Is there any time of year more obsessed with health habits than the New Year? Even spring bikini season panic doesn’t reach this level of hype. Everywhere you go, someone is trying to get you to try a class, a supplement, a shake, a piece of equipment, a diet, a lifestyle… and it can be exhausting trying to figure out what’s real and what’s a load of hooey. It’s perfectly normal to look forward to a fresh start in January (or not!), but here’s a little guidance on whether to put money down on that hot new habit after the holidays.
If whatever you’re thinking of trying *SWEARS* you’ll get the desired result in no time at all—you can be pretty sure you’re entering into scam territory. The human body is based on homeostasis. It can change, and it does, but most of those changes occur over time. There’s a reason why most things that cause fast changes in the body (like surgery and drugs) require a physician to administer them; they can be dangerous if not used carefully. If you’ve been out of shape for five years, don’t expect to get back in shape in five weeks. That’s just not how the body works.
There are diets that can help you lose weight. There are exercise routines that can help you gain muscle and strength. There are massages that can help you relax and manage your stress levels. (Might want to get on that one soon!) But if someone is selling One Amazing Thing that will evaporate your fat, increase your happiness, straighten your posture, whiten your teeth, cure your cancer, and send your sex drive through the roof? You can be pretty sure it’s not worth your money. Don’t pay a Magical Thinking Tax for exaggerated claims.
Conspiracies can be fun to read about, but if the main selling point is that “doctors hate it” or “Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about this,” it’s probably not the best addition to your life. Why? Because you and your physician (and your dentist, your massage therapist, your counselor, your personal trainer, your nutritionist…) are part of your health and wellness team. If any one of them refuses to be a team player, they’re not doing what’s best for you.
When the Magic Cure’s only big selling point is how much someone else hates it… definitely not cool. If you haven’t heard much else about said Magic Cure, it’s probably not because your health team is trying desperately to hide it from you. It’s much more likely that it just doesn’t work at all. I recommend researching it further, or asking those members of your wellness team what their thoughts on it REALLY are.
If yes, then this is something worth looking into, whether it’s a gym membership, a cookbook of heart-healthy meals, or a habit tracking app. Ultimately, we try things out and see how they work for us over the long haul. Not everything will be a perfect fit, but at least we can weed out some of the resolutionist marketing malarkey and move forward with our best efforts into the new year.
The American Massage Therapy Association publishes all kinds of great research in regards to the health benefits of massage therapy. Check out the following collection of links to different research information!
1. Reduce stress – The long-term effects of stress can take emotional and physical tolls. Massage therapy may relieve stress and conditions associated with it, such as tension headaches.
2. Get better sleep – Research indicates that massage can improve sleep in those with lower back pain, fibromyalgia, insomnia, pain and other health conditions.
3. Boost mental health and wellness – Research suggests that symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression (all associated with mental health) may be directly affected with massage therapy.
4. Manage pain – Pain can negatively affect a person’s quality of life and impede recovery from illness or injury. Research shows massage can help low-back pain, headaches, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and more.
5. Increase range of motion – Elite and recreational athletes alike can benefit from massage therapy. Massage can help reduce muscle tension, improve exercise performance and prevent injuries.
Short answer: Yes, please.
Long Answer: Yes, please.
Massage is great, I’m not going to argue with you there. But it’s not always a great idea.
As cold and flu season hits, it’s important that you know when it may be necessary to cancel your appointment.
It’s strange to think about it this way, but receiving massage is an active task, it is not entirely rest. Massage causes change in the body, and your body has to work to maintain stability. Getting a massage when you are sick takes attention away from infection-fighting. That’s no good.
Sure, it sounds like a warm squishy massage table would be fantastic. But the moment you put your already-stuffy head into that face cradle, you’ll realize the error of your ways. Gravity and pressure are not your friend here. Even if I do a great face massage to drain your sinuses, you’ll likely feel worse when you get off the table.
Since most of the common winter viruses are contagious even before symptoms show up, I could pass the cooties along to more clients before I even know it’s happening.
Further, when I get sick, I have to cancel clients and take a few days off work. I work for myself, with no paid sick days to compensate for lost wages. Sure, as a growing small business, I am building a fund for these situations. However, I would much rather use that fund for a vacation or a fancy new massage chair. So I’m gonna try to stay germ-free this winter.
So it’s a deal. You’ll cancel so as not to infect me and my massage room, and I’ll do the same for you. We’ll keep each other safe.
There is often some gray area here, especially if you are in the recovery phase of a virus or bacterial infection. If you’re unsure about your situation, please call me before your appointment and we can make a decision together. Also, if you’re sick don’t worry about a cancellation fee, I won’t charge you for helping keep germs at bay!
Be Well, Stay Well!
If you have never had a massage before, looking at a full menu of massage options might seem kind of intimidating. Or maybe you’ve just always had “a massage” and didn’t really consider the benefits beyond relaxation. Here are some short descriptions of the types of massage I offer, and what I feel we can accomplish during specific appointment times.
You may have seen this type of massage at any assortment of locations, from offices to sports events. A specially designed chair allows you to sit relaxed and fully clothed, leaning forward into a cushioned face cradle. From that position, the massage therapist can work on your back, shoulders, arms, hands, neck and head. In some instances, it’s possible to turn and face the other way in the chair for work on legs and feet.
At events, most chair massages average around 5 to 10 minutes. Even just a few minutes can be helpful in improving circulation, loosening stiff muscles, and relieving pain. In my office, or traveling to people’s homes with my massage chair, longer sessions are possible, averaging 15-30 minutes.
For a relaxation massage, I use the long, flowing, and soothing strokes of Swedish massage, adjusting the pressure of the strokes to suit you. When you just want to relax and let go, this is the massage for you. We don’t focus on a specific problem area, nor poke and prod at “knots” or tight spots. At most, I may adjust the timing of the massage a little bit so I can spend more time on tired feet or achy shoulders, but nothing intense. This massage is just about relaxing, reducing stress, and improving your outlook on life.
With this type of massage, while we’re not completely ignoring relaxation, we’re focused on it less. There’s a bit more “poking and prodding”, as I seek out “knots”, tight muscles, and sore spots and spend time on those areas. We’ll talk more as I ask you to let me know when something hurts and when it starts to ease up. I might include stretches for your arms or legs, or ask you to move a body part against resistance, or while I put pressure on a specific muscle. This massage is about improving your mobility, releasing tension and relieving pain.
This type of massage is geared primarily towards relaxation, but if there is a particularly painful problem are, most often the neck or upper back/shoulders, we can put a little extra focus or deep work into that area.
Reiki has been steadily growing in public awareness in recent years. Chances are, you’ve at least heard the term, or seen it and wondered how to pronounce it (Ray-Key). In a nutshell, Reiki is a simple, safe method of natural healing and self-care that anyone can learn to use.
While some form Reiki or energy healing itself has been practiced for centuries, this particular method of “laying on hands” for stress reduction, relaxation, and promoting healing was discovered by Mikao Usui after a spiritual experience on Mt. Kurama in Japan in 1922. He first practiced this healing method on family and friends, eventually developing into a system that became known as “Usui Reiki Healing Method”. A decade later, Reiki made its way to the West via Hawaii with the help of Mrs. Hawayo Takata.
The name Reiki comes from two Japanese Kanji, Rei and Ki. Rei is generally defined as meaning “universal” and representing body, mind and spirit. Ki is life energy, and you’ll find similar concepts throughout the world, such as chi, prana, qi, or ti. It is the non-physical energy that animates all living things. Therefore, Reiki can be generally translated to “universal life force”.
Individuals who use Reiki are channeling, or provides a conduit for, this universal life force. Unlike most types of energy healing, Reiki is considered to be an energy that can only be channeled by someone who has been attuned to it. In the simplest sense, an attunement means that adjustments are made on a spiritual consciousness (Rei) level that enable the student to channel Reiki. Once you have received an attunement, it’s as simple as placing your hands on yourself or others with the intention of healing.
Life energy (Ki) flows through the body in energy pathways, through organs, and around us in an energy field (aura). When this energy flow is slowed or blocked, it can cause a decreased functioning in the organs or systems of the body and lead to illness. During a Reiki session, the universal consciousness (Rei) assesses where the energy flow is slowed or blocked, and the energy is directed to where it is needed, breaking up blockages, clearing the energy pathways, and allowing Ki to flow naturally.
Reiki is a powerful, yet gentle healing method. Because its source is that of spiritual or universal consciousness, it is believed that this spiritual consciousness always knows what a person needs and will adjust the healing for each individual person. As a result, it can be complementary to other forms of treatment, including medical and psychological care.
Reiki is offered to patients in hospitals across the country as part of hospital or clinic sponsored programs, or as part of hospice care. This includes the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where it is offered to both inpatient and outpatient oncology patients as part of their whole patient integrative care process. Locally, our own Eastern Maine Medical Center has a volunteer Reiki program that is available to patients in all of their inpatient departments and the outpatient Cancer Care of Maine location.
Studies have shown that Reiki can decrease recovery time from surgery, improve patient attitude, and reduce unwanted medication side effects. A research study in 2000 at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut indicated that Reiki improved sleep, reduced pain, and reduced nausea, as well as reducing anxiety during pregnancy. It has been used to aid in healing everything from colds to cancer.
Anyone can learn Reiki. You don’t need any particular education level or spiritual belief system to use it. It doesn’t even take years of practice to be able to use it successfully. Once a student receives the attunement, they have Reiki and can use it.
Many massage therapists are introduced to Reiki as part of their massage licensing training, and elect to continue providing Reiki as part of their massage practice. Nurses, healthcare aides, and hospice care volunteers often learn Reiki to help their patients during the course of their regular care. Everyday people can learn to use it to benefit aging parents, family members suffering from illness, or just as part of their regular self-care routine.
I’m offering a special for the month of July! “Try Reiki” – You can try a half an hour Reiki healing session for $20. Just contact me to schedule your appointment or book online at MassageBook and choose “Try Reiki”.
If you would like to learn even more and receive your Reiki attunement, stay tuned for Reiki I and II classes coming soon. You can receive information about when Reiki classes will be held by following Birch Tree Wellness on Facebook or signing up for the monthly newsletter. If you would just like to ask some questions about Reiki, you’re always welcome to contact me.
Just for today, I will not be angry.
Just for today, I will not worry.
Just for today, I will be grateful.
Just for today, I will do my work honestly.
Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing.
Sometimes maybe you feel a little bit off, and you’re not quite sure if massage is what you need, or Reiki, or something completely different. During an Intuitive Bodywork session, I will combine elements of massage, stretches, aromatherapy, Reiki, and other energy work, depending upon what it feels like you need intuitively.
At the beginning of your appointment, we’ll talk a little bit about what trouble you’re having. It can be mind, body, or spirit. Then you’ll hop on the massage table, undressed to your level of comfort, and covered with a sheet and/or blanket. During your session, I’ll start with Reiki at your head and move down your body, using my intuition to determine if you need some energy in a particular area, or maybe your neck needs to stretch, or you need some massage work on your shoulders and back, or foot reflexology. Once the session is finished, I’ll leave the room and give you a few minutes to collect yourself and get off the table. Before you leave, we can talk a bit about what I did, what things I might have picked up intuitively, and how you’re feeling.
I define intuition as that “knowing” or “gut feeling” when you perceive or know something without necessarily having a rational reason for it. Examples might be when your phone rings and you know who is calling without looking at caller ID; or you might have the urge to call someone and you find out they are having a bad day. Intuition can be practiced and developed, used to help guide yourself and others in day to day life.
I’ve spent many years helping people on an intuitive level, with energy work and spiritual guidance, as well as helping people learn to recognize and use their intuition. I feel that mixing intuition in with benefits of massage, reiki and bodywork is a natural progression into helping people heal themselves on a body, mind, and spirit level. If you would like to give Intuitive Bodywork a try, just contact me or schedule an appointment online today!
A CBS Sunday Morning “comedy” segment has been burning through various massage therapist networks today. Some of those therapists did find it funny; others, it made angry. I certainly didn’t find it funny, but most of all, I’m concerned that a respected network would allow the perpetuation of negative stereotypes and discourage people from trying a legitimate form of therapeutic care.
You can view the segment with comedian Jim Gaffigan on the CBS News website HERE. In case you watched the segment and it made you question the validity of massage therapy or the motives of licensed massage therapists, I’m happy to address some of his commentary here.
“Massages are decadent and weird. They’re always from strangers. We get massages from strangers because we can’t count on the people who love us to touch us.”
Maybe taking the time out for a massage DOES feel decadent. We have busy lives, we have other financial obligations, and many of us have gotten horrible at self-care. The human race needs to stop shaming people for taking care of themselves. I’ll keep saying it until I don’t need to anymore… What you give to all of your obligations and the people you care about is only as good as what you allow back in. When your body finally gives out, who will take care of all of it then?
Your massage therapist doesn’t have to be a stranger. I personally love meeting my clients ahead of time, and if you want to meet at the office and ask questions before you schedule an appointment, I’m happy to do that. Check out massage therapists at local events when they are offering chair massages, it’s a great way to try out their massage style, meet them, and put a person behind the name.
As much as we might love touch from the people we love, it’s true that often the best we can hope for is the occasional shoulder or foot massage. A licensed massage therapist has studied long hours to learn about muscles and systems of the body, how they all work, and what types of massage work best for particular issues. Not to mention, they learn how not to hurt you and how to avoid areas where they could damage nerves or even bone.
“What do we know about massage therapists? They like to rub strangers for money while they listen to the “Avatar” soundtrack. That’s a red flag. Those are the traits of a serial killer.”
Most licensed massage therapists are members of a national organization such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) or Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP). These organizations maintain a code of ethics that defines ethical and professional conduct. States have their own laws and rules for licensing massage therapists. You can read Maine’s here, or search for your state’s massage therapy licensing laws. Choosing an individual who has gone through the rigors of schooling and licensing will keep you much safer than going to someone who has not.
More importantly, YOU are in control of your massage. TALK to your massage therapist. Call them ahead of time, ask questions. Ask questions when you get there. Ask them DURING the massage if you don’t understand something they are doing. If you don’t like something they are doing, tell them to stop. If you want the session to end, tell them.
When you come to my office for a massage, you are always appropriately covered with a sheet or blanket. This enables you to fully undress (or undress to your comfort level) for your massage while maintaining modesty. If you have any concerns about undressing, please don’t hesitate to talk to me about it. I leave the room and allow you to undress and get under the covers in privacy. During your massage, I’ll uncover only the part I am working on and leave the rest of you covered.
Many people get into massage therapy because they genuinely want to help people. Massage can increase your mobility, improve your circulation, reduce pain, improve your mood, and help you sleep better. What is weird and decadent about that?
Note: These summer specials ended in September 2017.
I’m excited to offer a new service for the summer! Cold stone facial massage!
The stones commonly used for hot stone massage are usually basalt, a volcanic stone that retains heat well. The stones used for cold stone massage are typically marble or marine sedimentary stones, which hold cold longer. Basalt stones are often naturally smoothed from the river water or waves where they’re found, while the marble usually needs to be hand cut and smoothed.
Hot stones cause blood vessels to dilate and circulation to increase. Cold stones cause vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels), decreasing blood flow to the area on which they are applied. Once the stones are removed, the vessels dilate again, and fresh blood and oxygen return to the area. Alternately cooling and warming an area (sometimes called contrast therapy), constricts and dilates the vessels, improving circulation.
For the time being, the only form of cold stone massage I’ll be offering is as part of a facial massage. Cold stones placed on the face can help reduce sinus congestion & nasal swelling, and cool & soothe irritated skin. In addition, cold stones can help with migraine headaches by reducing the overabundant flow of blood to brain and easing the pounding sensation. If nothing else, it’ll add a lovely cooling sensation to your summer massage!
As the summer progresses, if the feedback for cold stones is positive, then I’ll look at adding some larger stones and expanding the service!
I had so many ideas for homemade scrub for the summer season. I like to offer two different “personalities” for the scrubs, to try to appeal to different people’s likes and dislikes. I finally managed to settle on two. Choice one will be cucumber mint sugar scrub, with real pureed cucumber, peppermint essential oil, coconut oil, and granulated sugar. The second option is a mixture of Dead Sea salt, sweet almond oil, and lavender essential oil.
In addition, we’ll give your hot summer feet a special treat. To start, I’ll wrap your feet in hot towels, which does double duty by being super relaxing as well as wiping down those dirty little summer toes! You’ll then get an extended foot massage with peppermint massage butter!
See you on the cool side!
Maybe you start to feel it as the days get shorter, or it really kicks in when it’s getting dark out at 4:00 in the afternoon. You might be dreading the dark, cold days of winter for more reasons than just having a lot of snow to shovel. You’re not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a subtype of major depression that the National Institutes of Health estimates affects 6% of the US population, primarily those living in northern climates. Another 14% of the US adult population suffer from less severe form of seasonal mood changes, sometimes referred to as “winter blues”.
Since SAD is a form of major depression, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of depression in yourself or your loved ones. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms may include:
Symptoms specific to winter onset SAD or “winter blues” may also include:
It’s okay to have bad days, or to feel down on occasion. However, if you’re feeling bad or experiencing these symptoms for days at a time, or if they are affecting your ability to get out and do the things you enjoy, you should talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you are experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns, or thoughts of suicide.
While the exact causes of SAD or Winter Blues are not know, it’s believed that changes in the amount of sunlight can throw off your internal clock (circadian rhythm) and leave not sleeping well, or feeling tired and depressed. Reduced sunlight levels may also decrease your body’s production of serotonin, a chemical that affects mood, and melatonin, which also has a role in mood and sleep patterns.
When the weather is freezing cold or you’re snowed in by a blizzard, you’re probably also not getting enough exercise, which can decrease your energy level and add to feelings of depression. Being reluctant to leave the house may also leave you feeling like a hermit!
First of all, I’m a massage therapist, not a psychologist, so please, if you are feeling depressed or suicidal, contact a professional. You can reach the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or on their website suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Next, try to get out of the house! Call a friend for lunch. Go to that party even though it seems like a lot of work to put on boots and a coat. Get out for a walk, or snowshoe, or ski. If cold weather exercise is not your thing, join a gym or go walk in the mall. Take yourself on a date to a museum or a movie.
Of course, massage therapy can help! It has been shown that massage has positive effects on the body’s chemistry. Cortisol levels, which can increase with stress, are decreased. Production of serotonin and dopamine increase, which can improve your mood and reduce feelings of depression. Massage also lowers your blood pressure and reduce chronic pain that may be affecting your sleep.
If you’re struggling with SAD or just feeling down, talk to your doctor, then consider giving regular massage a try. It’s important to take time for yourself and take care of yourself, despite (and because of) all of your responsibilities and stresses. Besides all of the chemical and physical benefits, massage just simply helps you “feel good” and can help you get through the worst of the winter blues.
Do you wake up with stiff, sore fingers? I have had several people mention fears of early arthritis (without confirmation by a doctor). You should of course see a doctor if you’re concerned about your health, however there is a possibility that it is not arthritis.
Here is a little something to try. Relax your forearm on your desk or a table and feel the muscles of your arm with your other hand. When relaxed, those muscles should feel relatively soft, and the skin should move around easily. If your forearm feels hard, and maybe the skin doesn’t even move very much, then your muscles are hypertonic, in a state of tension or abnormally high muscle tone.
You may not realize just how much your arm and fingers are interconnected. If you look at this diagram of the muscles of your forearm and hands, you can see that the flexing and extending of your fingers involves muscles that travel over your wrist, up your forearm, and even across your elbow.
To further illustrate how connected they are, here’s another demonstration. Place your forearm palm up on the table again and relax it, with your fingers somewhat straightened. Take your other hand and apply pressure to the muscles just below your wrist, and push towards your elbow, as you might see in a massage stroke. With a bit of pressure, this should make your fingers flex/curl towards your palm. Cool, huh?