Free at Last!

I just finished a session with a client who has been coming for massage monthly for the past two years. When we began, she could barely turn her neck and was experiencing throbbing pain on a daily basis. She works in a high-power, high-stress corporate job that demands long hours sitting at the computer, and isn’t interested in changing that. Today she reported that since her last appointment, she was symptom free for 24 days, felt some tension in the trouble zone for the past four days, but zero pain all month.

Victory!

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Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

I’m not saying this to toot my own horn. I’m sure she could have had similar results with many other therapists. My intention here is to offer hope to those who endure chronic pain that results from lifestyles or careers that they wish to learn to cope with. In this case, a more ergonomic work station, biweekly yoga classes, and a monthly massage (and beneath all that, the commitment to actually follow through) were all it took to cross the threshold from out-of-balance to close-enough-balance.

I think we all have such a tipping point.

Mine is a daily yoga and Reiki practice, bimonthly massage, and a receiving a monthly Reiki session from a colleague. I’m working with some chronic issues, plus a car-less lifestyle, and a physically demanding job; so my maintenance program needs to be more thorough than most people’s. It’s totally worth it to avoid that irritating point underneath my left scapula or the dull ache in my lower back that have plagued me for decades.

I have another client who has been able to reduce her headaches from three times per week to once or twice per month after getting into a monthly massage routine. And a dentist client who had disturbingly- painful, career- threatening elbow pain and finger numbness who is nearly symptom free.

Managing stress is a huge component of optimizing our health and well-being. Most of us regularly partake of activities or substances that are less than ideal for our bodies. Most of us are pulled in a thousand different directions at a hundred miles an hour, coasting on too little sleep. We have overstimulated fight, flight, or freeze responses and repetitive movement patterns that create wear and tear on our joints. Rather than succumbing to the natural results of these imbalances, we can take action to counteract them.

It’s never too late to start returning to wellness. Every journey begins with the first step.

Preventing Burnout

I’m noticing a lot of educators feeling burned out as the school year draws to a close. While they face different challenges than I do, the route to wellness follows the same general direction. Keeping one’s energy up requires a multi-pronged approach: refill positive energy, plug energy leaks, and release negative energy. I put together a list of easy strategies that you might find helpful.

Doing these practices throughout the year will help build up your life force energy, and therefore overall health and happiness. Doing them during a time of acute stress can protect mental, emotional, and physical well-being. As a proponent of alternative and complementary therapies, I’ve explored holistic techniques for protecting my health over the past two decades and strive to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to stress management.

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  • Get out into nature (trees and running water are ideal, but an urban park is a good substitute if that’s what’s available to you) and put your bare feet on the earth. Google “grounding” or “earthing” if interested in the reasoning.
  • Soak in epsom salt baths with pure lavender essential oil.
  • Consistently eat quality protein. Humanely raised grass fed beef or pasture raised chicken and eggs. Humus. Organic nuts. Yes, it’s expensive; you are worth it.
  • Reduce intake of refined sugar. Seriously- this is so helpful! Paleo desserts are pretty yummy and satisfy my sweet tooth without crashing my blood sugar or triggering inflammation like traditional desserts do.
  • Unplug. As much as possible, take a break from all electronics- especially 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Practice pranayama/ breath exercise. Inhale for a count of 4. Hold breath in for a count of 4. Exhale for a count of 8. Trick your brain into thinking you’re relaxed.
  • When spending a marathon day doing desk work, take dance breaks.  A friend who recently survived a PhD acquisition turned me onto the Pomodoro technique, a time management method which breaks work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. During the break intervals, I like to get up and move my body.
  • Get Reiki and/or massage 🙂 from someone who is not burned out! Allow a professional to help you recharge your batteries.

What techniques do you use to help manage intense stress and prevent burnout? I’m always interested in learning new tricks!

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.

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!