Tag Archives: stress

Zentangle: An Alternative to Meditation? Ask the Expert.

Zentangle

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

About Leslie

“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.”

LeslieLeslie 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.

Stress, Anxiety, and Massage

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 future or 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?

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.

Anxiety:

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.

Anxiety disorders:

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.

Massage and Headaches

Woman with headache screaming
Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

“This project is such a headache!”

They’re so common that the term has become synonymous with an annoyance, but what are headaches, really? And can massage therapy really help?

Different types, different causes.

Headaches are pretty easily defined, and we all know one when we feel it: it’s a pain in the head. But not all headaches are created equal:

  • Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, with pain occurring on both sides of the head without other symptoms. The pain can range from very mild to severe.
  • Migraine headaches are often pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and hallucinations. Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an almost daily basis.
  • Cluster headaches are less common, and are generally experienced as severe pain around one eye. “Cluster periods,” during which many headaches occur during a period of time, are interspersed with longer periods without any symptoms.

Secondary headaches are not conditions themselves, but are symptoms of other conditions. These conditions can be as everyday as a sinus infection or conjunctivitis (pink-eye), or more serious, like traumatic brain injury, or meningitis. While the pain from secondary headaches can be managed, it’s important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for the underlying condition.

Headaches and Massage

The good:

Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to massage therapy. Not only does massage seem to reduce pain in the moment, but regular massage therapy also appears to increase the amount of time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis. This could be a result of helping to manage stress or underlying mechanical issues that can result in headaches, but there’s no solid science yet on precisely why massage helps, only that it does.

More good news!

It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that folks who experience regular headaches are also more likely to experience high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have found that massage can help with these issues, not just in the general population, but also specifically in people who live with chronic headaches.

Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit from massage. People with fibromyalgia, for example, who often experience headaches as part of their condition, can experience both pain and stress relief with regular massage therapy. While massage during a flare-up of symptoms may need to be modified to be more gentle, some people find that it can provide relief both for headache as well as for pain throughout the body.

The bad:

Massage therapy is wonderful and often helpful, but it’s not a cure for headaches. While some people just need a bit of rest or a drink of water (dehydration is a surprisingly common headache cause), other people continue to experience headaches all their lives. While people who experience headaches caused by stress or muscular tension can absolutely benefit from massage, migraines triggered by things like foods or hormonal changes probably won’t see an impact.

The ugly:

There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches. Fevers, as an example, often cause headaches as well as achy joints that could lead someone to want to receive massage, but this not only risks overly stressing a body that’s already fighting off an infection, it also has the possibility of spreading the illness to the massage therapist and anyone else they come into contact with. Headaches resulting from a recent head, neck, or back injury could also be made worse by a well-meaning massage therapist.

When there is the possibility of pain being caused by an illness or injury, it’s always best to seek out a physician’s opinion first. They can provide or recommend appropriate care for the issue causing the headache in the first place, and at that point you can ask them about whether it would be a good idea to receive a massage. Safe is always better than sorry!

Headaches can be a real, well, headache. But there’s help.

Sometimes a little change of environment is all that’s needed. If you have a headache and have been hunched over a computer for hours, try a stretch. A quick walk outside or a brief nap can help with a headache caused by eye strain. If you haven’t eaten or drunk anything all day, do that. It’s easy to get caught up in the business of our lives and forget to take care of our own basic needs.

For those who can take them, over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin can be helpful in treating a headache. Sometimes caffeine is recommended as well. For stronger headaches, medications prescribed by a physician can be a lifesaver to many people, enabling them to function at work and with their families when they might otherwise have been left incapacitated.

And then there’s massage therapy, of course. It’s not a magical cure-all, but for many people, it really does help manage the pain and stress of headaches. Are you one of them? Schedule your next massage, and let’s find out together.

Decrease Stress with Breath

Breath
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

Breath.

Such a simple thing.

It’s essential to life, but yet how often do we think about it?

It ebbs and flows throughout our days and we barely give it a second thought. 

Are you holding your breath right now?

(Fun Fact: when I was in Massage School, we had to put together a business plan complete with a business name. I was going to name my business “Just Breathe,” because I was pretty stressed at the time and was always catching myself holding my breath.)

Deep breathing can reduce anxiety

Implementing a deep breathing technique when anxiety strikes can make the difference between a full on attack and an unwelcome blip in your day. Deep breathing lowers your heart rate, improves circulation, and promotes clearer thinking.

You can use your breath to calm down

Let’s face it, when tempers flair it seems almost impossible to think about anything other than the current situation that set you off. Practicing simple breathing techniques can encourage calmness and help reverse the physical symptoms of anger.

TECHNIQUE for Anxiety and Calm

  • Isolate yourself from everyone for 15 minutes
  • Inhale slowly for the count of 4
  • Exhale slowly for the count of 8
  • Notice the space in between the inhalation and exhalation
  • Repeat until you begin to calm down

Take breathing even deeper with pranayama

Pranayama is the practice of regulating the breath. If practiced right, pranayama can bring harmony between mind, body, and spirit. It boosts your ability to be mentally and spiritually strong. There are very specific breathwork techniques that we’ll cover in future posts (or videos!), but here’s one to get you started. If you attend yoga classes regularly, you’ll probably find that many yoga teachers include pranayama. 

Use with meditation

Breathwork can be a fantastic addition to your mindfulness or meditation practice. 

TECHNIQUE for Meditation

  • Quiet your body and mind
  • Observe your breath as it is
  • Slow your breathing to a calm steady level
  • Concentrate on the air that moves in and out of your lungs
  • Focus on how your body feels and moves as you inhale and exhale

Much like massage, there is no doubt that breathing can encourage relaxation and healthy habits. It keeps the body/mind functioning and curbs stress. Your muscles naturally relax and you can go about your day a little easier.

Breathing may seem insignificant. It happens naturally, so we may not think about breathing all that much, but maybe it’s time we should.

 

Reboot Your Mind and Body

Do you feel stretched in a hundred different directions?

Obligations, deadlines, appointments, meetings, work, housework, sports…..everything else! More often than not, it seems there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week for all that needs to be done. We’re on constant high alert. We’re always moving.

All this chaos can be hard on our bodies and minds. When this happens, we tend to be less mindful of our eating. Or chasing sleep like it’s a lively kitten. Or we get snippy with loved ones and coworkers.

The effects of this day to day stress are cumulative for most of us. Stiff joints get stiffer. Cranky shoulders get crankier, then one rogue golf swing or one heavy laundry basket makes it worse.

Massage is the mini-vacation you need. Without the sand in your shoes and having to pull your computer out of your backpack. Massage therapy is a reboot. It’s the control-alt-delete for your body and mind.

A massage resets your thoughts, slows your pulse, regulates your breathing, and recharges your mind.

Spend some time on one of our cozy massage tables, taking care of you. You can schedule online right here.

8 Health Benefits of Owning a Cat

Everyone knows that pet ownership comes with a boatload of responsibility, but what you might not know is owning a pet provides healthy perks as well. June is Adopt-A-Cat month and we are going to look at ways a cat can improve your life.

Tuxedo Cat

Reduce stress and anxiety

Cuddling with a feline friend can release soothing, happy chemicals in your body and distract you from any worries you might have. Since cats are relatively low maintenance and usually have a short attention span, quality time with your cat is powerful. Even a few short minutes can reduce your stress and anxiety in a big way.

Boosts your mood

Who doesn’t love the spunkiness a cat brings to the table (or in some cases ON the table)? If the cuddles don’t lift your spirits, their playfulness certainly will. Cats are pretty simple. They are able to take the most unexpected item (a plastic cap, a feather) and make it a source of entertainment for hours.

Increase sociability

Owning and connecting with a cat is a great conversation starter. No matter what type of function or event you are attending, pet ownership can be a way to bond with other people.

Decrease loneliness

Having a feline companion can help relieve feelings of loneliness. Especially if you live alone, being greeted by a cat is much more desirable than coming home to an empty house.

Reduce allergies and boosts immunity

Exposure to pet fur and dander can result in an increased resistance to allergies. Owning a cat reduces the risk of depression while also promoting socialization, playfulness, and laughter – which all works to help your immune system function better.

Reduce medical expenses

The calming presence of a cat can lend itself to lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and ultimately reduced medical expenses. More and more stories are surfacing about how a cat sensed their owner was about to have a seizure and able to alert them before the episode.

Recover from trauma or grief

Difficult times or mourning is hard.  When someone talks to their pet, coupled with petting, can help them work through what’s ailing them. It might seem weird to talk to a pet, but it’s much easier to talk to someone that will listen and isn’t capable of judgement like humans are.

Promotes relaxation

Much like massage, owning a cat promotes relaxation. A simple snuggle with your cat can trigger feelings of happiness and love. This can also lead to better sleep habits and quality rest.

You might be questioning if you’re cut out for cats. It doesn’t matter if you’ve always fancied yourself as a dog lover, the companionship (and health benefits!) you experience by owning a cat is hard to compete with. If you think you have room for a feline friend in your life, check out a local shelter to see if you connect with a pet that’ll bring you much happiness and love.

6 Healthy Actions You Can Do At Work

May is Global Employee Health and Fitness Month, so we are going to talk about some ways to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle by giving you simple actions you can do anywhere… especially at work.

Stairs

Take the stairs.
Pedometers, Fitbits, and various health tools track steps and daily mileage. One of the first things people do when they lean into a healthier lifestyle is to increase their movement. This can take the form of an actual organized fitness plan or by incorporating little acts that propel them forward toward their goals; such as taking the stairs and parking a little further from the building.

Get up.
If you’re a desk jockey, one of the best things you can do is to get up and move. Do it every hour if you can. This action can increase blood flow as well as your productivity. A 5-10 minute break can prevent eye strain, cramped wrists and stretch a stagnant body.

Increase your water intake.
Hydrate. Do we really need to tell you why? Drinking water is good for you and will keep you hydrated. Benefits also include improving digestion and clearer skin. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and sip from it often. (Bonus tip: Couple drinking water with a repetitive activity can be a good way to stay on task.)

Eat something.
Very busy people often forget to eat. We’re not talking sugary snacks that boost your energy (and then cause a crash) throughout the day. We’re talking about healthy, good-for-you snacks that keep you feeling full and satisfied without all the calories and carbs.

Breathe Deep.
The workplace can be hectic at times. Finding a moment to take a deep breath can keep the most frazzled days focused and on point. Remembering to breathe will help you reduce stress and anxiety, slow your heart rate, and just feels good.

Get a massage.
Ok, so this one is kinda hard to do on the clock. We’ve managed to find ways around this though. Scheduling a half hour massage on your lunch break might be just the thing to keep you on task and relaxed. You could go for a full treatment off the clock OR maybe you can talk “the powers that be” into recruiting some massage therapists for some seated chair massage right there in the office.

There are so many other ways to practice healthy habits at work. From balancing poses at the copier to correcting your posture at your desk. Practicing healthy habits in the workplace is tricky. Find ways to work them in and before long you won’t even notice the extra tasks that are bringing you one step closer to a healthier you!

Need a break from the office? Book a massage.

What is Ashiatsu?

Known as the “Deepest Most Luxurious Massage on the Planet,” Ashiatsu is a  profoundly relaxing massage that can be modified for light pressure to very deep. Basically, it’s a massage performed smoothly with my feet while overhead parallel wooden bars provide balance as I work.

You use your feet!?

Yes!  No worries though! I clean my feet before and after every massage and I take care to keep my feet smooth and soft.

So…you’re walking on people?…

I actually leave one foot on the massage table for balance and stability, while using the other foot to massage. By shifting my weight from one foot to the other I can easily adjust the amount of pressure to your comfort. Ashiatsu is not a “No Pain, No Gain” massage — your safety and well-being are my top concern.

Should I get an Ashiatsu Massage? 

Are you looking to relax or relieve stress? The slow, flowing strokes of an Ashiatsu massage make for a deeply relaxing experience.

Do you like firm pressure? The foot provides a more comfortable pressure, as opposed to pointy thumbs and elbows. Barefoot massage allows me to provide a deeper pressure than is possible using my hands.

Are you looking to relieve muscles aches and pains? The broad, consistent pressure of Ashiatsu is the perfect match for sore muscles.

Ashiatsu isn’t the right massage for everybody. And in some cases, massage altogether may not be right for you.  If you have any concerns, please discuss them with your therapist prior to scheduling a massage.

Some reasons you should not receive Ashiatsu:

  • You are pregnant or trying to conceive. (You’ll want to contact a prenatal massage therapist instead.)
  • You have had any type of implants in the last 9 months
  • You have osteoporosis or fragile bones
  • You are on blood thinning medication (including high doses of aspirin)
  • You are in cancer treatment or recovery (See more about oncology massage here.)

Again, if you have any concerns about whether Ashiatsu is right for you, please discuss them with your massage therapist. In most cases, even if you can not receive Ashiatsu, massage may be modified so it is appropriate for you.

 

 

How to Offer Support to Families Dealing with Cancer

bridge supports

Families are in the trenches dealing with cancer every day. It’s easy to feel helpless when friends and people close to you are struggling. Since September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we’re going to give you some simple things you can do to help those who are facing the dreaded “C” word.

Do. Don’t ask.

It’s easy to say, “let me know if you need anything.” What the family needs is someone to say, “hey, I’m making you dinner.” Or “I’m babysitting – just tell me what day (or night).” Don’t give them the burden of asking. Just offer it.

Gift cards go a long way.

Treatments can sometimes take a patient and family far from home. Do a little research and purchase gift cards for restaurants, hotel chains and gas stations near the hospital they are using. A gift subscription to Amazon Prime or Netflix may be helpful to someone who is bedridden. Some downtime and low key entertainment might be just what they need. And, of course, a massage gift certificate paired with an offer of babysitting is a perfect way to care for the care givers.

Remember the siblings.

Cancer affects the entire family. Siblings often are trying to navigate many emotions like fear and jealousy. Commit to a sibling and offer to be there for them. Be a friend. Be someone they can lean on and talk to. If you send the cancer patient a gift, make sure you give something to the sibling and include them.

Show up

Shortly after diagnosis, a family will receive calls, cards, and meals. Anything to help soothe the heartbreaking news. After time, these things fade away and the family is still traveling the long road. It could be months or even years. It’s a financial and emotional weight. Keep them in mind and reach out well after the dust settles.

It’s hard to know what to say to a family that’s struggling with cancer. But don’t disappear. Meet them where they are. Sometimes there are no words. Just be present.  Reach out and enlist the help of others to send cards, letters and other nice/silly/fun things that will brighten the family’s day. Even an “I’ve been thinking of you” text speaks volumes.

These tips might not seem like much, but it can mean the world to a family facing cancer. Long days and sleepless nights can be an endless cycle. Little gestures of kindness can bring the family loads comfort.

3 Reasons to Get a Facial Massage

Face and Scalp Massage

Back, shoulders, neck. These are the most commonly requested areas for massage in my office. But what about the rest of your body? Here are some great reasons to give facial massage a try.

  1. Release tension in the muscles of your face.The muscles of our face do a lot of work everyday. Chewing, talking, facial expressions. But these muscles are often overlooked in favor of a longer back massage. Facial massage can ease tension in the jaw and help relieve tension headaches.
  2. Overall Stress Relief. Massage is a great stress reliever. For me, a relaxing massage of the face and scalp is Ahhh-some.
  3. Radiant Skin. A lesser known benefit of massage is that in can keep your skin looking healthy. Massage increases blood circulation to the skin and can give your face a healthy glow. Relaxing the muscles of the face can soften fine lines.

Ready to relax?  Schedule a Massage