Over Exposed

Do you see anything you shouldn’t be because I don’t?

A million moons ago, I remember laying on the table in my massage school’s practice room waiting for my student partner to work me over for the sake of learning. Before any hands on techniques were ever taught, our instructors put massive emphasis on how to properly drape a client. I remember it was sweltering hot down there in that basement room and I asked my partner to leave whichever areas he had finished massaging uncovered. As he migrated to the backs of my legs, I heard this woman’s voice say, “Do I really need to see her tattoos?” About a minute or two later, I heard the teacher who was proctoring our sessions come over and say to my partner that he was exposing too much of me. “Keep the body parts you are not working on covered at all times.” Cringe! He made it sound like I was being dissected on a lab table. I popped my head up and said that I wanted to cool down since the room was too hot and that I didn’t feel in the least over-exposed. In a firm voice he said, “This is New York State Law, young lady” and walked away. The girl who made the comment about my tattoos was shaking her head at my partner adding, “You guys have to be careful.” Really?

This experience poses a conflicting scenario between what “THE LAW” says and communicating client comfort properly as a therapist in a professional setting. Let us dissect draping methods here: Some spas provide their clients towels to be used as a drape sheet. In some European styled facilities, you are handed a washcloth sized square to cover your pubic area and gluteal cleft (anatomical language for one’s butt crack) while the therapist works on you. An equally small cloth is used to cover the chest when laying face up. And if you want to get even less coverage, try the spas that provide just disposable underwear and bra. Our prudish classmate might have popped a gasket if she knew just how little coverage is actually mandated by the law. Still, in order to cover themselves (pun intentional) from potential law suits etc. many spa chains have disclaimers on their sign in sheets that note what our instructor admonished us to do. All parts not being worked on with any variation of said massage techniques (insert list here) will be covered. No genitals and no breasts. Should the client become uncomfortable at any time they have the right to tell their therapist and end the session.

How about that for coverage?

I supposed being a child of European parents has allowed me to be very comfortable with the nude form in a non-sexual manner. Here in the States though, with its Puritanical hypocrisy, everything becomes sexualized. I have seen commercials in Greece for bath soap that featured a fully nude mother bathing her child in a tub, while the father stands by with a towel to dry them both off. A beautiful family moment, au-naturale. This would NEVER AIR in the U.S. and yet other programming featuring pretty overt sexual and borderline sado-masochistic action does. It doesn’t take a psychology degree to know the message being plugged into people’s consciousness.

With that thought in mind, let us return now to the matter of draping per the LAW. I have had clients with major body issues, in the sense that there was a definite discomfort in uncovering ANY part of their anatomy. As an intuitive person and a professional, I addressed their issue immediately to prevent any blurred communication or innuendo. In one case, a young woman kept tucking her hands under her pelvis, which made accessing her arms impossible without having to reach underneath her into the groin region. Without hesitation, I gently told her what I wanted to do and asked if the position she put her hands in was a matter of comfort or otherwise. She sighed deeply and apologized, admitting that she was molested as a child and this face down position was bringing back memories. We decided together to do the massage face up and I let her know that any feeling she experienced was safe and okay in this context. I draped her very securely, folding the sheet into origami like patterns to ensure she felt covered at all times. By the end of the massage, she was almost asleep, which demonstrated to me how trust had been established. Imagine though that I proceeded massaging her without saying anything at all. With such a damaged relationship with touch, can you imagine what this poor young woman might have misconstrued as sexual? I believe this is the reason why many straight male therapists get into trouble with female clients. They are doing their “routine” without picking up on the body language that would let them know the client is not okay.

I have also had a client with hyperthyroidism, who begged me to un-drape him as much as possible due to his elevated body temperature. Even with a hand towel covering his pelvic region, he was still profusely sweating. The thing is, he never wrote this on his intake form. When I led him to the room he immediately blurted that he didn’t like to be covered with anything. Usually, this sets off my pervert flags. After explaining that certain regions of the body need to be covered per the LAW and the facility’s policy, he insisted that covering him up would make him sick. I had to pry it out of him, but he finally told me his condition and we proceeded in the manner I described above. Without this communication, I could have easily felt violated and threatened by this client’s desire to over expose himself.

Ultimately, we all have a baseline of how much or how little we are comfortable uncovering. However, as a licensed professional in an industry that is often joked about or targeted in a sexual manner, it is up to me to bridge the gap between what state of undress puts them at ease and what keeps me licensed and gainfully employed.

**A funny addendum here: Many male clients think they are being helpful when they spread their legs to allow for us therapists to tuck the sheet down properly for draping; however, what they don’t realize is they inevitably flash us their testicles. Every single time. Without fail. Dear future male client: Please just lay there as un-helpful as possible and leave the tucking to the professionals.

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Anger Management

Even the most balanced person in the world, when triggered, can completely lose it. Anger is a strong, uncomfortable emotional response to something or someone that has provoked you. It is how we psychologically interpret an offense, wrongdoing or denial that is often met with a desire to retaliate. It is our immediate response to stop a threatening behavior or situation that many psychologists believe has a primal function to ensure survival. However, in excess, anger can have many physical and mental consequences. Think of a pressure cooker. You can only let the steam inside build up for so long before the whole thing explodes.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…a pressure cooker meltdown in action.

For the last few weeks I have been functioning in a fog of anger resulting from an unfortunate series of events outside of my control. All attempts to go with the flow are challenged on a daily basis as I try to weather this Category 5 Super Cell ravaging my life. With my blood already boiling in its channels, add the 90 plus degree weather and humidity here in NYC, and I feel like I am being cooked from the inside out/outside in. Therefore, it is no surprise that my digestion, skin and sleep have all gone awry. In Chinese medicine, emotions and physical illness are closely tied. Anger causes excess heat in the body, so my feeling of being cooked is spot on. The emotion itself is tied into the Wood element, whose governing organs are the Liver and Gall Bladder per Chinese 5 Element Theory. Physiological functions aside, these organs function to drive us forward in life, set goals and get things done. Despite my best efforts though, I have been feeling like all my attempts at forward movement and reasoning are met by impenetrable brick walls that hit back. The buildup of anger causes an imbalance of excess manifesting in digestive dysfunction, headaches (especially behind the eyes, as is the case with a migraine), muscle tension and tendonitis especially in the pathways of the organs (lateral leg, flanks of the torso, shoulders and neck). These are just some defining symptoms for these organs, but as we all know, when one thing is out of whack, other areas of the body will be affected.

All the elements in Chinese 5 Element Theory have a generational and controlling/controller relationship. This means that each element and its organs have the capacity to nurture and be nurtured by other elements. They also have the ability to pull energy back from other elements and vice-versa as a sort of system of checks and balances to keep everything harmonious. In the case of Wood, the Liver and Gallbladder are nurturers of Fire (there’s the HEAT again) which is comprised of the Heart, Pericardium (the bodyguard of your Heart), Triple Energizer (your Immune system and temperature regulator) and Small Intestine (the almighty discerning organ of what should stay and what should be eliminated both in your body and in your life). So you see, if there is an imbalance in Wood, some of that excess is going to visit the child. The best way to address this would be to make the nurturer of Wood stronger, in order to suck some of the energy out. That would be the Water element, comprised of Bladder and Kidney. These meridians run from the head down the spine into the back of the legs and then up the interior legs starting from the middle of the sole of your foot all the way up to your clavicle. It’s a good amount of somatic topography to cover and has a major role in all our life functions. What do you need most if faced with adversity? A good strong back bone and inner resilience. What do you need if there is a FIRE a-brewing internally? A whole lot of WATER.

The excess of anger in Wood has the potential of over controlling the Earth element, which includes the Stomach and Spleen. Appetite and digestion would be affected, as I am seeing in myself. What is typical is a feeling of fullness which translates to a lack of appetite and a total aversion to hot food. In my case, despite the excess heat in my system, all my body craves is spice. This, I learned recently, is a huge no-no because it will only serve to feed the overheated beast. When in doubt, food should be lightly cooked and no extreme of temperatures should be entering one’s mouth. There are many “cooling” foods that aren’t necessarily cold. If anything, they are more water rich, which quells the fire and also detoxifies. Some examples are lemon, orange, watermelon, celery, Daikon (Chinese radish), kelp, tomato, chrysanthemum tea and seaweed. The Metal element consisting of Lung and Large Intestine are the controllers of Wood and are greatly affected by the buildup of heat, which rises. My normally clear complexion has seen some eruptions and with the skin being the 3rd Lung of the body, it is clear how the heat is trying to escape. Hello, inflammation! Large Intestine, the great eliminator of waste in the body, can’t do such a great job under these circumstances. Bouts of constipation and poop with undigested bits demonstrate this. Hence, why it is important to adjust your diet. And apparently, some of the biggest builders of heat in the body aside from spice are caffeine, certain vitamin B supplements, sugar, alcohol and adrenaline (stress hormone produced in times of high alert, kind of like now).

So what do I do with all this HEAT? Aside from the adjustments to my diet, I sought out some bodywork to bring my nervous system down. Two hours of point work and muscle release specific to the organs involved in my excess heat and I finally felt a still point in the madness. A day later, I was boiling again over yet another uncontrollable situation. In my mind I tried to go back to the still feeling I had when my practitioner’s hands came off of my head, but it was hard. There were moments during our work together, where he had me breathe with a deep long “oooooo” sound which tied into the release of my Large Intestine. I channeled that sound, thought of a song that I could sing under my breath as I walked the streets of NY and much later, at work between clients that would settle me down. And, it kind of worked. Sort of ironic that therapeutic touch and music, my two loves in life, were exactly what smoothed my feathers out.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES

“Between Heaven and Earth – A Guide to Chinese Medicine” by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. & Efrem Korngold, L.Ac. O.M.D (c) 1991 Ballantine/Wellspring

“Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies” by Leon Hammer, M.D. revised version (c) 2010 Eastland Press

http://www.pingminghealth.com/article/581/warming-and-cooling-characteristics-of-common-foods/

Cellulite is NOT an itis…

On the left, cellulitis; On the right, cellulite – big difference!

I can’t tell you how many times, when discussing “trouble spots” with a client they refer to their cellulitis. What they mean to say is their cellulite, but the term they choose has nothing to do with the aesthetic appearance of their wobbly bits (see image above). It is understandable that for some women, the look of cellulite can feel like a serious medical condition. With summer unexpectedly here, they become acutely aware of their “imperfections” and panic; rushing to the spa for any firming, toning and detoxifying treatments available in the hopes that they can bare their flesh without fierce judgements. Cellulite doesn’t happen overnight, though. We are all born with a certain amount of fat cells that are distributed throughout our bodies according to our genetics. As we enter puberty, hormonal fluctuations affect our metabolism and shifts the distribution of the fat underneath our skin. The same thing occurs as we age and enter into menopause. In 80 to 90% of women, some level of cellulite will be visible; however the following factors greatly influence its widespread formation. Take notes:

  • Poor circulation and lymphatic drainage

The tissues in your body need to be fed and then flushed of the by products and toxins left behind after the fact. However, if you have a genetic or pathological insufficiency, the “toilet water” sits and festers, causing the breakdown of the matrix that holds the fat cells in their proper place. Since it all has to get flushed up and out, the areas most affected are the extremities. Exactly where you don’t want to see the cellulite.

  • Increased levels of stress hormones in the blood

We all know a high stress lifestyle can take a toll on our health, but it also has an affect on our fat distribution and connective tissue. Cortisol and catecholamines are stress hormones release by the adrenal glands as part of our “fight-or-flight” sympathetic nervous response. The body instinctively slows its metabolism and increases its “padding” of fat as it reacts to survive. The presence of the hormones over long periods of time can start to break down connective tissue, which as mentioned above, creates the matrix that holds the fat cells at bay. Once the matrix is damaged, the fat cells push up against the lower layers of skin, which is the puckered look that we all recognize as cellulite. The slowed metabolism also causes weight gain, which swells the size of the fat cells, making them pucker up even more.

  • Yo-yo dieting

Weight fluctuations occur as a result of physiological and hormonal changes. Step on the scale in the morning and again at night, and you could see your number rise or fall by 5-8 lbs. This is normal. Patterns of weight loss and gain over long periods of time of more than 20 lbs, damages the elasticity of the skin and connective tissue matrix. Out pops the cellulite.

  • Liposuction

Remember how we are all born with a certain number of fat cells? This procedure removes them from specific areas of the body also referred to as “re-contouring.” Once the fat cells are gone, they are gone. However, should the individual gain weight, the fat cells that are left redistribute the bulk in places the individual never had before. This is why the best candidates for liposuction are those who lead an active lifestyle and have a consistently clean diet.

And speaking of active lifestyles and clean diets, let’s segue into how one can address cellulite. Certain treatments and topical applications can produce visible results if the person remains consistent with modifications to their diet and exercise. Here are some of the one’s I can vouch for in my professional and personal practice. Still taking notes, I hope :-).

Dry brushing per day keeps the cellulite at bay…

Dry Brushing – One of my favorites is dry brushing. The practice consists of lightly brushing the surface of the skin in long upward strokes, starting at the lower limbs and moving upwards toward the heart. The brush bristles should be made of natural fibers and the brush itself easy to grip in order to properly handle it. Not only will you exfoliate the top layer of skin, but the increased blood flow to the capillary networks renews and tightens the skin’s surface. The movement towards the heart promotes proper circulation and flushing of the tissues via the lymphatic system. Done daily, it’s a great way to diminish the dimples.

Flushing and tightening

Caffeine, topically applied – As a little girl in Greece, every female relative young and old swore by their CLARINS cellulite cream and slathered in liberally in all corners and crevices of their bodies. What many creams geared toward cellulite contain is caffeine and what they do is act as a diuretic for the tissues, flushing out excess fluid and helping to tighten the surface of the skin. The cellulite puckers less; happy times on the beach. What I have seen work best is an application of caffeinated cream prior to a workout. The combination of an exercise induced sweat and that of the caffeine is like a one-two punch, firming and flushing. Also, since tissue repair happens during sleep, an application at night can be effective as well.

Courtesy of “8 Kilos to 50” Tumblr (You go girl!)

Get your sweat on and build muscle Recall how earlier we talked about people having a predisposed amount of fat cells that are distributed under the deepest level of skin in different ways dependent on genetics, hormones and age. These factors are sort of written in stone; however what you can control is how much a fat cell can swell. Therefore, the amount of lean muscle you build will reduce the size of the fat cells and help spike your metabolism, as muscle requires more calories than fat for maintenance. Reducing your overall body fat % will counter the factors you cannot control. A wonderful little exercise known as the Bulgarian Split Squat can do a whole lot to diminish the look of the dimples that many women have directly under their gluteal fold. At least, that’s what I have found within my own workouts. A tiny addendum to this bit on exercise is to make sure you are hydrating properly to flush your system out while also maintaining a balanced diet that is specific to your activity level and overall bodily needs. Consulting a registered dietician or certified nutritionist for advice is a great way to make sure you are eating right for you, cellulite or not.

It is also important to keep in mind that within that 80-90% of women who have cellulite are the fashion models, actresses and popular girls we gush(ed) over and/or envy. It’s a fact of physiological life that we can address to a certain extent, but inevitably must come to accept. Be good to your body through all its transformations and transitions and hopefully, it will be good to you.

Juicing for life?

I remember watching the 2010 documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”  with a friend and was completely floored at the way in which the film’s narrator and creator, Joe Cross was able to reverse some pretty serious health issues solely through juicing. The juice fast he undertook (in somewhat dramatic fashion, since he did this while traveling the U.S. with a mini juicer and generator) lasted for 60 days and consisted of a mixture of fresh fruits and vegetables. He called his fast a REBOOT because his body could no longer run efficiently, being bogged down by all the toxins accumulated from years of a high fat, red meat laden diet, lack of exercise and large amounts of steroidal medications administered to him for an auto-immune condition he was suffering from. He absolutely consulted doctors and medical professionals before beginning this fast and was monitored throughout the process until its end. What the film demonstrated was how important nutrition is to overall health and well being. It also proposed how committing to such a program can turn into a habit your body will fall into rhythm with and actually crave.

This was not my first encounter with juicing. Back in early 2005, I met a woman who successfully beat breast cancer with the help of homeopathic remedies and juicing. At the time, I was in the early stages of recovery from anorexia and she presented a way in which I could cleanse and nurture my body without that feeling of fullness that so wreaked havoc with my head. I bought myself a generic brand juicing machine that same day and began extracting the contents of anything green and fruity I could get my hands on. The first thing I noticed was how good my skin looked, but once my therapist caught wind I was subsisting on juice alone, she put a stop to it. I could only juice if it was a supplement to a meal. Since I was still afraid of fullness, my mind said that was just way too much to ask of my insides, so I put the juicer away and forgot about it.

Now in a much healthier state of being, there is nothing wrong with supplementing my balanced diet with a little juice. In fact, many registered dieticians agree that if you are otherwise healthy, it is a great way to get your recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. There are, however, people who cannot undergo a juice fast, which is why it is so important to consult with a physician if you are planning a REBOOT style program. Diabetics, people with nutritional deficiencies and those with kidney disease are some of whom could respond adversely to an all juice diet. Also, people undergoing chemotherapy are cautioned against it while in treatment. With respect to weight loss, it is safe to replace one meal a day, let’s say breakfast,with freshly extracted juice, so long as the rest of the diet is balanced. The boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is a better source of energy than sugar and caffeine.

One week ago, I decided to say “good morning” to my body with freshly extracted juice. My parents had a juicer they had never touched and I wanted to finally put it to good use. Call it an experiment of sorts, but I wanted to see how my body would react to having this raw liquid be the first thing to hit my stomach. Normally, I drink a lot of water upon waking and have a coffee. On DAY 1, I pulverized celery, Gala apples, carrots and a little sprig of parsley into a 12 oz glass of energy. Immediately, I felt my taste buds coming to life; they literally tingled after ingesting the juice. During my workout a half hour later, I found that I needed very little rest between sets. My trainer joked, “What are you on today?” The power of the juice, my friend. I went through the rest of my day eating as I normally would, but for some reason, I felt that I could taste things a lot more acutely than before. Salt was saltier; sweet was sweeter – it was kind of amazing, actually.

Day 2 was a totally different story. I added beets to the mix. The entire rest of the day I was nauseated and overheated. My face was flushed and I wanted to lay down. Upon waking on Day 3, I realized that I was now constipated. I made beet, ginger and carrot juice that morning. As I proceeded with my day, I felt a tightness in my gut as if there was a gas bubble that was stuck there. Still nauseated and having those odd hot flashes, I decided to eat very lightly thinking that maybe I was coming down with something. Day 4 came and went without any elimination of my gastrointestinal tract and a whole lot of discomfort. I made apple and carrot sans beets and ginger since I had run out of them. Upon waking on Day 5, the tummy troubles were somewhat over. Things were now running smoothly again, but I still had a lingering feeling of tightness in my GI tract that made me uncomfortable. I decided to research juicing recipes to have some variety in my extractions and this was when I came across the reason for all the issues I had been experiencing with my morning juice regimen. Just like prescription medications, certain vegetables and fruit juices in their raw form have…. SIDE EFFECTS.

Before I get into the specifics, let me just note that fatigue, nausea, tummy troubles and constipation are all normal when undergoing a juice fast, partly because it is a shock to the system to ingest juice solely. The lack of fiber from ingesting raw juice can make you constipated, while also causing you gas because of all the minerals and enzymes reacting in the gut. What I did was use juice as a first meal of the day followed by balanced meals containing protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. I did not eat anything with my juice and waited at least 30 minutes to an hour before eating afterwards.

Here are the possible “negative” side effects of some popular juicing produce in their raw form. Keep in mind that they all have vast nutritional benefits, but for some of us, like yours truly, there can be an unpleasant sensitivity. Read on…

BEETS

Turning poop and urine a reddish color is a normal side effect that those who may not know, may get freaked out by. In rare cases, it can tighten the vocal chords, making it hard to speak. Usually this will happen when ingesting plain beet juice. Also, ingesting plain beet juice can facilitate the creation of kidney stones if you already have a pre-disposition towards them. Beet juice is also known to cause fluctuations in body temperature (hot flashes, anyone?), nausea and some degree of gastrointestinal distress 🙂 It naturally drops blood pressure, so if you are already on the low side some fainting spells may befall you.

GINGER

Mild side effects include heartburn, diarrhea and upset stomach. Some women report having heavier periods after ingesting ginger because ginger can interfere with blood clotting. Anyone taking medication to slow blood clotting like Warfarin otherwise known as Coumadin, Plavix or regular over the counter aspirin and ibuprofen could risk serious interactions. Ginger also dramatically decreases blood sugar, so diabetics and hypoglycemic folk need to be careful. Lastly, ginger is also known to interact with medications for blood pressure and heart disease. Powerful stuff, that ginger.

CELERY

Large amounts of this green could make the uterus contract and cause miscarriage in pregnant women; therefore it should be avoided during pregnancy and nursing. It is also known to cause drowsiness, since it sedates the central nervous system. This is not especially good if you are taking sedatives or planning to have surgery that requires anesthesia. It is recommended to avoid ingesting celery 2 weeks prior to a surgery. It can also increase sensitivity to sunlight, making sunburn, blistering and rashes likely if one is exposed to the sun. Finally, since celery is a natural diuretic (i.e. reduces fluid retention) it taxes the kidneys, our natural fluid filters. If your kidneys are compromised or diseased, celery should be avoided.

CUCUMBERS

So long as its not Chinese Cucumber, your standard English, Mediteranean or pickling varieties have only one annoying possible side effect – flatulence. This is due to a compound that can provoke indigestion in some people.

SOURCES:

Natural Medicine’s Comprehensive Professional Database (c) Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2009

http://voices.yahoo.com/identifying-beet-juice-side-effects-juicing-7742716.html

A big plate of Sleep

Many health and nutritional experts say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I beg to differ. Let me draw your attention to the period of time that precedes that meal. A time that should be spent in a state of deep restfulness. Doing without this form of nutrition will set your body up for certain demise. Sleep is the meal that should never be skipped.

Our appetite for sleep is programmed into a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which is the regulating center for the various biological drives that keep our bodies functioning. When we are infants, the part responsible for sleep and wakefulness is out of control. Think of how many babies sleep all day and are up all night or those that have short bouts of sleep spread out over an entire day. The reason for this insane sleep schedule is the immaturity of the internal clock that sets daily functions to the rhythm of 24 hours. Human beings have it, as do plants, animals, fungi and certain bacteria. Dubbed our Circadian Rhythm, sleep and wakefulness is dependent on exposure to light and dark. The first few months of life are pivotal in establishing this internal rhythm, but some babies take as long as a year to sleep a solid 8 hour night. Once the rhythm is established, your body will function on a 24 hour cycle. When in the presence of darkness, our brain’s pineal gland, which is light sensitive, produces a hormone melatonin that helps to make us sleepy. Desire for sleep is strongest during the darkest hours between midnight and 6 a.m. and to a lesser extent in the mid-afternoon. In American culture, this is the 2-4 p.m. slump when most people grab themselves a coffee and/or some kind of energy boosting snack. In Europe and Latin America, this would be your afternoon nap-time otherwise called the “siesta.”

National Nap-time is the right idea! (Image of the first ever Sleeping Championship in Madrid, Spain 2010)

Sleep itself is a highly involved process consisting of 4 stages that each have a physiological affect on the body and brain. The first three stages are part of what is called Non-REM or quiet sleep, a state where thinking and most physiological activities slow down, but movement can still occur, and a person often shifts position while sinking into deeper stages of sleep. Unless something disturbs the process, people will pass through these 3 stages of sleep smoothly. The fourth stage of sleep is called REM or dreaming sleep, a state where the brain is very active, but the body is paralyzed. Normal sleep cycles alternate between quiet and dreaming, with most deep sleep occurring in the first half of the night. During the second half of the night, dreaming sleep gets much longer and alternates with the second stage of quiet sleep. More on these stages now…

During the first stage of sleep, dubbed drowsiness, your brain no longer receives visual stimuli from your shut eyes, body temperature begins to drop, muscles relax, and eyes often move slowly from side to side. Although you may start to lose awareness of your surroundings, you can very easily be awakened. In the second stage of sleep, known as light sleep eyes remain still and breathing and heart rate are much slower. The brain starts to show irregular electrical patterns of slow waves and short bursts of activity. The brain can also respond to outside stimuli, like someone whispering your name, which scientists believe could be a built in vigilance system to ready you for awakening if necessary. Half of a good night’s sleep is spent in this stage. Once you enter the third stage of sleep, known as deep sleep, your body undergoes some important cellular changes. Blood flow to the brain decreases and it stops responding to outside stimuli, making it difficult to wake up the sleeper. Breathing becomes regular, blood pressure falls and the heart slows to 30% of its waking rate. The pituitary gland releases growth hormone at the beginning of this stage which stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair. Proteins in the blood that activate your immune system also increase, helping build the body’s defenses against illness and infection. Interesting side note here: People in young adulthood have many stretches of deep sleep, while those over 65 have none.

Enter now the fourth stage of sleep or dreaming sleep where the eyes dart back and forth rapidly behind your closed lids ( this is where the acronym REM comes from standing for “rapid eye movement”) and the brain races with thoughts and “dreams. Your body temperature and blood pressure rise, and your heart rate and breathing speed up to daytime levels. What is interesting is that the sympathetic nervous system, our fight-or-flight response, is twice as active as when we are awake. Despite all this activity, the body hardly moves, except for intermittent twitches. The rest of the muscles not needed for breathing or eye movement are essentially paralyzed. A normal night’s slumber consists of 3 to 5 approximately 90 minute periods of REM, but as we age they get shorter. Many scientists feel this is the time when the mind restores itself, which is important for cognition and memory. Early research into the role of REM sleep in-utero indicated that the rapid firing of nerve cells during this period was important for the growth and development of nerves. Subsequent studies on adult humans found that REM sleep deprivation led to poor performance on a variety of recall tests or logical tasks. In addition, memory loss occurred when sleep was deprived on the same night or two nights after the material had been learned and especially when subjects had been selectively deprived of one of the first two or last two REM episodes of the night. In other studies, REM cycles were found to increase after complex material had been studied, indicating that the brain uses this time to sort and process information into its memory banks. Other scientists suggest that REM sleep functions to dispose of unwanted memories through a mechanism called reverse learning. Reverse learning operates during this period of sleep to prevent the brain from being overloaded with massive amounts of information stored during wakefulness. A fine explanation for the insane dreams one may have, but testing this is pretty difficult, so it’s just a theory.

If your sleep is going to be interrupted, you do not want it to be during your stage 3 and stage 4 cycles. Overtime, deprivation of these levels of restorative sleep will take a toll on your outward appearance and your internal health, mentally and physically. Dermatologists have noted that collagen production increases during sleep, strengthening the bond between your exterior and deeper skin layers and allowing for the water retention necessary for suppleness. Also, growth hormone gets released in deep sleep, as mentioned earlier, which builds and repairs tissue. Without it, water evaporates from the skin leading to a dry, sallow complexion and the appearance of fine lines. Keep it up and skin could react with rashes and eczema. Lack of deep sleep increases the amount of inflammatory proteins in the blood and decreases immune system response. The more deprived you are, the more likely it will be that your body will react to pathogens and itself. The increased inflammatory proteins can lead to such conditions as heart disease and overall, research has indicated that people who get less than 6 hours of rest a night tend to have a higher mortality rate than those getting the recommended 7-8 hours. If you are a person who weight trains or exercises a lot, the lack of deep sleep does not allow for muscles to repair themselves and grow properly. This negates the affects of the workout and leaves them prone to injury. Outside memory loss, deprivation of REM sleep can lead to a diminished awareness of one’s surroundings, a severely reduced response time and an inability to perform tasks that are highly involved, such as driving or operating machinery. Far beyond drinking and drug use, lack of sleep is responsible for most of the accidents that occur on America’s roadways.

 

If you are having trouble getting to sleep at night, some of the obvious culprits could be stress, use of electronic equipment before bed, drinking too much caffeine and eating a big meal or going to bed hungry. Those have easy solutions, relatively speaking. You can get a massage, meditate or do some yoga to relax your body and bring your mind down from its stressful state. Have your coffee earlier in the day and cut down on the amount. No eating of large meals or snacks within 2 hours of going to bed, so you have ample time to digest. Shut the computer and the television and get them away from the area dedicated for sleepy time. Plunge yourself into darkness (remember that melatonin) and relative warmth, and sleep should come to you. However, there are some not so obvious culprits for disturbance of sleep. Check these out:

  • Taking a B vitamin supplement before bed – The B’s are super important for stimulating the nervous system, so popping supplements before bed can lead to fidgeting and constant awakening because the brain is way too “ON” to enter deep sleep.
  • Having a few drinks in your system – While it might get you to sleep faster, alcohol impedes the natural cycling of sleep stages, plunging you into what feels like deep sleep right away, but wearing off in the second half of the night when your REM cycles start kicking in. Since you never get to REM, you wake up more often than not feeling groggy, achy and depending on how much you drank, possibly still drunk.
  • Taking Prescription medications – Consider that sleep disturbance is a common side affect of some high blood pressure pills, birth control pills, steroids (including asthma inhalers), diet pills, antidepressants and cough and cold medications.
  • Smoking – Nicotine is a stimulant like caffeine so depending on how much you smoke and for how long, sleep can be dramatically reduced.
  • Working out at night – Some work schedules do not allow for morning or midday exercise, so many people will go to the gym after work. Exercise raises epinephrine levels in the blood, which makes us more alert and overall body temperature. These 2 factors can prevent sleep.
  • Hormonal changes – Long before menopause has kicked in, many women find they wake up in the night numerous times. This is due to fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone. Some younger women suffer from erratic sleep patterns before or during their menstrual cycles due to imbalances of these hormones.
  • Sleeping in on the weekends – It’s good for the circadian rhythm to awaken and go to sleep around the same times each day, but many of us tend to stay up later and sleep in more on days off. This throws off your internal clock, making it harder to fall asleep and awaken when faced with your normal schedule. Doctors suggest to sleep no longer than an hour more than you normally would in order to maintain the cycle.

Lastly, if you are chronically deprived of sleep despite your best efforts you should really think about visiting a doctor and/or finding a sleep clinic in your area to better assess and diagnose your problem. Now, go get a heaping helping of rest please!

 

 

Scrubs beyond skin deep

One of the most common body treatments offered at spas is the body scrub. It consists of a head to toe exfoliation followed by a shower and moisturizer application. Outside of the spa setting, body scrubs are available EVERYWHERE. Just walk down the bath-and-beauty isle of any drugstore and you will see numerous brands of scrubs for the body and face (remember St. Ives Apricot Scrub…available since forever). Specialty shops like The Body Shop or Bath and Body Works also carry them in a variety of flavors and consistencies. With all this choice, how does one pick the right scrub and how can you tell the difference between them all?

Universally speaking, body scrubs will improve circulation by way of the tiny capillary networks that feed the skin. The friction of rubbing the scrub into the surface of the skin causes these networks to flood the surrounding tissues, making you turn a little red. The boost of “nutrition” helps the fresh skin cells in the deepest layer of skin known as the dermis to migrate to the surface. The lifetime of a skin cell is 30 days. Once it migrates to the surface it officially “dies” and becomes saturated with keratin, a protein whose fibers coil and bind to form a protective layer over the skin to keep the outside elements from damaging it. Keratin does the same thing for hair and nails. Age and hormones (for women) will change how the cells turnover, making skin uneven and rough.  The scrub itself is exfoliating away the surface layer of dead cells, helping along the natural order of things. In addition, it can unclog pores, helping skin to breathe as well as keep the naturally acidic pH in check, so you will smell fresh.

Now that the science behind exfoliation has been explained, let’s take into account what is going on with your skin. Are you prone to oiliness? Do you shed like a lizard? Do you have sensitive, reactive skin prone to breakouts? Do you want to prevent ingrown hairs and bumps? These are all important factors in choosing a scrub. Here is how I would break down your decision.

SUGAR OR SALT

Most scrubs on the market are either sugar or sea-salt based. Sugar based scrubs are more moisturizing than salt based because sugar molecules bind to water, thus retaining moisture in whatever state they are present in. The sugar exfoliates and holds moisture, so that skin will feel hydrated post scrub. This molecular action enhances the job of the moisturizer, helping to keep the skin properly hydrated. If your skin is the type that flakes off when the seasons change or has a tendency to remain dry no matter what the weather, sugar based it the route to go. Sugar is also best with skin that is highly sensitive, as it is not as abrasive in texture as salt.

Salt based scrubs, aside from being the most aggressive texture for exfoliating, draw everything out of the skin, including water. These types of scrubs can effectively address rough patches and clogged pores because the properties in sea salt ionically bond to positively charged impurities that would be found on the surface of the skin and lodged in pores. Reference my post on DETOX treatments  for a more in depth chemistry lesson. Often, the salt based scrubs will have eucalyptus essential oil added to them, which acts as an antiseptic and antimicrobial agent on the skin. Salt based scrubs are potent; therefore skin absolutely needs to be moisturized well post treatment in order to ensure hydration.

Addendum: Other scrub bases can consist of fruit seeds, ground nut shells and oatmeal (St. Ives anyone). People with allergies, especially nut based ones should be wary of the seed and nut shell varieties, dependent on their level of reactivity. The oatmeal based scrubs are super gentle and not very abrasive at all. They are often used to relieve the itch and discomfort of chicken pox, mosquito bites, hives, sunburn and for a gentle exfoliation of the face.

SCENTS and FLAVORS

Marketing, marketing and more marketing. Flavors and scents of various scrubs on the market are designed with the buyers’ eyes and noses in mind. However, certain essential oils, as the aforementioned eucalyptus oil described above, can have therapeutic affects on the exterior and interior of one’s body. Scrubs with lavender, vanilla or chamomile essential oils are soothing to the skin, helping to neutralize redness, prevent bacterial growth and tone down the itch and irritation of such conditions as dermatitis, eczema and acne. Also great for congested skin are lemon and orange scented scrubs, as the essential oils of both help the lymphatic system do its job of clearing out toxins. They also control excess oil production and aid mature skin to retain moisture. Lastly, mint oils like spearmint and peppermint have similar therapeutic qualities as the eucalyptus oil. They boost circulation to the skin through the menthol component that cools on contact and then vasodilates those little capillary networks. Best of all, they stimulate the nervous system, which can leave you feeling completely invigorated.

With the above in mind, you can now expertly peruse your spa menu and/or drugstore beauty aisle armed with the therapeutic knowledge of a beauty practice that is beyond skin deep. You can also make your own scrub, using the information above to tailor it for your specific need. Some recipes for homemade scrubs can be found here:

http://www.fromnaturewithlove.com/recipe/recipes.asp?category=16

http://wellnessmama.com/3628/luxurious-sugar-scrub-recipe-easy/

Here are some of my favorite Over-The-Counter Scrubs:

Ignore the marketing label. This scrub smells amazing and has been a godsend in the heat and humidity of Summer thus far. I don’t use a moisturizer after because the sugar and oils in its recipes do the work effectively.
Another one that is super hydrating, even though it is salt based. It has an extremely clean after-feel on the skin and the scent is not overwhelming, just fresh.

and lastly,

Forget the product description. This scrub is saturated with essential oil of eucalyptus and super effective at removing heaps of dead skin, especially near the bikini area. Goodbye ingrowns.

SOURCES:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exfoliation_%28cosmetology%29

Worwood, “The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Over 600 Natural, Non-Toxic and Fragrant Recipes to Create Health – Beauty – a Safe Home Environment” (1991)

If you see something, say something…

A client came to me recently with a back that looked a lot like the above. Their intake form made no mention of any skin conditions or areas to avoid. Being that these growths were located in a not so visible area of the body, I wanted to probe the client further to see if (a) they were aware of the amount and irregular shape of these spots and (b) if they knew what they were. Massage protocol for many benign growths on the skin including moles and skin tags is to work around them, but with a back like the above, it would seem near impossible to avoid them. In the case of my client, the brown spots turned out to be what many doctors have dubbed “the barnacles of old age” also known as seborrheic keratosis.

This skin condition presents a lot like warts because the growths are slightly elevated off the upper layers of the skin and range in color from light to dark brown. But unlike warts the growths are not viral in origin. In fact, dermatologists are not sure what causes the condition to begin with. They can appear anywhere on the skin and often do so in middle-aged people and the elderly. They have a rough, textured hand feel, hence the “barnacles” nickname. However, because the irregular looking growths can resemble some types of melanoma, a skin biopsy is needed for a true diagnosis. See below for an extreme version.

An irritated or darkly pigmented version of the stuff…yikes.

This is why it is an important part of my job to say something when I see something. I can never assume the client is informed. I would much rather repeat something they already know, than for the sake of “spa etiquette” keep my mouth closed. The aforementioned “spa etiquette” is the hushed voice inside that says they paid to relax, not get a medical speech.

Now, assuming the dermatologist did a skin biopsy to rule out cancer, a person with seborrheic keratosis can choose to remove their growths if they are unsightly or aggravated by clothing/touch. They can be removed in the following ways:

  • Cryosurgery: This is where dermatologist applies liquid nitrogen to the growth with a cotton swab or spray gun. This freezes the growth. The growth tends to fall off within days. Sometimes a blister forms under it and dries into a scab-like crust. The crust will eventually fall off.
  • Electrosurgery and curettage: Electrosurgery (electrocautery) involves numbing the growth with an anesthetic and using an electric current to cauterize (burn) the growth. A scoop-shaped surgical instrument, a curette, is used to scrape off the treated growth. This is the curettage. The patient does not need stitches. There may be a small amount of bleeding. Sometimes the patient may only need one or the other; not necessarily both to remove the growth.

In both treatments, the skin may be lighter where the growth was removed. This usually fades with time, although it can be permanent. Most removed seborrheic keratosis do not return. However, a new one could occur elsewhere.

Since seborrheic keratosis is a local-contraindication for massage (this means to avoid the affected area), I wanted my client to get clearance from their dermatologist before applying any essential oils or lubricants onto their back. Worried that they might be disappointed (and they were at first) by not being able to have their back included in the massage, I assured them that they would still get a relaxing experience, especially when the head, neck and feet are such perfect little stress release valves. Fifteen minutes into the massage, they were out for the count and I felt that I had done my “mitzvah” (i.e good deed for mankind) for the day. Happy times.