Sunday, December 7, 2008

How I quit Coffee

With a Starbucks on every corner nowadays, it is no wonder that many of us have caffeine addictions. “But I only have one or two cups a day” is a very common excuse for caffeine-a-holics, and one I myself used for a long time.

While I think some people are probably fine with a cup of coffee a day, I knew that I was not one of them. I could feel my heart palpitating after coffee, and could not drink a cup after 3, or else I would never sleep.

I tried to quit a few times over the years, usually by cutting back on the amount per day, until I was down to a couple of sips, but for some reason I could just never completely drop it.

Then I realized that I was trying to stop a bad habit without acknowledging the intentions associated with the habit. What I mean by this what I was getting out of the ritual. I was trying to give it up because I didn’t think caffeine was good for me, but it is amazing how little regard we really give to something not so good for us if it is fulfilling another purpose.

What was caffeine’s purpose for me? The reason I still had my coffee every morning was because it gave me an excuse to sit back and relax for a couple of minutes before starting my busy day.

So, what I really wanted by drinking coffee was a few minutes to relax before making lunches and getting my boy off to daycare. My next step, therefore, was to think of some ways I could accomplish this other than coffee. The interesting thing about this is that I couldn’t just sit in the same chair and watch the news without my coffee, as that was also part of the habit, and so the craving was too strong. So I decided that, rather than go out to the living room and sit in my rocker, I would sit for a moment in the bedroom. We moved a chair into the bedroom, and I sit for a few minutes when I wake up, taking a couple of nice deep breathes with my eyes closed. I am then able to go about my morning with no real thought of coffee at all.

I was told a long time ago that it takes 21 days to break a habit, so with the intentions behind my habit figured out, I marked 21 days off on the calendar, and quit cold turkey. I had a headache the first afternoon, and again the next day, but that was it! Day three was definitely the worst, not for headaches, but for cravings. I really wanted a coffee. I reminded myself of why I was doing this. I was pretty scared by the heart palpitations, and a good night sleep is pretty important to me. (There is also mixed research on the affects of caffeine on the body, especially on cortisol levels (stress hormone), which could lead to many long term side effects, from heart disease to diabetes, but that is a topic for another day!)

Then I did what most people do when trying to break a habit like this, I ate to take my mind off it. OK, so I am not proud of that fact, and no I didn’t eat carrot sticks, I had some yummy creamy yogurt and a couple of cookies. It was really good, and it helped my get through day 3. This is when you have to be careful not to trade one habit for another one! There are many ex alcoholics who are now obsessive marathon runners. They simply traded one addiction for another. It is especially easy to go back to an old habit (like over eating for me), so be mindful of this during the first few weeks.

So to recap, if you want to break a bad habit, you first need to be sure of why you want to give it up. This process will take some will power and focus, so if you are wishy-washy on why you want to quit a habit, you will have a much harder time quitting.

Next, figure out what you are getting from your bad habit – what need is it meeting. You must then find some other ways to achieve this need, and make it easy to do the new activities.

Then just go for it. Even if you slip up and revert back to the old habit once or twice, just move forward from there with the new activity, until all of a sudden it becomes habit for you, thereby replacing the bad habit.

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it! It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nocturnal Calf Cramps

There you are, snug in bed, dreaming soundly, recharging after a long day when BOOM!

You are jolted awake by the biggest, most angry pain you have ever felt. You are so out of it that for a split second you are frozen with pain, then you realize it is your calf, and panic a bit, as you know it should be stretched out, but going even slightly into the stretch seems to increase the already excruciating agony.

Have you been there? If so you know I haven’t exaggerated the description just for effect. It can be a frightening and very painful experience. So what on earth could cause such a thing?

Well, believe it or not, nocturnal calf cramps are frequently a symptom of good old trigger points, specifically of the gastrocnemius muscle in your calf. (This is not the only possible cause, however. Nothing is ever that simple!)

It is quite a common occurrence too! All it takes is for you to stay in a position of plantar flexion (foot pointed away from you, thereby tightening the calf muscles) for a prolonged period of time. This is common if you are sitting without your feet flat on the floor, but instead supporting yourself up on your toes, sleeping on your stomach or back with toes pointing down the bed, climbing or running steep hills, or wearing high heels.

Nocturnal calf cramps are also common in pregnant women, which could be due to postural changes to compensate for the change in centre of gravity. As the centre of gravity moves forward and down, there is more stress placed on the calf muscles to help maintain balance. (Although electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, low magnesium or calcium levels, and possibly diabetes are just a few other possibilities, not just for pregnant women, but for anyone suffering from nocturnal calf cramps.)

Therefore, if you are suffering from nocturnal calf cramps, it is a good idea to see your physician and have these possibilities ruled out.

Calf trigger points can also be provoked by a forceful contraction when the muscle is in a shortened position, or if the muscle gets fatigued or chilled.

Your calf muscles have an important job through the day (other than helping you walk and stand upright.) They also work as a pump to squeeze blood back up veins in your legs. At night when you are sleeping, this mechanism is also at rest, possibly causing a lack of oxygen to the area. This might help explain the reason these cramps seem to occur at night.

Treating a nocturnal calf cramp is important; otherwise it could be in spasm for 30 minutes or more! Ouch!

Start by stretching the calf out. You can do this by drawing your toes towards your nose, with knee straight (if you are sitting up in bed), or by standing facing a wall, with hands on the wall at shoulder level, and the leg to be stretched behind you (full foot on the floor, knee straight), with your other leg in front (foot flat on floor, knee slightly bent). Then gently lean your body toward the wall, keeping the back knee straight, foot on the floor, and bending at the knee on the leg in front. Go just until you feel a gentle stretch, and then hold, breathing deeply, for a minute or two. Then stretch the other side too, just to keep things even!

Warmth is great too, and might help you get back to sleep after the episode! A warm buddy, heated up and placed on your calf will help with blood flow, and keep the muscle from getting chilled. You can also heat your calves before bed, if calf cramping is a common occurrence for you.

At night, try to avoid having your feet in the pointed position. This can happen if you are sleeping on your stomach, with your feet pointing down the bed, or lying on your back with heavy covers pulling the toes down. You may need to adjust your covers, or even have your feet out of the covers (with some socks on to keep ‘em warm). If you are a back sleeper you can try putting a pillow or rolled blanket at your feet, to stop them from pointing down. If you are a tummy sleeper, you can place a pillow under your shins (like I do on the massage table), or even have your feet hang off the end of the bed.

Relieving calf trigger points can go a long way to alleviating nocturnal calf cramps. Focus on the medial (inside) of the gastrocnemius muscle, as trigger points here seem to be the most common culprits. You can use a rolling pin to roll up the muscle, and hold on the tender points until they release (please be gentle). You can also use a tennis ball or Kong, or just knead your calves with your hands. Or come in and I’ll do it for you!

Low potassium and calcium levels are possible factors in muscle cramping, as well as vitamin E. Please talk to your doctor before taking supplements.

I hope this gives you some ideas of how to deal with or avoid this painful and frightening situation. Sleep tight!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Foiled by my Own Trigger Point

Like everyone, I have my daily dose of aches and pains. And, like everyone, I do a pretty good job of ignoring them and getting on with my day! So I have been having an intermittent pain in my left hamstring for a few months now, but never mentioned it to my massage therapist, as I just didn’t want to take time away from my precious neck and shoulder treatment!

It would come and go, and was a dull achy pain that ran pretty much the entire length of the hamstring muscle belly, and I could sometimes feel it right at the attachment to the ischial tuberosity (sit bone).

Now you know I am the queen of self-massage, so I of course worked on the hamstring with a tennis ball and the Stick, on a number of occasions. I stretched it many a time, especially if it was bothering me at bedtime. Nothing really seemed to be helping though, but I just wasn’t concerned enough about it to give it much critical thought.

I can promise you that if someone came to see me with “hamstring pain”, I would not immediately assume it was hamstring, but for some reason my mind was set that I had done something to my hamstring, and that was that. To be honest, trigger point referral never even crossed my mind. Can you believe it!

It was starting to be a little more uncomfortable, and just happened to be bothering my at my last massage visit, so I decided to mention it to my therapist. I told her that my hamstring had been bothering me off and on for a few months, and would she mind just poking around a bit before she worked on my neck and shoulders (which is usually all I want worked on).

So my massage therapist; lets call her Sheila (because that’s her name!), starts working on my gluteals. Well, I am thinking to myself, “don’t waste time there, just get into the darn hamstring and then work on my shoulder”. Not a second later, she lands on a massive trigger point in my piriformis muscle, and voila, a perfect replica of my hamstring pain!

Talk about an “I’m such an idiot” moment. I immediately realized how obvious it was that what I had been feeling for so long was referral pain, and not only did I completely miss that fact, but almost got upset with my therapist for not working right on the painful spot like I had asked! (Sorry Sheila!)

So the next time you are having issues with your body, tell your therapist about it first and foremost, and then let them work their magic, even if you think they are working the wrong spot!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

7 Ways to Have Fun With Your Veggies!

We all know how important it is to get more fruits and vegetables into our diets. I believe that it is also important to eat more RAW vegetables, so I thought I would give you a few ideas on how you can have some fun them!

1) DIP – I love dipping raw veggies into hummus, guacamole, or a yummy raw rutabaga dip I adapted from one of Frederic Patenaude’s recipes:

2) BLEND – ah yes, I am sure you know I am a smoothie lover. How awesome is it to be able to have an entire spinach salad blended with some fruit first thing in the morning! You have just had more greens than most people get in their entire day, before even heading off to work! Try blending two fresh mangoes, some strawberries and a few romaine leaves together with a little water. Yum! You can find more recipes like this one here:

3) TOSS – make one of your daily meals a big salad. Be creative! I add nuts and seeds, sprouts, cherry tomatoes, peppers, chopped raw asparagus, beans, grated beet, avocado, radicchio, and arugula to salads. You can also add salmon, chicken, boiled egg, or cheese if you like (feta is great), or just keep it green! Beware of fattening dressings, however. I quite like a squirt of lemon or mango juice, or will often top my salad with salsa or a touch of hemp oil and balsamic vinegar. Mix some up in a spray bottle (translucent glass bottle is best), and just give a spray or two.

4) SHRED – grate or shred veggies in a food processor or grater, and sprinkle on top of soup, chili, or pasta. Shredded carrot, cabbage, spinach, basil, beet, turnip are just a few examples. They not only add nutrition and texture, but also make your meal pretty!

5) SLICE – I love making veggie sandwiches. Take two pieces of your favorite bread, (or lettuce or kale leaves to keep it raw), spread ripe avocado on them (that’s right, no butter or mayo!). Then layer with thinly sliced tomato, orange and yellow pepper, cucumber, lettuce, sprouts, and even shredded carrot. Oh my goodness, I am drooling just typing this.

6) CHOP – homemade salsa is the best thing on the planet. You can put it on fish, chicken, salad, or even eat it with a fork! Although a food processor is the quick and easy way to make it, I love the taste and texture of hand chopped salsa. If you don’t have time to make it then try to find some fresh made at a deli (Delicado’s in Nanaimo makes great salsa!)

7) ROLL – think a sushi lunch is healthy? If you go for things like California rolls, then you are eating way too much white rice, fake crab, and often gobs of fattening mayonnaise! Then it gets dipped into high sodium soy sauce. And don’t even get me started on Tempura! So how can you enjoy sushi without the hidden calories? Shred some cabbage and carrot, and place a bit of each on a nori sheet. Then add a chunk of avocado, a few sunflower sprouts, and just a touch of curry powder. Roll it up, wet the edge of the nori sheet to secure it, cut it into bite sized pieces and voila! Your very own veggie sushi! You can find recipes like this one at

And there you have it! So the next time you are staring into your crisper with bewildered boredom, just think of one of these options, and start having some fun with your nutrition!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Trigger Points are Toxic!

I have always explained myofascial trigger points as areas of stagnant, toxic, acidic tissue, mostly because that is what I was told in school, and it just made sense that if your tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen, and being used incorrectly or simply too much, then inflammation and metabolic toxins will build up, all of which trigger pain receptors to “red flag” the area. Well, I am learning that the “because they said so” scientific method just doesn’t cut it. But it turns out there is actually some research confirming this theory!

Trigger points are painful spots in muscles that can refer pain into other areas, cause your muscles to feel weak and tired, and affect range of motion, and often mimic other conditions, therefore getting misdiagnosed more often than not. They affect millions of people, can be very debilitating, and yet have been ignored and misunderstood by the medical community for far too long.

New research is therefore both exciting and imperative.

There has been a theory for many years that trigger points are perpetuated via a feedback loop, where tight muscle tissue becomes tighter and unhealthier, as it uses oxygen and deposits metabolic byproducts produced during use. This excess tightness impedes blood flow into the area, leading to insufficient oxygen supply and further chemical buildup (metabolic, inflammatory and immune), causing pain and further muscle tightening, and yet more byproducts, and so the cycle continues.

A recent study by a group of scientists (1) has now shown that there are indeed large amounts of inflammatory and immune chemicals in tissues adjacent to active trigger points, as compared to latent trigger point and normal muscle tissue. This helps validate the feedback theory.

I believe this also helps to validate massage therapy as a treatment for trigger points (besides the unscientific fact that it just works)! If you can break this feedback loop somewhere along the line, you should be able to relax the trigger point. If you can get more oxygen into the area, relax the tight muscles, and mobilize the area, tissue health will improve, and the feedback loop could be disrupted. Hmm, sounds like a great theory for a research study!

(1) Biochemicals Associated With Pain and Inflammation are Elevated in Sites Near to and Remote From Active Myofascial Trigger Points
Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Volume 89, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 16-23
Jay P. Shah, Jerome V. Danoff, Mehul J. Desai, Sagar Parikh, Lynn Y. Nakamura, Terry M. Phillips, Lynn H. Gerber

Thursday, July 10, 2008

You Can Fit in Fitness

It’s the most overused excuse in the fitness world, “I just don’t have the time.” Here is my question to you – do you have time to brush your teeth, watch a 30 minute TV show before bed, or go have coffee with a friend at lunch? If you said yes to any of these, then you have time in your day to exercise.

I can already hear the next excuse forming in your brain, “but I need to watch TV for an half hour to calm down before bed.” Well, watching TV is one of the worst things you can do before bed, as it stimulates the brain, so you actually take longer to fall asleep after. Better idea? How about shut of the tube, and enjoy a few minutes of relaxing yoga, or even just lying in a dark room to take a few deep breaths. You will sleep better, and feel more energized the next day.

But I digress, let’s go through a day and see just how many times you can sneak in an extra squat or two!

Your first opportunity is before you even get out of bed in the morning. When you wake up, take a moment to roll onto your back, take a nice deep breath and stretch out. Then bend your knees and place your feet on the bed, and tilt your pelvis back and forth a couple of times (push your low back into the bed as you lift your pubic bone toward the ceiling, and then arch your low back up as you push your tailbone into the bed). Next turn over onto all fours, and do a cat stretch (arch your mid back up toward the ceiling, and then relax). Repeat a couple of times.

OK, so how long did that take – two minutes? If you don’t have time for that, then set your alarm clock two minutes earlier. You aren’t going to notice a two-minute decrease in sleep.

I am sure you have all adjusted your morning routine to give yourself time to sit and have at least a quick breakfast (and if not, you better adjust your alarm clock a tad more)! Sitting gives another great exercise opportunity, as you can do some quadriceps strengthening! This is one of the easiest exercises – simply straighten your legs out, one at a time, and contract your quadriceps muscles when your leg is fully extended. Then relax and repeat on the other side.

No time to sit? No problem, just do some calf raises while you are brushing your teeth, because I assume you have time to brush your teeth!

Even Driving to work provides chances for fitness. You can stretch out your neck and forearms (great idea if you do computer work all day) at red lights. You can even do bicep curls.

It’s not a new idea to park further from wherever you are going, so why are we not doing it? I have caught myself driving around scoping out the closest spot. It is simply a bad habit, but habits can be changed!

Ok, so now you are at work. Definitely no time for fitness, right? Wrong! Go for a walk at break or lunch – take a coworker with you. Don’t take a lunch? Remember those quadriceps exercises I told you about, well you can do those at your desk too, or calf raises if you are standing. Of course there is always the stairs/elevator controversy. Work on the 17th floor? Walk up to floor 5 and then take the elevator. Maybe next week you will walk to floor 6, etc. You can even do squats while talking on the phone.

Back home at the end of a long day, and you are exhausted! Now it is time to make dinner, get the family fed, clean up the kitchen, get the kids to bed, and hopefully have a little quiet time for yourself. Sounds like there is no way you can exercise. Well I hate to say it again, but wrong! Our family goes for a walk around the block after supper most nights. This gives everyone some exercise after supper, lets us spend some quality time together, and also poops out our boy, so that he is ready for sleep!

You finally have a couple of hours to yourself, and what do you do? Many of us are guilty of sitting down to watch TV, read a book, or play on the computer. So sit for an hour and do it, and then take 15 to 20 minutes to run up and down the stairs, do squats, sit ups, pushups, some bicep or triceps curls, just something. Then sit back down and do whatever you want again. You will be much more productive after the short break, and probably end up getting more accomplished than if you hadn’t stopped! You will also use up some of that stored energy so that you can fall asleep better. I find I get restless legs at night if I have a week of non-exercise, I think it is my bodies way of telling me to move!

The bottom line is, most of us are awake for about 15 to 16 hours a day. You can find 20 minutes to exercise (not necessarily all together either), you just need to think about it and make it a habit. If you decide to do a lunchtime walk, then recruit a friend and put it in your schedule.

I now do calf raises every time I brush my teeth, I run up the stairs rather than walk, I do stretches at work between appointments, and every morning before I get up. I do squats and pushups during commercial breaks, and we have a family walk after supper. I also regularly do yoga, fitness videos, and run, but the information I am providing is how to get going. You can add the hour-long workouts once you start to like the feel of fitness, and I know you will!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to Love Exercise

I just finished my favorite workout DVD, the New York City Ballet Workout. I had borrowed this workout video from a friend years ago, and just loved it, but had to return it. With every intention of purchasing it for myself, I got a little side tracked - for about 5 years! I finally asked for it this past Christmas, and my sister bought it for me!

With every intention of doing it, the DVD sat unopened since Christmas, until I finally took the 20 seconds it takes to load it up in the DVD player! I had such a great time - the music is wonderful, and it is a total body workout. I can't believe it took me so long.

So why am I telling you this? Because, although I have done many other videos and forms of exercise over the past few years, I really loved this particular one, and deprived myself of the joy it brought me during exercise.

We all know how important exercise is for overall health, and yet it is still such a struggle to fit in for many of us. So please, if you find that one thing you love about exercise - be it a video, particular class or activity, or a special someone you love to workout with, then don't deprive yourself of that experience. Make time for it, and take the 20 seconds it takes to get started on it.

I have now made Wednesday mornings my official "ballet workout appointment" - yeah for nice toned legs this summer!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Self Massage for Tired, Achy Feet

It can be such a challenge to keep a smiling face while standing on sore, fatigued feet. This is especially true if it is only 11 in the morning, and you still have 6 hours of work left!

So let’s talk about a couple of things you can do to help your poor abused feet feel a little better, so that you can get on with the day!

It is important to note that, if your foot pain is something new, severe, accompanied with inflammation or edema, or progressively getting worse, you should seek medical attention. If it is attributable to overuse and abuse, then some self-treatment is in order!

There is nothing more invigorating for tired, overworked feet then to immerse them in cold water. I know this might sound nasty, but just try it! My hubby and I run at a local lake, and our favorite thing to do after our run is take off our shoes and wade in the lake. Don’t have a lake nearby? No problem, you can fill up a tub, bucket, sink, or even stand outside and run the garden hose over your feet.

If you only have 10 minutes between coming home from a long work day, and going out to dinner in high heels, then a one minute cool foot soak is just as important as fixing your hair!

Ah yes, warmth on the tootsies is so very relaxing. I recommend heat if you have some time to relax, and your feet are not inflamed. A 10 to 20 minute soak in warm water can help you calm down after a busy day, and also help soothe and relax all those achy muscles in your feet. A portable foot massage/bath unit is lovely, or you can even sit on the side of the tub with your feet in!

A great thing to do after your footbath is some massage, so let’s discuss that next!

A tennis ball is the cheapest and easiest way to self massage your feet. You can simply place the tennis ball on the floor, and stand on it with one foot, rolling it up and down, back and forth and all around.

From a seated position, you can also cross one foot over the opposite thigh, and use your thumbs to work into the muscles on the bottom of your foot. Don’t forget to give each toe a little squeeze and gentle traction.

There are also many different massage tools out on the market specifically designed for feet, so feel free to experiment!

A simple stretch is to sit with legs out in front of you (knees bent), and draw your toes toward your nose with your hands. It is best to hold your toes at their base with your fingers, and gently extend them up.

Please remember that stretching should not be painful. It should feel like a gentle taut sensation, and melt away after a few seconds. At that point, you can increase the stretch until you feel the taut feeling again, and hold until it releases.

Mobilizing is another great tool, similar to stretching. When you mobilize a joint you basically take it through its entire range of motion many times. This helps relax ligaments, gets nutrition moving into the joint, and keeps everything limber and oxygenated.

To mobilize your feet, you need to move the ankles and toes. This is best done sitting with your calves supported on a footstool, but feet hanging off the end. You can also lie with your feet hanging off the end of your bed. Simply roll your ankles both clockwise and counter clockwise, and flex and extend them. Then flex and extend your toes, as well as spread them apart as far a you can. Repeat each move 20 times.

This should give you just a few ideas to help your achy feet feel a little better. There are most definitely other factors to consider, such as leg muscles, and preventative measures, but this will at least get you started!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Being Selfish Can Be Good For Your Health

“You are being selfish” is normally a phrase meant as negative criticism, but I want to talk about selfishness as a positive trait today.

As a mom, and a massage therapist, I know what it is like to give of yourself: both physically and emotionally. It can be very rewarding, but also extremely draining – sometimes to the point that you begin to resent your situation, and break down on many levels.

And as a mom and a massage therapist, I have had to learn that when you get to this point there are two choices:

1. Opt for martyr status and push yourself through, continuing at a self-depleting pace, until you break down, either physically or mentally. This usually leaves you absolutely useless to everyone, and therefore not helping those that you worked so selflessly to help in the first place.

2. Take a break, be it an hour, a day, or a week, to take care of yourself, so that you can once again help others with the empathy and energy you pride yourself on.

I know for many of you, taking time for yourselves feels selfish, embarrassing to admit to, and just plain wrong, but I know every one of you has opted for choice number one before with dismal consequences.

I am not going to go into much description of the self depleting things we do, as it is different for everyone, and chances are you know what they are: working too many hours, not taking holidays, never leaving the kids with babysitters, caring for ailing parents, volunteering all of your spare time away.

Obviously these are extremely important activities, but is your child really going to grow up differently if you hire a babysitter for an hour a week so that you can go to yoga class? Well, they might, because that hour to yourself could just give you the balance and energy you need to be a more calm and patient parent!

If you feel great working 40 hours a week and volunteering another 20 hours a week; feel energized and ready to give each job 100% every day, then you are probably doing things right for you. If, however, you feel depleted at the end of the day, and have to drag yourself to work, or have feelings of bitterness toward your daily tasks, then you are not giving yourself enough to recharge with.

So how to recharge? You might need time off, or better nutrition, or more sleep, or even to find yourself a partner to share things with. What ever it is, listen to your inner voice telling you what you are lacking in, and be selfish and go get it!

Being selfish could be as easy as giving yourself 20 minutes of uninterrupted time every day to enjoy your lunch – no cell phones, no book work, just peace and quiet. It could be turning off the TV 30 minutes before bed to do some yoga or meditation. It could be taking a day off work once a month to spend more time with your kids, or leave them in daycare for the day and go for a three-hour hike with a friend, or get a massage, or even sit in your pajamas all day and read a good book. It could even be as drastic as changing jobs, or taking early retirement.

The bottom line is, if you are feeling that a certain situation is too much for you, either on a mental, physical or spiritual level, you owe it to yourself to do something about it.

Even a small change can help – obviously if you are a single mother of two with a full time job and an ailing parent at home, you are in a tough spot. But all too often in a situation like this you completely give up on yourself. Instead, make it a house rule that Friday night from 8 to 9 is your time to have a hot bath with no interruptions. Hire a sitter or call a friend in if you need to. If that goes well for a few weeks, then see if you can add another bit of “me” time in the week. If you don’t, and have a nervous breakdown, or heart attack (yes these things happen), then who will you be helping?

That’s why they tell parents on an airplane to put your mask on before your child’s. You won’t be much help to your child if you have already passed out on the floor. Think about that the next time you are putting someone else’s need in front of yours and risking your own health in the process.

Do you want to use this article on your website, blog or e-zine? You can, as long as you include this blurb with it: “Denise Mackinnon is a registered massage therapist and health and wellness advocate. You can get your free subscription to her “simple health ideas” newsletter by going to

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wake up Your Posture Pathways

One of the primary reasons that poor posture can develop over time is because so many of the movements we do every day become automatic for us. This means that we do not need conscious control to do them anymore. So, when we do things like hunching over the keyboard, slouching on the couch, and clenching our jaw enough times, our brain pathways accommodate these movements so that we can do them without thinking.

As this adaptation is occurring, we also weaken the pathways that control the things we don’t do as often anymore, such as sitting up straight with our shoulders comfortably back. We therefore loose conscious awareness of the muscles needed to perform these actions, and they then become difficult for us to actively use.

So now the incorrect positions we are in all day become ingrained, and the better postural choices become more difficult to hold.

It is therefore necessary to re-awaken the nerve pathways that control the muscles necessary for correct posture. One way to help the body remember what it feels like to be properly aligned is to perform slow, controlled mobilizations into and out of the positions we are trying to reconnect to.

Let’s use the upper shoulder muscles as an example. It is very common to hold your upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles in a contracted position during times of stress, or when working at a desk. These are the muscles that raise your shoulders up toward your ears. After years of holding them tight, many people end up adopting this as normal.

I am sure many of you have had a massage therapist or other health professional tell you that one shoulder is higher than the other, as if it is some kind of amazing discovery. This is usually nothing more than chronically contracted upper shoulder muscles, often from things such as holding a purse on that shoulder, and contracting the muscles to counter balance the weight of the purse, or from working with a mouse for hours on end. Eventually, you hold the shoulder up without even realizing it, whether or not you are at the computer, or have a purse on your shoulder!

Ok, so I have drilled in the adaptive process, but how do you retrain the brain to once again hold these muscles in a relaxed state?

First of all, really contract the already contracted muscles. So, in the case of the upper shoulder muscles, raise your shoulders up to your ears, as hard as you can. Hold them in this position for a few seconds, and really pay attention to how it feels to have them tight like this. Then relax them down, and take a few deep breaths, noticing how the muscle feels when it is relaxed, and also the position of your shoulders. Repeat this a dozen times, each time bringing your mental awareness to what your body is feeling. This will help dust the cobwebs out of the nerve pathways to the brain. Do this a few times every day, as the process takes a long time to become automatic.

Now you can adapt this to any area you have posture issues. If you slouch, then exaggerate your position for a few seconds. Hunch forward, rolling your shoulders forward and dropping your head down. Then extend your spine up straight and tall, rolling your shoulder back and raising your head up and back slightly, so that you are looking straight ahead.

Performing exercises like these regularly will, overtime, help them once again become automatic for us.

Do you want to use this article on your website, blog or
e-zine? You can, as long as you include this blurb with it:
“Denise Mackinnon is a registered massage therapist and
health and wellness advocate. You can get your free subscription to her “simple health ideas” newsletter by going to

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Self Help for Sore Forearms

Many of us overuse our forearms for a living, and repetitive overuse is one common cause of sore forearms. So anyone who types, uses a mouse, hammers, crochets, paints or grips for hours a day will want to read this!

Forearms can become sore due to muscle fatigue, spasm, trigger points, direct trauma, tendinitis, or a combination of these.

If your pain is something new, severe, or accompanied with edema, please seek medical attention. If it is progressively getting worse, or you think it might be tendinitis, you should also have it checked out. If it is attributable to a repetitive or straining task you know caused it, then some self treatment is in order!

In general, and if you only have a few minutes to give yourself some relief, ice is key. You can either dunk your arms into a sink of cold water for a minute, run them under a cold tap (making sure to get right around the elbows also), wrap an ice pack around them, or use a frozen water filled Dixie cup to massage around the elbow and forearm. Just one simple ice application can make your forearms feel alive again, and ready for another day of abuse!

You don’t need to wait until you are sore to apply ice, either. If you have been doing a stressful task, such as painting a room or hammering, it is a great idea to apply some ice when you are done whether your forearms are sore yet or not. It might just ease the severity of symptoms before they even set it!

If you have a little more time, it is a good idea to spend some extra time to massage and stretch your forearms before the ice application.

It is important to note that trigger points from the neck, shoulder and even chest can all refer pain into the forearms, so you should address all these areas with massage.

The easiest way to self-massage these areas is by placing a tennis ball into a long sock. You can then hold the tennis ball behind your back and lean against a wall to treat the shoulder and back areas. Move your body up and down and side to side, applying pressure against the ball (by pushing it into the wall) to massage each area.

To work the muscles in your forearm, rest your arm on a table, palm facing down. Press the tennis ball into the meaty part of your forearm (just below the elbow), and roll it down towards your writs. Repeat this a few times, changing your position slightly to get other sections of muscle.

If you need to work a little deeper, you can even use the elbow of your opposite arm and press it firmly but gently into the muscles your forearm. Be cautious not to overdo it.

Stretching and mobilizing your forearms is an important preventative measure to keep them loose and mobile.

A simple stretch is to hold your right arm out straight in front of you, palm facing down, and elbow straight. Place your left hand on top of the outstretched one, and flex the right hand down at the wrist, so that your fingers are pointing towards the floor. You should feel a nice gentle pulling sensation in your forearm muscles. Hold this for at least 30 seconds, and repeat on the left.

Next, turn your right outstretched arm palm up, and, using the left hand, gently pull your right hand down at the wrist so that your fingers are pointing to the floor. You should feel this in the wrist and inside of the elbow. Again hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the left.

Please remember that stretching should not be painful. It should feel like a gentle taut sensation, and melt away after a few seconds. At that point, you can increase the stretch until you feel the taut feeling again, and hold until it releases.

Mobilizing is another great tool, similar to stretching. When you mobilize a joint you basically take it through its entire range of motion many times. This helps relax ligaments, get nutrition moving into the joint, and keeps everything limber and oxygenated.

To mobilize your forearms, you need to move the wrists and elbows. Start with your arms outstretched in front of you, palms facing up. Bring your fingers into a fist, flex your wrists up, and then curl at the elbows, coiling your arms up and into your chest. Then uncurl them until your arms are again outstretched with wrists extended and fingers pointing towards the floor. Repeat this 20 times.

Next, with arms again outstretched in front of you, palms up, roll your wrists in so that palms are facing each other. Keep rolling until they are facing the floor, and then keep rolling until they can’t go any farther. They should be facing away from one another. Now roll them back out, twisting as far the other way as possible. Repeat 20 times.

Lastly, from the starting position, roll your wrists in circles in both directions, with hands in a fist 10 times each way, and with fingers extended 10 times each way.

These strategies should not only be performed when you are experiencing sore forearms, but you should also employ them as part of a health maintenance program, to keep healthy arms from becoming a problem in the first place!

Do you want to use this article on your website, blog or e-zine? You can, as long as you include this blurb with it: “Denise Mackinnon is a registered massage therapist and health and wellness advocate. You can get your free subscription to her “simple health ideas” newsletter by going to

Friday, February 15, 2008

Simple and Scrumptious Green Smoothie Recipe Book is Here!

Those of you who are subscribers to my newsletter know how much I love my green smoothies. They provide an amazing array of vitamins and minerals to help fuel and protect the body, and taste so yummy that I feel like I am eating desert for breakfast every day!

I have had many requests for green smoothie recipes, and so I decided to compile them all in one place!

“Simple and Scrumptious Green Smoothies” is a great little book for anyone interested in getting their 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Every recipe contains only raw fruit and vegetables, so they are all very low fat, high in nutrients, easy to digest, and so simple to make!

Please check out my new e-book now at

Yours in vibrant health,

Denise Mackinnon, RMT
Registered Massage Therapist

PS – For anyone wondering what an “e-book” is, it is simply
a book that is delivered to you immediately electronically.
You download it right to your computer, and can access it
any time you want. You can print up any pages or sections
you want, or simply view it on your computer!

Simple and Scrumptious Green Smoothies is available in a
beautiful full color version with pictures, or a printer
friendly version so that you don’t use up all of your ink!

Here is the link again,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Massage for Anxiety

We all know that massage therapy is great at working out
trigger points, regaining mobility to stiff joints, and
easing scar tissue contracture, but the effects of massage
go so much deeper than superficial tissue.

There are more and more studies supporting the use of
massage therapy for decreasing anxiety, lowering blood
pressure and heart rate, and even enhanced mental alertness!
(1) (2) (3)

When I give my boy a massage, he gets so calm and relaxed.
His eyes just stare off into space, and there is such a look
of peace on his face, that it actually relaxes me too!

One study of massage therapy in asthmatic children (4)
showed a decrease in cortisol (stress hormone) and anxiety
levels, as well as improved pulmonary functions following
treatment. Anyone who has or knows a child with asthma has
seen how stressful this condition can be –not only for the
child but the parents as well!

Another study of mothers who received massage (5) showed
decreased depression, anxiety, and pain. They also
experienced shorter labors, and shorter hospital stays.

Fibromyalgia patients who received massage reported better
sleep, lower anxiety levels and less depression. (6)

Anyone who has had a massage treatment knows that it feels
good, and that you feel relaxed after, but it really does
affect your health on a much more profound level!

So don’t wait until you have shoulder or low back pain to
get a massage. If regular massage therapy can help blood
pressure, cortisol levels, hear rate and anxiety then it
should be just as important to your health maintenance
program as eating right and exercising! Everyone should
have regular treatments, just for the health of it!

(1) Field T, Ironson G, Scafidi F, Nawrocki T, Goncalves A,
Pickens J, Fox N, Schanberg S, Kuhn C. 1996a. Massage
therapy reduces anxiety and enhances EEG pattern of
alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosc 86: 197-205
(2) Mok D, Woo CP. 2004 Nov. The effects of slow-stroke back
massage on anxiety and shoulder pain in elderly stroke
patients. Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery 10 (4): 209-16
(3) Moyer CA, Rounds J, Hannum JW. 2004 A meta-analysis of
massage therapy research. Psychological Bulletin Jan;
130(1): 3-18
(4) Field T, Henteleff T, Hernandez-Reif M, Martinez E,
Mavunda K, Kuhn C, Schanberg S. 1998b. Children with asthma
have improved pulmonary functions after massage therapy. J
Pediatr 132:854-858.
(5) Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Taylor S, Quintano O, Burnam
I. 1997c. Lavor pain is reduced by massage therapy. J
Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 18:286-291.
(6) Sunshine W, Field T, Quintino O, Fierro K, Kuhn C,
Bruman I, Schanberg S. 1996. Fibromyalgia benefits from
massage therapy and transcutaneous electrical stimulation.
Journal of Clinical Rheumatology 2(1): 18-22.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Getting It Done

A New Year is upon us, and with it come the expectations of what can be.

Did you set a goal for yourself this year? And if you did, was it the same thing you said last year?

This is an extremely common problem. Let’s say your resolution was “I want to loose weight this year”. This is probably the same resolution you have had for the last 5 years. Why do you suppose you haven’t achieved your goal yet?

First of all, it is just too vague. A goal is much easier to achieve if it is very specific and focused. So it is better to set a goal such as “I will lose 5 pounds by February 14.”

Did you also notice the difference in language? Rather than “I want”, the second goal said, “I will”. Focus and intention are very important. If you keep your perspective positive, you will achieve positive results. If your perspective is focused on the negative or indifferent, your results will match. I know everyone has heard about the law of attraction, and this is a great example.

So now you have a specific, positively stated goal. Next you need to decide on some smaller steps to help you achieve this goal, and then take action and start accomplishing them, one by one.

Let’s look at our weight loss goal. To accomplish this, it would be a good idea to cut back on calories, incorporate some exercise, use some visualization techniques, and establish some form of accountability.

Now this sounds like a lot of work to do all at once, and is probably an overwhelming task for many, so guess what happens – nothing. You go back to your same old eating and exercise habits because they are comfortable and easy.
You need to break things down more, and schedule yourself (use a calendar or that funky Blackberry you have!) So tomorrow, plan to have one piece of toast for breakfast, rather than your usual two. That’s it – that’s your goal for the day! The day after, plan a 20-minute walk with a coworker over your lunch break (while still only having one piece of toast).

That night, while brushing your teeth, look at yourself in the mirror and compliment yourself on your beautiful eyes, or your great posture, or whatever you see. You can also visualize what your ultimate goal will look like, feel like, be like. See yourself slim and fit, running up the stairs two at a time. Really put yourself in the moment.

The key is to accomplish little mini goals, which all eventually add up to your big goal.

I have used weight loss as an example, but this process is the same no matter what your goal, be it learning a new language, training for a marathon, or organizing your photo albums. Break the big goal up into little mini goals, and then take action on them and nock them of your list, one by one.

Before you know it, you will have accomplished your goal or goals, and be looking forward to what 2009 will bring!