Illness and Conditions, Massage Techniques Explained

Massage for a Broken Heart

This too shall pass…

One out of every three clients I encountered this past month was in the midst of a break up. Although February is nationally recognized as a time to celebrate love, thanks in part to the mass market holiday that Valentine’s has become, it seems that more and more people choose to end their relationships during this time. Break ups apply to all kinds of human connections like friendships, romantic partners, marriages or family members and illicit the same range of emotions one would encounter within the grieving process. Rather than swimming in the vortex of loss alone, these clients sought out massage as comfort. How is it that heartbreak “hurts” so much? The physical reaction to emotional loss can be explained through medical science.

When emotional stress is experienced, especially loss, our brains signal the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands and certain proteins that constrict blood flow causing part of the heart to become temporarily enlarged and incapable of pumping well. The rest of the heart has to compensate by contracting more forcefully. The pain felt in one’s chest resembles that of a heart attack; however without the permanent damage associated with it. The heart is described as being temporarily stunned or rendered “helpless” which is an interesting choice of words given the sufferer’s mental state. This condition is known medically as stress cardiomyopathy (formerly takotsubo cardiomyopathy) but many doctors refer to it as Broken Heart Syndrome.

Pain is the brain’s primal way of responding to trouble. That trouble can be caused by stimuli both inside and outside of the physical body. Sensory receptors known as nociceptors register these stimuli and in milliseconds return the signal of pain. When we are in a state of emotional distress, the brain’s blood supply is altered, sending more blood to the area responsible for regulating physical pain. This excess flow has been found in people with depression making them more peaked to pain. The emotions felt during a break up enact this physiological response, registering an ache or hollow feeling often felt within the organs of our core; not just in the heart. The state of pain also kicks in the sympathetic nervous system to respond, known as our state of “fight or flight.” The hormones and proteins released inhibit appetite which can lead to anorexic behavior, keep us over alert which translates into insomnia or disrupted sleeping patterns, constricts blood vessels causing headaches, stops digestive juices from being released causing tummy troubles and for some, their overabundance can lead to panic attacks and adrenal fatigue.

Brain and pain rhyme for a reason, kids.

One of the main things massage can do is kick into gear the parasympathetic (i.e. “rest and digest”) response. This is why it is so effective in stress management. Massage counters a lot of the physiological affects of a broken heart by switching off the sympathetic release of hormones and proteins related to emotional stress. In addition, it counters any muscular and postural imbalances that could develop from protective patterns of movement or the general feeling of wanting to cocoon into oneself. It also prevents the isolation and loneliness that creeps in after the shock, denial, guilt, anger and bargaining stages of the grieving process pass because it allows for touch from another that is warm, therapeutic and outside of any emotional attachment or expectation. It is a safe place to let go of emotions and come back into the body.  Some of us put names on slips of paper in the freezer, bury all the things ever given as gifts, move out of the apartment whose walls are saturated with the memory of YOU and THEM, cut or dye hair in all kinds of ways to deal with a break up. But giving yourself the love you once had for another person, which in the case of my clients was in the form of therapeutic massage, will have the most beneficial overall effect for all parties involved. Acceptance is a whole lot easier when you don’t have to HURT as much.

Massage Products and Accessories, Massage Techniques Explained

Let’s Make a Deal

I recently read an article being circulated amongst the massage therapy community regarding the ills of deal running. Deal sites have seen a boom in popularity since the economy went south back in 2008. Some are more popular than others (think of LivingSocial, Groupon and Gilt.com) but search the world wide web and you will find a myriad of deal sites for just about anything.

Here a DEAL, there a DEAL, everywhere a DEAL, DEAL!!

If you are searching for a new coat, have a craving for a fancy dinner out or want to book your all inclusive trip to Morocco, you can find a deal online at sometimes 50% or more off the original price. After the deal site pockets a certain percentage of the sales of the deal, the business running it will receive a FAT check in advance. This sense of immediate wealth is offset by the wait for the clientele to actually redeem their deals. This is more true of service industries like restaurants and spas; not so much for products or travel. Deal or no deal, the business still has the same overhead – employee wages, supply orders and stocking, the rent to pay, etc. There will be days when the books fill up with the discounted clients leaving little room for the regulars and full price paying walk-ins. Suddenly, that FAT check is looking a little lean. What seems to be good for the bottom line in the short term, actually costs the business a lot more than they bargained for.

Once the deal is redeemed, the business’s hope is that they will make you into a regular full price paying client. Unfortunately, there are many conflicting statistics regarding client retention after deal purchases and for a number of reasons. The bulk just wait for the next deal to come along. The long term affects of constant deal running can be disastrous to a business’s reputation. I once overheard a conversation on the subway between two men who had purchased a restaurant deal off one of these sites. One of the men said, “Oh, that place is always running deals…like every month.” In response, the other man laughed and said, “I bet they’re in trouble.” Public perception of a business that is always discounting is that the business is going under or that the services are going to be sub-par. An example of the latter happened to a friend of mine who redeemed a deal on a deluxe manicure/pedicure at a popular Manhattan nail salon chain. Despite the place not being crowded, my friend waited for almost 45 minutes to receive her treatment. It seemed to her that the staff was trying to decide amongst themselves which one would be taking her appointment. The technician who finally performed her treatment reminded her throughout the hour and a half together that she should tip on the original price. She was not offered any of the treats and beverages other clients were enjoying and she also noticed that her technician skimped on a couple of the aspects of her treatment. Not only was my friend disappointed with her entire experience, but also felt that if she were a full price paying client she would have been treated differently. There is some truth to the adage, “You get what you pay for.”

In an effort to boost their already bruised bottom line, many establishments will not pay “commission before discount” to their employees. This means that the employee gets paid less for the same amount of work. In other cases, the employee will be paid a flat rate for a treatment package that requires more work. There is, of course, no excuse for poor customer service and short-cutting; however I can relate to the feeling of having one’s skills undervalued. Sometimes, when every single one of your clients in a day is a deal, it’s hard to be so tired for what amounts to around $8-10 per working hour. It’s also hard to accept what is NOT a living wage and also not reflective of the level of education and skills brought to the table. Let’s not even mention how physically demanding the work can be. The more deals offered the more undermined and wrung dry the therapists and technicians will feel. It’s a never ending cycle of not being able to catch up, both financially and physically. And at the end of day, the overall bottom line can’t do so either.

Now, before you as the potential consumer/client start to feel guilty for shopping a deal, please understand that this whole diatribe is meant to inform your purchasing decision; not deter you from it. Deals are a great way to discover new places to patronize, try treatments that otherwise you never would have tried and also gift to someone special without breaking the bank. Just heed the following: Pay attention to how much off the original price the deal is. The higher the percentage, the more you can guarantee some of what I described above occurring. Also, look up the reviews for the place running the deal. Do they have good client retention? Are the experiences for deal redeemers positive? This is how you can ensure you will get the right treatment and a deal worth paying for.

Fitness - Inside and Out, Massage Techniques Explained

Gouri, 2013

It’s a New Year and with that come the flood of resolutions, made with good intention, to have a fresh start of things. What often tops these lists are changes in diet and exercise. Gym memberships notoriously surge in the beginning of the year, while kitchens are cleaned out of their sundry contents to be replaced with all kinds of leafy greens and organic snacks. After a few weeks, the novelty of the fresh start wears off and for many, old habits die hard.

One of my New Year’s day clients joked that massage should be at the top of his list for 2013. In fact, all the clients I saw on that day expressed wanting to begin their year on a relaxed note. Many of them had received these massages as gifts. The Greeks call this gouri, a gesture or gift of good luck typically given to family members and friends for the New Year. Honestly, it’s a brilliant commitment to oneself to reduce stress and bring balance to the body on a regular basis. Think of all the cumulative affects of a chaotic lifestyle, rife with packed schedules, inhaled meals and little sleep and the investment of one massage per month becomes feasible. This is what I tell clients when they cannot fathom the cost of such a “luxury.” If you can spend $80 to $100 on frothy coffee drinks per month, then you can afford one massage. 

It’s pretty and smells delicious, but doesn’t last very long.

I could post heaps of statistical data supporting the benefits of regular massage on health, immunity, mobility, recovery and performance, but I won’t. What I want readers to keep in mind is a word I mentioned above – commitment. Many of us have a problem honoring commitments made to ourselves; moreover, the list of resolutions we make at the beginning of each year to change this, that or the other is a bit of a joke when we have no intention of doing anything. Why even make a list at all? If you can commit to just one thing at the start of each month, I am positive you will enact more self change then tackling an entire list in just January. Here are a few to pick and choose from:

  • Commit to one massage a month.
  • Commit to one session of strength training per week.
  • Commit to five minutes of deep breathing and/or stretching before bed every night.
  • Commit to taking the stairs at some point during your day.
  • Commit to 20 minutes in the steam room at the gym.
  • Commit to juicing one morning per week.
  • Commit to making your day off count for you!
Integrative Medicine, Massage Techniques Explained

Fertility Massage: You + Me = Baby

Loving that procreative vessel!
(Copyright Linnea Lenkus Studio)

Within the past few weeks, I found that the majority of my new female clients are trying to get pregnant. Most are going about it the natural way, but a few have begun fertility treatments after that route didn’t produce any result. Their ages range from as young as 25 all the way to 43. Some have had children before; others are trying for the first time. They span multiple nationalities and economic brackets, but despite their differences, these women do have one thing in common – STRESS. Their bodies are experiencing and storing the physical and emotional strain of wanting to get pregnant, which if you have read any of my previous posts, wreaks havoc on your muscles, tissues and overall health. When in STRESS mode, one of the best things you can do is get a massage, as it is extremely effective at managing and reducing the negative effects that stress hormones like cortisol have on the body. However, there is a less obvious reason why a woman wanting to get pregnant should be getting massaged and it’s Doctor recommended.

Standard massage turns on the “rest and digest” switch in the body, sending feel good hormones coursing through your system that bring down blood pressure, flush toxins and increase circulation to tense areas of the body you wouldn’t be able to reach yourself. This is the stress reduction factor. Naturally, with a more restful state promoted in the body and nourishing blood flooding to all regions above and below, the ability for one to conceive could be increased physiologically. However, what M.D.’s and case studies have found to really prepare the “womb” is a more direct approach. Currently, there are two forms of massage that deal with fertility issues and both address the uterus and surrounding abdominal muscles and organs, specifically.

The first form of fertility massage is Mayan Abdominal Therapy, a form of abdominal massage brought to North America and Europe by herbalist and respected authority on Mayan healing techniques, Dr. Rosita Arvigo. It is an external, non invasive manipulation that repositions internal organs that have shifted, thereby restricting the flow of blood, lymph fluid, nerves and chi. Its founding principle is that when a women’s uterus is out of “balance” so is she. Centuries of Central American midwives and healers have found this to be the number one impediment for conception. Dr. Arvigo’s technique is focused on the position and health of the pelvic and abdominal organs. The work corrects a prolapsed, fallen, or tilted uterus and structurally realigns the spine from the thoracic to sacral regions. The practitioner will also prescribe herbal remedies to support the treatment and teach self-care methods that the client can practice at home. More information on session specifics and locating a practitioner near you can be found here: https://www.arvigotherapy.com/practitioners

The second method is called the Wurn Technique. This unique type of massage was developed more than 15 years ago at Clear Passage Therapies, a physical therapy network by a massage and physical therapist husband and wife team, Larry and Belinda Wurn. While treating an infertile woman for low-back and pelvic pain, the therapists discovered their client became pregnant, after seven years of unsuccessful attempts. This client had been diagnosed with two blocked fallopian tubes and had been sexually active the entire time. Intrigued, they tried the same technique on eight other infertile women. Half of them became pregnant following treatment. The therapy itself combines site specific abdominal massage with elements of physical therapy.  It addresses adhesions, spasms and mechanical factors that cause almost half of all female infertility. Most of their clients shared a history of inflammation, trauma and/or surgery of the structures involved in conception. The Wurn Technique is patent protected by the U.S. government and practiced all over the country. A 2004 case study that followed 22 women who had completed the treatment program, indicated 16 (73%)  became pregnant and carried to term.  On average, the women that were able to conceive had received between 20-25 hours worth of treatment before becoming pregnant. Ongoing studies are being conducted on the efficacy of the technique, but the results look promising.

Overall, conventional treatments for infertility are extremely expensive and oftentimes invasive, both physically and emotionally.  I have seen it first hand with my clients. It’s nice to know that there are forms of massage that are an affordable option for couples dealing with this frustrating and painful reality. They are slow, methodically deep and client centered with little to no side effects. It’s my belief that anything done to the body with love, promotes love. And if you are just a smidgen sentimental, the ultimate act of love between 2 people is the creation of a life.

The fruits of your labor…
Massage Techniques Explained, Uncategorized

Spa Confidential: An Opinion Editorial on the Wellness Underbelly

Back in 2000, chef Anthony Bourdain released his best seller “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly” a part auto-biography, part behind the scenes look at restaurant kitchens. For many, his cautionary tales, anecdotes and commentary changed the way people viewed the restaurant industry.  Inspired by some recent “unrest” amongst spa staff where I work, this post is a peek into the urban day spa. Nestled in the bowels of a cacophonous city, the spa should function as a mecca of relaxation for the guest. Leave your troubles at the door and enter a sanctuary of bliss for the next hour and change depending on what treatment you have booked. However, if you are an observant type (and I so am THAT person) you may be able to detect an undercurrent of negative, frenetic energy emanating from the staff servicing your decompression.

You may also wonder why, in a feel good business such as the spa industry, would anyone be in a negative way? Part of what makes me look forward to going to work is that 99.9% of my clients leave with a smile on their face and compliments falling out of their mouths. What other “service” profession is that gratifying?  Whatever the state they arrive in be it imbalance, stress, or sometimes pain, they leave in a better place than they arrived.  That makes me feel like my therapeutic duties have been satisfied. After all, I went back to school to become a massage therapist in order to help people. Being able to make a decent living is a secondary bonus. It sometimes makes me wonder where a colleague’s priorities are with respect to this profession when I sense their disdain at having to work. More often than not it is the feeling that their employers do not have their best interests in mind that overtakes their therapeutic mood, tainting them for their clients and all other people in their path. A recent corporate decision had many staff members airing their fears and complaints via online forum. Some of the things I read made absolute sense, but others were unbelievable laments of the ills dealt to them. Here is the thing – if I was that miserable and downtrodden at work, I wouldn’t stand for it. I would be on a fiendish search for a new home for my skills. Yes, the economy is not the greatest, but it is possible to find a number of part time gigs to supplement what you need to live, financially speaking. You can also grow your private clientele, especially if you have been at this profession for a number of years. I am almost two years in and I have 4 steady clients I see privately in addition to my spa work. If I can do it, what’s stopping them? Is almighty FEAR rearing its head or is it the stubbornness of the old school mentality of working the same single job for 20-30 years with the belief that your pension will support you once you retire. Massage therapy doesn’t have that kind of longevity, but I digress.

I don’t pretend to know everything, although it would be pretty awesome if I did. I just feel passionate about my profession and wish that more of my colleagues shared that sentiment. It’s unfair to both ourselves and our clients to allow policy changes and corporate memos to affect how we feel about the work and quality of service. It’s frustrating to have just a few minutes between appointments to walk your client back to reality, clean the room, change the sheets, wash your hands, and run to the next appointment without looking or acting harried. It’s frustrating to ask spa attendants for supplies you desperately need for your treatments, only to have them shrug and say they don’t know where anything is even though they have been working there longer than I have been licensed. It’s frustrating to have commissions you have worked hard for get slashed twice in a year, with no incentive on the horizon to reward your hard work. And finally, it’s frustrating that computer glitches and “prioritized” booking causes appointments to be unevenly distributed. How we anticipate these frustrations and how well we support each other as a team will make all the difference. I arrive early, I give the best possible service experience to my clients under the conditions I have to work with, I smile and say “YAY” when I greet them (not always, but when merited like “YAY, this is your first massage ever” or “YAY, you found a babysitter so we can give you the TLC you deserve, etc.), I squirrel away the supplies I need in bulk and give myself internal pep talks about the universe taking care of all. It’s been working for me so far, but as soon as it gets to the point where my clients become aware of my frustrations, I will need to reassess. Maybe the urban day spa may not be the right place for my work in the long run; however, no matter what space I work within, I am always myself – a licensed health care professional with your well being in mind.

Massage Techniques Explained

The Traveling Therapist

The magical Myrtos Beach in Kefallonia, Greece

 

I can never turn down a person in need of bodywork, even when I am on vacation. During my recent ten days abroad visiting the land of my ancestors (i.e. Greece), a friend asked me to work on her tense neck and lower back. The many hours spent standing in her salon and cutting hair in various twisted positions had taken a toll on her body. Her boyfriend then piped in that he too had tension in his neck and shoulders from constant lifting of machinery. As I assessed his massive trapezius muscles, a third  friend was volunteered up by the first one for massage since she had never before received one. In the span of one evening spent on a terrace enjoying the oceanic breeze, I garnered myself 3 clients, all willing to pay for therapeutic bodywork despite the pretty widespread economic turmoil.

What came as a surprise was their openness toward massage. Although the ancient Greeks employed massage as a key part of medical practice, modern Greeks have been on a much different page with respect to bodywork. First and foremost, massage therapy is an unregulated profession. This means that the government does not mandate any kind of educational or professional standards. It is up to the individual employer to set up guidelines of professional conduct and experience. That being said, on many major beaches in tourist riddled islands like Mykonos and Santorini, there are women (and sometimes men) who troll the sands offering 10 to 15 minute massages to people reclining on towels and chairs for the equivalent of $15. I witnessed them in action back in ’06, way before the career of massage became a thought in my mind. In the bigger city of Athens, massage is often a front for prostitution. I often had to call myself a massage-slash-physiotherapist in order to avoid that “Oh, reaaaaaallly…” face from some of my relatives and family friends. With respect to spas and resorts offering massage, I remember looking into a hotel spa in Cyprus for possible work last year and seeing that the therapist they sought had to be willing to do up to ten massages per day and be paid a flat fee for the entire Summer season (4 months) of $1500 dollars. Slave labor, anyone?

The US, Canada, Germany and France all regulate massage, demanding a certain amount of hands on hours, education, license examinations and continuing education in order to practice the profession. Outside of these countries, the lines of professionalism can be easily blurred. For instance, in Japan only Shiatsu (acupressure massage) is regulated. In China, massage is completely unregulated. In New Zealand, massage therapists can register at two levels of competency, but the government doesn’t recognize or regulate the profession. Basically you can set up shop and conduct yourself as you see fit without anyone getting to say a thing about it. I pictured myself in a bungalow by the Majorcan, Spanish coast,  massaging many an expat and local while living the Mediterranean life of Riley. But let’s be realistic here. Without regulations, what differentiates me from the young girl on the beach? I have two degrees, close to 3000 hours of experience (and counting) and CPR/First Aid certification. I charge a rate that reflects my skill level and education. She is on the beach, offering up massage for a bargain, which may or may not be effective because you have no clue as to her training. You don’t have to be in an economically stricken country to be attracted to a cheap deal.

I asked my 3 Greek friends how they felt about paying for massage on a regular basis. They all insisted that I could carve out a pretty decent living if I charged something between 40-50 EURO for the hour (55-65 dollars at current conversion rate). Although people’s wallets have been and will continue to hurt, the therapeutic need for stress reduction and balance to the body is strong enough to make the expense a necessity. It’s funny how attitudes change when in the midst of a crisis. Perhaps I should head back over the Atlantic to the land of  my people and do my part in helping them cope with an uncertain future while ironically securing my own.

Integrative Medicine, Massage Techniques Explained

Champissage – from your head down to your toes!

Way back when I was a little girl, I used to rub my father’s head in order to help him fall asleep – an early sign of my eventual path into massage therapy, I’m sure. This task was requested of all family members, but I was the only one with the patience to do it. I would mindlessly play with his hair until his tensions were chased away by slumber. Little did I know what a therapeutic thing I was truly doing for him.

In my massage practice, one of my favorite ways to end a session is with a scalp massage. I usually put a few drops of conditioning oil in my hands and then proceed to cover the circumference of the head with rhythmic strokes until the entire scalp has been moisturized. Most clients either fall asleep or zone out to the verge of sleepiness by the time I finish. I do this both to relax them and give their hair a little TLC. I never learned a specific protocol for addressing the scalp. I just kind of did what felt natural and what related to a client’s condition, if they had one.

In India, head massage is a way of life. Practiced for thousands of years, it is not only an integral part of the Indian woman’s grooming ritual, but also an alternative medicinal treatment for many conditions, as outlined in ancient Ayurvedic texts. It was brought to the west in 1973 by osteopath and massage therapist, Narendra Mehta, who felt there was a gap in the full body massage that soothing head massage could fill. Dubbing it champissage, a blend of the indian word for “head” and massage, he opened a school in London and has now made this the top complimentary technique practiced amongst therapists in the UK. The certification course is just four days long and teaches how to properly address the shoulders, upper arms, neck, scalp, face and ears to reduce stress and flush out the buildup of energetic debris that affect one’s health and well being.

The interesting thing about champissage is its ability to be a stand alone treatment, sans the full body massage. The way the course is structured, therapists learn how to address the shoulders, upper arms, neck, scalp, face and ears with massage and energetic balancing techniques based on Chakra energy. A chakra is a channel of energy that follows a central path down the body starting from the crown of one’s head and ending at the base of the spine.  Each chakra branches off in the form of “petals” that distribute their energy through the body. The zones addressed through champissage encompass 3 chakras – the crown, the brow and the throat. Each has a profound energetic representation that makes it clear to me why just performing a champissage can feel like the entire body is addressed.

The Crown chakra or Sahasrara is considered the chakra of pure consciousness. Its role is like that of the pituitary gland, which sits on its own little crown deep within the skull and regulates the body’s functions through the release of hormones via the Endocrine system and communicates with the Central Nervous System via the hypothalamus. This chakra relates to physical action with a sense of cause and affect otherwise known as karma, mental action with respect to a sense of unity and belonging to the collective universe and emotional action through a sense of experiencing another person’s experience as if you were inside them, being them.

The Brow chakra or Ajna is also known as the third eye. It’s role can be correlated  to the function of the pineal gland, which is a light sensitive gland that produces a hormone, melatonin, that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Keeping with this concept of light and dark balance, this chakra balances the higher and lower selves. It also fosters trusting inner guidance through the access of intuition. Mentally, it deals with visual consciousness and emotionally, clarity on an intuitive level.

The Throat chakra or Vishuddha relates to communication and growth through expression. This chakra is paralleled to the thyroid gland, which is located in the throat and responsible for producing hormones that regulate growth and maturation. Physically, it governs communication, emotionally independence, mentally fluent thought and spiritually, it governs a sense of security. It is associated with the upper extremities; therefore addressing this chakra affects the neck, arms and hands.

Western therapists who have learned and received champissage describe a sense of mental and physical clarity post-massage, along with an increase in mobility and reduction in tension. It makes sense when these above 3 chakras are so integral to one’s sense of self and relationship to things outside of one’s body on spiritual, emotional and mental levels. I recall when learning the neck muscles in school, our instructor cautioned that for many people the throat and face could access all kinds of emotional triggers from past traumas and experiences. That is why it became so important to foster a sense of safety and trust with the client, so that they would know it would be okay to let go, no matter what feelings bubbled up to the surface during the work. A slow buildup is the recommended protocol for energetic balancing with respect to champissage. In this way, the client can trust in the touch and be prepared for the deeper strokes that come toward the end of the massage.

Although many spas in the U.S. are starting to offer this form of massage under various marketing monikers, its therapeutic value should not be dismissed. Whether you are receiving champissage at the day spa or in the offices of a licensed practitioner, the affects are still profoundly therapeutic.

SOURCES:

http://www.massagemag.com/spa/treatment/indianhead.php

http://www.champissageinternational.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra