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The Stress of Relaxing
Before embarking on a career as a massage therapist (and later as a massage teacher) I thought massage therapists all behaved a certain way. I imagined they were all meditative, sandal-wearing, chilled out, wheat grass drinking, mindful, Ghandi-quoting Chia seed enthusiasts who sat around discussing their favorite chanting monk CDs.
In reality we’re often some of the most crazily stressed out people I know. Life doesn’t stop attacking you just because you do nice things for people. I’m often woke in the middle of the night by a terrible nails-on-a-chalkboard sound only to realize it is my teeth grinding together and that I had been dreaming about a problem student, or a new lesson plan, or even just a test I have to give the following day.
So could I use a massage? Yes, I absolutely could.
But do I ever get massages? No, I do not.
I asked some colleagues if they ever received massages. The answers ranged from never to maybe two or three times per year.
“I need to make time for this,” one of them wrote. “Teacher needs to practice what he preaches.”
We all know we should be receiving massages as part of a healthy self-care regimen, but making time for massage is difficult. If we did everything we’re supposed to do to stay healthy the day would have to be at least 50 hours long. I’ve done the math. Put aside eight hours for work and say an extra hour (at least) for commuting. Half hour of exercise, showering, six small meals made from only organic produce and grass-fed open-range non-fish-farmed animals, a few minutes of direct sunlight for vitamin D but not too much sunlight or you’ll get cancer, brush your teeth after every meal and don’t forget to floss, do the laundry because you work out for a half hour every day and there’s always laundry, do the dishes because you’re making six meals a day and there are always dishes, read a book so everyone doesn’t think you’re dumb, watch TV so everyone doesn’t think you’re a snob, and hey, and if you have kids, multiply all that by the number of kids you have. Floors, windows and bathrooms all need to be cleaned. Do you have friends? Do you want to see them? More time. Do you play sports or have hobbies? More time. Do you have a doctor’s appointment or a dentist’s appointment or do you need to go to Whole Foods to pick up the organic food and coconut water to get you through your six meals and half hour of exercise every day? More time! Sleep for at least eight hours, rinse and repeat.
I know that as a massage teacher the last thing I want to do on my days off is even broach the topic of massage (my trigger point laden wife will attest to that), so making time to receive a massage is next to impossible. I could just pay to get a massage but that seems silly since I know so many people that do massage for a living. I also don’t want to give a massage in exchange for a massage, as doing work before or after a massage kind of takes the point out of the whole relaxation experience. The only real option is the multi-day exchange, where one Saturday I massage someone, and then the following Saturday she massages me. But that requires scheduling and a two day commitment. None of these options are perfect for me, and I think many massage therapists are in the same stress-tossed boat.
How do the relaxers relax?
One way is I always carry a femur around with me when I’m teaching (at a massage school we have random bones strewn about the premises). I use it like a Theracane. I should probably just bring my Theracane to school, but I’ve gotten pretty good at using a femur. The head of the femur I can work into my upper traps and levator scapula, if I can back against a wall I’ll put the condyles on either side of my spinous processes and lean into them, and if I’m seated I can use the shaft on my IT Band or take the head and shove it into my psoas major (at the lesser trochanter). I can even work it around my sacrum if nobody’s looking. But this is at best a stop gap measure and will never replace a hands-on experience.
Whenever I can I remind myself to breathe deep down into my belly, which is good advice for daily living, but again, not a massage.
Hot bath? Same. Nice, but not a massage.
Many of my coworkers answered that they do yoga to relax. I’ve been known to unroll a mat, kick some Ashtangas and take Namastes, and afterwards I always feel relaxed. Would I say yoga is a massage replacement? I would not and you can’t make me. Yoga can stretch and strengthen muscles, but it cannot flush out and relax muscles. Yoga can’t tear apart specific adhesions or reinvigorate the healing process, and it can’t release a cascade of feel-good hormones in my brain like massage can. And as relaxing as it is the practitioner is totally engaged the entire time, whereas with a massage one can just check out and let it happen to them.
No, at the end of the day, there isn’t a replacement for a really good, therapeutic massage. I know that, and I teach that, but like many others I do not habitually practice that. All I can do is try to make my relaxation a priority in my life, and I think the key is to plan around relaxing. Put it on the calendar and write it down in ink. Don’t just wait for relaxation to happen: make it happen. Make yourself relax.
Nobody can be relaxed 50 hours a day, but the more we relax (and specifically get massage) during the small windows of time where we’re not dealing with stressors, the better equipped we will be to deal with those stressors, and hopefully not let them distress us. “You can either fight the waves or you can learn how to surf” is something I read on a bumper sticker once, and if you can get past the corniness of it it’s actually really good advice. It always struck me as something an imaginary massage therapist would say to another massage therapist while meditating at the beach, staring the sky and pointing out the clouds that most resembled their Chakras.
Jason VonGerichten hails from Belleville, Michigan, but has been living in Chicago since the year 2000. He has worked in a variety of careers from retail to marketing before deciding to attend the Soma Institute in late 2008. Since graduating he has gained experience working for many chiropractors and spas, and now teaches fulltime at Soma while making time to work in a spa one day a week. While not working he enjoys spending time with his wife and their two pugs, Beatrice and Henry, as well as reading, writing, running, and other activities that begin with the letter R.
What helps you get going in the morning? A morning cup-o-joe? I take mine with cream and nothing else. What about adding in some butter? You might be asking yourself why would anyone want to add butter to their coffee? Well, it is the latest trend in coffee drinking, but Tibetans have been drinking yak butter in their tea for years! Millions are now following this latest coffee drinking trend and say that they have energy that lasts for hours. That would be great, right?
Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof Coffee, came up with the idea after visiting Tibet. Now, before you grab your tub of Country Crock out of the fridge and add it to your Maxwell House coffee, you should know that it won’t have the same results that Dave Asprey talks about on his website. He explains that you must use grass-fed, unsalted butter, low toxin coffee beans, and he also adds MCT(Medium Chain Triglyceride) oil. MCT oil is a combination of liquid coconut and palm oils that digest faster than other fats. Butter, coconut and palm oils are saturated fats, which some dietitians say we could all benefit from by adding them to our diets. People that are adding these fats to their morning coffee are saying that they aren’t as hungry early on in the day and tend not to eat as much food throughout the day, which results in maintaining a healthy weight or even losing weight. If you suffer from heart disease, you should discuss adding these fats to your coffee with your doctor before doing so. Also, be aware that butter coffee does contain about 200-300 more calories than your average cup of coffee, so you want to be sure that you take those calories out of your diet later on in the day or you might begin to pack on the pounds. David Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain talks about the benefits of saturated fat and discusses many studies that have been done on the topic.
I haven’t experimented with butter coffee yet, but will definitely put it on my to-do list. I would love to get a few more hours of energy from my morning coffee!
Does Massage Therapy Actually Improve Circulation? The First Step In Helping to Solve the Mystery
As a clinical massage therapist, health and wellness expert, and research scientist I’ve always sought to understand the real mechanism(s) behind the therapeutic actions of massage therapy. Simple proclamations of its benefits have never worked for me, even during my tenure as a student at The Soma Institute.
For years the proposed therapeutic benefits of massage have been researched and studied for a wide array of health conditions (cancer, arthritis and chronic pain syndromes), however, one simple question has remained unanswered: Does massage therapy influence blood flow? Unbelievable but totally true!
Although massage therapy has long been speculated to enhance blood flow and improve circulation the exact “how” just hasn’t been established. That is, until my most recent findings, which are the very first to substantiate the direct circulatory benefits of massage therapy.
In 2010, the Massage Therapy Foundation awarded me a research grant for which I designed a very simple study to investigate whether or not massage therapy actually influences blood flow. Given my extensive fitness background and profession as an exercise physiologist, I specifically wanted to see if massage would improve systemic (body wide) circulation and reduce muscle soreness after exercise.
I conducted these studies with my colleagues in the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Here’s exactly how are studies were performed.
Healthy adults were asked to exercise their legs to soreness using a standard leg press machine. Half of the exercisers received leg massages, using traditional Swedish massage techniques, after the exercise. We then asked participants to rate their level of soreness on a scale from 1 to 10.
As we expected, both exercise groups experienced soreness immediately after exercise. The exercise-and-massage group reported no continuing soreness 90 minutes after massage therapy while the exercise-only group reported lasting soreness 24 hours after exercise.
Now, our past studies have shown that exercise-induced muscle soreness can substantially reduce blood flow using an ultrasound technique called flow mediated dilation (FMD), a standard measure of general vascular health. For these studies, we measured FMD in the upper arm at 90 minutes, 24, 48 and 72 hours after exercise.
For the exercise-and massage-group, FMD indicated improved blood flow at all time points, with improvement tapering off after 72 hours. As we expected, the exercise-only group showed reduced blood flow after 90 minutes and 24 and 48 hours, with a return to normal levels at 72 hours.
Based on these studies, it is my belief that massage therapy improves the overall circulation in a very beneficial way. It’s not just about blood flow either; we actually found a vascular response. Furthermore, since vascular function was changed at a distance from both the site of injury and the massage, our finding suggest a systemic rather than just a local response to the area that was massaged.
Moreover, the control group, for which we expected no response demonstrated virtually identical levels of improvement in circulation as the exercise and massage group. This is by far the most important finding for the massage therapy community!
Since brachial artery FMD has been shown to correlate well with cardiovascular disease risk, the results of our studies may very well indicate the use of massage therapy for individuals with heart disease and even high blood pressure.
It’s interesting, when I was studying to become a clinical massage therapist, I never agreed with the all-too-common practice of touting unsubstantiated benefits of massage therapy. To be totally honest, I never really expected much out of these studies; I was simply doing my job as a researcher by following the scientific method in an unbiased way.
While we’ve still got a long ways to go in fully establishing the therapeutic effectiveness of massage therapy in relation to blood flow and countless health conditions, the results of our studies are truly a stepping stone in the right direction. Moreover, there’s much more data that we have yet to analyze so be sure to stay tuned.
Dr. Nina Cherie Franklin, best known as Nina Cherie, PhD, is a proud graduate of The Soma Institute, Class of 2004. She is a researcher, educator, and advocate for lifestyle medicine with over 15 years of experience in the fields of health, fitness, and nutrition. Dr. Franklin’s blog entitled “You, Your Body & Your Health” is a primary means by which she shares her expert perspective on a diverse range of issues pertaining to personal health and physical wellness. Through her blog and other media channels, Dr. Franklin has published over 500 articles, expert blogs, and videos.
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Official Website: NinaCheriePhD.com
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