Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Bare Minimum

We had a small winter storm this past weekend. Just some ice and snow that came overnight. That meant clearing off my car and the driveway before going to work that morning. My husband and I both had our cars in the driveway, but I only had time to clear my car's side of the driveway before I had to leave. So I did the bare minimum - I partially dug out my car and took off for work. My husband also had to go to a meeting that morning and left before I got home. By the time I returned, the sun was out and I noticed that before he had left, he had not cleared any of his side of the driveway - he just cleaned off his car and drove over the snow without clearing any more of the driveway. So I got out the shovel again and continued to clear the driveway as well as the sidewalk. That's when I noticed something.

The parts of the driveway that I had shoveled before I left had a much thinner layer of snow and ice, so when the sun came out everything that I had put a bare minimum into came up and cleared easily. The parts of the driveway that my husband hadn't cleared at all was still pretty thick, and even while working at it every few hours, the snow on that side of the driveway never really was able to be cleared, and ended up icing over and ultimately getting worse.

That morning, I had originally felt a little guilty about only doing the bare minimum in clearing the driveway and not doing a more thorough job at the time. However, I did what I needed to do at the time and later in the day I was, in a way, rewarded in that the driveway cleared more easily and completely, while the side where no effort was made was almost worse. Even though I didn't put out any huge effort, it still yielded better results than putting in no effort at all.

I thought about how that can also be applied to your health. Sometimes we want to make changes for ourself and we steer away because we may not see major results right away. Working out or dieting, or any type of life change or healing - if we don't see huge results, we tend to get frustrated and give up, then never want to try anything like it again. I'm guilty of it myself. I've often seen this in my massage practice. I've spoken to people and they tell me about pain they have and I suggest trying a massage, chiropractic work, or even simple lifestyle changes. I very often hear "Oh I tried that once. I still had the pain the next day, so that obviously didn't work so I'll probably won't ever try it again."

What people don't realize is that one small step is often not the cure, but the first step towards the cure. It can be frustrating to want to fix something so badly and not find that "magic wand" that fixes everything immediately. But instead of putting in any effort, the frustration leads to doing absolutely nothing.

The bare minimum can be seen as laziness or a cop out, but it can also be seen as a start. It isn't much, but something is better than nothing and may lead to better results down the road.  The hard part is getting the guts to do something, anything, to start or take a risk, even if it is only the bare minimum - then trusting that that may have started something, even if the results aren't seen instantly. I never thought the bare minimum of shoveling was much, but after seeing the long term difference between the bare minimum or nothing makes me wonder about how valuable the bare minimum might be. Where could the bare minimum ultimately lead if you do it?

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

3 Ways to keep "Too Much, Too Soon" from ruining your New Year's Fitness Resolutions

3 Ways to keep "Too Much, Too Soon" from ruining your New Year's Fitness Resolutions- A Caring Touch: Massage Therapy, State College PA
 One of the most popular New Year's Resolutions is to lose weight and/or increase fitness. More than 45% of people make this resolution every year. The first two weeks of January, gyms are packed, search engines see a 35% jump in "workout" as a search term, and morning talk shows all feature easy ways to get in shape for the new year. Unfortunately, by February, 73-80% of these resolutions have been abandoned. So why? One of the biggest reasons it fails is because people simply push themselves too hard too quickly. The excitement of getting started with a new routine can really get you going, but if you haven't worked out intensely in a while, it is really easy to overdo it and suddenly be incredibly sore or exhausted the next day, which can lead to "Oh, I'll take a day off to recover" which leads to never going back. To avoid running into this, it is important to take care of yourself outside of your new fitness routine. Here are some things to help:
1. Stretch - Many people know cardio and strength training helps condition their muscles and make them healthier, but many people forget about stretching. It is a common misconception that you only need to stretch if you want to increase your flexibility, but stretching can also help you prevent injuries and soreness. You know how you feel sore and burn-y after lifting something heavy? That is lactic acid - the by-product of muscles working. Stretching helps increase circulation which keeps muscles healthy and also helps flush away lactic acid, keeping you from getting too sore. Stretching also helps your muscles from getting injured. When working out or lifting something heavy, your muscles can get something called micro tears - little tears in your muscle fibers. These micro tears are usually no big deal, and we routinely get them all the time doing everyday things and usually we don't notice them at all. However, when a micro tear happens, it can fill in with scar tissue - again, something we all have and usually doesn't cause any issues. Stretching keeps this scar tissue long and loose rather than tight and bunchy so your new strength training doesn't feel like an injury.

3 Ways to keep "Too Much, Too Soon" from ruining your New Year's Fitness Resolutions- A Caring Touch: Massage Therapy, State College PA
2. Massage - Massage also helps with increasing circulation, flushing lactic acid, breaking up scar tissue, alleviating soreness, and many other things that can minimize the achy side effects of your new fitness routine that might make you tempted to quit. In addition, it can also help your mental state. Reducing stress through getting a massage helps flush away the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline which sometimes can contribute to bloat around the midsection. Massage also gives you a chance to help your mental calm and clarity which can go a long way towards making your workouts more effective and seeing results faster.

3. Avoid unrealistic expectations - It is very tempting to go hard into your new workout and eat nothing but smoothies and salad for two weeks, then put on your "skinny jeans" only to still have them not fit, so you get frustrated and give up. Often, it can take as much time to undo something in your body as it takes to do something to your body. So if you have been gaining weight for 5 years, it will be rare to lose that whole 5 years of weight in two weeks - or if you do, you might have other health issues. Keep your workouts simple, healthy and consistent, stick with it, and celebrate small victories rather than getting frustrated if you don't achieve the big ones right away.

Overall fitness resolutions are a case of 'slow and steady wins the race'. The temptation to push yourself to do too much too soon will almost always result in frustration and pain which leads you to be more likely to give up. If you want to push yourself hard, don't forget to take care of yourself outside of your fitness routine as well.
3 Ways to keep "Too Much, Too Soon" from ruining your New Year's Fitness Resolutions- A Caring Touch: Massage Therapy, State College PA

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Detective vs. Mind Reader

I haven't posted for quite a while, but sometimes it takes taking a step away from something to help you to realize what you actually want to do with it. So I guess from now on the blog will be kind of a fusion of musings, possibly some rants, and any interesting information I've picked up along the way. Bit of a mish-mosh, which kind of describes my life right now, so what better place to let the mish-mosh flow.

When I was young, I read a lot. I mean A LOT - I was that kid who always had her nose in a book, whether it was on my own, or on the playground at recess. One of the things I liked to read at the time was a silly little series of books called "Solve the Crime" where a kind of police report of a crime (nothing too gruesome - it was a young reader's series) was presented, and the reader had to figure out the guilty party, who was lying, etc and how to prove it. I was surprisingly good at solving the mystery, and even speculated at one point about becoming a detective.

Fast forward many many years and several careers later, and Detective never made it onto my resume, but Massage Therapist did. I have discovered that in several ways, Massage Therapy is a little bit like detective work. A Client comes to me and tells me something pretty basic - "It hurts here". From there it is up to me to first ask questions: "How long has it been hurting, did you do anything that you can recall started the pain, does anything in particular aggravate the pain, etc". Next, I find the source of the problem, and implement my knowledge and training to try to repair or resolve the problem, then educate the client on what should happen next whether it is more massage, exercise, or whatever. It's no CSI, but all the same steps are there. So in a way, I guess I get to be a detective after all.

Now, just because I'm not a bad detective (if I do say so myself), that doesn't mean that I am a mind reader. I find this is a big area of client-therapist communication breakdown, especially if the client is either brand new to the therapist or if the client has been seeing the therapist for a long time. New clients can often not know exactly how much to tell the therapist, and established clients can often fall into "oh, she knows this already". Well, like I said, I can use detective skills to find a problem, but if something else is there that a client didn't divulge, I may not be able to find it right away. I can't tell you how many times I've been almost completely finished with a massage and the client will speak up with "Oh, the other day I ... and I think I tweaked ..., so could you work on that?" With 2 minutes left in the session, it is kind of difficult to start working on a new 'project', and it can cause the client to not get their issue fully addressed and the therapist to stress out, trying furiously to get them some sort of relief.

So I guess the moral of the story is, there is no such thing as giving your therapist too much information, but trust them and let them do their job. Give them what they need to find and solve the case, but don't withhold evidence that can keep them from doing their job. Now should I consider adding PI to my title? Nah, too many letters.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This shows that keeping yourself stress-free has more benefits than just relaxation.

Stress and Pain Age the Body and Brain

By Lara Evans Bracciante

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, June/July 2005.
Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Chronic stress ages the body and can make cells appear up to 17 years older than they really are, according to a recent study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While researchers and healthcare practitioners have long thought as much, this study reveals exactly how stress takes its biological toll on the body.

The researchers compared 39 healthy mothers who were raising chronically ill children to 19 mothers of the same age whose children were healthy. The mothers' ages ranged from 20 to 50. Through blood and urine samples, researchers found that women with the highest stress levels had weaker immune cell function, higher oxidative stress, and a shorter life span of cells, significantly increasing risk of age-related diseases. This was the case even after adjusting for lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking, and age.

Researchers note it is the perceived stress that matters. When two people are given the same stressor and one discerns it as manageable while the other is overwhelmed, it is the latter who suffers more on a biological level. Consequently, stress management techniques such as massage, yoga, meditation, breath work, exercise, and counseling are key to health.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Holiday Stress
Tips to Stay On Top

Written By Editorial Staff of Massage & Bodywork Magazine

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2000.
Copyright since 2000. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Here "it" comes -- holiday stress. As families negotiate where to spend Thanksgiving, and millions of us are making the empty promise to ourselves to start early on holiday shopping, the anxiety begins to build. And it only gets crazier from here. Choir practice for the kids, family gatherings at every turn, office parties, treks to the mall, know where this is headed. So what can you do about it? You may not be able to control the chaos of the season, but there are some steps to make sure you survive it unscathed.

1.Take time for yourself. YES, get a massage. Soak in a mineral bath. Listen to the silence of a snowfall. Even if there seems no possible moment you can claim as your own, close your eyes, breathe deep from your belly several times, exhaling the air loudly from your mouth. Do this whenever you need a "moment."

2. Utilize catalog/online shopping. Don't fight the crowds. From the convenience of your home or during an office lunch hour, catalog and online shopping can eliminate the headache of holiday stress tenfold.

3. Eat right. Some of the best goodies come out this time of year. While you shouldn't deny yourself the opportunity to have a piece of grandma's pumpkin pie, don't overdo it. Remember to eat plenty of vegies and fruits to help stave off the winter's bombardment of colds.

4. Give yourself the advantage. Consumption of alcohol, nicotine, drugs and caffeine elicit the body's stress reaction. Remember moderation, you'll be happier and calmer in the long run.

5. Don't skimp on the exercise...but allow yourself to be excused from the routine when need be. Exercise helps melt the stress away and can provide that moment of clarity in a hectic day.

6. Don't try to be Martha Stewart. It's easy to get caught up in the spirit of the holidays with new decorating ideas, fancy dinners and the whim to make all your gifts this year. Be realistic and honest with yourself. Don't set yourself up for failure. Hire a caterer. Have friends help by having a craft day. Forgo making the gift wreath and give a gift you'll know they'll appreciate -- a massage.

7. Remember the spirit. When it's all said and done, no one will remember that the turkey was a little dry, that the sweater didn't fit, or that you were a few minutes late for rehearsal. What do they remember? The precious moments with family and friends.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Breathe....You'll feel better

I'm sharing the following article because recently I was working on a client and I realized that she was holding her breath during her massage. She had mentioned before the massage that she had been having trouble sleeping and was feeling very stressed despite having recently finished a stressful segment in her life. I mentioned what I had noticed, and she admitted that she hadn't even thought about her breathing, let alone it being irregular. Once I had pointed it out, and she became consciously aware of her breathing pattern, she promptly fell asleep on my table. Goes to show just how important something that we don't even think about every day can be.

Breathing for Life
Are We Suffocating Ourselves?

By Sonia Osorio

Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Massage restores proper breathing, a key element to physical and emotional vitality.
I didn't breathe during most of my 20s -- or at least I didn't breathe fully.

I had no idea my chronically tight shoulders, constricted intestines, insomnia and unyielding jaw tension were so closely related to my limited breath. To regain my health, I had to relearn how to breathe. And, though I still have to remind myself to do this from time to time, I understand how healthy breathing supports the body's ability to heal itself.

Breathing is a process still categorized as "unconscious" by most medical texts, yet many of us need to relearn how to breathe properly -- both consciously and fully. It is our unawareness of this life function that may sap us of life-giving energy.

Breathing involves the whole body, our whole being, in fact. The word "inspiration" comes from the Latin root "spiritus," meaning not only breath, but vitality, the animating principle, the soul. To breathe is not only to inspire, but to be inspired, to nourish our body and our spirit, to take into ourselves the vitality that is our birthright and to feel the creative energy that is our life force.

"Every breath is a sacrament, an essential ritual," says environmentalist David Suzuki in his book The Sacred Balance. "Air is a matrix that joins all life. As we imbibe this sacred element, we are physically linked to all our present biological relatives, countless generations that have preceded us and those that will follow."

If breath is so essential, then why don't more of us do it correctly? Sure, we all know how to breathe, or rather, our bodies do. But breathing occurs on several levels. The autonomic function creates the basic urge to breathe -- something governed by our nervous system. But often even this essential function is reduced to a series of shallow breaths if we're stressed, tense or nervous -- the makings of a typical day in today's society. Over time, this becomes a learned pattern so that even when the stressful situation has long gone our body is still functioning in shallow-breath mode, taking in a fraction of what it needs to be fully nourished.

Old Mechanisms, Modern World
The shallow breathing pattern we often fall into is associated with the "fight-or-flight" response, when our body senses imminent danger or attack. Stress directly provokes this response: we feel under attack, though there's no direct predator, only an on-going feeling of having to "fight" or "flee" from the source of our stress. Since we don't confront our "attacker" or have the opportunity to feel safe from the perceived threat, our nervous system remains on constant alert, limiting our breath to help divert blood away from certain organs and into the muscles to prepare us for action. We are modern creatures reacting with age-old mechanisms to perceived threats.

On top of our biological responses, we get other messages, subtle and not-so-subtle, to hold our breath. We're told to "suck in our guts," we multitask without having time to "catch our breath," we're not expected to express too loudly and we learn to numb out what's raging through us. We're bombarded daily with demands from work, household and family. We have to process incessant input in the form of noise, visual stimuli, smells and pollution from all kinds of sources. Why would any body in its right mind want to take all that in?

Don't Hold Your Breath
Breathing incorrectly for three minutes is enough to lower the amount of oxygen to the brain and heart by 30 percent. If this goes on for years, there's an increased risk for conditions ranging from chronic headaches, digestive disturbances and neck, back and shoulder pain, to more serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and chronic fatigue. In fact, some experts estimate that improper breathing can be associated with 50 percent to 70 percent of all diseases.

Emotional reactions also affect our breath: fear, anger, sadness and low self-esteem can make us hold or limit our breathing patterns. However, breathing fully can have a positive effect by helping move these emotions through the body, instead of allowing them to constrict our breath, tighten our muscles, and affect other systems and organs in the body.

Replenishing Ourselves
"Every inspiration is an opportunity to resource and replenish ourselves," says Montreal musician and composer tienne Larouche, who has worked with voice and breath since a young age. "As we inhale, we can release, so energy can come into the body, making our breath always available, without forcing."

We may not think of inhalation as release, as that is normally associated with exhalation. But, breathing fully is precisely about release -- release not only of tension, but of control. Conscious breathing is not about controlling the breath, but about increasing our awareness of the process. It should leave us feeling revived by allowing us to completely take in the oxygen we need to nourish our blood, muscles and brain as we inhale, and completely expel accumulated toxins and stress as we exhale.

Full, relaxed breathing can, among other things, improve our resistance to stress, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, ease pain, and help release muscular and emotional tension. And, it can calm and focus us. Studies have shown that when the breath is relaxed, brain-wave patterns change, the mind quiets and the body relaxes.

Conscious breathing is not only calming, it has distinct effects on our blood chemistry and immune system. Studies have shown that the level of white blood cells, related to our immune response, actually rise when we are in a calm, relaxed state. A recent study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that participants who used techniques such as breathing, muscle relaxation and visualization had a 26 percent to 39 percent increase in their immune response.

Such techniques have also been of benefit to pre- and post-surgery patients -- reducing anxiety and pain, improving recovery times and reducing length of hospital stays. Women who learn deep-breathing techniques and apply these during childbirth have shorter labor times, less complications during delivery and faster healing post-delivery.

Be Here Now
A Pennsylvania study examining brain-wave patterns demonstrated we can hold one thought for the length of one inhalation and exhalation, with each full breath, a new thought enters. This is one of the basic principles of meditation: single-focused attention, slow, full breath. Even a few minutes spent following our breath in this way -- breathe in, hold one thought, breathe out, release the thought -- can have dramatic changes on how we cope with stress and its effect on the body and the mind.

Beyond the physiological perks, there's an emotional and spiritual benefit to conscious breathing. We can use it to remind ourselves we are here now, in this body and in this moment, not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. There's peace to be found in being present for ourselves: as we focus on our breath and our bodies, we can focus on our emotions, we can regain perspective and then take action from a place of calmness.

Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who has written numerous books and lectured worldwide on meditation, peace and mindfulness, says: "Our breathing is the link between our body and our mind. Sometimes our mind is thinking one thing and our body is doing another, and mind and body are not unified. By concentrating on our breathing, we bring body and mind back together and become whole again. Conscious breathing is an important bridge."

It's a bridge many of us would benefit from crossing, a place of great perspective and of life-giving breath.

Sonia Osorio is a massage therapist in Montreal, Canada. She has practiced yoga, dance and meditation for several years, and writes for various health care publications. She can be reached at

Monday, October 05, 2009

Leg Cramps: From annoying to debilitating, and more common than one may think

Most people from time to time will admit that they don't always feel 100%. When asked what doesn't always feel right, people will usually say their backs hurt, or their neck/shoulders are stiff. Less often, people will throw in that, oh yeah, sometimes they get cramps in their legs or calves. Most people don't outright lead with that, but if probed, or if someone else mentions it, it becomes more and more common that people realize that leg cramps aren't that uncommon. The major difference between whether people even acknowledge the cramps or not is usually how severe the cramps are.

When I was dancing in college, we had extremely long days with very little breaks in inconsistent temperature studios, and dancing in multiple studios with different flooring each day. About my junior year, I started waking up in the middle of the night finding that my legs had curled into the fetal position, and my calves had completely siezed up so badly that straightening my legs felt like my muscles and tendons were being ripped to shreds as I moved. (Turns out it wasn't so much the cramping that hurt, as it was the pain of trying to move and stretching my legs out that woke me up screaming.) Several times in the morning, I would have to have my poor roommate physically grab my ankles and pull my legs straight so I could get out of bed, and the one morning she wasn't there, I had to roll out of bed, crawl to my desk chair, and pull myself to standing in order to get the cramps straightened out. After much trial and error, I realized that my two main problems were dehydration and lack of potassium, in addition to the various flooring changes (different levels of cushioning). When I consciously started eating lots of bananas and keeping hydrated, the cramps went away. Even now that I'm not dancing anywhere near as much as I used to, I still can tell when I'm not eating right or over-thirsty because less occasional, but still severe cramps keep me in check and are a strict reminder to keep bananas in the house.

Since then, I've looked in on this leg cramp issue every so often and found that my personal assessment was not far off from what the experts are finding out. Every so often I have clients who complain of leg cramps, and I recommend potassium, hydration, and calcium whether the cramps are mild or severe, and I also look for specific muscle groups in the calves and legs that are tight. Massage can usually be very effective for relaxing the cramping muscles, but the best treatment is keeping the cramps away in the first place.

Enjoy, and stay hydrated!