Despite our wintry excitement this week, it's beginning to feel a lot like springtime. Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. There is nothing like feeling the warmth of sun on your face after many chilly months. I also love clearing out the clutter, throwing the windows open and finally being able to go on long walks with my pooch. Conversely, springtime can be a physically, mentally and energetically uncomfortable time for many of us.
Learning more about Chinese Medicine and it's connection to nature has made a world of difference in my life as I move through the extremes of season here in Minnesota. My dad always told me to "work smarter, not harder." I like to take that phrase to heart when thinking about navigating through the seasons. Would you like to learn more about the springtime according to Chinese Medicine principles and how you can support yourself through the season? Here goes:
In Chinese Medicine, it is thought that our bodies are simply a small universe within the larger universe. In this way, changes to the external world are often replicated in our bodies. One major way to observe this is how our bodies respond to season changes.
Each season is connected to one of the five elements (fire, earth, metal, water and wood). Each element is connected to a pair of "organ systems". An organ system is a holistic and more energetically focused understanding of some of the forces that govern our body's functions. This is not to be mistaken with the Western physiological function of the organs, although there is considerable overlap. Each element is associated with a season, color, sound flavor, balanced/unbalanced emotion and much more. By association, Spring is connected to the Wood element and the Liver and Gallbladder organ systems. It is also associated with upward/expansive energy, new beginnings, the color green, the sour flavor, and the sound "Shhh." The balanced emotions are generosity and kindness and the unbalanced emotions of anger and frustration.
The Wood element's energy is upward and expansive. During the winter, a lot of energy is spent reflecting and restoring our bodies. Plans get generated and energy is build to implement them. When spring hits we are ready for action. Think about the amount of force a little sprout has to use to push through the ground to get to sunlight. It's a lot! We feel the energy within us. This makes the springtime a wonderful time to start new projects, renew goals, join a group, and generally plant seeds for the future.
The Liver and Gallbladder organ systems are particularly prone to fullness. Additional upward and expansive energy in these organ systems during the spring can result in increased neck and shoulder pain and headaches. I see this a lot in my practice! It's a great time to add in more stretching, especially lateral stretches. It's also a good time to schedule regular bodywork and acupuncture. Grounding exercises, meditation and journaling are also helpful tools for balancing all the outward energy if it's starting to feel like too much.
Spring is the time for new beginnings and it's also a great time clear out any clutter in your surroundings and in the body. Chi Nei Tsang (abdominal massage) is a great way to support any cleanse or detoxification program you may be doing this spring. It's also a great stand alone therapy to support clearing and detoxify the organs. Incorporating cleansing breathwork, going for walks, and simply committing to drinking more water can also help get your system moving.
Anger and irritability are the predominant emotions of an imbalanced wood element. You may find these emotions more prevalent in the spring time. Preemptively focusing on kindness and generosity can be a particularly great practice during the spring. Volunteer, donate the items that you no longer need, help a friend, give all the hugs. Also look for ways to express that anger in a healthy manner.
Other fun ways to support the Wood element would be to incorporate the colors, sounds and flavors. You can't go wrong with eating more green foods. Also incorporating more sour foods into your diet can be supportive, although this it is best to not go too overboard with this one. A little sour goes a long way. The sound associated with the Wood element is "Shhh." One way that you could incorporate this is by taking 10 deep breaths and when you exhale make the sound forcefully. This could help dissipate any extra Wood element energy that is rising in the body.
There are so many ways to support the Wood element during the springtime. I hope you enjoyed learning about some of them. This is a topic I like to get really nerdy about, so please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to know how you can learn even more.
I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but there are some big changes in the works. Personal improvement is often at the forefront of my mind. I struggle with wanting to be more intentional, kind and patient AND remain accepting and loving of myself right where I am at.
As we move into the new year, my focus is on:
Reconnecting to my breath. The breath has a powerful ability to nourish, break up stagnation and ease anxiety. Deep belly breathing is my go to. I notice that times of stress, anxiety and overwhelm often correlate with a feeling of breathlessness. Using deep belly breathing, helps my mind and body relax which gives me space to organize my thoughts. How to deep belly breath: during inhalation, focus on gently pulling the breath all the way down to your pelvis, letting your abdomen and rib cage expand. Exhale when comfortable. Take as many of these breaths as you need.
Moving from Fear to Fearlessness. I'm learning that my actions often come from a place of fear. Fear about finances, fear about security, fear of the unknown. Fear is our bodies way of telling us that there is a potential threat. This may or may not be true. Being aware of the fear, but not attaching to it allows for more intentional choices. This year, I am planning on moving from a place of fear to a place of fearlessness.
Creating deep connections with my community and clients. As I spend a longer period of time in practice, I have had the opportunity to observe how regular bodywork can be a catalyst and support for deep change. It may sound a little woo woo, but I truly do think that if more people got bodywork there would be less war. To help make bodywork more accessible to EVERYONE I have started offering a limited number of sliding scale opportunities. More info about sliding scale is under the Practice Updates section of this newsletter. I'm also enjoying becoming more rooted in the Kingfield neighborhood and am looking forward to doing more collaboration with small businesses in the area.
Growing my business. My practice relies on having a solid client base. Go Figure! I have found that word of mouth referrals are my bread and butter. Please keep me in mind if someone you knows could benefit from bodywork. A solid internet presence is also key to building a business in this day and age. Please help me be found on the internet by reviewing me on google. You don't even know how much an awesome review can give a small business owner the warm fuzzies.
Continuing to learn from client feedback. What you think matters. ALOT! I strive for the highest level of client satisfaction. Feedback of any kind is super helpful and allows me to better serve you. Do you love or hate the music that I play? Is the pressure too deep or just right? Are you broiling under that blanket, but afraid to speak up? Let me know! Also what changes in yourself have you noticed since we started working together? Bodywork is often focused on pain management, but it can be so much more. Regular bodywork can improve mood, sleep and digestion. It can help with stress management and anxiety. It can break down areas of stuckness that we didn't even know existed. Additionally, what areas you are interested in learning more about outside of the treatment room? If you haven't noticed, Traditional Chinese Medicine theory is my jam, but what kinds of information do you crave? Are you interested in learning more about anatomy, stretches to alleviate pain, self-massage techniques that you can do at home? What kinds of workshops are interested in attending?
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Over the last year, I have been delving deeper into the world of Chi Nei Tsang (abdominal massage) and it is so exciting! As you know, the abdomen is the physical storage container for all major organs. In Western Medicine, we connect these organs to many functions of the body including digestion, detoxification, and elimination. In the Taoist tradition, which Chi Nei Tsang is rooted in, very similar physiological functions are attributed to the organs as well as a number of other associations including emotions, colors, seasons of the year, sounds, animals etc. Under this holistic framework,Chi Nei Tsang sessions can:
Want to know more? Here are some frequently asked questions about Chi Nei Tsang:
What are you doing when you are massaging my belly?
The main goal for treatments is to clear out physical and energetic knots and tangles (stagnation) so that Qi (energy) can flow smoothly. A smooth flow of Qi allows for a pain free environment where organs can function at their best. Balanced organs are connected to balanced emotions, strong immune systems and healthy bodies.
Are you really going to rub my belly the whole time!?
Yes, the majority of the session will involve massage directly on your abdomen. I often incorporate breathwork and meditation into the session. Also don’t be surprised if you are sent home with homework. Doing self-massage on the abdomen and/or a specific meditation focused at an organ between sessions is a great way to speed up the clearing and healing process.
Does it hurt?
Massage should never hurt, but there may be tenderness in areas. We will work to a depth that is comfortable for you as well as deep enough to affect change. I like to think about it as peeling an onion. We will start by addressing the first layer of tension. Within the session and with regular sessions we will be able to peel away layers for long lasting change.
Can Chi Nei Tsang help with pain/tension in other areas of my body?
Yes! Releasing physical tension in the abdomen can have a direct affect on other areas of the body such as the low back, neck and shoulders. Here's an example of how abdominal massage can affect lower back pain due to constipation: When a person is chronically constipated the large intestine physically enlarges with fecal matter that is not being eliminated. The expansion of the large intestine puts pressure on the surrounding organs as well as the lower back. Addressing chronic constipation with abdominal massage and promoting regular elimination reduces this pressure from the lower back.
Interested in trying a session!? I recommend a 30 or 60 minute session if you would like to work solely in the abdominal area. Chi Nei Tsang can also be incorporated into a longer full body session. I recommend a 75, 90 or 120 minutes if you would like to include abdominal work into a full body session.
What is Chi Nei Tsang?
Chi Nei Tsang is a form of abdominal massage that is rooted in Taoism. It focuses on clearing energetic and physical blockages in the abdomen so that the Chi (energy) can flow smoothly.
Chi Nei Tsang treatments:
Who is a good candidate for Chi Nei Tsang?
Most people can benefit from Chi Nei Tsang, BUT it can be especially helpful for:
What is a Chi Nei Tsang session like?
Sessions start with a thorough intake focused on the client's goals for the session, their health history, energy levels, sleep/digestion patterns, physical activity, and where any pain in the body is felt.
The client will lay on the massage table face up and bring shirt up and shimmy pants down to pubic bone to expose abdomen. We will start with connecting to the breath and having the client sense areas of tension in the abdomen and whole body. I will use manual technique with oil and essential oils to increase circulation, break up areas of tension, stimulate organs, clear pathways of elimination, etc. We may also do specific breathwork or mediations based on the client's needs.
I like to give homework! Homework depends on the client's goals for the sessions. I may have them do daily abdominal breathing, self massage, or meditation. I often also recommend an observational exercise related to their goals.
Feel free to contact me with any questions you have about Chi Nei Tsang and how it could benefit you.
Cupping and Gua Sha are techniques that can be incorporated into your regular bodywork session or scheduled as a separate 30 minute service. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the cause of pain, stiffness and tension is often due to blockages in the meridians (energy pathways) of the body. Cupping and Gua Sha (and Shiatsu!) all focus on clearing these blockages for an easy flow of Qi and Blood, which can help with chronic/acute pain, headaches and migraines due to muscular tension, and even reduce the severity and recovery time from colds and fevers.
Cupping can be done in a variety of ways using glass, plastic or bamboo cups. Suction is created with fire or a manual pump. I use plastic cups and a manual pump. The cups are placed on the area of discomfort and related areas. The cups can be moved, called slide cupping or left in place.
Gua Sha is a scraping technique. A variety of tools can also be used for this including: wood, stone, bone. Techniques are usually used on the area of discomfort and related areas. I use a small wooden hand tool.
What does it look like and how will it feel?
After the cups are removed, you may have round marks that vary in color from light pink to dark purple. The color indicated the amount and type of blockage in the meridian that is causing the tension. The marks usually go away in 3-5 days. They should be covered until they are no longer visible. Sometimes the area will feel dry after a treatment. Apply lotion as needed.
How do you know if it's right for you?
A thorough intake is always done before utilizing either of these techniques. Cupping and Gua Sha are not recommended for clients that are weak, have a compromised immune system or if the blockage in the meridian is due to deficiency. Generally they are safe techniques. Please let me know if you are interested in learning more! I would be happy to talk to you about it and demonstrate what it looks and feels like. Above is a very general description of Cupping and Gua Sha.
If you want to get science nerdy about it follow this link for an in-depth article about the science behind Guasha: https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/press-releases/2015/05/05/science-gua-sha.
One of the most common areas of discomfort that I hear from my clients is low back tension, especially in the winter. Between shoveling, trying to stay upright on the ice (or not), wearing heavy boots, and huddling to stay warm your back can get the brunt of it. Many of us have suffered from tension in our low backs ranging from stiffness to debilitating pain at some point in our lives. Low back pain can also be caused by injury, accidents, repetitive stress and/or poor posture. Massage is a great way to ease low back pain, strain, tension and stiffness. Stretching between sessions may help you recover faster and prevent reinjury. These simple 5 stretches address and target a few of the most common muscles groups that can contribute to pain in the low back.
When should I to stretch??
Listen to your body. If you tend to feel stiffness in your low back in the morning, then try doing these stretches right away when you get up or after a shower. If you work a desk job, then try doing these stretches during a break time or at the end of the day. Make a commitment to stretching for a couple minutes each day.
These foundational yoga poses are a great way to get gentle movement in your spine. Start on all fours and slowly arch your back like a cat (Cat Pose). Next slowly release your spine until it is flat (Cow Pose). You should not feel any pinching in your low back when doing Cow Pose. If you do, back off a bit and focus on pulling your tailbone away from your head to create extension in your spine instead of compression in the low back. Throughout the movement, focus on engaging your abdominal muscles.
lunge with a twist
Start in a lunge with your knee on the ground. Make sure that your bent knee is not in front of your toes. Your hands can either be on your bent knee or on the ground. Try to keep your spine as straight as possible. If this is enough of a stretch stay in this position. If you feel like you want more of a stretch, slowly twist towards the side of the bent knee. Place a hand on the bent knee leaving the other hand on the ground to stabilize.
hug your knees to your chest
Lay on your back. Bring both of your legs up to your chest. Wrap your hands around your knees and hug them into your chest. You can also do this with one leg at a time or make it into a dynamic stretch by hugging and releasing slowly and back again.
figure four on the ground
While laying on your back, cross one leg over the other at the knee. Wrap your hands around the back of your thigh. Gently pull that leg into your chest. The stretch may be felt in the hamstrings of the bent knee or more on the outside of the crossed leg.
hamstring stretch with a chair
This stretch can be particularly helpful to do if you sit a lot at work or are taking a long car ride. Stand in front of a chair. Bring one leg up so that the heel of your foot is resting on the seat of the chair. With a straight back, open chest and flexed foot slowly start to lean forward until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings and calf muscles. Hold for a couple seconds and release. You can go in and out of the stretch several times then switch legs.
*If you are in severe pain, I recommend seeking help from a healthcare professional. Please, always work within your comfort level when stretching.
The past year was a big year for business and personal growth! I finished my first year in private practice and it feels like a ball gaining momentum as it rolls down the hill. Which is AWESOME! My client base has grown and so has my understanding of how I want to be as a business owner and practitioner.
In the treatment room, I have continued to hone my massage and shiatsu skills while working with a variety of clients, all with their own unique goals. I've kept my Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) knowledge fresh by offering workshops focused on ways that you can use TCM's Five Element Theory to "Support yourself through the Season." The use of essential oils and hot stones have become a staple in my practice for added grounding and centering. I'm also enjoying incorporating cupping into sessions for added pain and tension relief.
Earlier in the year, I received my Reiki Level I attunement from a good friend and Reiki Master, Ali Bemont Mareck. This has created a profound yet subtle shift in my treatments. In December, I embarked on a journey to learn Abdominal Massage (Chi Nei Tsang), which will allow me to do some really deep work with those that have energetic, emotional or digestive distress.
On a personal note, my partner and I bought a house this summer. Every day we are more and more settled in. Nikki, our dog, is enjoying the endless opportunity to hunt squirrels in the back yard. Even when it's -5 degrees outside...
When I sit down to reflect on the year, I can't help but think "Damn, I've been busy!"
Looking into 2018, I'm excited to continue working with clients towards their health goals, deepen my skills and practice, teach more workshops and finish my training in Abdominal Massage (Chi Nei Tsang). On a personal level, this will be the year of opening my heart to more joy.
What are you looking forward to in the new year? Can I help you get to where you want to be? Let me know!
I've decided to add a new form of bodywork to my toolbox. This month, I started training in Chi Nei Tsang a form of abdominal massage rooted in Taoism. Let me tell you, my first lesson was AWESOME! It included abdominal breathing, a heart clearing mediation, exercises to keep the spine moving smoothly, and general ways to assess and address tension in the abdomen. Pretty cool, huh!?
So, what is Chi Nei Tsang?
Chi Nei Tsang is a form of bodywork focused on breaking up stagnation (tension and stuckness) in the abdomen. Stagnation can be caused by many things such as digestive issues, energetic blockages or emotional trauma. It can also be caused by everyday stress and tension built up over time. Now, who doesn't have that?? According to Mantak Chia, whose lineage I will be learning under: "The Taoists discovered that most maladies could be healed once underlying toxins and negative forces were released from the body. They developed the art of Chi Nei Tsang to recycle and transform negative energies that obstruct the internal organs and cause knots in the abdomen." (Chia, 2007)
Sessions include manual manipulation of the organs, muscles and fascia in the abdomen as well as breathwork and meditation. There is a strong component of teaching client's techniques to continue the healing at home. So far, I'm having fun exploring other's bellies as well as my own.
Are you interested in learning more?
Become a practice client! If you are an existing client, I would be happy to add a couple extra minutes to your session so that we can include some Chi Nei Tsang technique to your treatment. I am also looking for practice clients for longer sessions. If you are interested in setting up a practice session please email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chia, M. (2007). Chi Nei Tsang: Chi Massage for the Vital Organs. Vermont: Rochester: Destiny Books.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Late Summer season is a sweet spot of balance and also a highly transitional time of year. It is the turning point from the rising Yang energy of the Summer to the descending Yin energy of the Fall and Winter. This time of year is associated with the Earth Element and closely linked with digestion of food and experiences. During this time of year, it can be helpful to focus on activities that allow you to feel grounded and nurtured.
Digestion is one of the key functions of the Earth Element, making this element intrinsically tied to the ability to nourish and nurture oneself. The Earth Element is made up of the Spleen and Stomach Organ System. The Stomach’s main function is to “‘rot and ripen food and fluids,” preparing it for “transformation and transportation” by the Spleen. Both of these processes allow for energy from food to be converted into energy (Qi) in the body. General tiredness and weakness are the most commonly treated symptoms in TCM and are often due to deficiency in either of these organ systems.
To support the digestive process, start with focusing on what you are eating. Foods that are warm and cooked are more easily processed by the Spleen and Stomach. Chew your food. The more you chew your food the more easily it can continue to be broken down by your digestive system and converted into energy (Qi). Turn off the TV and computer while you are eating. Focus your intention on the process of eating. Taste your food and be aware of how certain foods make you feel. Allow yourself to feel full and content after eating. Rest and allow yourself to assimilate the act of eating before moving to the next activity.
In addition to the digestion of food, the Spleen and Stomach are also strongly linked to the digestion of experiences. Taking time to assimilate and digest experiences can help you to feel more grounded. Take time to process the day in a way that works best for you. This could include journaling, creating art, walking or meditation. Focus on establishing or reestablishing routines. You could do this by focusing on waking and going to bed at the same time each day, engaging in physical activity in a way that supports you in feeling strong and stable, and taking time to be in nature. These are just a few ways that you can support the Earth Element during this time of year.
Interested in learning more about the very important Earth Element and how it is reflected in your body and the world around you? Follow this link for information about a one hour workshop this Saturday afternoon, September 16th, 2017. The workshop will include more in-depth information about the functions of the Earth Element, it’s associations (colors, emotions, sounds, areas of the body, etc), and ways to promote feelings of being grounded and nurtured. The workshop will also include acupressure points and an easy self-abdominal massage routine to aid with digestion that you can use at home.
Many people wait to get bodywork until they feel PAIN. I don't mean a little pain, I mean a lot of PAIN. Either there is an incidence of extreme pain (ie: "pulled a muscle") or pain that has built up over time. Often clients schedule appointments with me when the pain has gotten to the point where they can't manage it anymore.
What if you started getting bodywork before it got to the point of "I CAN"T TAKE IT ANYMORE"?
I know, I know you're busy and it's expensive and you have to plan ahead, but face it: you will feel better in the long run and have far less incidences of intense pain if you schedule bodywork as a part of your healthcare plan. The benefits of regular (usually monthly) bodywork far outweigh waiting until you get to the "I need it now!" point.
The Benefits of Regular Bodywork:
1.) Increases body awareness. Regular bodywork sessions helps you connect to and feel your body. The busyness of our culture often forces us to focus on getting s*%t done. In order to do this we are often also required to negate feeling of fatigue, stress and pain. Increasing your body awareness may help you identify how your body responds to stress and help you make life changes that will lead to a more balanced life.
2.) A Full body massage is like a full body scan. Each time you go in for a bodywork session you have the opportunity to feel all of the areas of your body in one fell swoop. You can identify how those areas of your body feel at that moment and also how they change from session to session.
3.) Regular bodywork helps you connect the dots. You will start to see the patterns of tension in your body and feel how they are related to your activities. Do you often have the same three spots along your neck, shoulder and arm that hurt? Do these areas hurt more when you do a certain activity like using the computer? Noticing pain patterns and being able to connect them to motions you do in daily life is a major key to living pain free. Modifying your movements can help you break down tension that is building up and curb repetitive stress injuries.
4.) Generally decreases stress and tension. Having a monthly bodywork routine along with other self care techniques for stress management allows you to release stress and tension that is stored in the body and just plain RELAX! This means less built up stress and tension which can lead to disease or chronic pain.
5.) Allows you to form a relationship with your therapist. Working with the same therapist over time lets you have a constant external barometer on your body. The therapist can get a strong sense of what patterns of tension you hold in your body over time or how they vary in cycles. Working with the same therapist over time also allows for greater depth in your sessions and success in achieving of your goals.
6.) Regular bodywork often helps you in ways you didn't plan for or know existed. Regular bodywork helps increase circulation, regulate sleep and digestive functions, and general balancing of the body. It may help break down emotional issues that you struggle with or feeling of disconnectedness. Regular bodywork can have profound effects on the way that you live in the world that you did not expect or even anticipate.
Amy Daws is a trained Therapeutic Massage, Shiatsu, and Chi Nei Tsang therapist. She is interested in the way that these modalities can bring healing and joy to people's lives.