Wondering how massage can improve your health? The American Massage Therapy Association publishes lots of research on the benefits of massage. Check out this collection of links to different research information!
2. Get better sleep – Research indicates that massage can improve health by improving your sleep. This is especially helpful in people with chronic pain, anxiety, and stress.
3. Boost mental health and wellness – Research suggests that along with symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression may be directly affected with massage therapy.
4. Manage pain – Pain can affect your quality of life, not to mention, impede recovery from illness or injury. Research shows massage can help low-back pain, headaches, neck pain, 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.
Here are some more posts that answer frequently asked questions:
I have a Cold/the Flu, Should I Cancel My Appointment?
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 table. So, I’m gonna try to stay germ-free.
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. For more information about the life cycle of a cold, check out this article.
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 scheduled a massage appointment before, looking at a full menu of options might be intimidating. Or, maybe you’ve just always had “a massage” and didn’t really consider the benefits beyond relaxation. Here are some descriptions of the types of massage I offer and how long a session you might schedule:
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. Sometimes, it’s possible to turn and face the other way in the chair for work on legs and feet.
At this time, I primarily offer chair massage at events. In those cases, 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.
For a relaxation massage, I use the long, flowing, and soothing strokes of Swedish massage. I adjust the pressure of the strokes to your comfort. 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 to spend more time on tired feet or achy shoulders. But, nothing too 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 time spent on tight muscles and sore spots. We may talk a bit more about what I’m finding. I might include stretches for your arms or legs, or ask you to move a body part against resistance. This massage is about improving your mobility, releasing tension and relieving pain.
If you’re still not sure, you can always contact me to talk about what’s going on. We can plan a long first session with shorter follow ups, or a series of short sessions. I’m pretty flexible when it comes to working with you, your schedule, and your budget. Together, we’ll get you sorted out.
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!
In June, 2017 a CBS Sunday Morning “comedy” segment was burning through various massage therapist networks. The premise of the opinion segment was that massage is weird, and brought up many massage misconceptions. Some massage 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.”~Jim Gaffigan
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.”~Jim Gaffigan
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?
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?
Constipation. It happens to the best of us. No one likes to talk about it.
But wait, there’s hope! Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your massage therapist about it! When most people think of massage, they think of their aching back, tired feet, or stiff neck. They don’t often think about their neglected tummy. Stress, diet, or the side effects of many medications can lead to constipation and its related discomforts.
The thought of baring our stomach to a massage therapist might have its own share of discomfort. It’s the part of our body least protected by sturdy bones, or for many of us, strong muscles. We instinctively curl inward towards a fetal position when feeling stressed, in danger, or defensive, protecting our center.
However, if you’re having constipation, abdominal massage can do wonders to help you get things moving again. Gentle abdominal massage in a clockwise direction, following the direction of your intestinal tract, helps to relax abdominal muscles and stimulate the movement of digested food through your system. It’s also a lot more pleasant than harsh laxatives, particularly if you already take a lot of medications.
Along with aiding in digestion, abdominal massage may be of benefit to people with chronic lower back pain. When stomach muscles are tense and shortened, whether from stress or postural changes, this tends to have a stretching, stressing effect on the muscles in our lower back. By lengthening and relaxing abdominal muscles, we take the strain off the lower back.
You don’t need to be self conscious about your belly. A professional massage therapist is not going to judge you or your body. They are thinking about the muscles underneath, how they are held, and what they can do to help them back into the proper tone and ease your discomfort. We see all kinds of bodies during the course of our practice, and we kind of think they’re all a miracle of chemistry, cells and maybe a little magic that makes you a beautiful human being.
So, at your next massage appointment, don’t be afraid to mention constipation or suggest to your therapist that you might like to add abdominal massage to your massage routine. You’ll be glad you did!
As people’s lives become more and more hectic, stress becomes an increasing presence and increasing risk to our health. Numerous surveys and studies confirm that occupational pressures and fears are far and away the leading source of stress for American adults and that these have steadily increased over the past few decades. According to one study, 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress and 42% say their co-workers need such help.
Stress symptoms may be affecting your health without you even realizing it. When the body is stressed, muscles tense up reflexively, the body’s way of guarding against injury or pain, part of the fight or flight response. During sudden stress, muscles tense, then relax as soon as the stress has passed. During chronic stress, the muscles are in a nearly constant state of guardedness. Over time, with chronic stress, the body can fail to return to pre-stress conditions and cause long term strain and health problems.
When tense for long periods of time, this can lead to other stress reactions or stress related disorders. For example, tension and migraine headaches can be associated with chronic muscle tension in the head, neck and shoulders. Some research theorizes that chronic muscle tension and the related buildup of lactic acid may be a contributing factor to fibromyalgia. Stress and anxiety can affect sleep patterns and increase the risk of health problems associated with not enough sleep, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
It’s not necessarily what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other body systems that becomes the problem. Stress triggers the nervous system’s fight or flight response. The body shifts all of its resources towards fending off the threat or fleeing it. The adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase heart rate, respiratory rate, decrease blood flow to the arms and legs, change digestion, increase blood sugar levels, and increase the heart rate, raising blood pressure. When our bodies don’t get the chance to recover from stress, we continue to wear down our systems with the continuous production and effects of these hormones.
Physically, chronic stress and anxiety have a tendency to cause us to hunch our shoulders or roll them forward in a protective posture, leading to continually tight/shortened muscles of the neck and shoulders. Frowning, clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth causes more muscles in your face, neck and jaw to become tight and painful. Muscles that do the opposite action of these muscles, antagonists, then tend to get overly stretched/lengthened and develop “knots”/adhesions, leading to more neck, back and shoulder pain.
Massage can counter the effects of stress in a number of ways. The primary type of massage I provide is called Swedish Massage. This is a relaxing style of massage with long, flowing strokes that helps to relieve pain and muscle tension. It also increases the circulation of blood and lymph and aids in the removal of metabolic wastes from your body, including the byproducts of the nervous system’s stress response.
Physically, massage helps by lengthening and relaxing those tense, irritable muscles. Relieving tension in the muscles of the head, neck, shoulders and face can reduce the occurrence of headaches and migraines. Relaxing and lengthening those shortened muscles in turn relieves the overstretching and knotting of those antagonist muscles, reducing back, neck and shoulder pain. Decreased buildup of lactic acid may also contribute to a decrease in chronic pain and related disorders.
It increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can help reduce anxiety and depression and improve overall mood. Decreased anxiety and stress, along with less pain, improves your sleep. In addition, one hour of massage has a similar effect on your body as three hours of restorative sleep, and stopping the the cycle of chronic stress stops the flood of stress hormones, lowering blood sugar and blood pressure, and improving circulation and digestion.
Another service that makes a great addition or alternative to massage is Reiki. Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction, relaxation, and healing based on the idea that a life force energy flows through us. If this energy is low or blocked, then we are more likely to feel stressed or ill. When the energy flow is increased and the blockages removed, we feel more positive and healthy.
A Reiki treatment helps to identify and remove the blockages and improve our energy flow. A treatment is given fully clothed, most often while laying on a massage table. It can also be given while seated, or sent from a distance. Even if you do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of life force energy, the act of receiving a Reiki treatment can be very comforting and soothing – if for no other reason than you’re actually taking time to be still and receive positive intent and attention.
To enhance the benefits of a massage or reiki session, aromatherapy may also be included. Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils extracted from the roots, leaves, seeds, or blossoms of plants. These oils have been used for centuries for therapeutic purposes, as well as for cosmetic, spiritual, and hygienic uses.
Researchers are not entirely certain how aromatherapy works, but some believe that when the smell receptors in the nose communicate with the amygdala and hippocampus, the molecules of the essential oils stimulate these parts of the brain and influence physical, emotional, and mental health. For example, scientists believe that lavender stimulates activity of brain cells in the amygdala similar to the way of some sedative medications.
Lavender: Antidepressant, calming, rejuvenating, good for stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, increased immunity
Rosemary: Good for headaches, mental fatigue, memory, antispasmodic. Rosemary is great for having in a diffuser while studying, to help you retain what you’re learning!
Clary Sage: Antidepressant, anti-anxiety, uplifting.
Sandalwood: Antidepressant, good for nervous tension, stress, anxiety, depression. Sandalwood trees have been over harvested and the oil is expensive, but you don’t need to use much more than a drop at a time to experience it.
Ylang-Ylang: Antidepressant, sedative, euphoric, calming, hypotensive (reduce blood pressure), (also believed to be an aphrodisiac, if you’re interested)
You can keep a bottle of your favorite oil or blend of oils on hand to just take a sniff whenever you need a pick me up. You can put a few drops into an aromatherapy diffuser, or wear it in a specially designed necklace. They can be added to carrier oils such as grapeseed, almond, or olive oil or natural lotions to apply to the skin. When I use essential oils during a massage, I will either use them in a diffuser to lightly scent the room, or put them into your massage lotion, depending on the desired effect.
So, this is all to say, ideally we should do what we can to avoid stress in the first place, but chances are everyone here has experienced stress more than they should. I am here to help, whether you want a good old fashioned relaxation massage, a more therapeutic massage to work out particular problem areas, or you would like to try adding reiki or essential oils to your stress therapy.