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.

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!

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.

“I Had a Great Month!”

Such glorious words to hear from a client! It’s pretty common for people to show up for their first appointment with me in pretty rough shape. Pain is a powerful motivator, and is often what drives people to seek help from the healing arts. While the vast majority of people feel better after one treatment, the effects begin to fade over time as stress once again drains their  wellness reserves. I endeavor to find the rhythm that supports people to stay ahead of that stress. For many, this is mean scheduling a treatment once or twice per month.

I have observed that when people begin to actively manage their stress (through meditation, yoga, tai chi, massage, Reiki, acupuncture, diet, etc.) that many of their chronic pains begin to disappear. I have four clients that I currently work with who are learning to avoid debilitating headaches. One was even able to reduce the headache prevention medication that made her forgetful and feel foggy-headed. True, headaches are not a life-threatening illness, but anyone who has ever suffered from frequent bouts understands that one’s quality of life is greatly diminished.

It seems we all have a threshold of stress that our individual bodies can tolerate. When we cross that threshold, the body sends us messages, sometimes in the form of pain, to get out attention. These painful signals are cries for help. When we heed them and seek balance, very often the pain disappears as it is no longer necessary; just like the fuel warning light on the dashboard of a car disappears when we fill the tank with gasoline.

When we give the body what it needs (adequate rest, oxygen, nutrients, hydration, movement, pleasure, and expression) it is able to function more smoothly and can often heal itself. Ideally this would be our normal state. However, we live in a world that is faster and busier than suits most nervous systems. This ongoing stress takes its toll on our body chemistry and eventually our muscles, joints, organs, and glands. It seems we have three choices: move to a tropical island, suffer from chronic pain, or support our wellness by managing stress. I, for one, have happily chosen the third option, and delight in reporting to my support system, “I had a great month!”

 

Pain as a Messenger

I’m really focusing on the somewhat radical belief that pain is a message, from our bodies or our spirits, indicating that something needs our attention. When we acknowledge it as such, and receive the message we can then make the appropriate adjustments. This acceptance and taking of responsibility may or may not result in the lessening or elimination of the pain, but will absolutely promote a deeper healing from within.

I’ve been working with a client who’s recovering from an auto accident. She has both good days and bad days. On the days when she’s feeling pain, she will often take a muscle relaxer. Then she says she feels better and can do the things she wants to do. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, then she perceives a false sense of strength and well-being and tends to overdo. She thinks she’s feeling better, but actually she’s just feeling less. She’s missing out on the message from her body to rest or slow down or take it easy. Then that sets off a whole other chain of events as her recovery is set back by harmful activity.

Over the course of the 60 minutes we spend together, she’s starting to see that overriding her body’s request to have down time for healing is actually creating a longer period of recuperation. She’s recognizing that forcing her agenda of returning to her former state of athleticism before her muscles and nervous system are ready is causing her to feel worse in the long run. She’s coming to the awareness that the pain she experiences is an important message.

By no means am I suggesting that she stop taking the meds. Really that’s her decision and it’s not for me to know whether or not they are helpful. What I’m suggesting is that if she chooses to take them, to remember that she may have shot the messenger, but that doesn’t make the message itself any less important.  As she learns to honor the input her body is readily sharing, I have no doubt that her healing will progress much more quickly. She can  choose to feel less AND honor her body’s request. It’s just a matter of being mindful.

It’s All in the Feet

Reflexology teaches that all organs, glands, and parts of the body are represented by reflex points found in the feet. I’m not a certified reflexologist; I don’t have the knowledge or skill to do a complete session or to work with someone who is severely ill. That would require extensive training and experience. But I am confident that even a little attention to the reflexes can stimulate healing. I had a mere introduction to this fascinating technique while I was in massage school, and am often able to apply the basics during a massage or Reiki session.

Recently I worked with a client who had been suffering for over two weeks with congested sinuses. It wasn’t the issue that brought her to me, but it came up in our pre-massage check in. In general massage can help sinus problems by increasing circulation, boosting the immune system, and squeezing toxins out of cells, but there’s not much we can do directly to clear the sinus cavity. I wanted to do all I could to help, so I reserved the last ten minutes of her session for her feet, and finished with the pressure points for the sinuses. When we were finished, I mentioned what I had done so she could track any results.

The following month she came back and the first thing she did was to exclaim how her sinuses had immediately improved and had not given her any trouble since. I was delighted to hear this, but a little surprise that such a short treatment had such profound effects. My interest in this modality was reignited and almost all my clients recieve a quick dose of reflexology during their treatments. Sluggish thryoid, digestive upset, stiff neck, cough, congestion, and so much more can be improved. And it really is all in the feet!

Ding, Ding, Ding; We Have a Winner!

Today my client told me that earlier she had been sitting at her computer when her back started aching. The work she was doing was important, but not urgent, so she got up and did some stretching rather than powering through. If we had not been 15 minutes into a massage, I would’ve started turning cartwheels! I was so happy to hear that she was beginning to tune in and listen to her body’s messages.

As a bodyworker it is a huge goal of mine to promote self-care. Yes, I love helping people release pain and stress, but the work I do is way more effective when it’s backed up with mindfulness and lifestyle shifts. There’s only so much I can do in an hour to help someone who abuses his or her body for 40 or 60 or 80 hours in between sessions. I think of myself as an eraser: I can help give someone a clean slate, but it’s ultimately up to them what gets scribbled on it when they leave my care. It is a true joy to watch someone take responsibility for their own well-being. Our bodies give us the clues we need to thrive physically; we just need to listen.

Time for My Meltdown

This morning a lady arrived for her weekly massage and announced, “Time for my meltdown!” I was surprised at first, because generally speaking a meltdown is a traumatic and dramatic event. Then it hit me- she was referring to the feeling of melting from the inside out. I couldn’t help but to smile at this beautiful concept. Meltdown = rubdown + enhanced inner peace. What a lovely way to describe the work I enjoy doing!

Yesterday, I gave a Reiki/massage combo to a sweet young lady who was having a stressful day. I started off with some balancing Reiki to move any stuck energy out of her mind and body, and could feel her sink deeply into the treatment. Afterwards she told me that she had been worried about having a breakdown on the table. While this is not uncommon during bodywork as emotions often get stirred up and pushed to the surface for release, it is often uncomfortable for clients who are shy about expressing heavy emotions or crying in front of others. She confided in me that instead of a breakdown, she had been able to release all the gunk she had been holding onto without the tears or upset. She instead had a meltdown!

When it comes to stress, the psyche runs the show, but the body pays the price. We get worn down by incessantly thinking that there’s never enough time to do what we need to do, that we’re running in place, that we always need to be on guard. These feelings weaken our energy flow, making our immune systems vulnerable, and creating an opening for illness. Gentle, nurturing touch and energy healing helps people let go of the thoughts and emotions that are the true source of most of the discomfort and pain in the body. Creating a safe, compassionate space for people to relax and restore is a surefire way to enhance health and well-being. How lucky am I that I get to be a facilitator of this beautiful process!?!?