Archive for January, 2012

Ease Eye Strain with this Easy Relaxation Technique

Who doesn’t have eye strain these days? Whether it’s from hours spent staring at a monitor, or trying to read itty-bitty text on our itty-bitty smartphones, almost everyone has days when their eyes feel tired. For those of you who regularly suffer from eye strain from hours spent staring at small text, or screens or bitty items, I’ve got an easy relaxation technique.

This is not a traditional massage technique. I’ll demonstrate how to use light touch of the fingers around the outside and just inside the eye orbit to release tension in the face. By using the breath as you bring your awareness to where your fingers are, you release the tension held in the tissue. In a way, it feels as if your face is melting. When you let go of the tension around your eyes and face you’ll feel your cheeks drop a little bit, your forehead widen and your jaw loosen.

If you have time to do this while laying down, you’ll get the most benefit from it if your head can be in a relaxed and supported position when you try it. But, even if you do this while sitting at your desk, if you take the time to breathe and focus on releasing the muscles, you’ll feel great relief from eye strain.

If you don’t have time to do the whole exercise, just do this one thing: take a deep breath in, loosen the tongue from the roof of your mouth and place the tip of your tongue just behind the top teeth with the tongue loosened in the mouth. Usually this causes relaxation throughout the eyes and forehead as well as the jaw.

Take some time to try out this technique. It’s easy on the hands, easy to do and very effective as a relaxation exercise.

 

Photo credit: Flickr.com CCL: User Mikleman

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Why ONE Massage Won’t Fix It

A lot of people come get a massage for the first time after hearing friends and family go on and on about how much massage has helped them. In some cases, massage newbies come in expecting that one thirty-, sixty- or ninety-minute massage with fix an issue that’s been lingering for months (or worse, years). Massage is most helpful as part of a routine regimen of self-care.

Many medications people take are taken daily as a means to control issues or symptoms in the body. Would you take cholesterol or diabetes medicine for just one day and expect the problem to be resolved? Of course not! Changing metabolic processes, complex, system-wide chemical/molecular interactions or even neurotransmitter levels throughout the body requires more than one pill. These complex, system-wide issues need daily adjustments, either from medication, through diet or through exercise to be managed well. The neuromuscular system is no different.

Muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and other connective tissue run through the body. They connect the bones to one another, they hold your organs in place, they work together in complex firing patterns to create smooth and seamless movement. Massage works on loosening these connective tissues, resolving tension in spots that need to be looser, opening areas that are constricted, breaking up adhesions that have grown between layers of injured or compromised muscle and tissue.

Muscles work in groups across joints or flexible areas. One set pulls the limb or body in one directions, and its other members oppose that action. These groups act together in complex patterns whether you’re performing a pirouette, fixing dinner, or working on the computer while talking on the phone.

I often have clients ask me how many massages it will take to “fix” the problem. In order to set realistic expectations in the mind of those new to massage, or new to massage as a therapy for self-care, there are some questions you need to ask yourself:

How long did you spend developing the issue?

Often pain and discomfort develops over months or years of abuse of the body. When clients come in complaining of headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and they tell me they sit for hours at a keyboard in a slouched position, I can get an idea of the severity of the issue. I can work out some tight spots, and release some adhesions, but in addition to my sixty or ninety minutes, I suggest improving posture or ergonomic positioning. Or I give them some simple self-massage or stretching exercises to try.

When clients ask me how many massages it will take to “fix” the issue, I have to set expectations. In most cases of chronic pain and overuse injury, the injured tissues have setup a compensation pattern that redirects force or use away from the compromised areas. When someone with a bad knee limps, he’s favoring that knee, but putting additional work and stress on the opposite leg, and on the core and torso to compensate for the uneven gait and weight-bearing of the two legs. Compensation patterns are what enable us to continue moving and working when we’ve injured part of the body. They allow the injured area to heal by taking away some of the mechanical pressure on the area and passing on the work to other muscles not as compromised or overused.

So, ask yourself how long you’ve had the problem. Some physical therapists will say that for every month you’ve had a problem it will take a week of physical therapy. I see more variance in the response of my clients from physical therapy. But I would admit that the longer you’ve had an issue or injury, the longer it will take you to correct it. And I would add that correcting the issue includes more than receiving massage. It includes self-care, self-massage, stretching and strengthening to rehabilitate the body. Which brings me to my next point:

What are you doing to resolve the issue other than massage?

You’ve heard the quote, “Insanity is doing something same way over and over and expecting a different result.” Your body knows this intimately. Massage can help. Massage does help, but if your issues are overuse- or posture-related injuries and you continue to do things as you’ve done them before, the benefits of the massage will quickly be overcome by the resumption of old patterns and behaviors.

In order to reset the neuromuscular system, you need to include some self-care in your health regimen. This can be something as simple as taking breaks for every 30 or 40 minutes at the keyboard, stretching out your arms and neck every hour, or standing every 30 minutes to stretch out the lower back. It could also include strengthening and stretching exercises throughout the day. It might be meditation, or visualization, yoga or T’ai Chi.

The point is that massage is most effective when combined with daily retraining or refocusing of the body and mind. For people who include stretching, strengthening and other self-care in their routine the effects of massage last much longer, and the recovery time from injury is shorter. Including these changes to your routine constantly reminds the body that there is a more relaxed, efficient and healthy way to move.

Is this something directly related to an activity you can’t or won’t give up?

We all have things we love to do, even when we know it’s hard on our bodies. I have knitters who won’t give up knitting, musicians who keep on playing, and gamers who continue to spend long hours at the keyboard. We all have things we have to do even when we don’t want to – long nights holding kids who won’t sleep, slogging away on a project late into the night, hours at a laptop at a customer site – things that have to get done.

But there’s often a middle path to find. A gentler way to position yourself or perform your hobbies so that you can continue to enjoy them, or a way to make up for the long hours at work or taking care of others by taking care of ourselves. You may have to do a little research or fact-finding, and it may require some modifications, but it may be possible.

Get creative. Talk with other people in your situation. Find those people who seem calm no matter the whirlwind going on around them, the ones who’ve been doing the hobby for decades and tease their modifications or secrets out from them. They’d probably love to tell you how they figured to survive.

There are cases where what you’re doing physically to your body is unsustainable. Sometimes runners reach the point where their knees can no longer carry them. Or individuals who spend long hours sitting or standing have to change their activities. Change is inevitable. But in many cases, you can keep your hobbies or at least enjoy them in a different way.

And finally:

How committed are you to getting better?

It’s no surprise that there are some people who don’t want to change. They may hurt, and ache, and talk constantly about how bad things are, but the bottom line is that they don’t want to change. People have a lot of fear of change. It brings with it the unknown, an uncertainty in how things will turn out. It might make things better, but it might also make things worse, or take you right back to where you started. You may know people like this. This may be you.

But if you are hurting enough, tired enough, or just plain fed up with the way your body feels, you WILL find a way to do it. I’ve seen people make incredible recoveries from chronic pain, from injuries and complex issues to live a normal life. And it wasn’t magic. We didn’t fix it in 30 or 60 minutes on the table, but we were able to work on daily activities, stretching and strengthening. We built a plan that included regular massage, stretching, self-massage, self-care and whatever else was needed to give the body time to heal.

pie missing a piece

Massage therapy is part of a larger whole

Massage works well to improve blood flow, reduce the pain of injuries or duration of healing. But massage is most effective when it’s part of an array of self-care modalities. The muscles don’t exist in a vacuum. Injuries and compensation patterns build up over time. The body requires re-education to heal from long-injuries or chronic pain and illness – regular massage is one piece of the puzzle that can include many modalities and activities -  that teach the body to move toward that more relaxed, healthy, strong state that it belongs in.

Photo credits from Flickr.com CCL from top to bottom: Users – Foxtongue, Jennifer Kumar, oddsock, madmolecule, and pie image from blog.seasonwithspice.com

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The ONE Thing You Can Do To Feel Better

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I’ll bet many of you made resolutions to take better care of yourself, to change bad habits or to improve your self-care regimen. There’s one simple and easy way to make a huge difference in the way your body feels at the end of the day. Breaks. Frequent breaks.

If there’s one thing I talk clients and friends into doing for themselves – one thing that truly makes a huge difference to the body and mind – it’s taking more frequent breaks during the day. When I ask people if they take breaks when they’re at the computer all day, many say, “Oh, yes! I make sure I take a break every two or three hours!”

That’s two or three hours that your body is in one position, doing one or two movements. Two or three hours where you are quite possibly crouched over the keyboard intently focused on your work and ignoring the signs and signals your body is trying to give you to get up and MOVE!

The Nag Confesses

I confess, I am a professional nag. It’s my job to nag my clients and readers to take better care of themselves. I even nag myself as I’m working on my laptop typing this and note that it’s been 30 minutes since I sat down to start writing this.  I realized last night while checking email that I’d managed to loose myself in Facebook, CNN and various blogs for two hours while sitting sideways on the couch with my laptop. I nagged myself, then jumped up and took a break.

What I Mean by “Break”

I don’t mean a 15 minute break. I don’t even mean a five minute break (although if you have the time, five minutes would be ideal). I’m talking about 30 seconds to 2 minutes. You can even do this while you’re on the phone.

If you sit all day: stand up. Lace your fingers together and stretch out your arms overhead. Stretch for a few seconds, then unlace your fingers and lean down into a forward bend (as if you were going to touch your toes). Let your head, shoulders and neck relax for 5-10 seconds. Stand back up, focus on dropping your shoulders and gently stretch your neck out side to side and front to back. Open your mouth and stretch your jaw. That’s it.

You can do more (stretch the wrists and hands with flexion and extension of the wrist, stretch the forearms and shoulders), but the simple act of standing up, stretching your shoulders and neck for a few seconds and leaning into a forward bend will make a huge difference.

You’ll notice when you sit back down you have better posture. Your shoulders will be a little lower, and your back may feel a little more stretched out. Feels good doesn’t it?

If you stand all day: lace your fingers together and stretch your arms overhead as I described above. Then slowly bend forward and reach down as if to try and touch your toes. Come back up, put your hands in the small of your back and gently lean back as if you were looking at the sky. Hold for a few seconds, then bend down again as if to touch your toes. Turn your torso to look over each shoulder a couple of times, then do the side to side neck stretches and neck rotations.

Easy, right? And it isn’t asking you to spend 10-15 minutes an hour stretching out. Don’t get me wrong; if you had the time to stretch 10 minutes an hour throughout the day, your body would feel fantastic, but lets be realistic. You’re much more likely to do the breaks and stretching  if it’s only going to require a minute each time you do them.

Take a Break Every 30-45 Minutes

If you work on a computer all day, and especially if you spend long hours in one position, you need to get up for a break every 30 -45 minutes. Remember, we’re not talking about a 5 or 10 minute break. I’m talking about standing up, stretching out your arms, neck, shoulders and back and sitting back down again. Yes, it’s frequent, but it’s easy, and you can set a timer to keep track of how often you need to take a break.

You’re wondering if I really meant to type that you need a break that frequently, and the answer is yes. You do need to. Your body reacts to the position and physical motions it goes through all day. It makes muscles that are always contracted tighter, and muscles that are constantly stretched out due to posture weaker. It’s as if you’re programming that position into your body’s operating system and rewriting the static state of your bones and muscles even when you’re not working.

So, every 30 to 45 minutes. That is not a typo.

Try it for Five Days

When I talk to clients about stretching I don’t ask them to make a huge commitment. I ask them to try stretching breaks for a week. Five to seven days of short stretch break will make a measurable differences in how you feel. In five to seven days you’ll know if it will help. And you’ll have a tool to add to your toolbox for periods when the body starts to speak up.

I’d love for every client to make a commitment to stretch every 30-45 minutes for the rest of their lives, but that’s hard for some people to agree to. So try it for 5-7 days. Note how much better your body feels. Then work it into your routine for good.

It’s quick, it’s easy, and it doesn’t require a huge commitment.

So this is another nag: start taking breaks every 30-45 minutes when you’re working or on the computer. Just try it for a few days and you’ll see what a difference it will make.

Break Timers Online

You can search for all kinds of break timer software online. Some even pop up with a set of exercises and stretches for you to do at regular intervals. One free break timer I’ve used is the Scirocco Break Timer.  Here’s another I haven’t tried but looks like would work just fine: Time Left. And a third that came up in my google search: Work/Break Timer.

Addendum: This Applies to Hobbies, Too!

Although this post is geared toward those who work in one position for hours at a time, it also applies to people who work on hobbies and projects for hours at a time. If you’re spending time quilting, knitting or weaving (Mom, this means you), take a break every 30-45 minutes. If you’re doing home improvement, painting, playing an instrument, or reading, get up for that break just as frequently. Just because it’s something you love to do doesn’t mean your body will forgive you for being in that position for 3 or 4 hours! So stand up and stretch to prevent paying for it later. It’ll keep you in shape to keep doing your favorite things.

Photo credit: Flickr.com CCL: User wwarby

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Happy, Happy New Year!

The start of a new year always brings with it resolutions. But in reality, all resolutions are about one thing: improving yourself. Whether it’s improving your body, improving your emotional health, improving your career or improving your relationships with others, it’s almost always all about growth.

One easy way to improve your body, your health and your life is self-care. Whether you come to see me for self-care and getting the kinks out to work on chronic issues, or if you use self-massage, stretching or couples massage, start making time in your schedule for you. In as little as 5 minutes a day you can make a noticeable difference in your body and your flexibility and pain levels.

There’s a huge range of problems and issues massage can be used to ease. In fact, I have videos for quite a number of them:

How about getting a handle on that stiff neck? Or, do you want to know a way to clear out your head from colds and allergies? What about issues with insomnia? Getting rid of a headache? Carpal tunnel syndrome issues or forearm and hand pain?

And if part of your resolution concerns your relationship with others, what about using massage as a means to help others in your circle? You could soothe a stressful day with a fantastic foot massage, or give someone a sensational face massage. Something as simple as a scalp massage or forehead/ear massage can make a huge difference to the receiver of the massage.

Massage can be something done every day as a part of your routine to take care of yourself. It’s easy, effective, and keeps the body moving. In the end, isn’t that what we all want for the next year – to keep moving?

Happy New Year!

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