"Stand up straight and tall!" Who didn't hear this as a child? What was never explained was why.
Posture, next to stress, is one of the main reasons clients come in to see me. Though I'm not sure they realize that. Posture while standing, Posture while walking, Posture while sitting at a desk and computer, Posture during screen time... Good posture, or lack thereof, makes a difference to more than your muscles.
During May and June I'm placing a focus on Spinal Touch Therapy as it is probably the most effective tool in my skill set for good posture and encouraging your body to return to that, and hold it. Spinal Touch looks at where your posture is distorted, which muscles are pulling it into that position, and applies a gentle technique that encourages better alignment and posture.
I will be honest here though, while the technique is gentle, you often feel as though you've been hit by a truck afterwards. Here's why...
When we are stooped over with shoulders rounded and chin drawn down or forward our muscles will begin to hold us in that distorted shape. That posture pulls on the muscles through the spine from lower back to skull. The muscles in the front of the chest and neck begin to shorten (because the body, in it's wisdom, views that we're not using or needing them to move better so sends the energy elsewhere to the cells that are using it). In that hunched over shape our digestive organs and circulation are compressed and we tend not to breath as deeply.
A Spinal Touch session encourages a posture where, from a side view, a straight line could run from your ankle, through your mid knee, mid hip, mid shoulder and mid ear. Looking from the back both ears, shoulders and hips are in line.( That's the optimum)
Imagine for a moment how your muscles would feel as they are pulled back into a more open and balanced position, as you stand straighter, how your organs when they are no longer compressed. It's not a comfortable feeling at first. The muscle hurt as they fight to go back to the old posture they've been holding and the organs often release and cleanse as they're meant to. The hit by a truck feeling doesn't last long though (24 to 48 hours) and the results are worth it.!
I encourage you to take some time to check in on your posture each day and where you might stretch or move to improve it. If you would like to experience Spinal Touch Therapy you can book here.
Chronic pain (especially in the low back, shoulders and neck), limited range of movement and flexibility, pain from old injuries or surgical sites, anxiety from recent and/or long ago traumatic events... all of these point to an unfitness in your Fascia. Holistic therapies can help!
What is Fascia
Fascia is a spider web-like, loose connective tissue found throughout the body, that wraps around muscles, joints, organs and the body as a whole. Fascia also connects all parts of the body. It has varying consistency depending on where it is located. When your Fascia is open, hydrated and loose it facilitates movement, allows good muscle function and allows all cells to communicate and function at their best. Your Fascia fitness is optimal!
When Fascia becomes congested, dehydrated and tough it causes us to lose our flexibility, limits movement and often causes pain. Physical, psychological and environmental stressors can all cause Fascia to become "stuck". Physical stress can include poor posture, lack of exercise and movement, accident, surgery... Emotional stress, often associated with muscle tension, can cause Fascia to thicken and stick. It can build up over years, and Fascia can remain tight and hard even when muscle fibres have relaxed.
It always makes me smile a little when I'm a few movements into a Massage Therapy session and I hear "You can go deeper" from the client, face down on the table. Yes, I can go deeper, but are your muscles at a point where they are ready for that? Is your Fascia ready?
Movements are lighter at the beginning of a Massage Therapy session for a few reasons. Firstly, with my hands I'm feeling for temperature changes in the areas that I'm treating, usually checking for heated areas that may be signaling inflammation. If I start getting deep into the tissues right away, increasing circulation, I'm not going to be able to check for inflammation as easily.
Clients will find their Massage Therapy session more beneficial if muscles are "calm" and part of the slower, lighter movements is to encourage the nervous system to relax and the muscles to open, allowing my hands to move in more deeply. Muscles are more likely to be "on guard" if I am trying to dig deep right from the start, and that can cause them to spasm. If you are hurting and clenching because the Massage is too deep or feels uncomfortable I will cause more damage than good. Massage Therapy does not have to be deep or painful in order to be effective.
We've been walking on some icy surfaces in Calgary for a couple of weeks at least, and I can feel it in the muscles of your legs and hips! Apparently there is more to come through the weeks ahead...ugh.
What are your muscles telling me?
To avoid falling or slipping we tend to walk differently on icy surfaces. The shoes we wear hopefully have a better grip, but they also tend to be heavier and clumsier than our usual footwear.
Our stance, or centre of gravity should change to feet wider apart and slightly bending forward over our feet to shift body weight where we need it to maintain balance. Hands out of pockets to balance and holding handrails to catch our fall if we go down, shifts our balance as well.
We may hit an icy step and jerk or twist our body to keep from falling. Your muscles tell me all about it.
Nature spirals in and out through the seasons … so do we. Have you noticed the whorls and circles in the trunk of a cut tree, how a cat will curl up and around itself to sleep within a tucked up ball, the spirals of sea shells, plant leaves, wave patterns in the sand left by the ocean’s waves…
It may seem in Autumn and Winter that nature doesn't continue the spiraling process but it does. The leaves on a tree begin to dry and curl until a wind blows through the branches and the tree opens and releases the leaves to the ground. Snowflakes have circular patterns as they fall to the ground. Cats spend more time curled up to stay warm but they do get up to stretch luxuriously. Nature spirals in but also opens up and releases.
The human body spirals….our dna spirals within, we have linings (fascia) around our cells, muscles, our organs, even our skin acts as a lining that holds us together. Our mind spirals with emotions that wind us up or loosen and relax us. During the Fall and Winter months we are more likely to curve inwards to protect against the colder breezes, we're more likely to cocoon indoors and wrap ourselves up, curl our posture around that hot cup of cocoa.
You've heard me suggest drinking extra water after your session, but do you know why your body needs Hydration?
I may make an extra suggestion during your session that your body (usually the skin) is telling me you’re not hydrated enough? Keeping hydrated is a major keynote in getting your body to give you it’s best! Especially while venturing into the great outdoors through the summer months.
Phase 1 in the Journey - Emotions (A Journey Into A Holistic Approach to Disc0vering Balance During Covid19 - 4)
I think that one of the downsides to people feeling safe to share their journey towards holistic balance is Toxic Positivity. Ourselves or others can often feel uncomfortable with emotion, and so will downplay it in others, or we stuff it down in ourselves. Neither are healthy and that is not what this journey will be about. It's time to get honest with how you're feeling.
Allowing your feelings is healthy. Emotions are energy and in order to eventually be released, energy has to be allowed to move. Same thing with emotions, and yes, it can be super uncomfortable to allow our own emotions and to witness those of others.
Radical Self-Care during Phase 1 of Your Holistic Journey
Some of the following suggestions may seem like band-aid solutions to the emotions you're feeling about the changes you're experiencing due to Covid19. They are band-aid solutions for now. During this first phase in creating holistic balance your creating space for emotions and looking after yourself through that phase. (You're also teaching your loved ones that it's ok to have the emotions and to explore self-care techniques that work for them)
Ways to Safely Express Emotion
Don't suppress them or tamp them down! Allow the energy of the emotions to move through you and if they get too much go ahead and scream in the car, cry, stamp your feet. Journaling through writing or art, breath work, laughter and physical movement are all great ways to safely express emotions.
My favourite way is to put on the music and dance with abandon. As I move the emotional energy moves as well. I encourage you to explore and discover new ways that feel good to you.
Nurturing Yourself Through the Tough Days
This can be a really interesting way to find out just what radical self-care looks like for you as you explore different methods.
I'ts ok to sit in this phase of discovering Holistic Balance for a period of time as you explore what works for you. But we're not going to wallow or set up camp in this phase for too long. That being said, there is no timeline. As I said in a previous post, you will work through this journey as it works for you and there is no right or wrong way. Get comfortable with self-care and emotional expression as best you can. Perhaps the weekly calendar guide below can help with that.
What Does It Mean to Take A Holistic Approach (Journey Into A Holistic Approach to Disc0vering Balance During Covid19 - 2)
The Mind Body Spirit Connection & Dealing with Change (Journey Into A Holistic Approach to Discovering Balance During Covid19 - 3)
The basis of a holistic approach to health, to life and to change, is acknowledging the mind, body and the spirit connection, and nurturing that connection.
What affects the mind has an influence on the body and visa versa. Anything affecting either or both, mind and body, impacts upon our spirit.
Let's take stress as an example. When we're feeling stressed about a situation we can feel it in our body. Some feel is as stomach upset, some as shoulder pain from tightened muscles, others experience headaches. Often, and at the same time, stress can cause a loss of hope, thus affecting the spirit.
Unexpected change is often uncomfortable and can create stress. Despite change being an ongoing occurrence in life it is one we can't seem to embrace. The drastic changes that COVID19 has brought to our lives is hard to navigate and it is no wonder that many balk at embracing it. But, what are our choices?
I am hearing a whole range of emotions from clients, family and friends as the life changes imposed by COVID19 unroll. Anger, fear, depression, anxiety, frustration, sorrow, shock,, grief... are just a few.
Many feel changes "forced" upon them are impossible to steer through. There are many of us that have had to slow down or stop work due to social distancing or loss of business, parents are being asked to work at home while also home-schooling their children and at the same time keep them indoors and away from playgrounds and friends, those deemed essential are busy and stressed as they are daily put at risk of infection, as humans we are social beings and we are not able to spend time with our friends, or family members that live elsewhere... I cannot think of any emotions that would be inappropriate, but there are ways to navigate through them, grow from them and thrive, holistically.
The first step in taking a holistic approach to the changes of COVID 19 is to acknowledge every single emotion experienced as valid, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Secondly, is to understand that those emotions are having an impact on your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Take some time over the next few days to allow your feelings, write them down or express them through art. If you meditate, try to check into where you're feeling those emotions in your body and what they feel like. Don't try to tamp them down as emotions are energy and energy needs to move to be released.
Upcoming posts, as we travel this journey together will address ways to not only deal with the mental, physical and spiritual impact of COVID19, but ways to grow holistically. Tips that will assist you in addressing change throughout life, often making it something easier to embrace.
You may want to work through the steps as they are presented or may find yourself jumping back and forth. There is no right or wrong way to work through these steps, your way must work for you in realizing the benefits of a holistic approach.
The Hips are amazing ball joints created through the union of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia of the upper leg and pelvis. A major weight bearing joint for the body, the Hip allows for great range of motion for our legs, when we look after it.
Probably the hip issues that I find clients dealing with the most are a result of not enough stretching of thigh, gluteal and low back muscles. Sitting at a desk day after day, standing for long periods, driving... can all contribute to contraction and tightness of the muscles surrounding the Hips. Massage Therapy and stretching can help to loosen and maintain flexiblity through the Hips and allow for easy, painless, movement.
An important tip to remember: Bones don’t move the body, Muscles move the bones that move the body. This is particularly noticeable in Hip movements.
When a muscle is overworked, tight and restricted without being given adequate rest, stretching and nutrition, or is injured, it will begin to limit the movements of our joints or cause pain in those movements. Swelling, inflammation, spasm, fatigue, injury… all can lead to muscles that just will not work without pain or only work within a limited range of motion. As the condition becomes worse so does the pain, while range of motion becomes more and more limited. While true for all joints, as a Massage Therapist I see this happen more commonly in the shoulder and the Hip.
The Hips Cradle Emotion
Our Hips are also said to cradle and hold emotions. Some yoga instructors refer to the pelvis and hips as the "junk drawer of emotions" for the body. When stressed or feeling threatened our "fight or flight" response may have us jumping into action. Or if receiving bad news we curl forward towards the fetal position. Our body has an instinctual reflex to clench the deep muscles and sometimes doesn't let go even after trauma or emotional experiences are over.
You may have noticed when you perform deep stretches or when having your Hips massaged that emotions well up unexpectedly. This is normal. On the otherside, when the muscles have loosened, you will often feel lighter and more relaxed.
Stretching and Massage Therapy are really great ways to ensure your Hips stay healthy, flexible, relaxed, and move easily and without pain.
Follow along on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for Hip care tips throughout the month of March!
The majority of my clients understand Massage Therapy to be a necessary part of their health and wellness plans. Thankfully, those that use to view Massage as just a luxury are learning how helpful it can be. What I've been thrilled to witness in the past couple of years are the number of parents booking their teens and pre-teens in for Massage sessions with me.
My own son was 10 when I started studying Massage Therapy and as a growing teen, student and hockey player, he received regular Massage sessions to keep his muscles flexible and fit. Growing pains and muscle spasms were resolved naturally. He was also introduced to a healthy way to relax and rejuvenate during exam time, hockey tournaments and the other stressors of growing.
Sports, technology and studying place the same stress on kid's muscles as they do on adults. Posture suffers from bending over textbooks and computers in the same way it does when sitting at a desk job throughout the day. Neck, shoulder and upper back muscles become tight and tense, which can lead to pain and headaches, regardless of age.
Many clients say they feel taller and stand straighter after their Massage. The head pulled forward and chin tucked over a phone, turns into shoulders and head back and in alignment, with the loosening of muscles. It creates better awareness of just how good proper posture can feel.
With the stress of school grades, bullying, peer pressure, sports tournaments... kids need to learn ways to relax and de-stress that are natural and healthy. What they learn through their teens as coping mechanisms will carry them through the adult years in the work force. It sets them up to succeed.
While they may squirm at first because they are not familiar with the touch of Massage, young people soon become relaxed, calm and often fall asleep during their sessions. While easing muscle tension, massage also balances the hormones that are often raging during these years, boosts the immune system naturally, and encourages positive body awareness.
For the first session I often encourage parents to book young people in for 30 minutes rather than a longer session. It allows them to become familiar with how Massage Therapy feels, provides them a safe space to give feedback as to where they are sore or how much pressure they prefer with Massage. An adult is also always welcome to stay in the Massage room if that is what is more comfortable for a young person. Providing a space that feels safe is essential.