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.
This weekend was the first hot one of the summer and I started scrambling for ways to keep cool without air conditioning. Little lightbulb in my head goes off...why not use a peppermint sugar scrub as an invigorating and cooling way to wake up my senses. I'll tell ya, I was so happy with "my discovery." Added bonus: your skin gets moisturized without that sweaty summer lotion feel.
3/4 cup of Sugar
6 Tablespoons of Carrier Oil (almond or jojoba oil)
10-14 drops of Peppermint Essential Oil
8 oz jar
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. After mixed transfer to jar.
Instructions: Scrub over skin and rinse off.
Many clients ask me what the difference is between a Massage and a Shiatsu session. Although there are many foundational similarities, knowing the differences can help you get what you want out of your bodywork session.
On a general level, any Massage or Shiatsu session's main focus is to address pain and discomfort in the body through physical manipulation (grasping, pressure, stretching, compression and rhythmic tapping). Both Massage and Shiatsu understand that pain and discomfort stem from a lack of balance or alignment in the body. This imbalance can be due to overuse patterns, injury or emotional trauma and stress. They both can be done using lighter or deeper pressure and be invigorating and/or relaxing.
Massage session are generally done with the client unclothed and draped on a massage table. The sessions are focused through the lenses of conventional Western Medicine. Manipulation of muscles, fascia, tendons and ligaments are the main focus of treatment. Trigger points (or "knots") in muscles are identified and deactivated to relieve pain and tension. Sessions can be focused on a specific area of the body or address the whole body. Therapeutic massage can also be great for general relaxation and stress relief.
Clients stay dressed in loose comfortable clothes during a Shiastu session. Treatments are done either on a massage table or a mat on the floor. Treatments are focused on the meridian system of Traditional Chinese Medicine which has a very holistic view of how the body works. The whole body is worked on in a treatment, because it is believed that activation acupressure points away from the area of concern have an effect on that area. Shiatsu sessions often include more stretching techniques and movement.
Specific situations that may make one modality more effective for you:
I encourage everyone to try both a Massage and Shiatsu session. Most therapists utilize techniques from a variety of modalities during a session. Your choice of modality will shift the focus of intention for the session. As you learn more about how each type of bodywork feels and how you feel after receiving a treatment you may switch back and forth depending on what you are looking to get out of each session. Play with it, have fun and enjoy all forms of bodywork!
Whether you are a die-hard New Year’s Resolution Maker, a Mindful Intention Setter or a Person who thinks New Year’s Resolutions are a sham, January 1st comes with a sense of renewal. This sense of new beginnings can be acknowledged in many different ways. Whichever method you choose, I urge you to think about the ways that positive self-care can support you in your goals.
When you are making changes, especially when it involves cutting out something that is deeply entwined in your routine, think about replacing it with something that truly serves you in a positive way. Regular, monthly bodywork can be a great way to support yourself during these times. Bodywork helps to reduce stress and anxiety. It can also help break down pain and tension held in the body. This allows your body (and mind) to have the energy to focus on new endeavours. Bodywork deepens your connection to your body. Cultivating a strong positive relationship with yourself will support you in making changes. This connection also helps you respect and love your body, creating a desire to uphold habits that are positive. Bodywork can be especially supportive for those that are working through body image issues, addiction or want to break a habit that is negatively impacting their health and wellbeing.
Remember: Regular bodywork is not the only way to perform positive self care. Nutrition therapy, physical activity, Yoga or Qi Gong, mindfulness practices, health coaching, art therapy, and psychotherapy are also great ways. When you are trying to make changes in your life you don’t just have to tough it out. Cultivating support from within yourself through a strong healthcare team allows you to make changes that are sustainable and long term.
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.