heart disease

Time for a massage? Five reasons to get one now!

Hi!

So...I don't think it's going to take much arm-twisting to get you to have more massages...is it?

 

I mean, how good is it to indulge in an hour long relaxation massage with a skilled therapist? Think ambient music, essential oils, your muscles slowly uncoiling under your therapist's professional touch, soooo good!

 

Perhaps you're the kind of person who needs proof of the benefits before trying? Or, perhaps you've always been curious about massage but not game to get one for yourself? Well I'm here to tell you it is well worth getting a regular relaxation massage - take some time out and your body will truly thank you for it.

 

Here are 5 proven benefits of Swedish relaxation massage:

 

  • It can decrease arginine-vasopressin, a hormone which is involved in blood pressure regulation and water retention (Rapaport, et al, 2010) and normally increases with stress and aggressive behaviour (Peterson, 2012).

  • It can reduce depression and anxiety (Moyer, et al., 2004).

  • It can ease back pain and increases range of motion (Hernandez-Reif, et al.,  2001).

  • It can promote sleep and enhance the quality of your sleep (Gauthier, 1999).

  • It can improve tension headaches and reduce the number of migraines that occur in sufferers (WebMD 2016).

 

BONUS BENEFIT: Been a bit grumpy lately? A good time-out by way of a relaxation massage is sure to leave you in a good mood, and you can expect a knock-on effect in your immediate relationships. In short, you get a relaxing massage, and your partner and kids will be better off too!

 

 

So what happens?

 

If you've never had a massage before, I know it can be a bit daunting. You may feel vulnerable taking your clothes off, or having a stranger's hands touch you - a perfectly normal concern.

In actual fact, you don't have to take anything off if you don't want to. You can have a massage fully clothed, without the use of oils, of course. You can even ask for a seated massage, so you can feel more in control of your surroundings.

 

Remember, it is important you are comfortable with how much skin you are exposing, and there is no point in getting a relaxation massage if you can't relax!

 

So make sure you have a conversation with the therapist about your boundaries if you are feeling concerned.

 

Also, seek a qualified and professional therapist.

 

Check out their credentials and make sure they are a member of a reputable industry association. Those with appropriate credentials and industry association can generally be considered more likely to follow professional guidelines and standards, meaning you can really allow yourself to relax under their therapeutic touch.

This is not to say that:

a) someone who has professional qualifications and is a member of an industry association will not behave unprofessionally, or

b) someone who doesn't have this accreditation will automatically behave unprofessionally,

but following up on their professional standards is a way of feeling more relaxed about their professional standing, and your personal health and safety.

 

 


What happens in most appointments:

 

* remember this can vary from therapist to therapist, so this is a basic rundown only*

  • Before the appointment, it is a good idea to avoid eating or drinking too much directly before the appointment, but make sure you are well hydrated throughout the day before your massage.
  • Arrive early and complete a health history form.
  • If you are taking medications or have a medical condition, you should check with your doctor before you get a massage, and make sure you put all relevant information on your health history form. The therapist should study the form and discuss your health history with you. It may be necessary to alter or postpone the treatment if there is something in your chart which contraindicates massage.
  • The therapist will seek your permission to provide the massage and show you the treatment room. You will be asked to undress and lay face-down on the treatment table, under a towel. Make sure you discuss with your therapist your level of comfort with undressing. The therapist will leave the room while you prepare yourself on the table.
  • The therapist will knock and enter when you are ready.
  • Your therapist will begin palpating your body, usually through the towel. That means they are gently pressing on the larger muscle masses of the legs, back and buttocks to get a sense of tension and muscle tone. You can begin to take some deeper breaths here and settle yourself into the massage.
  • Following this, your therapist will un-drape the towel from one part of your body, one leg, or your back for example. They will warm oil in their hands and gently glide their hands over your muscles. As your muscles slowly warm, you will begin to feel greater relaxation and calm.
  • Once your therapist has completed your back and legs, you will be asked to turn over, and he or she will focus on the legs, chest, arms, neck and head. Some therapists also massage the stomach. Remember, if you are uncomfortable with any part of your body being touched, you can let the therapist know at any time.
  • Upon completion of the massage, you will feel very relaxed so make sure you get up slowly. Take a moment sitting on the edge of the massage table before hopping down and getting dressed. You don't want to feel dizzy or woozy. Let the therapist know if you are feeling faint or light headed.
  • Once you are dressed you head outside and make your payment. Take it slow, bask in the glowing warmth of relaxation, and make sure you drink plenty of water.

 

My advice? After your massage, head home, give your loved ones a hug, and settle in with a good book for an early night.

 

If you have any questions feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer them.

Enjoy!!

xo

 

Disclaimer: Please see your doctor before engaging in any therapeutic body work, especially if you are currently suffering from a medical condition or taking medication. Certain physiological changes during massage can impact your health and safety, and massage is contraindicated for certain conditions. See your GP if you are unsure.

 

 

References:

Gauthier, D., 1999, 'The healing potential of back massage', Online Journal of Knowledge Synthesis in Nursing, Vol. 6 (5).

Hernandez-Reif, M., Krasnegor, J., & Theakston, H., 2001, 'Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy', International Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 106, p.p.131-145.

'Massage therapy styles and benefits', 2016, Web MD, 2016, Accessed 10 March 2016, <http://www.webmd.com/balance/massage-therapy-styles-and-health-benefits>.

Moyer, C., Rounds, J., & Hannum, J., 2004, 'A meta-analysis of massage therapy research', Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 130 (1), p.p.3-18.

Peterson, A., 2012, 'Don't call it pampering: Massage wants to be medicine', The Wall Street Journal, 13 March 2012, accessed 09 March 2016, <http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304537904577277303049173934>.

Rapaport, M. H., Schettler, C., & Breese, C., 2010, 'A preliminary study of the effects of a single session of Swedish massage on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and immune function in normal individuals', Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol 16 (10), p.p. 1079-1088.

 

 

 

Is stress your friend or foe? - (You may be surprised!)

I am super excited about this TED Talk I want to share with you all, 'How to make stress your friend', by health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal. As a yoga teacher and mindful wellness coach, I'm all about reducing unnecessary life stress, but does that mean there is no place for tension in our lives? Current research shows there is a place for stress and making friends with it is a good idea.

New research out of Harvard demonstrates that it is not stress itself which causes health problems and possible early deaths. Rather, it is the way we perceive stress which is the big issue. What I want to show you is that we can experience the stress response* in a healthy way.

 

* What is the stress response? Follow this link to a clear explanation on the stress response via the Harvard Medical School. As you will see, the stress response begins in the brain and induces a whole-body physiological and emotional response. This response was borne through evolution and serves a very important purpose in our survival, but these days it is often induced in non-threatening situations time and time again, day in and day out. Chronic activation of the stress response has been linked to high blood pressure, anxiety, poor sleep, depression, and more. It is important to understand the role of this stress response, befriend it so to speak, but also to develop personal tools to help counteract the negative effects. 

 

 

Of course that doesn't mean we have free reign to head out and overload our lives with stressful situations thinking it is good for us! No doubt, it is better to try to reduce the amount of stress in our lives as much as possible. However, sometimes we are in situations which really do call for a natural stress response in the body and, if that does happen, research shows it is better to consider this reaction as a normal part of your physiology. Listen to your body, rather than trying to fight it.

Yes, it sounds like a bit of a Catch 22, and in some ways it is. The point is, do as much as you can to reduce stress in your life, but if it does come up, roll with it rather than fight it!

 

If you have or you know someone who has stress-related health issues, have a listen to the link above. It might change your life, and may make you think twice the next time you are stressed out.

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---> For those short on time - and stressed out about it! - here are some of the main points from the talk:

  • For many years Kelly McGonigal preached against stress, considering it our worst enemy, something to be avoided at all costs. She pushed the notion that stress makes us sick, reduces immunity and can bring on preventable illness and death from cardiovascular disease.
  • Her beliefs were dramatically reversed when she came across the results of a longitudinal study in the U.S.A of 30 000 people. The study found that people had a 43% increased risk of dying after a highly-stressed year, only if they perceived that stress as harmful. If they didn't consider it harmful, their risk of dying was even lower than people who only reported a little stress. I know! Crazy right?! So, all this time we have been thinking it is stress itself which is the issue, but it may be the way we look at that stress which really needs the work.
  • Science indicates that if you change your mind about stress and consider the experience in a positive way, your body will listen and act accordingly. This doesn't mean the physical stress signs disappear. Rather, what happens is that you view those physical changes in a positive way, which allows the body to move through the process naturally and comfortably.
  • Key points from the Harvard study: Participants were told that the heart pounding is to energise the body and prepare for action, the increased breathing rate is to give the muscles much needed oxygen. In short, they were told their body is doing exactly what it is supposed to do in a stressful situation. The study found those participants then had reduced anxiety and stress over this reaction and were more confident in stressful situations.
  • The results: In typically stressful situations, the heart rate goes UP and the blood vessels CONSTRICT, a situation which is commonly associated with cardiovascular disease and a possible increased risk of stroke. In this study, after participants learned to be aware and accepting of their stress response, their heart rate still went UP, which is normal, but their blood vessels STAYED OPEN AND RELAXED. This type of physiological response is quite similar to the positive emotions of JOY or COURAGE. Clearly this is a much healthier response for the cardiovascular system.
  • The stress response also releases the famed neuro-hormone OXYTOCIN, known to be the love hormone of the body. Many people do not know that oxytocin is as important as adrenaline when responding to stress. So what does it do in this situation?? 

 

Firstly, oxytocin creates a sense of connection, it makes you crave physical contact. You know when you're all stressed out and all you really want is a hug? Well, good! Your body is working! Hopefully you'll get that hug and your oxytocin will increase even more!

 

  • The other thing oxytocin does is work on helping your body. It is an anti-inflammatory agent, helping the blood vessels stay relaxed and open, as discussed above. It also does incredible things to the heart muscle itself. The heart has receptors for the hormone and the oxytocin helps the heart cells to heal and regenerate from any damage caused to the heart muscle during stress. So it all works in a cyclical, healing way! The stress response is a natural part of our physiology, and we have in-built mechanisms to reduce the damage caused by the stress!
  • Final study: 1000 adults in the U.S.A. ranging from 34 to 93 years of age. The participants were interviewed about the level of stress and kind of stressful events they had experienced in the previous year, and also how much they had been involved in helping out friends, family, or the community. They were followed for 5 years and rates of death were recorded.
  • Findings: For every stressful life event, the risk of dying increased by 30%....BUT! Those who reported caring for other people (family, friends, community), had 0% increased risk of dying. SO...caring created resilience! Yay!

 

The take aways on this...

 

So what does this mean?

Should we run-out and get stressed-out as much as possible in the hopes of increasing our oxytocin levels and possibly getting more hugs?? Obviously not! Though hugs are great - I'm all for extra hugs in your day!

Ultimately, the more you can avoid landing in a stressful situation, the better. This may mean improving your planning or communication skills, working on your romantic relationship, talking to your manager about your workload, or whatever you need to do to help reduce stress in your life. Even doing this though, it is likely we will still come across stress in our lives.

 

In that case, the first thing to do is develop the skills to differentiate between normal stress versus over-reactive stress.

 

There are various techniques available to us, such as mindfulness and meditation, which can give the ability to step back from a situation and evaluate it, deciding whether it really is a stressful situation, if you are over-reacting, or if the situation can be viewed in a different, more positive way.

If the situation calls for some level of unavoidable stress, perhaps one of the best things to do is to accept it for what it is, understand that your body is fuelling you and preparing you for what is coming up, and possibly go seek out a hug from a mate or partner to boost that sense of connection with the outside world.

No mate or partner available? A sense of connection can also be found by heading out to a community sport, grounding yourself with a yoga class, or receiving the healing touch of a full body massage.

 

--->In short, don't fight stress, or perceive it in a negative way. Your body is your friend trying to help you, so roll with it!

 

 

Note: If you are experiencing high levels of stress or illness induced by stress in your life, it is important that you seek external support and visit your GP for advice and medical support. (Dr Google is handy, but information you find on the internet is not a substitute for a face-to-face physical examination by a health care provider!)

 

Make your resolutions a reality in 5 easy steps

The New Year...

Oh that exhilarating time when we can choose to throw out old habits and start anew! There's something so enticing about a fresh start, a chance to review the year past in a bid to have a better year moving forward. A better year can mean so many things, a better relationship, a better diet, a better exercise program...such noble and positive desires that anyone even contemplating them should be applauded. Being reflective and looking for ways to improve are fantastic qualities and important skills to develop if you want to engender real change in your life. But there is one fundamental error that people make at this time which, ultimately, becomes their unraveling. That is, the failure to plan SMART. We will look at this from the case of Bob and his new year plan to handle stress better and, as you'll see, Bob's success really depends on how he focusses on his vision of change, and how he plans the next steps.

Bob

Meet Bob. Bob is almost 40 years old. He has been married for 10 years and has 2 kids under the age of 8. He has been working in an office in the city for the last 15 years and is pretty close to paying off the whole mortgage on their small suburban home, however the family is struggling financially, living in an expensive city and struggling to keep up with bills, payments, and living costs. A few years ago Bob realised that the only way he and his family will be able to improve their financial situation is if he moves from his office job into a higher role or a different company. So, last year Bob started studying in the evenings and on weekends. To say the least, Bob had a Very Stressful Year, juggling work, studies, kids and family life, and, truth be told, he didn't always handle his stress well. When he reflected on this over a glass of wine with his wife on New Year's Eve, he boldly proclaimed: "Next year, I won't get so stressed with you and the kids. Things will be different. This is my resolution".

Boom! First mistake right there! Ok, that's dramatic, but I got your attention didn't I? Now consider the following: rather than exiting from a poor habit, create your plan to be something you are moving towards, something enticing!

"I won't get stressed with you and the kids..."

In this scenario, Bob, like most people, focusses on something from the past that he doesn't want in his life anymore. Bob announced that he doesn't want to get stressed anymore. This is ok, but really what he's deciding then, is to take something out of his life, call it 'the deficit', but he isn't considering what he wants to bring into his life, call it 'the positive'. Still, he has a bit of a goal, which is better than nothing, and he pushes on resolutely with his new, hopeful vision. He may even write some things down and follow through on it with some action.

Here's what happens next. Choose from Option 1 or Option 2. Which do you think is more likely to succeed?

Option 1: The typical approach - all or nothing

Bob has already identified that he got too stressed with work, study and family life last year. He may have seen it take a toll on his relationship, his family life, or maybe his wife or a friend even told him. Whatever the case, he has identified the issue and declared that he wants to move towards a life vision which doesn't include this way of handling stress. Bravo Bob! It's not the most enticing or alluring vision, but the fact that he has even considered change is a positive step forward. Many don't even get that far, so let's give him a pat on the back for being open to change.

Bob realises from talking with his wife, that his stress is coming from 3 main areas of his life: time management issues, quality family time issues, and lack of exercise and relaxation. So, in the first week of January, he joins a yoga studio and, not knowing which is best, he buys a bunch of books and CDs on meditation and mindfulness. It seems like a positive step, doesn't it?

Then, because he knows over-work is contributing to his stress, he makes a vow to leave work every day at 5pm on the dot, no excuses.

To improve his family life, he sets up a plan with his wife to spend an extra 3 afternoons a week with the kids and go on a day out as a family every Saturday.

This is something along the lines of what many people do when they decide to make a dramatic change in their life in the new year.

Option 2: The 'Bob is set to thrive' approach:

In this scenario, Bob is again aware of his problem with stress management and spends a good deal of time thinking of his dream living situation. He has realised that the way he deals with stress is having a negative impact on his life, his health, and his relationships, so the motivation to change it is strong. He begins by writing down a clear vision of what he wants. He is aware of what he doesn't want, that is to be stressed and have stress rule his life. So he asks himself what he wants to replace it with.

"I want to not get stressed with my wife and kids" becomes something like, "I want to manage my stress levels and find ease and flow in my day to day life".

Can you see how that moves the goal from wanting something gone, to striving for something new and positive?

The next step is to really focus on the WHY. Why does Bob want this? What are the drivers behind it? Clearly Bob, with a little soul searching, has identified his strong connection to his wife and family and has already realised how important it is to have a positive relationship with them. So, in this case, he may say something like: "I want this so I can have easy, relaxed and fun times with my family and appreciate their presence in my life". So you can see there he has tapped into his personal values, for something outside of himself. He has dug a little deeper to find a really compelling reason to tie his vision to and, in that way, he is setting himself up to have a stronger motivation to succeed. He might even pin a photo of his family above his books in his study to remind him of his goal.

 

Next, the goals. Remember Scenario 1? Can you guess what might be the danger in the way he set up his strategy in the first week of January?

You got it, it's the goals themselves. They need to be SMART goals and they need to be part of a plan. A SMART goal is as follows:

S - Specific

M - Measurable

A - Achievable/Attractive

R - Realistic

T - Time-specific

So, what can Bob do? Well, to start with, he can be reasonable with himself. With all his good intentions, perhaps Bob really should just take a step back and be honest with himself. He might ask, "What could I be doing in 3 months time to reach my vision of managing my stress load?", and, based on that, "What could I reasonably expect to do this week to move me towards those goals?".

If you want long term change...Be Realistic! If you don't, the main person your harming is you! If you have a dream to run a marathon and you've never run one, would your first training session be a 3km run, or a 30 km run? It's logical! Start small and build up.

 

Doing it this way, this is something like what Bob's first week of January might be:

  • On meditation and yoga, "Am I ready to join a yoga studio and go on a meditation retreat?" -  No, I'm not up for it yet.

Ok, what can I do this week?

1. Take the flyers of 3 local yoga studios and talks with the manager of each one about the classes and how they might help him with stress management.

 

  • On leaving work every day at 5pm, "Is this possible right now?" - No, I'm not ready.

Ok, what can I do now?

2. Schedule a meeting with his boss on Wednesday to talk about the distribution of work tasks to see whether some tasks can be taken up by the new Junior Office Worker.

 

  • On scheduling more family time, "How much time can I honestly spare right now, outside of my work and studies?" - Probably no more than one afternoon right now, while I sort out my work load.

3. Plan a picnic for next Saturday afternoon from 1pm with his wife and children.

See how much more manageable this is?

 

Which option is more likely to succeed in creating long term change? Something broken down into easy steps, or something that start off the size of Mt Everest?

The idea is to start small.

Don't try and do everything at once.

And slowly build on each successful step forward in order to create momentum.

 

Despite his gallant efforts in Option 1 to become a gym junkie, yogi, family man, there's a good chance that Bob will not be maintaining the strict schedule he has set up and, worse still, if he doesn't arrange things properly around his work and study tasks, there is a good chance that he'll focus on his family and new found yoga, only to have the pile of work building in his absence! If he really wants to manage his work and study time so that he has time and energy for his family and is able to manage his stress, he needs a clear and well laid out strategy, with SMART goals. 

So, here's a little game plan for Bob, and for anyone else who has made a bold resolution for the coming year:

Step 1:  Get a piece of paper and write down a very compelling, positive vision.

Step 2: Spend some time thinking and writing about your why, your motivation for change - use visuals to really get your heart moving on it!

Step 3: Think about and write down what you would like to be doing in 3 months time to get yourself closer to your vision - and make it SMART!

Step 4: Think about and write down what you can do in the next week to take you your first step towards your vision - and again, make it SMART!

Step 5: Take the first step! Then take another small step, and another, and another and after a while look up and you'll see that you're well on your way to reaching your long term goal!!

 

***** I hope you get something out of this little story about Bob. Just a little disclaimer here. I've simplified Bob's story and Bob's game plan right down to make it more palatable for a little blog post. In actual fact, it often takes quite a while to really nut out the Whats and the Whys of making a big change in life. In our first 90 minute coaching session we explore this and more, such as blocks, strategies, and value systems in order to really help you define and shape your vision of success and make a clear and compelling strategy to get you there. We've managed to condense the simplified version into Bob's Story, but I'm sure you'll appreciate the basic concept and use some pointers in your own goal-making. *****

 

Best of luck!!

xo

 

 

 

 

My top #3 tips to beat the uninvited guest - Stress

happy family in grass.jpg

Let's be honest with each other. You know as well as I do that stress is not our friend. Activating the sympathetic nervous system for a 'flight or fight' response is pretty darn handy when fleeing rampant tigers a la thousands of years ago. But it is not so useful today when we activate it daily, over long periods of time at work, opening emails, dealing with difficult customers, and so on. Sure, it can be handy to help us meet that deadline and remain alert in a busy environment but, long term, activating the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a whole gamut of physical damage, a lot of which can have you ending up in hospital (or worse) down the track.

These days, to state that chronic stress damages the health is stating the obvious. But if you need more convincing, watch this simple video here which explains it well. In short, long term stress is an uninvited friend and you need to develop strategies to deal with it when it shows up in your life. 

*hint*...while we can make some changes in order to minimise stressful situations, it is near impossible to eradicate stress completely! The best thing to do is have a tool belt full of strategies you can whip out when that 'friend' knocks on the door. 

Here are 3 simple and effective strategies to try out over the next few weeks. The best way to do this is to interweave all three of them into your week. Find what works for you and try to practice it daily for at least a few weeks to start building it into your routine. At first you will probably try it and forget it later on. It's like remembering someone's name at a party. If you hear it once you will probably forget it. If you repeat it several times, it concretes itself in there a little more.  So, if you are really serious about tackling stress and reducing it's presence in your life, why not put a timer on your phone and select designated times to perform your chosen activity. Over time, it will become routine and you won't need to set up a timer for it. It will be part of your every day life.

 

Tip #1

BREATHE!

An oldy but a goody, we are starting with this one. Long, slow, diaphragmatic breathing immediately triggers the 'relaxation response' via the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. In times of stress, we tend to constrict the chest, taking short, shallow chest breaths - preparing ourselves for our tiger run. This activates adrenaline and cortisol throughout the body which, as explained in the video above, are not particularly helpful for our long-term health (though they are great energy boosters when used at the right time!).

Try this method: Either lie down, or sit upright in your chair, in a relaxed but open posture.  Begin by relaxing your belly muscles - give them a poke to check! Holding the belly in will force the air into the upper chest which is the opposite of what you want to achieve here. So, with buddha bellies ready...take a long slow inhale through the nose. Try to inhale for the count of 5 slow beats. Hold the breath in for another 5 beats. Release the air slowly for 5 to 7 beats. Pause a moment. Then begin the process again. You should notice your belly doing most of the moving, but don't force it. Just let it fall in and out naturally. Repeat the process five to ten times and you'll notice a lighter and warmer feel to your body and mind, and your thought become more clear - this is the Relaxation Response!

Tip #2

RECORD!

Keep a diary of your stress levels. Use a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 = absolutely no stress, and 10 = extreme stress. Set an alarm and record your stress levels at certain points throughout the day. Do this over a period of one to two weeks for a complete picture of your life stressors. Doing this is a good way to check in and become more aware of your stress. It is also a useful strategy to see any patterns or triggers that may be bringing on or increasing the stress in your daily life. Once you know what the triggers are, you can start to develop some plans to work around and overcome them.

If you record a stress level of 5 or higher at any time during the day, give Tip #1 a go.

 

Tip #3

MOVE!

If you do notice you are being driven by that unfriendly sympathetic nervous system response, get moving! Typical signs: shallow breathing, tense shoulders, tight jaw, clenched butt. Use that energy that is flooding your system right now. Release it, and move on.

If you're at work, try and find a quiet place to jump down on the floor and do ten situps or pushups. Or stretch your body up and out, and swing your arms in a gentle fashion. Or go for a short walk. It doesn't have to be for long. A brisk five-minute walk around the office or up and down the stair-well will use up the energy you've been releasing.

After that short release, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Step into the centre of your awareness, slow down your breathing and activate the parasympathetic response with ten slow belly breaths.  

 

As I said, stress sometimes shows up uninvited. Becoming aware of when you want it to hang around and when you'd rather chill out alone is important for your long term health and wellness. Give the tips above a good go and see if you can bring these changes into your routine.  Let me know how you go!

* Remember! Long term changes are best made through ongoing coaching and behaviour change. Call or email Ruth today to schedule a free 15 minute discovery session to see how she can help you deal with your long term stress*

Note: Please see your GP if you are concerned about stress and anxiety or any of it's related symptoms and diseases.