Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Massage and Posture

Recently a new client asked me if massage could help with posture. Wow, what great question! And you can tell she was new because otherwise she would know that's my favorite bodywork topic.

I'll answer this starting with some background describing what poor posture is, then go from the most direct effects of receiving hands-on massage to more indirect and self-guided benefits.

The bones, muscles, and connective tissue have a natural shape and arrangement. Deviations from this tend to cause chronic pain and limited range of motion. Consciously or unconsciously, we tend to notice and appreciate when others have good posture and so it is safe to assume ours is noticed as well.

The original causes of posture problems include injury, emotional issues, physical activity such as weight lifting or yoga, and anatomical. These all tend to reinforce each other, so it takes a deliberate effort to overcome them.

For example, a person's leg is injured playing sports. While the leg is healing the other leg has to work harder, so it grows stronger. The injured leg hurts, so it is used less(antalgia) and grows weaker and less mobile. Years later, a habit of standing with the weight on the uninjured leg is unconsciously continued and now feels 'normal.'

Here's another example. As a teenager a shy person develops the habit of protectively wrapping the arms around the chest and holding the head down. The front(anterior) torso muscles shorten and the posterior muscles overstretch. This person may take up yoga and do stretches(asanas) that stretch the upper back because it feels good, but these muscles are already overstretched. Asanas such as backbends are avoided because they are harder. Another person with the same problem may take up weight lifting, and without realizing it, overdevelop the chest and abs compared to the back. Since the chest is already stronger, and the closing in motion more familiar, exactly the wrong exercises are done. All this is made worse by sitting and reaching forward to a computer keyboard, or a steering wheel(sound familiar?)

Okay, back to massage now. The muscles which are held chronically short need to relax and be trained to let go. After progress begins with that, the fascia(connective tissue throughout the muscle) needs to be gently stretched, and adhesions within the muscle sticking it together need to be worked out(deep tissue.)

The kinesthetic sense of these things happening, combined with verbal communication with the therapist, brings awareness to where holding occurs. This is part is critical, because otherwise the patterns of poor posture are maintained unconsciously all the time you're not on the massage table.

Finally, self care exercises and stretches are taught. The shortened areas need to be stretched frequently and the opposite(antagonistic) muscles need strengthened.

To recap, massage, from Positive Massage Therapy at least, helps with posture by bringing awareness to the issue, helping release the tissues pulling your body out of alignment, education about the anatomy involved, and how to stretch and strengthen to care for the problem yourself.

At this point, you may be saying "That's great, but what about cookies?" It's been too hot to bake for a few days, but anyone with an appointment Friday or Saturday should get a fresh peanut butter cookie to eat.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Deep Tissue, and Soup Day

Yesterday I made soup, and started simmering ideas about Deep Tissue massage. Massage first:

Many people specifically ask for a Deep Tissue massage. But just what does that mean? I was taught, and the usual technical definition, is that DT is focused work in one spot to break up adhesions within and between muscle fibers. However clients usually mean they want an overall massage with really strong pressure.

Spas may offer Deep Tissue on the menu, but I can tell you what they are almost certainly giving is a firm Swedish massage. There is no such thing as a full body Deep Tissue massage- DT is used in one area for a specific reason. It isn't relaxing either. And since the spots where clients want the most pressure are spots that need to relax, causing those spots discomfort is likely to cause them to tighten even more.

Instead of labeling a massage one or the other, my solution is to ask clients what their goals are for the massage and what pain or limitations they feel. I don't ask what massage modality they want. I do invite feedback as the massage proceeds to be sure I'm on track.

At one moment during the massage I may use a technique from Deep Tissue and at another moment a PNF stretch from Sports Massage gets added. Then it may be followed by something I picked up studying Lomi Lomi. It's the result that counts.
More information is on my website:

OK, now the soup. Here are all the ingredients that I remember:
  • Bean juice- the water that I previously cooked garbanzos in
  • some very finely chopped carrots bits, to dissolve
  • potato
  • yam(probably really a sweet potato)
  • turnip
  • rutabaga
  • parsnip
  • onion
  • green beans
  • tomatoes frozen last summer
  • garlic. Must have garlic
  • zucchini
  • jalapeno and serrano chilies
  • some other things I forgot
  • some other things which are secret
  • energy, in the form of heat
Consumed with greens from the farmers market plus nasturtiums from the balcony, lentils, and a chunk of whole grain bread. That's nutrition!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

New stretch and homegrown EFA

This week I added another stretch to my website. Like the others so far, it's great for people who spend too much time sitting with their arms, shoulders, and head pulled forward.

The Selfcare: Stretching and Movement page is where a lot of my more serious advice goes. (As opposed to this blog, which is more whimsical.) I will be adding some lower body stretches, and plenty of more information about stretching in general.

The news from the balcony is that the purslane is emerging like crazy.

Purslane is commonly considered a weed, but in the last few years it has gotten great publicity as a "superfood." Its greatest virtue is being a fantastic plant source of omega-3 fatty acid, and it is also high in vitamins A and C, plus other fabulous nutrients. I put the leaves and smaller stems on salads and chop the thicker stems into soup. The California Avenue farmers' market has a stand full of various weed-like veggies, which is where I got the originals. A few cuttings put in water, transplanted after roots develop, et voila!

In the exercise department, I did a trade with a personal trainer that was a ton of fun. The good news- all the core exercises went great. The bad news- my tri's are still hurting, and I'm terrible at the military press. The best news- I consider core strength far more important than the military press.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Elements of health

Three key elements of health are bodywork(of course!), exercise, and nutrition- specifically my delicious, homemade, organic, vegan cookies. Today I made for clients and co-workers a batch of oat/barley/date cookies- my favorite. If it is possible and I can figure out how I'll post a PDF of the recipe. Until then, you'll just have to book a massage with me to get one.

On the exercise front, today I did a fun low body focused one I'll describe. First, note that this is not isolating anything, and the whole body is involved. Here's the deal: Balance a dumbbell on its end. Stand on the dumbbell with one foot. Touch the other leg to the floor behind you, then in front, then tilt your torso forward and raise the leg to horizontal behind you(like the yoga pose warrior 1.) If you have any back injury or pain skip the last step and keep the torso upright. If you do it be sure to bend from the pelvis and keep the spine neutral* the whole time.

Obviously this works on balance, plus the abductors are engaged to keep you from falling sideways. In the two foot taps on the floor the quads are worked and in the forward bend the glute max and hamstrings are exercised.

For extra fun, hold a small weight in one hand(I use 15-20 lbs.) For extra, extra fun, switch the weight between hands as you go.

If you're still working your way up to this level of fun, stand on something more stable than a dumbbell, and do only one of the touches of your foot.

*I first wrote "spine straight" but that's not accurate since the spine is naturally curved. Neutral means don't increase the curve as you bend at the hips(top of the legs.) More(lots) about the spine in future posts. -SR

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hello, world.

Fun new things for the week:
  • picked and ate the first produce from the balcony garden- a nasturtium blossom
  • modified a difficult exercise to make it even harder
  • started this blog
I'm happy to see that my nasturtiums have survived the brutal Palo Alto winter and are already producing food for my table. The salvia, which I don't eat but the hummingbirds do, is doing well, but not surprisingly the basil has gone on to that great pesto bowl in the sky.

Here's a fun way to shape and tone your bod: Imagine doing a push-up. Now put your hands on the edge of an inverted bosu. Put one foot in a TRX strap. Sounds fun, but wait, there's more! As you go down into the push-up, swing the free leg forward under you, and as you straighten your arms swing the free leg up and over to the opposite side. Extra credit for keeping the moving leg straight and getting a big twist in the lower torso. Don't let your midsection sag at all.

As far as blogging goes, I will start thinking of things to say about the massage business that don't involve talking about actual clients(which would not be ethical.)