Getting the Most out of My Massage

Today it’s my turn to get on the table and receive a nurturing, nourishing massage. Yay!!! I’m so enamored with the benefits of gentle, healing touch that I aim to get at least two every month. Massage is a huge part of my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health care plan. It’s my goal to use holistic, alternative, and complementary medicine to cultivate the optimal health available to me.

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In order to get the most out of my session, I want to arrive in the most relaxed state that I possibly can. That way I can sink even deeper into my treatment, reaping the most rewards available to me, and experiencing the greatest peace and relaxation. Some days, the most relaxed state that I’m able to conjure up is, well, loosely described as a hot mess. And that’s just perfect. If I’m upset or agitated, there’s no greater cure than healing touch. I leave feeling like I’ve been restored to my essential, loving self.

However, when grace allows and I begin my treatment from the maximum state of relaxation I can achieve on my own, the therapist helps me arrive at a whole new level. So I take the time to meditate and clear my mind. While this is obviously not necessary and most people enjoy a massage without preparing for it with meditation, I’ve noticed that when I don’t, I spend the first 20-30 minutes just settling into my session. When I’ve meditated beforehand, I settle almost instantly, allowing myself to sink deeper quicker. For the same reason, I like to do some gentle yoga in preparation as well.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that late morning seems to be a really good time for me. I’ve eaten a hearty breakfast earlier and it’s mostly digested by then but keeps my blood sugar stable; I’ve hydrated quite well and don’t need to worry about a full bladder disrupting my treatment. I like to dry brush, so that I’m more able to absorb all the healing qualities of the natural oil being slathered on my skin.

Because I’m aware of the value of treating the muscles of the face, scalp, and upper neck that attach to the skull, I prioritize these benefits over my appearance. I don’t mind walking home with massage hair, and I imagine what people notice most about me is my calm presence and radiant glow. On the rare occasion that I have somewhere fancy to go, I let my therapist know to avoid my head and I protect my locks by tying them up out of the way.

Naturally I don’t want to feel rushed and I want to receive every minute of massage bliss, so I allow plenty of time for getting there calmly. It’s a beautiful day outside, and I’m blessed to have a gifted therapist within walking distance of my home, so I make time for a leisurely stroll there and back. Hurrying to or from a massage is a great way to eradicate most of the benefits by triggering stress hormones. No thank you! I make space in case I encounter every single red light, a long lost friend who wants to say hello, or an adorable puppy.

Perhaps the most essential strategy for getting the most out of my holistic health care via massage is to communicate my desires and needs clearly at the beginning of my session. I tell my therapist two or three things I’d like to focus on, as well as anything I’d like to avoid. Because I’m healing a torn meniscus in my knee, range of motion or stretching makes me nervous, which is the exact opposite of relaxation, and to be avoided for now. I have some tension in my neck that needs some therapy, so I mention that as well.

Now my work is done. I get to lie back, relax, and receive. I enjoy the greatest rewards when I turn off my thinking and let the therapist do the job for which s/he has been highly trained. Micromanaging is a sure way to interrupt the flow and interfere with my ability to release stress. Assuming that I know the best course of action discounts the therapist’s skill, experience, and intuition. Generally, I have a blind spot when it comes to my own tension patterns as I can’t see the bigger picture. Unless something is painful, or I’m uncomfortable in any way, I get the most out of my massage by allowing myself to receive the gift that is being offered to me.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve probably been the recipient of over 400 session! I’ve only had a handful of what I would call “bad” massages, several mediocre massages, and loads of really wonderful massages. As I’ve been perfecting my receiving technique, I’ve noticed that much of the responsibility for experiencing a great massage is mine. Practicing the above strategies makes a huge difference for me, and I hope it will for you too.

 

Healer, Heal Thyself Part 4: Massage

I am a firm believer in the power of healing touch. So it seems only natural to me to get as much massage as I can to support the healing of the torn meniscus in my knee. For some, it might seem like a far stretch that massaging the soft tissue can help with an internal cartilage injury. Over the past 15 years of giving approximately 10,000 massages, I’ve witnessed time and time again my clients experiencing pain relief from a wide variety of issues. My respect for this holistic modality continues to deepen each time I observe it stimulating the body’s innate healing ability.

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Swedish massage is my favorite! The soothing nature of the strokes stimulates the relaxation response and releases the happy chemicals in my brain. You know; serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. It’s quite magical! When I’m on the massage table, I feel like everything is going to be just fine, and I find myself breathing deeply, and while my muscles simply melt.

Stimulating circulation is another important factor in the healing process. Unlike muscles, connective tissue isn’t particularly vascular and this can lengthen the duration of cartilage injuries. The manual manipulation of tissues around the knee increases circulation to the area, which supports the removal of any cellular waste and toxins as well as brings oxygen to the area. This provides the body with the conditions it needs to repair the damage from the inside out.

Perhaps most importantly, the muscles supporting an injured joint and those on the opposite side that must compensate for limited range of motion get tense, stiff, and achy. This contributes to a cycle of pain, more tension, less circulation, more pain… Massage helps to break this cycle and encourages muscles to lengthen and relax. Triggering the relaxation response also reduces the secretion of  the stress hormone, cortisol, which has been shown to contribute to inflammation.

Over time, feeling relaxed and the resulting physiological and neurochemical responses, along with increased circulation, and decreased inflammatory response will speed the healing on most any injury. Given that the side effects of massage include a good mood, nourished skin, and a sense of body-mind connection, I’m delighted to be able to include it in my recovery program. As with most, if not all, holistic and alternative treatments, massage promotes overall health and wellness without the dangers of more invasive procedures. Sign me up!

Healer, Heal Thyself Part 1

So. I injured my knee. Much of the time it doesn’t hurt at all. Until it does. And sometimes it really freakin’ does! My chiropractor did an orthopedic test (specific movements with joints held in specific positions) and it appears I have a torn meniscus. Crap. Although… it is a wonderful opportunity to practice what I preach about self-care and alternative medicine.

Let me begin by saying I’m not a doctor. I’m not offering medical advice. I have no idea what you should do about your knee injury. I’m certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t seek medical attention simply because I’m not. However, you might like to include some complementary methods with whatever treatment you are receiving. Legal disclaimer over.

I’m exploring a wide range of holistic techniques to heal my knee. I’m quite certain that the problem is not the lack of a pharmaceutical drug, and surgery or other invasive procedures will only be considered if all other, and I mean ALL other, plans fail.

I believe in the power of body-mind-spirit healing, and listening to the messages the body provides.

I believe in the healing power of Reiki, bodywork, and compassionate touch.

I believe in using plants and food as medicine.

I believe that minimizing stress and inflammation supports optimal health and healing.

I believe in using mindfulness and breath as tools of integration.

I believe in the ancient sciences of yoga and Ayurveda.

I believe healing comes from the inside out and that my body knows what it needs if I only slow down enough to listen.

I believe I am the ultimate authority when it comes to my health, and while I will research techniques and therapies and consult with other holistic health practitioners, my treatment must align with my beliefs.

This is the beginning of a series in which I explore the journey of healing my knee using holistic, energy, plant, and spiritual medicine. And a magnetic knee brace, which I was gifted today. Because I also believe in synchronicity and kindness and hey, it certainly can’t hurt!

Up next: body-mind-spirit healing for a meniscus tear.

 

Holiday Madness

Here we go again! Thanksgiving is still over a week away and already I’m seeing Christmas decorations in some local stores. This season can be overwhelming and super-stressful for so many of us. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the busy-ness of holiday traditions and seemingly endless to-do lists. It’s no coincidence that it’s also a season of colds and flus as we run ourselves ragged.

I encourage people to evaluate their intentions before overcommitting. Learning to say “no” is often one of the healthiest and empowering actions we can take when an activity is not aligned with our goals. Allowing time for rest and restoration is important all year long, but invaluable in the colder months of long, , dark nights. Choosing to stay home and recalibrate rather than overeating, overdrinking, overgiving, or overspending can be so supportive of health and well-being.

For those who are determined to push through and do it all, I highly recommend scheduling some healing support. Why wait till things go wrong, till the immune system crashes, the headaches descend or the low back gives out? Prepare yourself and prevent the aftermath of overdoing by making time for a massage, Reiki or acupuncture treatment, a trip to the chiropractor or hot baths, extra yoga or dance classes, or whatever you favorite mode of relaxation may be.

Make it a priority now and get it on the calendar! Save yourself the misery of getting sick or injured or suffering from stress and tension. Having two jobs, my own business, plans to travel to the Michigan tundra for a family Thanksgiving, an upcoming move to a different home, and all the other ordinary everyday stuff I’m loading up on self-care practices; including eliminating all inflammatory thoughts and foods, boosting my immune system with plant medicine, and receiving treatments from my awesome team of holistic health providers. Seriously, I don’t mess around!

If you’re wondering if a session with me would be helpful, let’s schedule a complimentary 15 minute phone consultation. Even if you’re not in the Philadelphia area, long-distance Reiki is an excellent option to stress relief, recharging batteries, and keeping life-force energy flowing and balanced. If we’re neighbors, let’s get you on the table for a therapeutic massage or Reiki treatment! Check out my website for details or contact me to schedule.

Can You Fix Me?

I get this question a lot from clients, often when they are in great pain; either physical, psychological, or spiritual. They come seeking relief, having been sent by a friend or Google search, correctly informed that Reiki and massage are powerful, holistic healing techniques. Recently a young woman jokingly requested that I vacuum out all her anxiety. If only I could! Alas, healing does not work this way.

Human touch and muscle manipulation are potent vehicles of healing, as is the universal life-force energy transferred during a Reiki session. They can provide the nudge that the body or psyche needs to return to alignment with the Spirit. They can also offer the boost in motivation to follow through on lifestyle changes, the release of self-sabotaging beliefs, and the comfort of remembering that we are not merely broken bodies with problems struggling alone in an unfriendly universe. Reiki and massage are some of the most powerful healing tools that I’ve ever come across in my twenty plus years of spiritual awakening.

And yet it is up to each of us individually to decide if we wish to receive the many benefits these tools have to offer. We are ultimately the ones in control of our own healing and well-being. Providers like myself can offer support to our clients, but until emotions have been fully acknowledged, felt, and released there is no shortcut. Our pain is very often an indicator that we have gotten off-track. It serves the function of reminding us of our greater purpose, our true nature, and our mission in this lifetime.

My compassion allows me to dream of taking away the discomfort everyone experiences, but my inner knowing counsels that this would indeed be a disservice to the evolution and ultimate wellness of others. Being human is a difficult job. But we have been blessed with countless systems of support, transformation, and integration. If you’re wondering if a treatment with me might be helpful, please check out my website! I offer a free 15 minute phone consultation for this very reason. If you’re just not into massage or Reiki, that’s cool too. I hope you seek out one of the other alternative options so readily available today.

Bodywork for that pain in the behind

I’ve been working with several clients lately who are suffering from hip pain. Interestingly enough, I myself have been experiencing the same discomfort! It seems I learn a lot about my own healing by helping others. Just to be perfectly clear, Dear Universe, I am totally open to learning under more joyful and comfortable circumstances henceforth!

While my practice is soundly rooted in supporting body-mind-spirit balance, I’m focusing simply on the physical approach for this post. Delving into thoughts and beliefs about security, support, and prosperity as well as a sense of connection to the divine do indeed factor into releasing pain in the hips. So does exploring inflammation, biochemistry and diet. But that is a story for another day…

In myself and the clients presenting with hip pain, I notice an imbalance in all the muscle groups that attach to the pelvis. It’s common for hip pain to manifest in the sacro-illiac joint, which is where the spine unites with the pelvis. Sometimes it gets labelled as low back or glut pain. I believe it is the source of the expression “pain in the behind”. It can be accompanied by shooting or throbbing pain or tingling down the leg. And it can range from mildly unpleasant to downright debilitating. I’ve had many a sleepless night due to this issue lately.

So say someone has pain in the left hip. It’s easy to concentrate on the back of the body on the left side. Clearly there is tension in that area (including hamstrings, gluts, and lateral rotators) that needs to be addressed. But looking at the big picture draws me to the right S-I joint. After all we have only one sacrum and one pelvis; any imbalance affects the whole structure. Often I find the piriformis (a muscle that attaches to the sacrum and tends to be a troublemaker!) on the opposite side to be more tense than on the problematic side! Clients are invariable surprised to realize this; but I’ve come to expect it.

Let’s not forget the hip flexors. (Side note: I have no idea why, but there seems to be a good deal of confusion as to where the flexors lie. They’re on the front side of the hip and include the quadriceps as well as that other troublemaker, the psoas.) Once again the client is startled to feel stiffness, achiness, or downright pain once they’ve turned over and I’m working on the anterior side of pelvis.

It’s impossible for me to say with any degree of certainty where the trouble begins. I can’t discern which of the muscles are compensated for or trying to prevent pain. What I absolutely can testify to wholeheartedly is that the whole lot is in cahoots. It’s impossible to effectively address pain in the posterior left hip without exploring the right side as well and both sides of the anterior pelvis. I explain to my clients that my goal is to get all the muscles communicating and operating peacefully rather than playing a tug of war. From there we can begin to suggest and foster harmony and teamwork in the muscular-skeletal system.

As a holistic practitioner, this seems like common sense to me. We are not working with  two thighs, two hips, and a pelvis.  We are working with one body that is seeking balance any way it can. To support that process, it’s super important to recognize all the players and get them on the same page. While my practice exists mainly in the Philadelphia area, I’m happy to provide coaching for those who reside elsewhere. Visit my website to contact me for details. Life is too short to suffer from a pain in the behind!

Ouch! That hurts.

I’ve been experiencing intermittent pain in my left foot for almost a year now. It comes and goes mysteriously, aggravated by hiking, dancing, and bouncing- basically the types exercise that bring me joy. At first I tried to ignore it; after all it’s usually a dull ache, with short spurts of intensity, but generally tolerable. Obviously this strategy was a failure!

For several months I’ve been using all my tools: anti-inflammatory diet, healing essential oils, ice packs, rest, elevation, and of course loads of massage and Reiki treatments. Nothing seems to have any lasting effect. A friend suggested castor oil packs, which did seem to allow for more mobility immediately afterwards, but now not so much. As summer is approaching, the idea of sitting still with my foot in a castor oil-soaked sock wrapped in a heating pad is decidedly unappealing.

So what to do when all the healing techniques you know aren’t helping? It seems there are four basic answers for me, and I’m exploring them all with full gusto. First, get some help. Sounds obvious, right? Trading in fierce independence for a more balanced regime of giving AND receiving through interdependence is a big lesson for me. I am determined to keep practicing this skill. I’ve started receiving acupuncture twice a week to relieve pain and to balance the energy flow through my body.

Secondly, can I accept that forces bigger than myself are at play? Can I acknowledge that I’m feeling frustrated at my seeming failure to heal myself and the resulting lack of mobility? And at the same time, can I investigate the possible silver lining? Can I react favorably to a forced rest period that allows me to read <gasp!> novels and to journal? Can I learn to accept that this is what I have to work with in this moment, and release all my attachments, judgments, and expectations that only increase my suffering? Although I’m not 100% there just yet, I’m convinced that yes, I indeed can do this.

Thirdly, what is the message my body is trying to deliver? At first glance, asking for and receiving help and enjoying more stillness are answers that float to the surface. Yet I want to tap into the deeper layers. Yesterday during my acupuncture treatment, I asked my inner self, “What am I not seeing?” I had an instant vision of dense roots reaching up from the earth, trapping me in place. While I’m still contemplating the full meaning of this experience, it seems obvious that fear of moving forward, of stepping into my full potential, and rising above my current belief system has been tethering me.

It’s tempting to be lured into the story of why, when, and how I got here; I have the tools to release fear and tap into my inner strength, purpose, and willingness to heal without intellectually understanding this ailment. That’s the beauty of Reiki; it is spiritually guided and I don’t need to know. Now that I have a goal of getting unstuck and releasing fear of the unknown that change is certain to bring, I can begin to appreciate the final answer to my question of what to do when nothing is working. Gratitude, mingled with trust. Clearly the universe has a plan in place for my growth and awakening that I am unable to see.

For some reason, this chapter is a part of my journey. For now, I can accept this on faith and remain open to the lessons at hand. I’m also reminded of my upcoming role on a panel for Healthy Aging at my neighborhood holistic health fair. It’s a fantastic opportunity to share my knowledge about growing older while prioritizing health, recharging Ki (life force energy), and heeding pain as a messenger. This helps create a healthy lifestyle that cultivates wellness and vitality, regardless of the hand (or foot) we’ve been dealt.

You’re Teaching Me to be Kind to Myself

“You’re Teaching Me to be Kind to Myself.”

A client said this to me during a massage treatment a few weeks ago. The concept of treating our bodies with kindness is somewhat uncommon in our culture of harder/ faster/ deeper/ push-through it mentality. In this particular case, I was working on an inflamed tendon that had been causing quite a bit of pain for over a month and interfering with her quality of life. I was using gentle pressure to soothe and comfort the entire area to encourage circulation and the release of muscular tension.

She had been braced for a painful session and was quite surprised at the results she experienced from my gentle approach. During the treatment she noticed how various body parts connected to one another and then began to see a bigger picture. While it is true that one particular tendon was inflamed due to overwork and a moment of excess strain place on it, all the surrounding muscle groups had been recruited to assist and protect the injury. Tension spread out from the source and had enveloped the entire quadrant. As relaxation settled in and muscles began to release, she could feel the internal structure settle into a more neutral position and breathed a sigh of relief.

When she returned two weeks later for a follow up treatment, she reported much less pain, more ease of movement, and a greater sense of harmony in her body. The persistent pain had been downgraded to a dull ache and the surrounding muscles were no longer locked in defensive contraction. Again I worked gently; this time spending a greater portion of the session integrating the limb with the torso while explaining how the whole body works as a team. She became intrigued with the idea of this one small tendon affecting distant areas and realized how she had adapted posture as well as movement to accommodate the injury.

She left that day encouraged to be more aware of her body mechanics and overall attitude towards her body. Introducing clients to the transformative belief that treating ourselves and our bodies with kindness produces lasting and deep effects is perhaps the most helpful input I have to offer as a bodyworker. I could explain this in terms of the nervous system triggering the fight-or-flight reflex vs the relaxation response and get into the biological effects of an aggressive approach vs a more gentle on; yet I think that deep down we can all intuitively grasp this concept. Be kind to your body; and it will respond by letting go of stress and pain.

Buckle Up! Radical Self-Care, Less is More

I’m super-psyched to announce that Luminous Heart Reiki has found a home in Philadelphia. Next week I will begin offering treatments and classes on a regular basis. While this is a dream come true, on the practical side, things are getting rather hectic. Just a few weeks ago I took on part-time work at a nearby spa to provide the financial stability necessary to pursue building a private Reiki practice. Now I have two PT jobs and a new business, all of which demand attention.

As I will be doing more massage than I have in years and spending hours in front of the computer launching a new business, it’s absolutely necessary to step-up my self-care program. I need to better manage my dwindling free time and maximize my ki/chi/qi/prana and overall wellness. I’ve decided to commit to a 40 day radical self-care adventure. I’ve read that it takes 40 consecutive days of practice to create a new habit, so I’m going to spend that time exploring a variety of options to refine my daily routine.

Today is Day 1. It’s also the day I signed a lease for my new office space, so it seems like the perfect day to begin. And my revolutionary self-care act for today, was to NOT go for a hike. That’s right! I skipped it altogether. The last two times I hiked in the woods, I felt a sharp pain in my ankle on the return trip. As much as it feeds my soul to meditate by the creek in the morning, I chose to stay home.  I opted to rest and simply hold my ankle between my hands and flood it with healing Reiki energy.

So that’s it for Day 1. I tuned in and honored my body where it was at and sat on my butt for an entire 15 minutes! Sometimes less is more. And I’m truly grateful to begin this voyage with a lesson in being rather than doing. Stay tuned for more exploration into the world of self-care. I can’t be sure that I’ll be posting everyday as I want to remain in the flow of what I need in every moment, but I will indeed report back faithfully.

Prehab

Last night I was reading an article in a massage therapy magazine about sports massage. College athletes who were trying out for professional teams were receiving daily massage during their training. The result was fewer overall injuries and quicker recovery from the injuries that did occur. This really isn’t news to anyone in the business of bodywork. We know that lengthening the soft tissue creates a greater range of movement and flexibility that helps protect the body. What really struck me about this article was the use of the word “prehab”.

I had an insightful flash that prehab isn’t just for athletes. We can all benefit from noticing our weaknesses and restrictions and preparing ourselves for challenging situations. We can prevent the need to rehab from injuries by being proactive and taking charge of our health.

In the same way that I like to “pre-hydrate” before a hike, I can prehab for a long car ride or a conference that involves sitting in an uncomfortable chair for several days. I can prehab for a stressful situation like a court date, an exam, or a holiday dinner with the in-laws. I think everyone is aware of the upcoming stressful events in their lives- they are those entries on our calendars that make us cringe or reach for chips or chocolate or vodka. I’d like to propose a more effective and healthier alternative: stress management.

Reducing our overall stress level allows us to better deal with acute situations that activate our fight or flight mode. Strengthening the relaxation response in preparation for difficulties ahead does not guarantee it will all be rainbows and roses, but will certainly reduce the impact on our state of mind. Practicing stress management helps prevent injury (including melt downs or blow ups) and helps us recovery more quickly.

Rather than being a victim to circumstances, we could invest our resources into prehab. Let’s face it, stress happens. Sometimes more than others. There’s no reason to be caught off guard when it does. Taking responsibility for our physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being demands that we take action. The cost of rehab is generally higher and includes more pain than preventative measures. I’m all for anything that removes extraneous suffering from my world. Prehab has just become an important part of my self-care regime. Starting now.