I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you probably already know that!
We as a culture are pretty sedentary. We sit at computers for work or school. Then we sit and binge Netflix at home.
Maybe we’ll go for a walk or head to our favorite local yoga class. Afterward we feel sooo good! We should do that more often! But it’s hard to get into the habit.
And even when we get into the habit, if we get sick or busy and get out of the habit, it can feel like a monumentally huge task to get started again.
I totally get it! I completely let my daily movement practice fall by the wayside over the holiday season.
I tried to force it. I know better. I should be doing yoga everyday.
You probably already know this too, but Should-ing yourself does NOT work!
So I went back to basics. I know I feel better when I move more.
It makes me feel free. And freedom is one of the things I value most in my life.
So when I don’t feel like doing anything, curled up on my couch, hibernating (which feels great and cozy in the moment, but doesn’t make me feel great in the long run), I started asking, what is one thing I can do today that will make me feel more free? And then I did it.
And it felt so amazing! I felt so free and open to possibilities.
And I keep doing it everyday. All it takes is one small thing.
I’d love to know, do you have a daily movement practice? If not, what’s got you stuck? (Responses will only be seen by Karyn and will NOT be posted publicly):
Many look at the New Year as a chance at a clean slate. We make resolutions to eat healthier, lose weight, go to the gym 6 days a week. We start off with tons of enthusiasm. This time everything is going to be different! Better! It’s our year!
We set our alarm clocks and get up early. Make a healthy breakfast and head to the gym every day. Our initial enthusiasm carries us for a bit, maybe a few weeks.
Then things start to get harder.
We try to grit our way through for a bit. But that’s exhausting. So we give up.
When we start to feel this resistance to change in our bodies, it doesn’t mean we failed. Our bodies strive toward homeostasis, toward the familiar. Resistance to big change is wired into our cells.
Real change happens when we understand how to feel this resistance and realize we haven’t failed. Learn to celebrate it. New neural pathways are being created in our brains. And that’s how lasting change happens.
What if instead of willing yourself to make change, you learned to listen to and work with your body? What if you re-framed resistance and frustration as the first step toward success instead of failure?
With typical New Years Resolutions we’re often aiming to “fix” all of the things our minds tell us we are lacking. If we eat better or meditate more or lose weight, for example, we will be good enough. We are trying to think our way into change, often based on other people’s expectations or something we read in a magazine. We think we need to hustle and work harder and fix something that is wrong with us to reach our goals.
What if you didn’t need fixed?
What if instead of trying to obtain something outside of yourself (that you might not even really want anyway) you started by creating the feeling of achieving the goal?
Say you want to lose weight 10 pounds. It’s not really about the 10 pounds. When we are trying to achieve a goal, we are chasing a feeling. How will you feel when you lose that weight? You might find you have more energy. What’s a way you can feel more energized now? Listening to your favorite song and having a mini dance party might make you feel like you have more energy.
You can take one small action everyday action to cultivate that feeling in your life. Then you might actually achieve and sustain that change you want. More energy. More freedom. Actually being present with your family instead of worrying about all of the things on your to-do list.
New Year’s Resolutions can get a bad rap. By the end of January we hear all about how most people have “failed” to keep them. There’s a better way to create change than resolving to do something and gritting out way through it.
I’d love to know, did you set a Resolution this year? How’s it going? (Responses will only be seen by Karyn and will NOT be posted publicly):
It’s not hard to think up great ways to treat yourself. We’d all love a spa day topped off with a meal prepared and served by someone else. Maybe get a sitter for the night, so the little angels are asleep when we get home. Or just a morning where the cat doesn’t wake you up by sitting on your windpipe.
But for every article about self care, I roll my eyes at least 12 times and think “Who can afford that?” Yes, it would be great to have an afternoon to myself and a bucket of fried chicken and a cookie dough chaser. But that’s not particularly healthy.
I’m all about realistic self care. That is, activities that aren’t expensive, don’t involve food, and will make you feel good about how you spent that time. Here’s a list of my favorites (bonus: most of these you can do with kids).
Meditate, the easy way
If you’re the kind of person who can’t sleep during the day, napping can be more like torture. But guided meditation is a whole other story. It gives your mind something (easy) to do so the rest of you can relax a bit. There are plenty of free guided meditations online. Check out the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center website and the free version of the Headspace app, which has plenty of options to get you started.
Read a book
When was the last time you read for pleasure? Even if you can’t get to your library, there are plenty of free ebooks on Amazon, and your local library may have a free online borrowing program. Or reread some of your favorite books from childhood if you have them hanging around.
If you choose the topic right, learning is great self-care. Pick a topic for FUN. Don’t feel like you need to learn something pertinent to your work or a current hobby. Check out Coursera, MIT or Harvard to start. (But there are PLENTY of sources for free online classes, do your own searching, too!)
Bust out a piece for paper and draw something. Even if you don’t have fancy pencils or crayons or markers, you can play with shading and pressure and make something cool. There are plenty of free coloring pages you can download and print out.
For nearly every song out there, there’s a karaoke accompaniment channel on YouTube. For reals. Crank it up and let ‘er rip. You’re a stress-free superstar now.
And when all else fails: Nap
Put your jammies on and take a nap. In your bed. Not all jammed up on the couch with the TV on. Close the shades in your bedroom and hunker down for a proper sleep.
There. You don’t have to spend money or fill your belly to feel great and treat yourself well!
You’ve probably heard a meditation practice can help you manage stress. But it can feel like a Herculean task to sit in silence and focus on your breath. All those thoughts buzzing around! Enter Zentangle. It’s basically a method of drawing that can promote a meditative state. I recently took a beginner’s class and I’m in love! I’ve been tangling every day and I feel more focused, relaxed, and creative. Plus I have some cool art! I interviewed local artist Leslie Barr to tell us a bit more about Zentangle. She’s a Certified Zentangle Teacher and teaches classes here in Champaign.
What is the most common reason folks come to your classes?
Zentangle is increasing in popularity, but I’m still trying to get the word out. Zentangle is a meditative drawing method. The designs created might look complicated or like they require a lot of artistic talent, but it really is surprisingly easy to do, once you know the steps. And while the art you create is beautiful, you also get the wonderful benefit of relaxation and mindfulness.
Is there a common misconception about Zentangle that you would like to clear up?
Probably that it looks complicated or difficult to do. Actually, the patterns can all be broken down into easy to learn steps.
What are the benefits of practicing Zentangle?
Zentangle is a great way to meditate. By focusing completely on drawing the repetitive lines, your mind tunes out all stress and distraction. It can help reduce anxiety, grief, and depression. It can increase ones ability to focus and help with problem solving and team building.
How long have to been teaching here in Champaign, IL?
I have been practicing Zentangle since the end of 2012. I became a Certified Zentangle Teacher in November 2013 and began teaching then.
Where do you teach Zentangle classes?
I have taught classes in coffee shops, in people’s homes, and at churches. Lately, I have been teaching at a the Marm Studio Gallery. This lovely art gallery is in the home of a terrific local artist, Mary Ciaccio. She has her own working studio as well as a teaching studio in her lower level.
Who can learn Zentangle?
If you can write or print your name, you can create Zentangle artwork. I am hoping to schedule a parent-child class soon.
What do you love about the community here?
I have lived in Champaign since coming to the University in 1980. I love Champaign. The people here are friendly and support one another. There is such a great variety of things to do here. Whether you love sports (you name it, we’ve got it!), performing arts, visual arts, community service, places of worship, there is something for everyone!
What’s your favorite local lunch place?
These days I’m enjoying Sun Singer. Currently they are showing the beautiful artwork of local artist, Mary Ciaccio
“Creativity rescued me from dark places and has brought me a great sense of peace and serenity. It brought me closer to God and helped me find new ways to meditate and pray. I have loved teaching and sharing this passion. So, here I am, searching for more ways to share art and how it can bring peace and love into the lives of others.”
Leslie has always loved arts and crafts. Throughout her childhood years and into adulthood, she always enjoyed ceramics, photography, creating her own Christmas cards and gifts for family and friends, etc. Yet it wasn’t until she was 50, art became something even more profound for her. When her sister died suddenly on her 53rd birthday, grief hit Leslie hard. Less than a month later, while attempting to do some Christmas shopping, she stumbled upon One Zentangle a Day – a book by Beckah Krahula. She bought the book, planning to give it as a gift, but once she got it home and began reading it, she decided it was something she needed to try. It turned out to be truly a godsend.
She absorbed as much information as she could about Zentangle over the next few months and then decided to take the leap and become a CZT (Certified Zentangle Teacher). You can learn more about Leslie and her classes on her website, A Line at a Time. She tangles daily and posts her work on Facebook and Instagram.
We’ve all seen photos of super-bendy folks contorting their body into the shape of a pretzel. Pretty intimidating if you can’t touch your toes or have trouble turning your head to the right.
What is yoga?
Yoga originated as a practice to prepare the body for meditation. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, yoga is defined as the quieting of the mind. Yoga practice is composed of many things. Breathwork, meditation, chanting. Your flexibility will not limit your practice of these aspects of yoga.
But mostly we associate yoga with the physical (asana) practice. When we’re talking about how flexible you need to be to start yoga, we mean asana.
The Physical Practice of Yoga or Asana
Let’s be honest.
When I say “yoga,” you picture this:
Am I right?
How am I supposed to walk into a yoga class when the folks are doing THAT and I can’t even touch my toes?!
Some folks are naturally flexible and super twisty poses come naturally for them. But some of us can’t touch our toes. And that’s okay.
I’ve been practicing yoga for years, and a lot of the time, I can’t touch my toes in a forward fold. And that’s okay. Yoga’s not about twisting your body into the perfect pose. Yoga is breathing better, calming the mind, and yes, increasing your flexibility. Even if that means just coming a millimeter closer to touching your toes.
How flexible do I have to be before I can start yoga?
Not. at. all.
You can start breathwork to deepen your breathing at any time.
You can start meditation to calm your mind at any time.
And yes, you can start the physical practice of yoga at any time, even if you can’t come close to touching your toes. Maybe you will be able to one day. Or not. Either way is perfectly okay.
Massage therapists see a lot of skin. All colors, all textures. Freckles, scars, stretch marks, moles. Skin with lots of hair and skin with none. Skin doesn’t surprise us.
Except when it does. That brown spot on your shoulder blade? It wasn’t quite that big when you came in a month ago. And it looks less like an oval and a little more like a blob. Maybe you should have that checked out?
Skin we love. Skin cancer? Not so much. Which is why you’re here on your massage therapist’s website, reading about sun exposure. Because even though I’m not a dermatologist and you’re not going to burn while getting a massage, your skin is a friend I see regularly. And I want to be able to keep working with it for many healthy years to come.
What happens when you get a sunburn?
You’re exposed to the sun and then your skin turns red and itchy, right? Well, yes. But there’s more to it as well.
When you step out into the sunlight, you’re immediately bombarded by UV radiation. This radiation causes mismatches in the curlicue of your DNA in the nucleus of your skin cells, which is dangerous and can lead to cancer. As soon as this starts to occur, your skin jumps into protective action redistributing melanin, the pigment that causes suntans, and which helps to protect your DNA from further damage.
But if you’re still outside and the damage doesn’t stop (especially if you’re fair skinned and don’t have much melanin to go around), you start to see an inflammatory response. This is the same kind of inflammation that you see when you sprain your ankle, only spread out across your damaged skin. Your blood vessels dilate to get more nutrients and infection-fighting cells to your skin, making the it red and warm to the touch. Itching and pain result, a warning signal from your body that something is wrong. You may feel thirsty and tired as your body works to repair itself.
If the burn is bad enough, you’ll start to see blisters as the plasma leaks from inside cells into the space between the dermis (the bottom layer of skin) and the epidermis (the top layer). These blisters form a cushion of fluid over your damaged tissue (at this point, your body has already written that top layer of skin off).
Eventually, even if you didn’t have any blisters, you will get flaking and peeling of the top layer of your skin. Interestingly enough, these skin cells weren’t killed by UV radiation. When skin cells recognize that their DNA has been severely damaged, they deliberately die off rather than risk becoming cancerous. This planned cell death is called apoptosis, and it’s the reason you see massive numbers of skin cells coming loose at once.
So to be clear: all sunburns, no matter how mild, contain the beginning stages of skin cancer. It’s only because our skin kills itself off before these cells go haywire that we see as little skin cancer as we do. Even so, more than 5.4 millioncasesofnon–melanomaskincancerarediagnosedintheUSeachyear, and 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70. UV radiation will play a role in many of these cases.
How can you protect your skin?
The short answer: Stay away from UV radiation. This means avoiding tanning beds as well as sunlight.
The longer answer: Unless you plan to become a vampire, you will probably be exposed to sunlight at least some of the time. The trick is to reduce that exposure to a safe level by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen.
How much sun is safe?
This depends on two main variables: the UV Index and your skin type.
The UV Index is a measure of the level of UV radiation in your location at any given point in time. It’s something you can easily look up on your computer or phone before heading out the door. In general, global UVIndexrecommendations look something like this:
1-2: Low. Enjoy being outside!
3-7: Medium. Seek shade at midday, put on a shirt and hat, wear sunscreen.
8+: High. Stay indoors at midday, seek shade as much as possible, sunscreen is an absolute must.
With the exception of people with albinism, everyone has some melanin in their skin. Those with more of the protective pigmentation are less susceptible to DNA damage in their skin cells from UV radiation than those with less.
Type I: Very pale, burns quickly, never tans.
Type II: Pale, burns easily, rarely tans
Type III: Burns moderately, tans over time to light brown
Type IV: Burns minimally, tans to medium brown
Type V: Rarely burns, tans to dark brown.
Type VI: Never burns, rarely tans, deeply pigmented skin.
People with Type I skin can burn after as little as five or ten minutes, while those with Type VI skin can sometimes be outside for an hour without damage.
Note: You might have seen a skin type scale that goes from I-IV, especially if you are looking in an older medical textbook. That’s because the original Fitzpatrick scale was made in the 1970s for white people. This is the same scale, but expanded to include everybody.
Is sunscreen safe?
A 2001 study raised concerns that oxybenzone (the chemical that makes most sunscreens so effective) might impact hormones. In this study, rats fed large doses of oxybenzone developed enlarged uteruses. Studies in humans haven’t been conclusive. What we know for sure is that if you’re a rat, you shouldn’t drink sunscreen.
Some pediatricians recommend sticking to mineral-based sunscreens for infants and very young children just in case, until long-term studies are concluded over the next twenty or so years. But these are thick and need to be reapplied regularly. If your children are experiencing sunburns with mineral-based sunscreens, they are being put in significantly more danger than any potential hazard from oxybenzone.
What about vitamin D?
Yup, you need vitamin D in your body to stay health. And yes, your skin manufactures vitamin D in response to UV radiation (people with lighter skin types make more vitamin D with less sun exposure than people with darker skin types). So shouldn’t you go without sun protection sometimes for the nutritional benefits?
Luckily, there are a number of sources of vitamin D that don’t also cause skin cancer. Fish, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified dairy products are all excellent sources. And if you’re a tremendously picky eater, there are also vitamin D supplements you can take. For the severely deficient (diagnosed with a simple blood test), there are high-dose supplements or injections your physician can prescribe.
Caring about your skin isn’t about vanity.
It’s a critical organ, like any other. If you exercise for your heart and quit smoking for your lungs, then preventing sunburns is just another healthy habit.
Massage therapists love skin. We work with it on a daily basis and appreciate all it does to keep your insides in and your outsides out. It keeps you cool, it tells you what’s around you, it prevents infections, and it repairs itself at a remarkable rate. So take care of it!
Why get a massage? According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association, 28% of Americans who get a massage do so for relaxation and stress reduction. That’s a lot of people in the US who feel strongly enough about their own experiences with massage for stress reduction to put their money on it. But aside from individual feelings, what exactly do we know about massage and how it relates to stress and anxiety? And what does the research have to say about that?
What is stress? What is anxiety?
Stress is your body’s response to demanding circumstances. Working late hours? You’ll experience stress. Prepping for a big competition? Definitely stressful. Toddler throwing a tantrum? That’s no doubt stressful for both of you. When you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing and heart rate quicken, and you feel jittery and distracted. All this is useful if your stress is a result of the big race you’re running, when you can put that energy to good use. It’s less helpful if your stressor is a friend in need of patience and comfort.
People who regularly put themselves into stressful circumstances on purpose (public speakers, for example) often learn how to channel that stress response for their own benefit, but it takes practice. When stress goes from being an occasional experience to a chronic condition, health problems result.
Anxiety (not to be confused with anxiety disorders, see below), on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a reaction to circumstances. Most often, it’s related to anticipated futureor potential stress. As with stress, anxiety isn’t necessarily an immediate health problem, although it’s unpleasant. Feeling a bit anxious about an upcoming exam, the imminent birth of a baby, or the quality of a presentation can give you a push to prepare as best you can. But anxiety becomes unhelpful when it is overwhelming, requiring you to focus all your energy on surviving your immediate feelings rather than addressing their roots. Pacing, nail biting, trembling, and vomiting are signs that anxiety is veering into unhelpful territory. Test anxiety, social anxiety, and decision anxiety are all common forms of anxiety.
Anxiety disorder is the general name given to chronic, excessive anxiety in response to everyday situations. Anxiety disorders include
Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive anxiety in general.
Social anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to interacting with others.
Separation anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to separation from specific people, often parents or caregivers.
Phobias: subset of anxiety disorders characterized by persistent fear of a specific thing.
Panic disorder: anxiety disorder characterized by reoccurring panic attacks.
Many people discover that they have more than one type of anxiety disorder, or deal with anxiety combined with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, alcoholism, or substance abuse. While stress and anxiety are more general terms that you can probably identify in yourself, anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by a physician.
What kinds of studies have been done on massage for anxiety and stress?
While stress levels are largely subjective, studies focused on pain, sleep, and other outcomes often find that patients report decreased stress levels as one of the major benefits they receive from massage therapy treatments. In one study on pain in acute care settings, more than half of the patients mentioned relaxation in their survey responses. One described the experience of receiving massage as “very helpful, soothing, comforting, and relaxing,” which is notable considering how stressful being hospitalized is. Improved emotional well-being and sleep were also mentioned by many patients and nurses, both of which are good indicators of stress reduction.
Most studies done on massage and anxiety have focused on specific populations. One study found significant improvement in both state (long term) and trait (immediate) anxiety in children with cancer and blood diseases who received Swedish massage. Another measured the physiological responses to stress (blood pressure and pulse) in hospitalized children and found similar results. Cardiac care patients were the focus of another study. Again, massage was shown to be helpful at reducing anxiety. Still, larger and broader studies on the matter still need to be done.
There have been relatively few studies on massage therapy for anxiety disorders specifically, and those that have been done have been small and generally lacking good control groups. One randomized controlled trial found that massage therapy was significantly helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder, but no more so than thermotherapy (relaxing with hot towels placed in different locations on the body) or being in a special relaxation room with no additional treatment. This study only measured improvement over multiple weeks, and not feelings of anxiety in the short term, before and after treatments. Because this study didn’t have a no-treatment control group, they weren’t able to state whether all three were equally effective or equally ineffective.
What does all this mean?
People regularly feel that massage helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also other techniques that seem to be helpful to varying degrees, depending on the situation and the person. This is helpful to know, because not everyone enjoys massage. For some, touch itself can be a source of stress and anxiety, so it’s helpful to know that there are other complementary therapies available that also create positive results.
Stress and anxiety are closely tied to pain, sleep, and other factors. Reducing pain reduces stress levels. Reducing stress levels can also reduce pain. Improving sleep can impact both pain and stress, and vice versa. Does massage therapy work primarily through either pain or stress reduction, or does it impact both equally? This is an area for further study.
Massage therapy is a fairly safe way to manage stress and anxiety. With relatively few drug interactions and a very low chance for injury, massage therapy can be helpful to a wide variety of people dealing with stress and anxiety in different situations. From infants to athletes to people in hospice, there are few who could not benefit from massage therapy.
There is a lot more to learn. While there is a lot of research on massage for pain, massage for anxiety (and especially massage for anxiety disorders) has less research to back it up. It will take time and money before a large body of knowledge has been built up.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, massage therapy is worth trying. The evidence is still rolling in, but what we have is promising. Are you ready to give it a try? Book your next massage today.
Welcome to myth #2 on our reasons-you-can’t-get-a-massage-myth series. Be sure to check out Myth #1.
Myth #2: You can’t get a massage while taking painkillers.
You’re hurting, so you schedule a massage. But then you’re still hurting, so you take some ibuprofen … should that stop you from getting the massage you’ve scheduled?
This myth states that taking a painkiller leaves you unable to tell whether your massage is too deep, which can lead to a massage therapist injuring you accidentally. And this can be a realistic concern, especially if you’re taking strong narcotics for pain. Drug side effects like dizziness, easy bruising, and low blood pressure can also impact your massage session.
In most cases, though, this can be dealt with through open communication, rather than avoidance, especially if it’s a simple NSAID or other over-the-counter medication. When you let your massage therapist know what kinds of painkillers you’re taking, things like pressure, positioning, and duration can all be adjusted to make sure that your session is both satisfying and safe. There is no reason that painkillers and appropriate bodywork have to be mutually exclusive.
Is there any time of year when people are more obsessed with health habits than the New Year?
Even the “beach body” craze of late May doesn’t reach the same level of hype.
Every time you turn a corner, somebody else is trying to get you to try a class, a supplement, a shake, a piece of equipment, a diet, a lifestyle … and it can be exhausting trying to figure out what’s bona fide and what’s bogus. It’s perfectly normal to look forward to a fresh start in January (or not!), but here’s a little guidance on whether to put money down on that hot new habit after the holidays.
Does it promise quick fixes?
If whatever you’re thinking of trying swears you’ll get the desired result in no time at all, you can be pretty sure you’re entering into scam territory. The human body is based on homeostasis. It can change, and it does, but most of those changes occur over time. There’s a reason why most things that cause fast changes in the body (like surgery and drugs) require a physician to administer them; they can be dangerous if not used carefully. If you’ve been out of shape for five years, don’t expect to get back in shape in five weeks. That’s just not how the body works.
Does it promise a panacea?
There are diets that can help you lose weight. There are exercise routines that can help you gain muscle and strength. There are massages that can help you relax and manage your stress levels (you might want to get on that one soon). But if someone is selling One Amazing Thing that will evaporate your fat, increase your happiness, straighten your posture, whiten your teeth, cure your cancer, and send your sex drive through the roof? You can be pretty sure it’s not worth your money. No, that essential oil will not prevent ebola, but it does smell nice and could help improve your mood if you like it. Don’t pay a Magical Thinking Tax for exaggerated claims.
Does it rely on conspiracy theories for marketing?
Conspiracies can be fun to read about, but if the main selling point is that “doctors hate it” or “Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about this,” it’s probably not the best addition to your life. Why? Because you and your physician (and your dentist, your massage therapist, your counselor, your personal trainer, your nutritionist …) are part of your health and wellness team. If any one of them refuses to be a team player, they’re not doing what’s best for you. Casting aspersions on some of your VIPs? Not cool. If you haven’t heard much about a particular tool, it’s probably not because your health team is trying desperately to get you to stick to being sick. It’s much more likely that the thing just doesn’t work at all.
Does it fit your life, your budget, your goals, and your understanding of reality?
If yes, then this is something worth looking into, whether it’s a gym membership, a cookbook of heart-healthy meals, or a habit tracking app. Ultimately, we try things out and see how they work for us over the long haul. Not everything will be a perfect fit, but at least we can weed out some of the resolutionist marketing malarkey and move forward with our best efforts into the new year.
Here’s hoping you have a happy, healthy, and stress-free New Year!