When Massage May Not be Enough

If you’re reading this you’re likely already well acquainted with the many benefits of massage therapy including decreased pain and tightness, improved mobility, reduction in headaches, increased circulation, lowered blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels not to mention the fact that it just feels really good! Generally speaking, massage addresses the muscular layer within the body and helps to lengthen tight muscles, relieve trigger point pain and tightness as well as their referral patterns, encourage spasms to let go, flush out lactic acid build up and improve lymphatic circulation as well as organ function.

tree roots
Much like the roots of a tree, our fascia reaches deep within our body, supporting and supplying function to all of our muscles, nerves, organs, blood vessels and cells.

There is however another tissue in your body that is an often overlooked culprit of pain, tightness and dysfunction called your fascia.

‘”Fascia is a specialized system of the body that has an appearance similar to a spider’s web or a sweater. Fascia is very densely woven, covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. In this way you can begin to see that each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater.

In the normal healthy state, the fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration. It has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. When one experiences physical trauma, emotional trauma, scarring, or inflammation, however, the fascia loses its pliability. It becomes tight, restricted, and a source of tension to the rest of the body. Trauma, such as a fall, car accident, whiplash, surgery or just habitual poor posture and repetitive stress injuries has cumulative effects on the body. The changes trauma causes in the fascial system influences comfort and function of our body. Fascial restrictions can exert excessive pressure causing all kinds of symptoms producing pain, headaches or restriction of motion. Fascial restrictions affect our flexibility and stability, and are a determining factor in our ability to withstand stress and perform daily activities.”* Continue reading “When Massage May Not be Enough”

Boosting Your Digestive Health

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Increasingly, research is finding that our “gut” functions as almost a second brain. It has also been found to be an important site for immune health. Despite this, many people over look their intestinal health. But there are simple and easy ways to make sure you boost your immune health every day!

Food for Gut Health

 A healthy diet full of fiber rich foods that is low in sugar and light on meat-based proteins offers the best mix for a healthy gut. Avoiding all fats is not necessary or recommended; just make sure you are getting the healthy fats and not processed ones. There are specific foods that help to bolster gut health:

Probiotics

Getting probiotics from a supplement source or foods like yogurt or kefir can help to support a healthy gut. You should look for a shelf-stable probiotic supplement or opt for plain yogurts. Here is a good run down of probiotics for every need.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods offer probiotic benefits, as well. Sauekraut, kombucha and kimchi are some of the most common ones that you can find ready made in the store. When it comes to sauerkraut, not all are fermented, so you will need to read the label. You can also make your own at home. Find out how here.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are fiber-rich foods that help to encourage the growth and proliferation of the good bacteria in your gut. Onions, artichokes and asparagus are some foods that contain prebiotics. You can eat them raw or cooked and get the benefits. Some foods and supplements also contain prebiotics like inulin.

Bone Broth

Bone broths are an excellent compliment to a healthy diet. They add nutrients and minerals and amino acids that help soothe and protect the digestive tract. While you can purchase ready-made versions, it is always best to make your own.

Lifestyle Changes for Gut Health

One of the biggest lifestyle changes that you can make to improve gut health is to add more exercise into your daily routine. Many of us have sedentary lifestyles due to work, etc. Make time each day for some vigorous exercise (a brisk walk, 12 Sun Salutations, etc) and you will benefit your digestive and lymphatic systems. Move either an hour before or after you eat. Exercise and a full stomach do not mix. Here is a yoga practice dedicated to improving digestive health.

Increasing hydration can also help with digestion. It keeps your digestive tract supple and moving freely. Hydration is also key to helping to remove toxins from your system. Some of our digestive problems also stem from tendencies to overeat. The body often shows its want for water by signals more common to hunger. Rather than a snack, reach for a glass of water. If you are still hungry after, a simple snack of fruit or nuts can help you with your digestive health goals.

Setting Yourself up for Realistic Wellness Goals

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Creating Realistic Goals

Each year you may embark on a new plan for a new you. You make a commitment to join a gym and eat healthier. With the best intentions, you start your way on this plan. Often this results in the inevitable backslide and then you give up all together. This does not have to be the norm. Rather than plans and intentions that set you up to fail ahead of time, spend time working on goals that are realistic for your life. And not just your Instagram life…

Start Small

Grand plans can be overwhelming. Investing in small steps from the beginning will help you process and integrate the changes you are trying to make in your life. Sure you read about it on a website and it sounded like a good idea. Then after several trips to the various stores to buy supplies and several attempts at complicated recipes later, you are tired and just phone it in. Not only is this is waste of resources, it does not get you to your end goal. Look at things you already do in your life and look to improve them. For example, do you really love your green smoothie at that little cafe every morning but it is full of sugar and not-so-nice ingredients? Investing in a good blender and finding some recipes for you at home would be a good step towards creating a wellness goal that in manageable and worthwhile. It is the small changes that build into large changes that make the most meaningful results.

Make Connections

Charts and graphs and lists can only take you so far when you are planning out wellness goals. While having a graphic reminder can be helpful, especially for you visual learners, but each item in your wellness plan should not be treated like it is a separate entity. You need nourishing foods to give you the fuel to rebuild and recover from starting an exercise plan. The exercise and healthful food will help to improve your quality and quantity of sleep. More sleep means a healthier you. It is all interconnected. You do not just do one thing for one result. Because of this, it is most helpful to create an interconnected wellness plan that has meaning to you.

Ask for Help

Just like your wellness plan is not made up of separate parts, neither are people. If you need help along the way, ask for it. Working with professionals in the fields of wellness is an investment in your overall health. Asking a friend to be a partner to you on your wellness goals will give you encouragement and accountability. Using resources like these is not an unnecessary luxury and they do not take away from the fact that you are the one doing the actual work. But they do make it easier for you along the way.

 

 

The Benefits of Gratitude

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As the year draws to a close, it is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on gratitude. There is an increasing body of evidence that points to real physical and emotional benefit to establishing a practice of cultivating gratitude. You will be able to carry this practice with you throughout the year and see real benefit.

Benefits of Gratitude:

  • Improved physical well-being and sleep
  • Better relationships in every area of life (work, love, family)
  • Healthier emotional response and daily outlook
  • Increased self-esteem

As with establishing any practice, you will need to be consistent with your gratitude practice. But once established, you will find that it becomes second nature. Your go-to response, in even challenging situations, will come from a more gentle place of gratitude and acceptance. There are many different ways to establish a practice of gratitude in your daily life.

Cultivating a Gratitude Practice:

 

Massage and the Immune System

Immune 101

Your immune system is a complex network of systems that work together to keep the body healthy. You have white blood cells that fight infection and cleanse the body. The lymph system acts as a network for clearing and filtering debris after the white blood cells have done their job. The microbiome in your gut helps to produce good bacteria that fight infection and promote health and well-being (both physical and mental). Your skin acts as a barrier that keeps out foreign particles and maintains proper temperature/fluids/etc. Your endocrine system regulates body temperature to raise temperature as needed to fight infection. All of these systems working together help to keep you healthy. You, in turn, support them by drinking adequate fluids, eating healthy foods and getting plenty of exercise. But did you know that massage therapy can be part of your self-care for keeping your immune system healthy, as well?

Massage for Immune Health

How can massage help? For starters, massage can help reduce the effects stress has on the body. If your system is constantly undergoing an elevated stress response, it gets run down. This decrease in your immune system can leave you vulnerable to sickness. Research has shown that massage can increase the number of white blood cells in the body, as well. These killer cells that are produced by the body help to target infectious agents that enter the body. Massage can also help to regulate fluid and hormone levels in the body. In these ways, massage can help support a healthy immune system. But massage therapy should be used as  preventative maintenance in this case. It is not a good idea to get a massage when you are sick. If you feel like you are coming down with something or are actively sick, it is best to stay home and get plenty of rest and fluids.

Self-care for Immune Health

Besides getting regular massage, nutrition and hydration are key to a healthy immune system. Many of us are chronically dehydrated. This lack of fluids makes it more difficult for the body to filter and flush out germs. Eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals (especially Vitamins C and D and Zinc) can help a great deal during cold and flu season. You can also supplement, but getting these necessary nutrients from food sources is ideal. Some supplements are made from synthetic sources and are less digestible for the body. You can also do a daily routine of exercise to help boost the immune system. Moderate walking and light yoga (especially inversions like downward facing dog and standing forward fold) can help boost the lymph system and encourage proper filtering of the fluids within the body.

Sources:

Massage Therapy May Boost Immune Functioning

https://www.amtamassage.org/research/Massage-Therapy-Research-Roundup/Research-Roundup0.html

Cells and Organs of the Immune System

https://www.boundless.com/microbiology/textbooks/boundless-microbiology-textbook/immunology-11/overview-of-immunity-135/cells-and-organs-of-the-immune-system-694-3503/

Answers About Immunity

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/self-care/preventive-care/article/answers-about-immunity

Holistic Postpartum Care

In many traditional cultures, mothers  spend the first 40 days of the postpartum period being cared for by family and friends. They remain home to heal from the rigors of childbirth and learn about their new baby. As she heals, she is given specific foods and holistic treatment to care for her, body and soul.

In several European countries, women after childbirth are assigned postpartum helpers to help make sure the mother and baby unit are allowed to bond, to facilitate successful breastfeeding and to make sure the mother can focus on rest and recovery. They also put an emphasis on whole body recovery, including pelvic floor health.

In the United States, help is often a luxury and maternity leave is not always a given. It can be difficult to care for mom and baby after birth. We will now talk about some ways to help the healing process and make the transition into motherhood easier.

Herbals Sitz Baths

A sitz bath is a shallow pan that is used to help promote healing in the pelvic floor region. It can contain herbs and salt or just plain warm water. The herbs are usually astringent, healing and tonifying herbs to help promote blood flow and reduce inflammation. You can find many pre-made postpartum herbal mixes or check here for a DIY version.

Belly Binding

Many traditional cultures use belly binding as a way to encourage the involution of the uterus and support core muscles after childbirth. After the initial treatment, the mother will learn how to use the wrap herself in order to continue getting the benefit in the postpartum period. Many women find this to be especially useful post-cesarean.

Postpartum Massage

Postpartum massage helps the mother recover after pregnancy and childbirth. It can also help to the mother begin to be in her new body, that for better or worse, has changed. The therapist will use gentle massage techniques, hydrotherapy, manual lymph drainage and other customized therapies to help promote healing and restore the mother’s health and wellness.

Placenta Encapsulation

This is the process of drying and preparing the placenta for ingestion. Traditional Chinese Medicine has promoted the use of placenta encapsulation for thousands of years. It is believed to help with postpartum mood and hormonal regulation. While much of the information regarding efficacy is anecdotal, it is has not been researched in great depth. There is also not a risk to the mother if she is ingesting properly prepared pills. Be sure to look for a placenta encapsulation specialist that is trained in the proper handling of placentas.

Nutrition

Nutritional needs change from pregnancy to postpartum. You may have increased (yes, that says increased) nutritional needs to help your body heal and to keep up with breastfeeding. While you will be encouraged to continue taking your prenatal vitamins, you may also need to increase your calcium intake as well. This can be through food sources and/or supplements. Healthy fats will also help promote recovery and help produce balanced milk. If you are unsure of your nutritional needs, many nutritionists specialize in prenatal and postnatal heath and wellness.

Exercise

Exercise in the postpartum period is key for maintaining overall health and supporting a healthy balance of physical and emotional health. Moderation is key. Too much and you can do damage that has repercussions years later. The core and pelvic floor will need time and support to return to normal after childbirth. Working with an expert in postnatal exercise can help you get back into your body in a safe manner.

Sources:

Postpartum Maternal Health Care in the United States: A Critical Review

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595301/

Postpartum Belly Binding

http://thesnapmom.com/postpartum-belly-binding/

Placental Encapsulation

Placenta Encapsulation

Postpartum Counseling: Diet, Exercise and Nutrition

http://www.arhp.org/publications-and-resources/quick-reference-guide-for-clinicians/postpartum-counseling/diet

You Don’t Have to Be Normal: The Reality of Postpartum Fitness

http://breakingmuscle.com/womens-fitness/you-dont-have-to-be-normal-the-reality-of-postpartum-fitness

 

 

Healthy, Vibrant Summer Skin

Skin 101

Your skin is the largest organ in the body. It is comprised of three layers: epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer which is a protective barrier to outside environment. The dermis contains the hair follicles and sweat glands. The lowest layer, the hypodermis, is made up of fatty and connective tissues. All of the layers work together to provide: temperature and fluid regulation, protection against infectious agents, respiration and elimination.

Common Skin Issues During Summer

Summertime presents many challenges for your skin. From burns to rashes to stings, a little bit of prevention goes a long way to a happy, healthy Summer.

Sun burn is damage caused by the UVA and UVB rays of the sun. These rays penetrate the layers of the skin and can cause symptoms ranging from a mild redness to painful burning and blistering. This damage can cause larger problems that may lead to premature aging and saggy and several types of skin cancers.

Rashes during the Summer can be caused by contact to allergens, heat or friction. Avoiding obvious allergens such as poison ivy and oak can be relatively simple with some precautions like wearing protective clothing and staying on clearly marked trails. It becomes more difficult when it comes to contact dermatitis caused by an unknown allergen. Chlorine, sun lotions, bug sprays, etc. may be a source of rashes. It is best to look for products with natural ingredients and try only one product at a time. When in doubt do a skin test (placing a small amount of the product on the inside of the elbow and wait 48 hours) before committing to a product. Heat and humidity can cause rashes if you spend an excessive amount of time outdoors on a hot day. Be sure to take breaks to avoid getting overburdened. Friction rashes happen when one part of the body rubs against another. Lotions, powders and wicking clothing can help reduce friction to prevent rashes.

Insect bites have become a hot topic this year. From Lyme to Zika, people are concerned that bug bites have gone from nuisance to deadly. Precautions against getting bitten in the first place are very important. There are many safe and effective natural bug sprays on the market now. Reapplication is key, as any spray is only as effective as your use of it. And don’t scratch. As hard as it is, scratching spreads the irritant under the skin and can introduce infection.

Promoting Healthy Skin

So what can you do to help protect your skin in the Summer? The number one thing is prevention. This means applying sun lotions and bug sprays as directed. Wearing clothes that protect you from the sun is also an easy way to keep your skin healthy.

Proper hydration will keep your skin healthy throughout the Summer as well. It is very easy to lose body moisture in the heat and humidity. This leaves your skin loose and lacking in elasticity. Dehydration also taxes many organ systems such as lymphatic, urinary and cardiovascular. Beyond water, consuming hydrating foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting salt intake can help you stay hydrated.

Bloating/swelling is a main concern for many people in the Summer. Unknown food allergies and sensitivities may be the culprit in many case. Heat and humidity also contribute to swelling through causing widespread inflammation in the cells.

Self-care for Daily Skin Health

So besides prevention, what can you do to help your skin during the Summer? Daily self-care massage can be part of your routine. In the Ayurvedic tradition, daily self-massage or abhyanga, is an important ritual for keeping healthy, vibrant skin. Click here for a tutorial and more discussion on the benefits of abhyanga.

Dry brushing can also help stimulate the skin’s elasticity and drainage of the lymphatic system. Be sure to use a dry brush and always work towards the heart (up the extremities towards the body). Click here for a tutorial on dry brushing. 

Checking your health and beauty products you use daily is another easy way to make sure you are getting the best for your skin. Many conventional products contain ingredients that may dry and damage the skin cells. Be sure to check out the Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working Group to check the ingredients of your products. 

Resources:

http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/picture-of-the-skin#1

http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/sunburn#1

http://www.chopra.com/ccl/the-benefits-of-ayurveda-self-massage-abhyanga

http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12675/a-step-by-step-guide-to-dry-skin-brushing.html