When I was in massage school, I think one of the most remarkable things that happened, other than feeling knots actually melt away under my hands, was the amount of emotions that were released on the table during our hands on parts of our classes. I didn't really understand the concept of the mind-body connection until then. Quite often people who have suffered a large amount of trauma in their lives are the same people that are called to help others and in the safe, supportive environment of a massage school program many, many past traumas were released and let go. Now this isn't exactly normal in your every day massage session, but it is a testament to the power of touch.
What is normal in your every day massage session is clients walking out in what I like to call "massage coma", smiling, relaxed, slightly out of it due to all the feel good chemicals that the session has released in their brain, feeling "lighter", like they're "floating". All these sensations are the exact opposite of what we tend to feel on a daily basis. We feel stressed, tired, in pain, tight, sore, cranky. How can massage do so much for us and why is it still, in many cases, considered a luxury, not a part of a healthy regimen to prevent illness?
Massage has been shown to decrease cortisol levels up to 58% "A review of more than a dozen studies concluded that massage therapy helps relieve depression and anxiety by affecting the body’s biochemistry. Researchers at the University of Miami School of Medicine reviewed studies that measured the stress hormone cortisol in participants before and immediately after massage and found that the therapy lowered levels by up to 53 percent. Massage also increased serotonin and dopamine, which are both neurotransmitters that help reduce depression." It also decreases blood pressure in as little as ten minutes, "Research has shown that hypertensive patients who received three 10-minute back massages a week had a reduction in blood pressure, compared to patients who tried to increase relaxation without massage. " Cortisol, being one of the main chemicals that is released when we are stressed and anxious, just as a reminder.
One of the ways to help people in the midst of a panic attack is to touch them, which can help ground them in the moment and get their minds off the anxiety their brain chemistry is subjecting them to. Now think about what an hour of touch can do to help ground and center a person. Humans need touch to survive. Now let's think about how much better we would feel if we did that on a consistent basis. There have been several studies showing that infants that do not receive enough touch do not thrive, just because we're all grown up, know how to walk, talk and feed ourselves, doesn't mean our brains and bodies work that much differently than they did when we were infants. We still need to be touched, and if we aren't getting enough healthy touch in our lives it affects us on multiple levels.
There is now study after study showing massage promotes healthy minds and healthy bodies, so why do we continue to view it as a luxury and something that is just a fun thing to do now and again? There are several reasons for this, one big one is that massage is an ancient healing system that, like so many others, was disparaged by Western Medicine for many, many years as "woo woo" and "primitive." Then we have the Puritanical issues about our bodies and touch which has, finally, been changing, thankfully. Plus massage got linked to prostitution, which is why we have licensing laws now. On top of all that was our societal taught disconnect between body and mind, due in large part to our lack of scientific understanding of how the body and mind all fits together. Even though the benefits of massage have long been accepted in other parts of the world, here in the US we need proof, and now we have it.
Where does all this take us? It needs to take us to where instead of seeing the cost for a massage as something that is a treat, see it as important as your yearly check ups, as any medication you are taking, as eating healthier foods or exercising. Massage can keep you from getting sick. That alone pays for itself in decreased sick time away from work or family. The $40-60 you pay for a massage is what many people pay for a gym membership, that quite often they never fully use. The benefits of massage are just as important and you don't have to sweat or even lift a single weight, all you have to do is book an appointment, relax and let go. Heck these days $50.00 is the same as a lot of co-pays to see a Doctor for 15 mins, you get a lot more time with a massage therapist for that money and it will do a lot more good for you.
Most of us would love to take more vacations, so we should consider a massage a monthly or even twice a month mini-vacation for yourself. Your body and mind will thank you.
Book Now with me to feel a million times better.
Walking is good for you, we all know that, but did you know what you walk on can make a difference in your health as well? Walking on uneven surfaces has been shown to do a lot more for you than walking on concrete. There are a lot of reasons for that, one of which is our feet are as sensitive as our hands, shoes and man made surfaces rob our brain of a whole lot of input which has an affect on a lot of different things in our body.
We go to China, as it seems we tend to do a lot these days, for a study carried out by the Oregon Research Institute. "Cobblestone-like walking paths are common in China. The activity is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine and relates to some of the principles of reflexology, in that the uneven surface of the cobblestones stimulate and regulate "acupoints" located on the soles of the feet. These acupoints are purportedly linked to all organs and tissues of the body. Although there is considerable anecdotal evidence indicating the health benefits of cobblestone walking, (e.g., pain relief, sleep enhancement, improved physical and mental well-being), until recently no controlled studies have been undertaken to scientifically evaluate its benefits and efficacy.
"We visited China and noticed that adults of all ages spent about 30 minutes each day walking, standing, and sometimes dancing on these beautifully laid paths of river stones in the parks and gardens of large cities. They did this for their health every day of the week. We used manufactured mats that replicated these cobblestone paths and developed a special protocol so that participants gradually got used to walking on the uneven surface of the mats," reported Fisher. Participants in the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging (Grant AG20470), were divided into an experimental group -- the cobblestone mat walkers -- and a control group which took part in conventional walking activities for one hour, three times per week for 16 weeks. At the end of the study, mat walkers were found to have better scores on measures of balance, physical function, and blood pressure than those in the conventional walking group."
So, yet again, something that humans have done for millenia, is actually healthier than things that humans have created in the last hundred years or so. Funny how that works. Treadmills are great, I use one when the weather is hellish in Arizona, they get you moving, but you get a lot more out of running or walking on natural surfaces. Now I am not saying go run around barefoot if you aren't used to it, but get minimalist shoes, they sell those now, and go walk on grass, rocks. up and down hills. You will get a lot more out of it.
Take walking in beach sand for example, it burns more calories, gets you to work on strength and balance and reduces stress. Don't live by a beach? Find a sand volleyball court, a lot of parks where I live have them. Walk or run back and forth in the sand. Don't want to do it barefoot? Where minimalist shoes.
Most of us ran around barefoot as kids, you can still do that and it's darn good for you too. If you are into working out, as we all should be, train barefoot or in minimalist shoes, there's a whole slew of reasons why it's better for your body. Here's a very comprehensive article on that topic.
Our bodies work best when we aren't screwing with what they were designed to do, I have found that over and over again working on people. Doing things barefoot or in minimalist shoes is good for your brain, your body and your soul. Take a walk in a park, on grass, instead of in a gym. You'll get a lot more out of it. Take it from me.
This will be short as I have to take off to go to a social media marketing meeting but I think I can write this whole article in the time I am suggesting you take to stretch every morning, 15 mins.
Whenever people talk about getting in shape, working out etc, it usually is linked to "Go to gym, go run, go do something" that requires a decent amount of time commitment, which is why a lot of times these goals go by the wayside. Life is overwhelming and trying to fit one more thing in can be too much of a burden. Here is where I can help you help yourself in the time it takes to prep breakfast and make your coffee, 15 mins. If you dedicate 15 mins every morning to do some simple, basic stretches you will gain flexibility along with alertness, your moods will probably be better and you will significantly lower the amount of back pain and headaches you will get. Why is that? Let me tell you.
When you sleep, (which hopefully you are doing more of after reading my post on it) your body is healing itself from the rigors of the day, resetting and trying to get ready for the next day. When you get up you have a chance to get the muscles to loosen up because they haven't quite locked back into the positions you keep them in all day and, hopefully, your mental stress levels aren't as high. By taking advantage of that "Before I am truly functioning" state you can work out kinks and stress points before they get really bad at the end of the day. You can also clear your mind of all the stress from the day before, even if it is only for a few minutes, which should help lower your emotional state enough to give you some breathing room.
So what stretches do you do? Nothing too complicated, unless you're already an advanced yoga practitioner. The goal is to wake up your muscles, do the full range of motion with them, take a moment to breathe, center and move. If you stay consistent with this practice you'll be amazed with how much it changes how you feel.
Nothing about the body is a permanent state, we are the ones who put limits on how good or bad we can feel. I have seen people who recover from serious injuries or illness to have a incredibly high quality of life again. The deciding factor in most of these stories was how the person chose to treat their body, your sore aching muscles are not your enemy. They are telling you that you have to treat the physical form you live in better. Most people see their body as just a thing that they move around, it is much, much more than that. It is your home for your entire life, it doesn't ask for money for rent to occupy it, all it asks for is for us to maintain it. When we don't, that's when it starts to fall apart. So do some stretches, look at it as cleaning up the place.
Here are some ideas on morning stretch routines.
Morning stretch video:
Full Body Stretch Ideas
If you want to see reasons to do morning workouts, read this article.
Keep it simple, make sure it is full body stretches and have some fun.
Remember when we were kids? Nap and bedtime were the worst things ever! I mean, how dare our parents stop the fun and tell us to go to sleep! Right? Now, well a lot of us find the idea of a nap heavenly and a full night's sleep as a rare treat. Funny how when you're an adult you want to do all the stuff you used to do as a kid.
It's not just us not wanting to adult anymore that is driving the dreams of sleep. As a society, Americans are horribly sleep deprived, I've heard that from yoga instructors, mental health teachers, counselors and massage therapists along with a whole ton of research that is echoing those same ideas, even kids now are suffering from insomnia.
Sleep's important for a whole myriad of reasons, and the demands of our lives keep making it harder and harder for us to get any. Before we go into ways to work on that, let's get into why sleep is so important.
This Article has a great info graphic showing everything lack of sleep affects but here's a quick rundown:
"Sleep deprivation leaves the brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties well. The most obvious effect is sleepiness. You may find yourself yawning a lot and feeling sluggish. Lack of sleep interferes with your ability to concentrate and learn new things. It can negatively impact both short-term and long-term memory. It gets in the way of your decision-making process and stifles creativity. Your emotions are also affected, making you more likely to have a short temper and mood swings. Overall cognitive function is impaired.
Sleep deprivation means your immune system doesn’t have a chance to build up its forces. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s more likely that your body won’t be able to fend off invaders. It may also take you longer to recover from illness. Long-term sleep deprivation raises your risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Sleep deprivation increases production of the stress hormone cortisol. Lack of sleep lowers your levels of a hormone called leptin, which tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. In addition, it raises levels of a biochemical called ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant.
Sleep deprivation prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat, promoting fat storage and increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes."
Remember cortisol? Our Friend that we talked about earlier? Yup, lack of sleep makes cortisol go all wonky too. These are only some general areas sleep affects. People who are stressed, anxious or depressed or have PTSD or other biological brain disorders often don't sleep enough which makes their brains even more overloaded, making their symptoms worse, which makes the brain even more....you see the cycle here? Lack of sleep that goes on long enough can also literally shrink your brain.
"European researchers looked at 147 adults between the ages of 20 and 84. With two MRI scans, they examined the link between sleep problems like insomnia and the study participants' brain volume. The first scan was taken before patients completed a questionnaire pertaining to their sleep habits. The second scan was done approximately 3½ years later.The questionnaire showed that 35% of those in the study met the criteria for poor sleep health. Investigators found that those with sleep problems had a more rapid decline in brain volume or size over the course of the study than those who slept well.
The results were even more significant in participants over the age of 60."
The other interesting and dangerous thing about chronic lack of sleep that your body tricks you into thinking it's adapted to it and you can function, because, remember, the body's main goal is to keep you functioning as long as possible. Per the last page of this WebMD Article, "Sleep-deprived people seem to be especially prone to poor judgment when it comes to assessing what lack of sleep is doing to them. In our increasingly fast-paced world, functioning on less sleep has become a kind of badge of honor. But sleep specialists say if you think you’re doing fine on less sleep, you’re probably wrong. And if you work in a profession where it’s important to be able to judge your level of functioning, this can be a big problem.
“Studies show that over time, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, begin to feel that they’ve adapted to that sleep deprivation -- they’ve gotten used to it,” Gehrman says. “But if you look at how they actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill. So there’s a point in sleep deprivation when we lose touch with how impaired we are.”
What happens is your body, since you're forcing it to function on substandard sleep, shoulders the burden and tricks you into thinking you're doing okay when you're really not, so we push it harder and harder until we crash and collapse, or come down with health issues which can be linked back to lack of sleep.
All right, now that we talked about all the reasons we need to sleep, how do we get the brain to stop racing around and let us zonk out and rest?
1. Turn off or mute your phones, hide them under something and don't look at them starting about 30 mins before you want to sleep. Step away from the computers and TV and actually prep yourself for sleep. (Yeah, I see your heads shaking, your eyes rolling and hear the scoffs, hear me out here.) All the cool flashy lights, notifications and cool things our beloved gadgets do stimulate our brains, that's why we're hooked on them. We need to tell our brain it's time to get off the techno-induced stimulus and get it to switch to sleep mode before we can get it to actually turn off. Think of it as a power saver mode for your brain. So, put all that down, brush your teeth, take a shower, whatever and then get into an actual dark room, turn your AC down a bit (if it's summer) close your eyes and do measured breathing. I will always come back to breathing, because it's important. Let your brain run around, try to ignore it and count breaths. It will be hard, it will seem pointless and like you need a distraction but stick with it. If all else fails, read a book, not a e-book, but an actual book, your brain perceives actual books differently than ebooks, or listen to soft music or a white noise machine.
2. Do it the next day, and the next. As often as you can. Here's why. Once or twice does not train your brain to relax. It's a whole new way of doing things and you have to stick with it. There are also some yoga poses to induce sleepiness, here's a quick 8 min routine you can do to relax.
3. Don't drink caffeine or eat sugary things before bed.
And 4. Give yourself permission to sleep! Life is hard, life is complicated and we tend to forget about our own needs when caring for others, working etc. You can't help others or do a good job if you're functioning at half or a third speed. You have a right to be healthy, honor that right.
Hope this gets some of you to get more restful nights.
Hugs and good vibes,
Did you know there are over 200 types of headaches? That your biceps/triceps are linked to your neck muscles? That the arms, neck and pecs all work together to move your head and arms? That tightness in your arms can lead to shoulder pain and neck stiffness along with headaches? Even though I do primarily full body massages 90% of the complaints people have are stiff necks, backs and shoulders. Of those people, I'd say about 99% are totally surprised when I find the trigger points and sore spots in their biceps and triceps and are shocked at how working on those does a ton of good for the shoulders and neck. Your biceps and triceps never really hurt, they let the neck and shoulders complain for them.
The vast majority of my massage clients, and I'd be willing to bet the vast majority of people who are reading this, suffer from very similar pain/discomfort patterns in their/your bodies. Tight neck, tight shoulders, headaches, shooting pains down the arms, maybe a bit of numbness for a dash of excitement with a side of teeth grinding for added flavor. Now what do all of you have in common? Stress, computer work and more stress.
You've all heard, read and been told that we all need to move more for a variety of reasons, lose weight, lower your blood pressure etc etc, but what rarely gets talked about is how the mix of sedentary lifestyle. technology and the modern world being a much more trauma filled, soul sucking, scary and unstable place to be affects your brain chemistry, and it's your brain chemistry that affects everything else.
So let's meet a chemical that used to serve a wonderful purpose for us, was intrinsic for our overall survival and now, thanks to our way of life, has become overworked, cranky and who is expressing it's displeasure about it in a myriad of ways. Say hello to cortisol.
Cortisol is "a life sustaining adrenal hormone essential to the maintenance of homeostasis. Called “the stress hormone,” cortisol influences, regulates or modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress including, but not limited to:
So, basically, it kicks in when we get stressed and gets everything clipping along at the required pace to deal with stress. Which is great for when you have to run away, fight, hunt or, in general, do anything that requires maximum effort for a short period of time. The idea being after we get away, kill dinner or win the fight we relax, reset, maybe enjoy the fruits of our labors and take a break. Only problem is that doesn't really happen anymore.
These days it's get up, commute, try not to road rage, get to work, stress for x amount of hours, either get off that job to go to another one or get off work and pick up kids, run around at full speed with said kids, put them to bed, either work more or stress about bills that you can't pay, try to sleep, get back up and repeat. We get no downtime, no time to enjoy anything that we do and, in general, are always at a high level of stress.
Well cortisol, not understanding what the hell is going on, keeps doing it's job, making our heart race, pumping through our bodies to keep us awake, help us survive but after awhile the body, and cortisol, start going "Hey, um human? Hey, we can't keep this up. Oh, you want to keep going? Well, fine, but you're going to feel like shit." And then it begins.
Fatigue, pain, headaches, back aches, upset stomachs, phantom pains, tight muscles, jaw grinding, eating badly, cancer, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, pretty much you name it, all start kicking in, because cortisol, and it's friends in the adrenal system, are trying to get you to listen while attempting to live up to the demands you put on them.
Here is a very long and excellent article about stress and how it kills. Remember, back in the stone ages of the 80s when Japanese businessmen were dying at super young ages? Yup, stress did that.
"The consequences of chronic stress can be devastating. A chilling example is stress cardiomyopathy, a spontaneous weakening of the heart that predisposes victims to arrhythmia and even sudden cardiac death. While the mechanism is not clearly understood, it is thought that chronic stress-induced elevations in epinephrine (adrenaline) over-stimulate the cardiac muscle, altering its function and causing atrial remodeling (Sakihara 2007; Korlakunta 2005).
Another striking example is a condition the Japanese refer to as Karoshi (death from overworking); this condition was recognized in post-World War II Japan. Overworked and severely emotionally and physically stressed Japanese high level executives suffered strokes and heart attacks at alarming rates at relatively young ages. Researchers discovered that the death of these otherwise healthy men was due to chronic, unremitting stress. Government estimates in 1990 put the number of men dying each year from Karoshi at over 10,000 (Kondo 2010; Saleeby 2006).
Prolonged stress has been linked with elevated circulating markers of inflammation, and increased intima media thickness, a measure of atherosclerosis progression (Gouin 2011; Roepke 2011). Chronic stress considerably increases the risk of anxiety and depression by causing structural and functional changes in the brain as well (McEwen 2004; Liu 2010). "
How do we fix this? Or at least stop the destructive feedback loop? Well, short of winning the lottery, the next best thing is making self care a priority. No, I am not talking about putting pressure on yourself to go to the gym, which isn't a bad thing, but for most of us, it's just another added stressor because the majority of us never get around to it. There's a simple, free, easy way to give cortisol a break, it doesn't require a membership, equipment or anything more than what you already have. It's called...wait for it...breathing.
"Say whaaatt?" I hear you ask. Yup, breathing. Breathing deep, breathing like you mean it and breathing for your health, beyond the fact that you need oxygen to, you know, live.
Take deep, slow, counted breaths, do it every day when you wake up, when you feel stressed and before you go to sleep. It's a built in calming mechanism and I'm a firm believer that companies should allow breathing breaks, not just smoking breaks.
Breathing deep, focusing on the breath and nothing else for even just sixty seconds, will calm your brain down, make you feel better, and acts as an auto reset for your nervous system. Start with breathing, making sure you use your belly to take in some deep breaths, then maybe work your way up to a regular monthly massage, which does a whole list of wonderful things for you, which I will go into later. Then, maybe, just maybe try some chanting, some meditation or some yoga, but the most important thing to do is start breathing.
Kat is a LMT in AZ with close to a half decade of experience. She likes to talk to ppl about their health, make them feel better and get them to realize they have so much power to control their own health. Snarky yet informative, that's Kat in a nutshell. She's also available for personalized, targeted therapeutic massages, please see the scheduling page if you live in the Phoenix AZ area.