoughts when treating our clients, and it should not enter into any part of our therapeutic relationships. When you are on our table, you are beautiful and perfect.

Fat Body Type and Acceptance
I do notice that there is a wide range of body acceptance among my clients (mostly women) who are what our society might term “fat”, and what the medical community would term “obese”.  I have had 300 lb clients who love the body they are in and it shines on them in confidence and joy. I have also had 120 lb clients who are physically perfect and look like models, but complain and apologise for their “imperfections” and feel ugly.  The term “obese” is a medical term. According to the CDC, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index” (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat. It is important to remember that although BMI correlates with the amount of body fat, BMI does not directly measure body fat. As a result, some people, such as athletes, may have a BMI that identifies them as overweight even though they do not have excess body fat.

The term “fat” has been used previously in mainstream culture in a derogatory manner, usually associating the word with laziness and lack of self control. However,  “fat” as a descriptor is being reclaimed and revised in recent years by the very group it was aimed at, and is now increasingly being used as term to self identify the Fat Community without attaching stigma to the word.

Formerly, fashion and fitness were areas that the Fat community were shut out of and marginalized. But in recent years, trendy and cutting edge retail clothing stores that celebrate and specialize in fun fashion for the “fat” set, and Yoga Studios that cater specifically for health and fitness minded larger framed folks are starting to emerge.

Body Acceptance in the Massage Community
The majority of massage and body work practitioners have always promoted body acceptance and health at any size, but the massage industry in general has not done a great job of passing this message along to this audience. I have heard horror stories from some of my larger clients about rude treatment from Spa employees, inadequate equipment and supplies such as a lack of linens and robes that fit them (with no apology). At worst, therapists who try to lecture their fat clients about diet and exercise, and at best inexperienced therapists delivering work that was sub par for this group of people.

Dale Favier, an Oregon massage therapist that specializes in home massage, has this to say, about what your massage therapist should be thinking about the fat community:

“I understand that many people – erroneously, I believe, but that’s a different subject – think that obesity is a self-inflicted condition. But so what? We’re surrounded by injuries and conditions that are more or less self-inflicted. I see lots of people who have run on concrete until their knees or ankles are a mess. I see long-time smokers who have an eerie, system-wide dessication of tissue. I see desk workers who have so abused their neck muscles, by staring motionless at a screen for twenty hours a day, that they can no longer turn their heads. Do I suddenly get on my moral high horse and refuse to treat them? Turn them away in disgust? I do not.”

The massage therapy community needs to do a better job of reaching out to the Fat Community with the message that there is no judgement. Massage is health maintenance that everyone can benefit from, and I have read various message boards in the Fat Community that repeat the same insecurities and fears about therapists and Spas reacting badly to their size, creating anxiety and preventing this community from getting the work they need.

As a matter of fact, personally I prefer to work on people who are on the fat side, versus the skinny side. While I do not have any judgement on body types of any shape, I find that working on people with more fat requires less guess work on my part of how muscle/fat/bone ratio exists, and I can feel free to go deep or light where I need to during the session.

How to choose the Massage Therapist or Spa that you can feel good about
The Fat Girls Guide to Spa Services features an article on how to choose the right facility for you (ask the person on the phone about their experience with larger clients and about any special equipment and supplies they have), alleviate anxiety about your first visit by knowing what to expect (positioning, undressing and draping), and how to be extra comfy on the table during your massage.

Visit a Spa or Massage Studio and take advantage of any introductory special prices so that you can try out a few different ones until you find the one that fits you best. Call the facility and ask them about their experience with larger clients. Do they have larger tables and table size extenders for your comfort? Do they carry linens and robes that can accommodate your size? Are they familiar with bolstering and positioning for your comfort and to reach all areas of your body?

Do a little homework first, find a great massage practitioner, and start feeling great in the skin that you are in!


Living our lives (and thriving!) with menopause (naturally)


Ah menopause! That harbinger of middle age for women, sometimes coming in like a lion and sometimes coming in like a lamb, but never the less proceeding in its inevitable march forward, whether we are ready for it or not.

I debated whether to title this entry “Living with…” rather than “Beating menopause…”, and in the end, I think it really IS about living with menopause rather than feeling like we are “beating” it. After all, you cannot “beat” menopause, but as a woman, you DO have to live with it.

The menopausal experience lasts an average of 3 years during the pre-menopause or “perimenopause” stage which occurs before menopause onset, an average of 5 years during menopause itself, and another 2 years post menopause. That’s 8 years of extreme hormonal fluctuation and physical changes based on estrogen and progesterone decline, resulting in a laundry list of over 42 symptoms. These symptoms  generally include: Insomnia, anxiety, muscle and joint pain, erratic or heavy periods, irritability, brain fog, depression, night sweats, headache and fatigue.

If you are in the age range of 37 to 53, checked off a few of these symptoms, and they seem chronic or follow a pattern, you may be experiencing menopause.

The image of a miserable older woman is one that comes up most often when we think of this stage of a womans life. Menopause is the “change” that we so often associate with older women who frantically rip off their clothing when a “hot flash” hits, or grumpy women snapping the heads off of thier husbands or children at the least provocation.

The prevailing belief in relief from many of these symptoms had been until recently, based on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Women and doctors in the know  quickly abandoned pharmaceutical HRT when studies began showing that the health risks of HRT were proving to be more dangerous than the cure.

With the risks and dangers of HRT out in the open, women are now left to find healthier, less risky and more natural ways of living with their sometimes difficult menopausal symptoms. And although the symptoms of menopause can be extreme at times, there are a myriad of natural, gentle and healthy ways to live with menopause and not just “get through it”, but thrive.

Bodywork SolutionsA Massage Today article on menopause refers to the book Your Menopause, Your Menotype, and quotes naturopaths Angela and Mark Stengler “Remember, major hormonal and metabolic shifts occur during menopause. Your body needs adequate rest. The more you can relax, the easier the transition will be for you. Your stress glands (adrenals) need to be working optimally to make up for the shutting down of your ovaries.”

Many symptoms of menopause include insomnia, muscle and joint pain, depression and anxiety. Massage provides a proven buffer against all of these symptoms, with the added benefit of the release of seratonin dopamine, (the feel-good chemicals in our brains), and the reduction of cortisol (the fight or flight chemicals that amp up our anxiety).

Hydrotherapy and spa treatments such as pedicures and facials also help to promote a feeling of well being and outer beauty–something some menopausal women say is lacking for them during this time.

Diet and Exercise
You are having one of your “anxious” days, you didnt sleep well the night before, your calendar is overbooked with family and job obligations, you havent had time to clean the house, get the groceries, feed the pets, or pay the bills, much less time to spend cooking a healthy meal or going to the gym or your yoga class. Fitting in a good diet and exercise routine can feel overwhelming for the average menopausal woman.

And yet, fitting them in are crucial to living with and thriving during menopause, so what strategies are out there to help? According to experts at, “without doubt, exercise is the most important alternative therapy available to the menopausal woman.” They go on to say that exercise helps a woman control her body and emotions by using her internal resources: “Each time you exercise, your adrenal glands are stimulated to convert the male hormone adrostenedione into estrogen. A minimum of four, 30-minute exercise sessions a week will be enough to keep you ‘topped off’ with estrogen.” This, in turn, can reduce the likelihood of severe hot flashes. Exercise also helps tame stress and anxiety.

The things we eat can also help tame menopausal symptoms. Most particularly, there are many foods rich with natural plant estrogens, including apples, barley, carrots, cucumbers, flaxseed, licorice, olive oil, papaya, peas, potatoes, soybeans, tomatoes, and yams.  Excess sugar, caffeine, and processed foods such as fast food, and “junk” food make menopausal symptoms much worse, especially muscle pain and fatigue.

When getting your massage, ask your therapist about adding some Aromatherapy to your session. Some examples of aromatherapy plant essential oils that can be used in your treatment and inhaled for symptom reduction include: Basil which alleviates fatigue, lavender which works against insomnia, jasmine which fights depression, and sage which balances and eases tensions.

Other Herbal Options
Women have also found relief in herbal remedies such as Dong quai and Ginseng  for calming hot flashes, Black Cohosh and Rosehip Seed oil for allieving period fluctuations and cramping, and some tout the benefit of Wild Yam root to help ease tension and insomnia.

Vitamin supplements like calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, flaxseed and Omega 3 oils help mood swings and keep your immune system healthy.

Live and thrive through menopause
Menopause doesnt have to be a scary and stressful 8 years of our lives as we mature. It does take some investment in ourselves, in loving and honoring our bodies where they are. Supporting ourselves by getting bodywork, eating right, investigating natural remedies and exercising on a consistent basis can help us  not only get through menopause successfully, but thrive during our peak years.




Which Alternative Health Therapies work best with Massage? Topic #3: Naturopathic Medicine

acupuncture_chart_7530428481Perhaps you have heard of Naturopathic medicine or are a patient who has a Naturopathic doctor. In this post we will take a look at Naturopathic medicine and how it complements (and actually includes in it’s list of modalities, massage therapy). The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges define Naturopathy as “…a traditional approach to health that is holistic, meaning that it encompasses the whole being. It is based on natural and preventative care. Naturopathic medicine combines many methodologies, such as acupuncture, massage, chiropractic adjustment, homeopathy and herbal cures, along with sensible concepts such as good nutrition, exercise and relaxation techniques.”

Education and perceptions of an MD vs. an ND
Because Naturopathic medicine is still considered “alternative” healthcare in the United States and falls under the CAM (Complementary Alternative Medicine) category, some might assume that the education and training that Naturopathic doctors undergo is less stringent than a traditional western MD, but that is not the case. Accredited ND. member schools require 4 years of medical training after the student has earned his or her Bachelors degree. Students are educated in all of the same basic sciences as a traditional MD In addition to a standard medical curriculum, the Naturopathic physician is required to complete four years of training in clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, physical medicine and counseling. And, similarly to a traditional MD, ND’s also complete 2 years of an Internship program in a clinical setting.

Similar to an MD, an ND is able to do standard and specialized Lab testing, prescribe herbs, supplements and some pharmaceuticals.

Now that we understand how an MD and an ND are similar, let’s look at the differences
An MD’s training is focused more on treating illness by controlling the disease process with more aggressive pharmaceutical and surgical strategies.

An ND’s training is focused on treating and eventually preventing illness by strengthening and stimulating the body’s natural defense and repair systems. This allows your body to do what comes natural–heal itself.

The pharmaceutical treatments and surgeries that an MD is trained in can be necessary and life saving, but from the Naturopathic perspective, many health conditions can be resolved and harmful side effects from employing more aggressive treatments avoided by using more conservative natural therapies. An ND cannot perform surgeries or prescribe pharmaceuticals that an MD is able to do. MD’s on the other hand, are not  educated regarding herbal medicine, nutrition, metabolic or bodywork therapies.

How does Massage Therapy complement the use of an ND for medicine?
Part of the education of an ND is the knowledge and study of massage therapy. Because massage therapy helps the body heal itself through the stimulation of the Parasympathetic nervous system, stress reduction, circulation and immunity enhancement, pain reduction, and much more, many ND’s refer patients to massage therapy as a useful tool in thier arsenal of natural healing. By visiting a massage therapist on a regular basis, the body can remain in balance for longer, and be able to recover from physical and emotional stresses better and faster, which in turn enables the body to heal and perform better on a day to day basis.



Saying goodbye to 2012: looking forward to 2013


4137262610_2243943324_bJanuary got its name from the Roman god of beginnings, Janus, who was quite literally two faced — one face gazing forward, the other looking back. This seems particularly apt for the year 2012, which seemed to be a year of dualities. On one hand, the US economy seemed helplessly stuck in low gear, the country was bitterly politically divided, and the months were peppered with horrific violent attacks in places most believed safe. On the other hand, there was news of the real estate market coming back online, unemployment rates leveling out and in some areas dropping, and there were significant political victories for disenfranchised communities such as LBGT. The 2012 election also saw a historic number of females filling Senate seats. All in all, it felt a lot like what one hand gave, the other took away in 2012.

Forget about New Years Resolutions for 2013
Looking forward to 2013, it feels as though the upswing the country was feeling in terms of economic growth and changes in political winds are just beginning their forward momentum, but what about our health and wellness goals? Health insurance costs keep climbing, and “Obamacare” is not yet fully released to take care of the uninsured, so in the coming year, it is crucial to plan ahead to insure your health goals are met.

Instead of making that same tired New Year’s resolution, The Boston Globe has a great article about the practical and real-life ways to hit your wellness targets full of no-nonsense tips that make every day actions matter, from taking full advantage of your doctors visits to ditching fad diets.

Just like the Roman god Janus, the beginning of the year is a natural time to look back and begin to look forward. If you feel the impulse to change something in your life, make sure you give yourself time, compassion and keep your sense of humor–remember, Rome was’nt built in a day!


Which Alternative Health Therapies work best with Massage? Topic #2: Acupuncture

Acupuncture originates from China and has been practiced there for thousands of years. Wikipedia defines Acupuncture this way: “Acupuncture is an alternative medicine methodology originating in ancient China that treats patients by manipulating thin, solid needles that have been inserted into acupuncture points in the skin.” According to Traditional Chinese medicine, activation of these points stimulates qi (life energy) channels and can correct imbalances and restore health. Although there is no solid scientific proof that Acupuncture works because of lack of controlled testing, there is a significant amount of historical and anecdotal evidence that it helps many ailments including control of pain, reducing inflammation and nausea, and help with fertility. Acupuncture practitioners also claim a series of treatments will affect the Parasympathetic Nervous System (the rest and digest mode) in much the same way Massage does.

Both Massage and Acupuncture regulates and calms the stress response in our “fight or flight” Sympathetic Nervous System by releasing the hormone Oxytocin, which in turn helps fight auto-immune conditions such as arthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

In additon, Massage and Acupuncture increases blood flow and relaxes shortened muscles. Increased blood flow results in more oxygen reaching our tissues, providing nutrients, our bodies natural pain killers, and hormones which help them heal.

Acupuncture and Massage both release our bodies natural pain killers and reduces chronic pain and perception of pain. The body interperets touch in much the same way it interperets the needles entering the body–a signal is sent to the brain which tells it that it has been under trauma. The brain releases chemicals such as endorphins and norepinephrine–both potent natural pain killers.

When thinking of conditions that present with pain, nausea, or diseases with inflammatory causes, the combination of Acupuncture with Massage is a powerful 1-2 punch.


Which Alternative Health Therapies work best with Massage? Topic #1: Chiropractic Care

With so many Alternative Therapies out there in our health care sphere, I have many clients who ask me about what the benefits are to combining them together–if they should, and if so, what the benefits are. Many of my clients complain of pain and stiffness in focused areas, such as the neck and lower back. Some of these cases are caused by a car accident, and injury, or an old surgery site that has a build up of scar tissue. This pain hinders them from performing daily tasks and creates further problems down the road when the body starts compensating for the pain by recruiting and overusing supporting structures. Postural problems and harmful compensation patterns can result in misalignment problems in the spine and skeleton.

Chiropractic Medicine is defined as “A health profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health. There is an emphasis on manual treatments including spinal adjustment and other joint and soft-tissue manipulation.” by The World Federation of Chiropractic Medicine.

How do you know if you might require Chiropractic care instead of only massage? If the pain goes away briefly with massage but recurs or gets worse with time. Many times your massage therapist will be able to feel a subluxation (aka a spinal bone out of alignment), and will be able to refer you to a Chiropractor.  If your pain is caused by subluxation, your Chiropractor may be able to provide you with relief by realigning and mobilizing your skeleton at its source. When your soft tissues (like muscles and connective tissues) are subjected to the stress of having to pull your bones back to their correct place, this causes pain, knots, and compensation patterns in other areas of the body.  The realignment of bones and joints that takes place during chiropractic adjustments corrects these problems, allowing the soft tissues to stop working so hard, therefore relieving the source of the pain. Chiropractors are also doctors, which massage therapists are not. They are able to take x-rays, prescribe vitamin and mineral supplements, and make more advanced referrals to other health care providers.

And the opposite scenario can also be true. Because soft tissue like muscle and tendon are connected to joints and spinal bone, when muscles and connective tissues become tight and shortened from overuse or injury, they can pull bones out of alignment. This in turn, exacerbates problems. A visit to your Chiropractor to adjust a misaligned joint should accompany a massage session scheduled as close together as possible for the greatest benefit.

Tune in next week when we talk about the benefits of massage combined with accupuncture…

What should you expect from a single session vs. multiple sessions with your therapist?

Recently, we had a client come in for their once-a-year 60 minute massage. They had injured themselves a while back and had since had chronic pain. They were seeing an acupuncturist once a month to help address it, but although they believed that the ailment was mostly muscular in nature, massage had not been made a regular part of their healing maintenance regimen. After the 60 minute massage was complete, with the therapist focusing on the areas of concern, the client was mildly disappointed that the pain that they experienced was not totally gone, and left with their expectations somewhat unfulfilled.

This scenario brought up some thoughts about massage and the role it plays in healing and health maintenance, and some of the questions people may have about what they can expect from a single massage session vs. multiple sessions.

The World Health Organization defines Complementary Alternative Therapy as “a broad set of health care practices that are not part of that country’s own tradition and are not integrated into the dominant health care system.” With greater frequency each year, people are turning to CAM therapies such as massage, accupuncture, naturopathic doctors, and chiropractic care as an alternative to traditional western medicine. Although most CAM therapies do not offer instant results after just one session, many patients are choosing CAM therapies for results that are often longer lasting and without the side effects that may accompany traditional western medical therapies like invasive surgery or prescription drugs.

With these new choices in health care, comes some confusion as to what to expect from them. How often should you invest time and money into a session with your therapist?  What should you expect from a single session and when do you know if you should invest in multiple sessions? A good CAM practitioner will help you decide how they can help you reach your health and wellness goals according to their scope of practice and should help educate you on how you can play the major role in healing yourself.

As an example, if you are a person who enjoys robust health and does not experience chronic pain or physical disability, a massage once or twice a year is a healthy and relaxing experience. This person can expect to feel happy, satisfied, nurtured and blissfully relaxed after their session, and can expect to feel better than they did before they walked in. Although more frequent sessions can improve overall wellness and reduce stress related illness, these people can expect to use massage as a health maintenance tool for stress reduction and relaxation.

On another note, a person who experiences chronic pain, limited physical functioning, and ongoing life disruptions because of a physical ailment or injury should expect massage to play a different role.  A 60 minute massage once a year will certainly offer stress reduction and relaxation, but a single session generally will not offer the same results that a person of robust health can expect. Several sessions may be required in order to start seeing consistent results and meet the patients goals of becoming pain free. In this scenario, these patients can expect massage to focus on healing specific areas of the body both in and out of each massage session. Your massage therapist will often employ different modalities depending on what the patient needs. Your therapist should also be willing to take notes during the sessions and share them with you, so that you can see and measure your progress over time. Prescribing stretches and exercises that you can do at home and monitoring the effectiveness of these is also something that you should expect from your sessions with your therapist. Finally, your massage therapist may refer you to other CAM practitioners who, from their professional opinion, may be beneficial to you and work in tandem with massage therapy for optimal wellness.

Because we live in a “instant” culture, we often expect massage and other CAM therapies to “cure” us in one session. Take a minute to think of how it is you got to the state of wellness you are in currently. If it didnt take just one hour to get where you are, in most cases of injury or illness, it will take more than an hour to start recovering and healing.

Finding the right CAM therapy or combination of therapies, along with caring and competent practitioners is your starting point. Investing in your own health with both time and money, and having some patience for your healing process can help set realistic expectations for yourself and your health practitioner partners, at whatever state of wellness you are in.