The Blog

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Ironman Lake Placid Adventure 2016

My first post of the year! A little over a year ago, I volunteered my massage hands at the finish line of Ironman Lake Placid and got inspired to make it back in 2016. This time I wanted to get a massage! I spent a good part of the year training to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles. It was a challenging year, but it was really good! The thing I am most proud of is that I managed to train and keep my day job. In fact, the first six months of the year were the busiest six months I’ve had in my practice. Another welcome surprise was the support and encouragement from every direction throughout my training. Both hard core triathletes and those who have little interest in it asked me for updates and wanted to know the details of my training. It is humbling that so many of you took interest in my adventure. If you didn’t know it, you inspired me in countless ways!

Sooo…. It was an absolute blast! The course finishes at the Olympic speed skating oval and the last mile is a sweet downhill. The roar of the finish line can be heard and the legs find speed you didn’t know they still had. What a moment to experience! It’s hard to put into words the feelings that ran through me as I lapped the oval. I’m just going to say I forgot any tiredness or discomfort that accumulated through the day. You can see it in my finishing photo.. I am beaming!

Having done it, I am convinced that every single person who gets to the starting line of his or her first Ironman, has a good long story to tell. If I had to describe the last 8 months of training in a few words.. “I started the training feeling in the best shape of my life but not knowing if I could finish. I finished the training feeling like my body is coming apart at the seams but now a firm believer that I am prepared to finish whatever happens”. The journey of getting to the start line was absolutely worth the effort and a reward in itself.

Come race day, I came ready to celebrate the day no matter the circumstances that can make a total of 140.6 miles a sad looking party … To my surprise, the world was ready to celebrate with me. Everything I practiced came together and it was a beautiful day to swim, bike and run. I got my Ironman massage!

December 17, 2016 0 Comments
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Going on Vacation? Don’t forget your massage

August is prime time for taking time off. It’s time to rest, recharge and have fun! Most of the time going on vacation is enough, but if you find travel strenuous and struggle to disconnect, a timely massage can help! Travel which involves sitting for long periods of time in a cramped position on a plane or in a car is a source of stress for most of my clients. It’s not uncommon for very active people used to pushing their bodies tell me that a few hours in a car or on a plane leave them feeling more beat up than a longer lasting training session. If you ever felt this way, schedule a massage first thing after a long trip when you reach your destination. If a vacation for your brain is what you crave but it takes you a few days to disconnect, a massage can help you transition to vacation mode right away. If you don’t want to wait or are not sure if you’ll be able to find something at your destination, a massage before your trip has the same benefits! Kick start your vacation before you leave with a massage and try these helpful tips to make your trip more comfortable.

TOP 3 tips from my clients. You were right! I now do them all and it really helps 🙂

Stand up. If you experience discomfort after a long flight or car trip, I hear this one works the best! It works like this – if you are not sleeping, get up from your seat every hour. Some of you like to take a walk or do some light stretching. It may feel weird the first time you do this on a plane, but once you start you might never go back.

Work out before you travel. Sure, travel can be exhausting and there is no time, but many of you swear that sticking to your workout routine actually helps.  If you can make time, your regular trip to the gym or working out outdoors will get your body ready for lifting luggage, loading the car and any other strenous tasks that are best done after a warm-up.  If there is no time, you can do simple exercises and stretches as you wait at the gate or when you take a break from driving. A little goes a long way!

Wear compression. If inflammation is still a source of discomfort and you tried standing up and moving, try compression wear on your next flight or car ride.

Not going away? Schedule a massage during your staycation. Relaxing at home and skipping the hassle and expense of travel is preferred by many, and adding some quality time activities like getting a massage can make it exactly what you’ve been waiting for!

Enjoy!

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August 11, 2016 0 Comments
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Massage and Body Image

Can massage positively affect body image? Massage promotes the development of body awareness. In our digital driven society, our physical self is often preceded by our mental work and accomplishments that meet the eye. We have little time to devote to our physical wellness, but we are encouraged to spend it on “fixing” problems, chasing pain and trying to fit ourselves into an unnatural frame. A massage session is a comfortable opportunity to be present with our bodies as they are today. The act of making time to simply feel good in the skin we are in promotes a holistic awareness of our physical. In addition to manually treating your area of pain or tension, working with your therapist can help you understand and integrate the sensory feedback from your body. “What is this tension that I am experiencing? What makes it better?” The therapist can provide information about how the body is structured and how it functions to help manage the stress and anxiety associated with pain. The therapist is trained to provide a safe judgment-free environment. Over the years, I am finding that these two areas of knowledge and skill are just as important as technical skills to making the work “therapeutic” – beneficial to you in the long term.

mirror_mirror_catIn our image captivated society, the prospect of lying partially undressed and being assessed by a near stranger can make anyone feel apprehensive about their first session. Despite initial appearances, massage therapy has been used in wide variety of settings to release negative feelings and associations we hold about our bodies and create an appreciation for the bodies we have. In an anorexia nervosa study, women given massage therapy in addition to standard treatment for 5 weeks reported lower stress and anxiety levels as well as decreases in body dissatisfaction responses. Bodywork is an opportunity to reconnect with ourselves. Can we relate the sensation of “I love how good this feels” back to “I love my body”? Research suggests yes we can. A study done with 49 female university students found that there is a positive link between viewing massage as pleasurable and the student responses from the “Body Areas Satisfaction” survey. Realizing that our body holds the ability to make us feel good and relaxed, gives us a sense of freedom, can make us feel at peace is a powerful catalyst in gaining acceptance of our physical self.

Massage therapists are specifically trained to provide a safe space free of judgement. The practice of physical acceptance is one of the things that attracted me to bodywork when I was a student. In basic anatomy, we learn no matter the shape and size, we are all born with the same number of muscles and bones. (Roughly, the same.. Back in massage school, if you had an extra muscle it was cool!) We are fascinated by how the tissues glide under the skin surface, spots of crunchiness around an old injury, or protective spasm that tells us to lighten up. These are the things we look for. Actually we don’t even look all that much, since our hands are better at seeing what we are looking for and staring into space is better for our necks and posture. Since I graduated school, I worked with many people that, unlike the anatomy textbooks, were not born or no longer have the same number of bones and muscles. It is always the similarities among us that continue to impress me. One of those similarities is our capacity to adapt. Massage is an active form of participating in this adaptation process – the process of healing. And your therapist is trained to let that process be about YOU – not the mirror, scale, X-ray, textbook, diagnosis. What positive thoughts do you want your body to hold on to? The massage table is a great environment to practice healthy body dialogue. The addition of therapeutic touch can increase our ability to experience our bodies in a positive way, restoring trust in our bodies inside and out.

Body image is more than skin deep. Just as we are flooded with messages about how our bodies should look, so are we constantly facing demands and expectations about how our bodies should perform. What if we are not on top of our game? What if the post-surgery rehab is taking too long? What if the other guy is faster? When we get injured, it is never just a sprain, an achy joint or a pulled muscle.  It is a cancelled vacation, missed training, time off work, not being able to carry your groceries, and many other things that can cause mental stress and frdog mirrorustration. Just as physical stress can cause mental and emotional tension, so can mental stress get trapped in our bodies affecting our body image.  Sometimes in the process, our painful injury becomes a “bad back”, “terrible knees” and “messed up shoulder”.  This body dialogue can turn a transient condition into a sticky perception we hold on to about a body part. We cannot control all the negligent jargon that is used to describe our aches and pains. Language such as “dysfunctional”, “bad side”, “malformed”, “disabled” permeates our medical references, the very resources that we use to heal our patients. David Butler PT and Dr. Lorimer Moseley, authors of “Explain Pain”, a widely read reference for health practitioners and anyone who’s ever experienced pain, comment: “These words alone are strong enough to stop you moving properly and they may not be giving you a true indication of what is happening”.

Sometimes, we health practitioners are the biggest influence on the imprint – negative or positive – our patients leave our care with. When we call the non-injured leg “the good leg”, what does that imply about the leg that hurts? Have you ever scheduled a massage to relax, but the therapist kept telling you “Your back is very tight. You have very ugly knots here”. (Yup, felt that! And now I have an image of ugly knots stuck in my shoulder). Even “muscle balance” and “alignment”, the elusive terms we love to throw around, can leave our clients with the feeling that something is wrong, “imbalanced” or “misaligned”, when proper context about how the body functions and adapts is not given. Sure, it is important to look at how we distribute workload, absorb and transmit forces throughout the body. How we move is essential – it is how we interact with the outside world. But, it is a perfectly natural and healthy process to find new ways of moving and adapting to our present circumstances. Sure, there is always room for improvement. It helps to consult and seek help from a practitioner who has resources, skills and access to medicine. Let us also emphasize all the good that our body has already done for us on its own!

Pain (the body’s alarm system), inflammation (protection and first response) and compensation (moving on) are vital processes of our survival mechanism. The authors explain: “Pain protects you, it alerts you to danger. It makes you move differently, think differently and behave differently, which also makes it vital for healing.” Inflammation, responsible fcat lion mirroror a big chunk of the pain we experience, is the body’s first response and the first stage of injury healing. It isolates and immobilizes the affected area from further damage, floods it with immune cells to fight infection and rebuilding cells to kick off the tissue repair process. Compensation patterns, our bodies moving differently, are necessary to distribute the workload away from the injured area so that it can heal. Compensation is also needed so that we can continue to function and support our livelihood.  Knowing that you’re 2-3 steps into your healing progress by the time you see any professional, most certainly by the time you see a massage therapist, can be a big confidence booster to continue with your treatment to recover even better.

Over the years, I have been purging my own vocabulary of negative statements and finding more productive language to explain patterns of pain, tension and function. Our bodies are naturally adaptive and resilient. We have a built-in mechanism to heal and rebuild ourselves. Injured and painful body parts are very strong indeed – they have to work that much harder to do what we ask of them. Injuries are opportunities to become stronger. These aren’t feel good statements alone. These are observations from my practice. I have the privilege of learning about healing from many people facing different circumstances and challenges. The capacity to self-heal, self-preserve and adapt to challenges is a daily occurrence in my office. I am a better practitioner when I align my work with your body’s intention to heal. If you are interested in this topic, “Explain Pain” the book I’ve been referencing throughout this blog, is a wonderful science-based read for understanding pain and healing. The massage room is a great place to restore trust in our bodies and heal from within.

“Explain Pain” by David Butler PT and Dr. Lorimer Moseley PhD

“Massage and Body Image” by Laurie Chance Smith on MassageTherapy.com

“Anorexia nervosa symptoms are reduced by massage therapy.” on PubMed.

“A preliminary examination of the effect of massage on state body image.” on ScienceDirect

November 22, 2015 0 Comments
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How Does Massage Work?

Dear massage customers everywhere, I get this question a lot!  Whether you are contemplating your very first massage or have been enjoying regular massage and endorsing its benefits for years, you want to know how it works!  After all, you spend a significant amount of time, money, and make a big emotional investment to trust us when we tell you that massage will make you feel better.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer.  For starters, there is still a lot we don’t know.  While a lot of good research shows that massage is an effective treatment for low back pain, knee osteoarthritis, and muscle recovery to name just a few conditions, the research on the process of how it does it is scarce.  The Touch Research Institute and the Massage Therapy Foundation are good resources and have been at the forefront of research in the field.  While there is a growing interest to explain why more than 25% of Americans are getting massages*, the healthcare community still has more questions than answers.  Our bodies are complex systems and our needs are very individual.  Massage therapy is commonly used in hospitals, sports facilities, addiction centers, and delivery rooms.  How does one therapist make all these people feel better?  While our work is very adaptive to the individual needs of a patient, it is almost impossible to describe the process in words.  While I use the science of anatomy and movement every day, I didn’t learn how to do a massage from a textbook. I learned by tuning into my teachers and practicing for many hours under their observation.  But, I still didn’t answer your question! The following is a brief summary of the knowledge passed on to me in school, what I read in scientific journals but most of all, it is a story of what I experienced in my hands.

shouldersConventionally, the increase in circulation is the most commonly cited benefit of massage.  If you pick up a brochure at a spa, there is a high chance the word circulation will be used to promote its services.  The increase in circulation is easily shown and explained.  Mechanically rubbing the soft tissues (muscle, skin and all the connective tissue) will produce visible localized erythema (redness).  The popularity of Swedish massage, which uses many gliding fluid and rhythmic strokes (wonderful for circulation), is another factor why the cardiovascular system is often the first one to be mentioned. Healthy blood and lymph circulation is of course vital; it brings oxygen and nourishment to the cells and removes toxins from the system.  However, not all clients equally benefit from an increase in circulation.  A patient who is immobilized due to a serious injury or accident can be helped a great amount by a therapist who will manually push and flush the tissue to reduce the onset of muscle atrophy.  Likewise, the painful scar tissue that forms at the site of a surgery or past injury can be helped by a technique called cross-fiber friction.  Applying deep friction to the area will mechanically realign or “free-up” the scar tissue and supply new blood to the area that is needed for healing.  A person with a lymph system dysfunction or weakness will benefit from manual lymph drainage performed by a specialist to manually stimulate the flow of lymph to remove metabolic waste.  On the contrary, an athlete with severe muscle soreness or a person with a headache will usually not benefit from increased circulation to the area of their complaint. Not all massage modalities and techniques have a significant effect on circulation.  Many of the new (and very successful) modalities that massage therapists employ such as myofascial release, active release, neuromuscular therapy to name a few do not emphasize circulation and don’t affect circulation any more than a handshake.

Massage returns short muscles to normal length.  Short muscles usually give us a sense of discomfort and tension; they also have a negative impact on our posture and movement. Some of the techniques that are used include myofascial, stripping technique, compression, active release, neuromuscular, trigger point techniques, and manual traction.  Muscle (and connective tissue) lengthening can also be accomplished through passive or active stretching.  Stretching can be great, but it has limitations.  Static stretching has the risk of overstretching, especially if done without a proper assessment.  Active dynamic stretching does not always stretch the entire muscle.  Overuse and tension can over time create adhesions (scar tissue) and trigger points (tender painful nodules).  Our bodies will stretch through the path of least resistance (compensate) to avoid pain. Effectively, existing scar tissue and trigger points will “block” a stretch, leaving a portion of the target muscle or specific fibers unchanged.  Massage is like stretching with a scalpel.  It is precise and the therapist’s assessment will ensure that you don’t overstretch.  Relaxing contracted stiff tissue can also help to release the pressure around many organs and nerve pathways, thus giving relief to conditions such as sciatica, Crohn’s disease, and carpal tunnel.  One of the scientific premises of manual therapy is based on the mechanisms called the Muscle Spindle and Golgi Tendon Organ.  Manual manipulation of the muscle fibers induces muscle relaxation by neural feedback and built-in reflex.  Science aside, some of you may enjoy and relate to this explanation from one of my textbooks to explain how tender points and taut bands of muscle tissue are treated with pressure:

“The term release is commonly used by massage therapists to refer to the softening and lengthening of soft tissue in response to therapy.  Although the therapist’s sense of release in soft tissue is a subjectively experienced phenomenon that is difficult to describe, it is difficult to miss when you do feel it, and it is a very gratifying feeling for the therapist and client alike.”

Massage stimulates underactive (often weak) tissues. Movement, activity, strength happen because of the neuromuscular chain between our central nervous system and our muscles.  Touch activates and stimulates our nerve pathways, which is why massage is often used in helping stroke patients to regain function.  The neuromuscular pathways can also be affected by poor posture, past injuries and repetitive movement, leaving some of our muscles weak and inactive.  The focus here is removing scar tissue, trigger points (the pain that blocks normal movement and function), and often bringing about circulation.  This may sound a lot like the process used on short muscles, except we are very careful not to lengthen the muscles that are already overstretched.  Techniques used range from deep tissue for stubborn adhesions (scar tissue) to light touch that can get the nervous system to fire.  The big picture is muscle “balance” or normalizing muscle tone and length around a joint so that the body can move and function in an efficient manner with less pain.  It is believed that our body is strongest and most resilient against injury when it moves efficiently.  How does a massage therapist know what’s short, overactive, lengthened, weak, not firing?  Through observation of your posture, your pain patterns, your lifestyle and activity, and of course through palpation.  An experienced and trained massage therapist can quickly spot changes in soft tissue and identify mechanical restrictions and kinetic chain dysfunction patterns.

Massage is often used in sports recovery.  In simple terms, we get stronger and faster because we undergo increased physical demands followed by a period of rest (recovery).  The full cycle of physical stress and recovery is needed to improve performance. Increased or high-intensity training produces micro-tearing of the muscles and an inflammatory response.  When all goes well and we recover from our strenuous workouts, our body replaces old cells with new stronger ones. On the other hand, when we under-recover our bodies break down, we feel fatigued and are more susceptible to injuries.  A breakthrough study examining the effects of massage on sports recovery was published in 2012.  The New York Times summarized the researchers’ findings: “massage reduced the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation. Massage also stimulated mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cells that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair.”  Thus massage promotes recovery on both fronts.  Getting a massage speeds up the anabolic process (cell growth) by stimulating cells to replace damaged muscle tissue with healthy, new muscle.  It also controls the catabolic process (cell breakdown) by reducing inflammation and the associated post-exercise soreness.  That’s right! Massage is productively multitasking while you are taking a nap. Massage is also a great feedback tool for the athlete.   It encourages physical awareness of how the body is adapting to training.

arms 7The hormones play a role.  Human touch is the most basic act to comfort and nurture.  When a baby cries, we pick it up.  When a friend is sad, we give him a hug.  It is not surprising that an hour of therapeutic touch floods our system with feel good hormones such as oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins.   It also lowers stress hormones such as noradrenaline and cortisol, which in high amounts correlates to accelerated cell aging.  As a result, we worry less, smile more and sleep better.  It has been shown that massage activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest response, during which our bodies repair and heal from within.  Thus getting a massage has a self-healing component; it is supportive of our body’s powerful innate mechanism to heal and adapt.  Of course our daily lives provide multiple opportunities for healing touch from our friends and loved ones.  I just want to add that there are times that therapeutic, professional and trained touch in a safe environment has its own merits.  During my career, I had the privilege of working in many different settings.  I held an Alzheimer’s patient’s hand in a hospice, I volunteered at the Hurricane Sandy relief effort at the Rockaways and I worked with a woman who lost her life partner and started her massage by apologizing that she was going to “cry through the whole thing” (she did and it was okay).  In instances like these, I am reminded of the unique set of skills gifted to me and my colleagues by our training to ease the burden placed on loved ones and emergency employees in strenuous circumstances.

Perhaps, it’s now worth mentioning how massage does not work.  Massage does not heal by causing pain.  There is a strong misconception that massage is painful.  Most of us saw a massage on TV before we had one.  This comical reenactment usually involves a lot of ouching and bone cracking.  There is a pervasive misconception in our culture that when it comes to massage more pain is better.  In fact, forceful aggressive pressure is often counterproductive. When too much pressure is applied – the muscle will contract in order to protect itself from damage, sometimes leading to a long lasting cycle of spasm and trigger points.  Deep change occurs when the patient is able to relax and feel safe as the pressure is applied.  As therapeutic practitioners, we take great care to ensure that our pressure is suitable to your needs and preference.

Phew! Aren’t you glad that I didn’t go into all this detail during your 1 hour massage? It may seem like a lengthy answer, but I feel like I barely warmed up.  My brief summary is based on the focus of my practice – medical, sports, and therapeutic.  I didn’t even get to mention any of the energy modalities, Eastern bodywork, craniosacral work, and many more practices that heal people every day.  My list is limited and of course, biased on the positive feedback reported by hundreds of my patients.  Like many of my colleagues, I came into this profession because of a positive personal experience with massage.  I am a firm believer in our work and therefore cannot be neutral.  I apologize for any scientific errors and any science I simplified for the sake of clarity.  As I started writing this blog, I knew that science alone is not (yet) able to provide a complete understanding of what we do.  However, I do hope it shines a light on just how complex and versatile the work of a massage therapist is.  I was once in a room where someone promoting a high-tech “suit” suggested that massage therapists merely “push blood”.  As an athlete, I think it’s great that we have a gadget suit to help us recover faster.  However, we do not yet have a suit that will alert us of potential injury, pause in that spot, remind us to breathe, reassure that the body is stronger than any injury and create a safe space to let go.

I welcome your feedback and questions.

Other opinions and sources from the World Wide Web:

How Does Massage Work? University of Minnesota

How Massage Heals Sore Muscles.  The New York Times

The Pros and Cons of Massages for Runners.  Runner’s World

Does Massage Therapy Work? by Paul Ingraham, Vancouver, Canada

* 26% of Americans had a massage in the last 5 years, according to AMTA 2013 consumer survey.

 

October 12, 2014 2 Comments
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Beat the Cold & Flu Season with Massage

There are several ways in which massage can help prevent and ease symptoms of the seasonal cold & flu. At the cellular level, massage strengthens the immune system by increasing the circulation of lymph and increasing the activity levels of the body’s natural killer T-Cells. Improving the circulation of lymph helps speed up the removal of metabolic waste generated by our bodies. Massage also increases the number of lymphocytes, including natural killer T-Cells, which get their name from being fast and fierce when it comes to getting rid of illness-producing pathogens! Massage also reduces levels of stress-related hormones, such as cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol can accelerate tissue breakdown and prevent tissue repair. Getting massage has been shown to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and giving our immune system a boost!

A massage session in the winter will also give you results that you can feel instantly! Cold temperatures have a deteriorating effect on our posture. We tend to elevate and hunch over in the cold in the attempt to make ourselves smaller and preserve body heat (or maybe because we feel cold and miserable!). Picture a person who is shivering; this person is not walking around with his shoulders down, chest open and shoulder girdle relaxed. This also affects us runners who train outside in the winter, as we spend a lot of time shivering before and after races creating excess tension. This “winter tension” can accumulate in the neck and shoulders, leading to pain, trigger points and inflammation. A massage session can relieve this “winter tension” and restore our posture. Lastly, massage can help you bounce back faster after a particularly nasty bout of flu or bronchitis. Heavy coughing can create lingering tension in the breathing muscles. If breathing feels labored and you feel like you’re not able to take a full deep breath, this may be due to restriction in the ribcage and breathing musculature. Massage will relax the ribcage and intercostals muscles to restore and free up your breathing.

Specific tips for scheduling a massage appointment:

Massage is contraindicated when you have a fever (acute stage of infection)

If lying face down is uncomfortable or it aggravates your sinus congestion, the massage can be done face up or on the side

Regular massage sessions are best in order to help maintain a healthy immune function. However, recent studies showed changes in just one 45-minute Swedish massage therapy session

February 18, 2014 0 Comments
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How to Build Your Own Recovery Plan

Having a recovery plan can help you balance the demands of your job, an active lifestyle and general stress. Here are just a few of the many things to gain: higher energy levels, less injuries, chronic pain management, all the holistic benefits of relaxation and even increased productivity. Start one today!

Define your goals. What is the purpose of your recovery plan? Make it as specific or as broad as you wish. It can be “rehab hamstring and prevent re-injuries” or simply “feel better”.

Brainstorm what to include. Simply think of the type of activities that add to your energy reserves. Consider the resources that are available to you. For example, if you are recovering from a physical injury, you may consider including physical therapy, personal training, massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractor, etc. All these professionals are a great source of information. The best way to manage their advice is to include it in your plan.

You may need more than one recovery plan. At this point you may find that you need more than one recovery plan. For example, you may love running because it clears your head and lifts your spirits. However, running alone will not make your hamstring injury go away. If you are athletic consider having a separate recovery plan for your sport.

Focus on mindful rest. When I talk about recovery, I’m mostly referring to conscious mindful recovery as opposed to spacing out in front of a glaring screen. Have your body and mind work together to deepen your relaxation.

Recovery does not have to be expensive. Many feel that good rest is inaccessible because they cannot afford spa days and vacations. Some of my favorite activities are restorative yoga, stretching, self-massage and meditation. All of these can be learned and practiced at a minimum investment.

Consider what you are already doing. This will help you track the benefits of your efforts and identify any gaps.

Decide on a style that works for you. Chances are you are already making lists, drawing flowcharts, using pinboards or keeping detailed spreadsheets for some aspect of your life. Why not adopt your favorite system for something as important as your health and well-being?

Your recovery plan should be yours. Our needs as well as the speed with which we renew from stresses are intrinsically individual and change throughout the course of our lives. Don’t compare yourself to others. Fine tune your plan based on the feedback your body gives you.

Make it work. This is the tricky part and it may take some trial and error. Your recovery plan should not feel like another list of things to do. Be honest with yourself. For example, the 90-day Bikram yoga challenge may have seemed like a great idea but if it actually feels like work, maybe your body needs time to adjust and recover from everyday Bikram. (you can still do it to challenge yourself!). In general, new and challenging physical activity is not restorative for your body. Consider revising your plan as circumstances change and you become a hot yoga guru.

At this point you may think that sticking with a plan will be too hard. Actually designing the right plan is the hardest part. If you design it well, you will look forward to your recovery time!

March 14, 2013 0 Comments
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Self-Massage Workshop for Belly Dancers

Special thanks to Andrea Beeman, the Enchantress of Bioluminosity, for presenting and orchestrating this project!

Like our dance, teaching Self-Massage to Belly Dancers is a rich and uplifting experience. I practice and teach Self-Massage because it is an effective, affordable, and sustainable system to take greater ownership of our own wellness. I created this workshop to empower dancers of all levels with the skills of caring for their own bodies to reduce pain and fatigue, restore natural flexibility and prevent overuse injuries.

I am delighted and grateful for the response that the workshops received! It was a true pleasure to work with such a diverse community and meet so many new faces who share my passion.

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TECHNIQUES WE LEARNED

The workshop participants learned two core techniques of Therapeutic massage: compression and myofascial release. The beauty of these techniques is that they are easy to learn and can be applied to any part of our body. For belly dancers, the sequence focused on the feet, hands, hips, low back, ribcage, shoulder girdle and neck. We used foam rollers and small balls to provide appropriate pressure to each area and to cover the entire body without unnecessary strain. To seal in the benefits of the work, we took the time to do some passive, restorative stretches before transitioning to the next set of movements. We began the class with some breath work to help us relax and ended with the manual release of our breathing muscle, the diaphragm. Two of the workshops were specifically geared towards the dancers from the Retired Teachers’ Association. This group of dancers had the opportunity to learn the movements on the floor or seated in a chair in order to find the position that best suits their bodies. At the end of the class, the evening group stayed to review and put it all together in candlelight and listening to soothing music.

FASCIA AND MOVEMENT

Muscles, tendons and ligaments are commonly referenced in everyday conversation, but what is fascia? Fascia is a connective tissue and an essential component of our movement. Understanding fascia is even more important for dancers, whose movements are bigger and more expansive than usual daily activity. Fascia forms a continuous matrix that connects and upholds our skeleton, muscles, internal organs and skin. It provides lubrication and elasticity to our muscular system. It also plays a key role in our posture. When healthy, it is fluid, elastic, malleable and nourishing. As the fascia ages or is damaged by traumatic injury, repetitive stress or chronic bad posture, it loses its functional properties. It becomes dehydrated, brittle, irritated, stiff and rigid. Over time, this results in loss of flexibility, postural changes and trigger point pain.

Healthy fascia is a key factor in maintaining our range of motion, flexibility and good posture. A musculoskeletal unit cannot move properly when its protective shell is rigid and restrictive. Self-myofascial release works to lengthen fascial contractures and reduce adhesions (scar tissue). This lengthening of the fascia provides more space for uninhibited movement of the muscle and joint within it. Not only does this provide for more freedom and expression in our movement, it makes our movement pain free and facilitates the comeback to better posture.

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BENEFITS OF SELF-MASSAGE

The physiological benefits of self-massage are essentially the same as the benefits of seeing a licensed massage therapist. Here are some things to look forward to: faster recovery from injury, effective management of chronic pain, better flexibility and range of motion, improved circulation, stronger immune system, and release of tension and stress.

Because we work with our bodies, the benefits of massage to dancers are even more noticeable. Pain-free movement is more expansive and expressive. Flexible muscles look softer and our movement becomes more fluid. Healthy muscle tissue allows for quicker and more graceful neuromuscular reactions. Finally, by working on our bodies we increase our body awareness and can detect problems before they become an injury.

MAKING THE MOST OF SELF-MASSAGE AT HOME

Many of those who attended told me they were surprised at what a difference self-massage made! I hope that everyone who felt a positive change and got inspired by the information will continue the practice at home. With time and practice, technique and body awareness improves, making the work even more beneficial! The hardest part is making the time for self-care before it becomes a routine. Here are some reminders about good technique and helpful tips on how to make self-massage a healthy habit:

Remember to breathe. Mindful breathing will help you relax and release physical tension.

Find the most comfortable position for each movement. This may be standing, sitting in a chair or working on the floor. The best position is the one where you can engage your body weight to do the work for you and the one that places the least tension on the rest of your body.

When using the foam roller, pay attention to body mechanics and posture. The tension in the shoulders, low back and wrist joints should be kept to a minimum. Instead, direct the bulk of your weight into the foam roller. Keep abdominal muscles engaged to avoid excessive arching of the low back. Avoid collapsing in the chest. Think strong clean lines from head to toe.

Self -massage should be relaxing. When working on a tight spot, keep the rest of the body nice and relaxed. This will allow you to focus in on the target area and prevent tension build-up elsewhere. Avoid grinding on the same painful spot. Instead use your breath and wait for the tension to release and melt away.

Spend at least 1-2 minutes per body part. That’s how long it takes to become body aware! If the area feels tight, spend more time until you feel release.

If you’re having trouble finding the time or feel too tired to even begin, tell yourself you’re only going to do it for 5 minutes. My experience is that just within a few minutes your body will begin positively responding to the movements and you will want to keep going.

Maximize your experience. Make your self-massage practice a ritual you will love. Light candles, play favorite music, use pillows for comfort, etc. Combine self-massage with another home practice you already have, such as yoga or meditation.

If you are interested in learning more or need a refresher, I have two projects in the works that may be helpful. For those of you who find it hard to practice on your own or simply like the idea of a group setting, I would like to start a weekly or monthly self-massage class. Please let me know if you are interested and stay tuned for details! I am also planning to put together short videos that I will make available on my website.

March 7, 2013 0 Comments

Welcome!

December 6, 2012 0 Comments