Massage, Musings, Shiatsu, Wellness

Massage and Anxiety

Intro

On a regular basis clients experiencing some sort of anxiety come into my office.   Anxiety shows up differently from person to person; for example, one client may have a general sense of stress and worry while another might already be under the care of a doctor or psychologist for a diagnosed condition. Some people feel it in a general sense of agitation while others might have headaches. Body work helps ameliorate the signs and symptoms of anxiety both on a mental and physical level.  


Bodywork calms down the nervous system

Basically, Massage therapists are wizards of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is in charge of “rest and digest” and is when it is on the healing happens.  Part of what is at play with anxiety is a heightened flight or fight response which is hardwired into our sympathetic nervous systems.  We live our lives with our sympathetic nervous systems keyed up to handle what ever threats(real or imagined) are around the corner.  What we do as body-workers is provide an opportunity for your sympathetic nervous system to turn off and your parasympathetic nervous system to turn on. Signs that your body has switched to the parasympathetic nervous system are slower breathing, gurgling tummy, and a drop in body temperature. When you sit up and say, “wow, I can get on with my life” I know that I have done my job.

There is a method to the calmness of a Massage room as the soothing music, the aromatherapy, the heated stones all trigger the relaxation response.

The Physiology of Worry

Not only does body-work engage the parasympathetic nervous system, it actually causes changes in the endocrine system; the system in charge of hormone secretion.

For example, massage has been linked to elevated levels of dopamine and lower levels of cortisol, which provides evidence of reduced stress.”

Benjamin, Patricia J Tappan’s Handobook of Massage Therapy p.136

Dopamine and oxytocin are feel good hormones whereas cortisol is emitted during times of stress. Due to the relationship of the PNS and impact on hormones Massage also helps with the psychosomatic signs and symptoms like headaches, tight muscles and upset tummy through hands on application.  Regardless of the science behind Massage, caring human touch makes people feel good.

Emotional Release

Emotional release  is when a clients might have a deep sense of letting go of some intrinsic stress that has been held in the muscles and it usually involves a good cry during a bodywork session.   Our muscles store our memories and sometimes when we are touched in a safe environment our minds and muscles let go of some negative feelings that has been stored inside. Not to worry if this happens, crying is a normal way to shed stress and most people feel better afterward. 

It’s not the job of the Massage therapist to process the feelings like a talk therapist would, but rather to hold the space so that you can release deep tension.  I like to say that we listen with hands and heart.

The Practical Healer Full Body Approach

Whether you choose Massage or Shiatsu a full body approach is best.  For example; the scalp muscles can tense from making worry faces.   Also Abdominal massage is great if worry has your stomach tied in knots.  Rubbing out the shoulders is a way to take off the weight of the world.  Working on the feet helps bring the energy down from the head and is deeply relaxing.  Also, evening out the energy of the channels from an Asian bodywork perspective helps support the underlying condition.

Comfort and Safety are Key

The cornerstone of working with anxiety is good communication.  No two clients need the same thing.  I have anxious clients that prefer the deep pressure points of Shiatsu and others that prefer a soft Swedish Massage.  One thing that everyone has in common is a need to be comfortable and safe.  It’s not uncommon for those with anxiety to need adjustments to the bolsters, face cradle, music, lighting and so on.  A good Massage therapist is there to help and can make infinite adjustments.

Aromatherapy

As far as aromatherapy goes, Frankincense, Lavender and Ylang Ylang are notorious for calming the mind.  I can send you home with an aromatherapy inhaler which you use in times of stress.  It’s also great to use before you fall asleep.

Acupressure Points

There are many acupressure points that are associated with couple the mind. Below are a few examples. A therapist trained in Shiatsu can access these points to augment a treatment for someone struggling with excess worry.

Gently Pressing on Pericardium Six Reduces Nausea and Anxiety.

Conclusion

In conclusion bodywork is an effective tool for coping with anxiety-whatever form it takes.  On a personal note, I too can find myself taking a ride on the worry wagon.  Over the years I have learned that that talk therapy, medication, exercise and great body work are all helpful ways for me to deal with stress of anxiety. In particular bodywork helps with the psychosomatic manifestations like headache and stomach ache. I hope that you will find relief too so that you can continue to enjoy a vibrant life.

Massage, Musings

Lunch with Cadavers

I just finished a weekend of learning at the Northwestern Health Sciences Massage Symposium. A highlight of the symposium is an opportunity to spend 30 minutes in their prestigious cadaver lab over the lunch hour. So, yes it was billed as Lunch and Cadavers. Stop reading if you are easily grossed out.

Into the Cadaver Lab

Outside the lab I was informed by the experienced attendees that I might want to put some Vick’s VapoRub under my nose to keep out the smell of formaldehyde. Thankfully, I was at a massage symposium and there were samples of smelly unguents to be had around every corner. I chose a packet of China Balm to be my olfactory friend. The smell was nothing compared to the existential unease that came over me.

For the most part, the bodies were mid-dissection. The skin was mostly removed and the exposed muscles were dry to the point of looking like beef jerky. That was less problematic for me than the intact body parts that gave hints of the life once lived.

For example, while the size of the femoral artery was fascinating to see I couldn’t help but notice the chipped blue nail polish on the intact, but wrinkled, toes of the donor. My vivid imagination overtook my scientific mind. I began playing out my own personal morgue scene from one of those murder mystery shows I love so much. Surely, she must have painted those toes about three weeks prior to her death but never had a chance to remove or re-apply the nail polish. So sad.  

Deep breath, April. Stay focused on the anatomy!!!

We moved on to the second cadaver. While my colleagues were eagerly grabbing at the glutes to get a better look, I was focused on the short curly hair of the donor; not to mention its missing face. As everyone “oohed” and “aahed” over the the third cadaver I was mesmerized by its intact ears and hands. They looked like something out of a mad scientist’s lab in a classic horror film. The pacemaker cords sprouting out of another donor’s chest didn’t bother me as much as the detail of the coarse hairs growing out of his ears. I couldn’t not create stories in my mind about these people. After only ten minutes I was the first to leave the lab. 

The other attendees were mostly graduates of the Northwestern Health Sciences massage program so perhaps they were more accustomed to an academic morgue. The instructors in the lab were way more interested in teaching anatomy than helping me process my encounter with death. Perhaps she was putting on a brave face for me but my fellow therapist said bluntly, “It’s no big deal, you get used to it.” The more I write this I realize I was less put off by the lab but more so by the insensitivity of my fellow massage therapists.

Allow Me to Process

Sadly some of my former clients have passed away. I have experienced that strange feeling of knowing that someone who was once pulsing and alive under my hands is no longer with us. There is a certain intimacy between my clients and me. I have a great respect for the vulnerability they bring into my room. It is always sad when I hear that someone I once worked with is gone. Let me just take this moment to say “thank you” into the great beyond to all those who have shared sessions with me and have crossed over.

Maybe next year will be the year that I put my imagination aside and join the cult of dissecting the dead. But this was destined to be the year where I humbly observed the fragile mortality of my fellow human beings. For now I will appreciate learning through palpating living breathing humans!

 

 

A

Musings, Wellness

Breakfast and Healing in Maine

MaineRecently, I had a chance to travel to Maine with my spouse John. We stayed in the quaint twin towns of Saco/Biddeford-just a two hour train ride north of Boston.  This used to be a thriving mill town and cute old houses and brick buildings abound.  In the latter part of the 20th century the town lost its main industry and suffered a significant economic down turn.  It is now a rebounding tourist and industry town.  On Main Street one will see unique, independent shops.  The buildings in the town mostly have that weather worn look.  The town is full of well groomed hipsters, who migrated up from Brooklyn and beyond to seek their fortune.  Alongside these motivated young adults exist the old time meth addicts hanging out together sporting last decades fashion trends.

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Here I am at the vintage and chic Tiny Diner.  It still only seats about 20 and the bathroom is located outside of the caboose.  Within is a well oiled breakfast machine. Although it serves traditional diner food everything was elevated to the next level.  My scrambled eggs were perfectly done with a little bit of cheese and chives scrambled in.  No industrial carton of egg puree here.  The breakfast potatoes were battered and fried.  The toast and jam were of good quality.  I stole more than a few bites of John’s corned beef hash.

Enough about breakfast-I want to tell you the  story of Flourish

Our first night we walked down to the Main Street with our hosts to eat a Thai dinner. As we headed to our next destination- I spied “Flourish” a little new age healing space and store.  There just happened to be a “healing salon” going on the following night.  It has been a good decade since I attended such an event so I knew I had to check it out and my host, Kate, was in for the adventure.

On a dark, cold, Thursday night Kate and I entered a cozy healing space.  Picture low lighting and a room with gigantic, beautiful mandala paintings on old brick walls.  A women was playing auto harp for all to hear.  There were various practitioners around the space and for a small fee one could get a sample session.

For example, for a fee the auto harpist would play the auto harp on your stomach.  With the addition of Reiki she would use sound healing to cure what ails thee. I still wish that I would have tried this one.  My friend Kate chose reflexology.  I chose to see Martha Fishback for flower essences and energy healing.

I was having a little pain in my right hip so I stated that as the main complaint.  Martha swung a pendulum over a chart to discern what the problem was and then to choose the correct flower essences to go with it.  Flower essences are the distilled essences of flowers.  A few drops are put into a cup of water and imbibed by the client.

After swinging a pendulum over a chart she decided that the root cause was emotional stress from work.  Although I wasn’t actively feeling that stressed about work I figured it was worth reflecting on. At this stage of my career I’m pretty good at managing my energy when working with clients.  Even so, I sometimes take on my client’s emotions without realizing it.   Also, there is always a certain stress that goes with the uncertainty of self employment.

She gave me my paper cup with a little water and flower essences.  Next, she invited me into a makeshift tent of colorful tapestries which housed a Massage table.  I lay down on the table face-up.  Without putting her hands on me she did about seven minutes of energy work over my head and about seven minutes over my feet.

I entered a very relaxed state.  Some very nice imagery came to me and I even shed a few happy tears.  It was nice to take a moment of calm in the middle of a vacation.  The auto harp music in the background was lovely.

My hip pain really didn’t abate, but I did have some emotional revelations.  More than anything, I was reminded how nice it is to have an energy practitioner give me full attention. While I really enjoyed the experience and felt some emotional relief, I ultimately needed more attention paid to the direct cause of the hip pain through Massage and Chiropractic.  Kate absolutely loved her reflexology session.

I see that they are hosting a medium in a few weeks.  If only I were in town to witness that!!

 

FAQ, Massage, Musings

Should I Shave my Legs before a Massage?

What! Seriously! You have a question about this!! Have you met my family?!!! I’m a second generation hippie so bring on the leg hair! I only started shaving my own legs again when I turned 35.

Why you should shave your legsshavelegscartoon?

1)You are an avid cyclist and you don’t want drag or road rash.

2)It’s part of who you are and it makes you feel good about yourself.

3)It’s part of your “I’m excited to get a Massage ritual.”

4)You like how the efflaurage feels without the drag of leg hair.

Bad reasons to shave your legs

1)You want to impress me.

I will give you a great Massage with or without leg hair. Sometimes we just need a little more lotion.

If you are self-conscious about body hair and don’t want to shave you can always keep your clothes on and choose Shiats

 

Musings, Uncategorized

Ice

 

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Ice Skating on Lake of the Isles at Night

Winter Poem

Hold me

Frozen Water

Even when I stomp

You are deep and solid

Like magic

You are with white bubbles suspended

Within onyx

The smoke of a magic potion captured.

 

Your ice mirror reflects my soul

Deep cracks held together

By a Winter miracle.

Water molecules link in prayer

To the formless sky above.

In between this human wanders.

 

Deep below the fish are swimming.

I wonder if they hear my tread.

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Loring Park Skating Rink

This is the Ice Skating Rink that you can see from the North Facing Window of my office.  All Winter I have watched the skaters glide around in the distance.  Finally, I took my girls down to try out the rink.  The rink is sponsored by Wells Fargo.  This means that the rink is kept in good shape and is FREE. As a bonus the skates are comfortable, plentiful and well-organized. I hope they have this here next year because this has become a favorite spot.