Not your mother’s cold shower

What’s up seattle?! Has the temperature stayed above70 degrees for more than a day or so yet? Not in June anyway, but that’s ok. The 5th of July is right around the corner, and that means warmer days are on the horizon. I think its safe to introduce one of my favorite hydrotherapy tricks: Cold showers! If I had mentioned this back in February, I may be getting hate mail, but I think you’re ready for it now.

At the end of your shower, turn the knob to cold and hang on in there ‘til you can’t stand it no more. Go ahead and forward bend and touch those toes so you let the cold water really hit your back and shoulder muscles. Let it stream right into your face and sting into your jaw and forehead, let it patter on your pecs, forearms, and belly. Your muscles will feel more awake, alive and ready for the day. You’ll get out of that shower, look in the mirror, and see shinier eyes and feel a stronger heartbeat.

Last night I schvitzed at Banya 5 for the first time in about 4 months. It was such a refreshing way to end the day after a long day of massage. If you haven’t yet treated yourself to the relaxation station that is Banya 5, please do yourself a favor and hit it up soon.  Fortunately, unfortunately, they are closing up shop for ten days starting this friday for annual maintenance and repairs. Good to know that they appreciate a good deep cleaning like the rest of us, but I guarantee there will be some regulars in town that will experience hydrotherapy withdrawals.  It was so nice to see all the regular water dogs lounging around the place last night. I had missed my own hydrotherapy routine so much that I set an all time personal record of sitting in the cold pool for over 2 minutes! It is like taking every cell in your body on a zipline adventure into Niagra Falls, or something. You can create your own analogy, just GO!

Also, they do body scrubs, facials, and massage from a phenomenal team of therapists, including yours truly on a sub basis.

By the way, that cold pool is salty like puget sound at a balmy 46 degrees. So, if I can do two minutes in that sans wetsuit, you can do a minute in your cold shower.

Happy Summertime!

Jen

 

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Learning Thai Massage in Thailand

This past April, I had the privilege to study  Traditional Thai massage in Thailand with a wonderful teacher, Homprang. She and her husband Christopher own and run the beautiful Baan Hom Samunphra retreat center just outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. For ten days, I practiced, stretched, breathed, and was moved around alongside six others from 5 other countries. This intimate class size in a beautiful setting was fantastic! It was hard work though; class  was six hours per day and sometimes we continued practicing later after dinner. Homprang’s strict teaching style and the intensive hours paid off–I learned a lot! Here are some pictures taken by the fabulous Justine Webster, my dear friend and travel partner for my six weeks while away.  I’m thrilled to be back and share my new skills.  My clients seem to be enjoying it too 🙂

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Walking Tours

I know you’re probably hoping for a picture of some beach time, thai massage or interesting temples at this point, but you’re going to have to wait on those. I’ve been delighting in Art Deco. What a peculiar thing to find in Southeast Asia, you might say. Well, I thought the same until I decided to look up what the heck Art Deco is all about.  Then it made perfect sense, at least for Cambodia. The French colonized Cambodia around 1864.  In the 1953 Cambodia gained its independence.  The expansive and breathtaking Angkor Wat was tackled in the 9th to 13th centuries; It was time for Khmer Architecture to make another statement.  Between the 1950’s and 1970’s Cambodia sought new ways to express itself as a modern, progressive nation.  A distinct ‘movement’ developed, now referred to by some as ‘New Khmer’ Architecture. It was innovative in that it combined old styles of French Colonial and Chinese architecture with new international trends such as Art Deco. The result is a beautiful mishmash of bold and refined, sharp and romantic.  I’ve been musing over it for weeks.

Khmer Architecture Tours is a firm based out of Phnom Penh offers a free map of a walking tour which showcases the best examples of the mixture of French Colonial and Art Deco buildings in both Phnom Penh and Battambang.  Since free and walking are two things Justine and I both love, we were hot on these trails.  I’ve never had such a strong reaction to architecture as I have walking around Cambodia.  The way buildings have been cut up, cut out, reshaped, or replaced  can ultimately tell a great story about a city’s history, including who was there and what they liked.

I found myself really drawn to the geometric shapes and bright colors that make up walls and doors all around Cambodia and Thailand. They are everywhere! Photographing them has become a secret side obsession. Now I’ll let you in on it. 

In these pictures you will see glimpses of French style balconies and Art Deco delights like geometric shapes and bright colors, some windows and doors, some fruit, and people. These are mostly from walks in Phnom Penh and Battambang, but the search for geometric shapes continued in Chiang Mai, Mae Sariang and Bangkok.  Try to pick out my one shot of Bangkok!

Click here for my Walking Tours Photo Album

Songkran to Mae Sariang

Yesterday, Justine and I have arrived to Mae Sariang, a sleepy little mountain town in northern Thailand.   It feels so peaceful up here. Last night I slept 12 hours. There has been a lot packed into the last couple weeks. This feels like a chance to process it all.  This last weekend marked the Thai, Cambodian, and Laos New Year, a water festival called Songkran.  If you’ve been in it, you know it is something worth experiencing. As our friend Cara from San Fransisco who we met up with yesterday, said, “This puts a San Franscisco street party to shame.” 

 I wasn’t bold enough to venture out with my camera during this city-wide water fight, but I’ll try to depict the chaotic bliss in words.  In the city of Chiang Mai, there is a moat surrounding the Old Town.  People largely use this sunbaked moat water to throw on each other all day from around 11 until 6 for three days.  On the 13th around 11am when things were just getting going, Justine and I found ourselves in a tuk-tuk unarmed and very bewildered as people started dousing us with water. We had all our valuables including a kindle and a couple cameras, so we quickly sought the refuge of our guesthouse where we dried out our things. That day was mostly a wash.  The next day, the 14th,  we felt more rejuvenated and ready to go.  We bought some pink buckets and started walking the perimeter of Old Town along the moat.  It felt like more than half the city had come out to play. Everybody was walking around as wet as a drenched rat and carrying a super soaker or a bucket. There were several stages with live music, and hoards of food vendors were out, but mostly the attractions were empyting our buckets on these happy Thai people and refilling our buckets from their troughs of water. After a couple hours of being hosed, we went back to the hotel to clean out our ears and dry out our clothes again. When we met up with Cara a little later, we were clean and dry and ready to eat. We walked away from the main party scene, but still got doused. As the day wore on and the sun started descending though, there was a sweeter nature to the washing. It turned from dousing to splashing.  The point of all this washing of course has a backstory worth sharing.  And of course like everything in life, things are a lot more enjoyable when you care to learn another perspective. Traditionally, Songkran was a quiet festival of house cleaning, resolutions, and temple festivities.  The city’s temple’s primary Buddha was ceremoniously bathed. Afterward, water might be sprinkled on the hands of elderly family members or playfully splashed on friends in a way of wishing them good luck. The cleansing powers of water also always felt good during the hottest time of the year.  As a huge fan of hydrotherapy, I am so glad I got to experience it Thai style.

 Anyway, yesterday the third day of the festival, we decided to hit the high road for the mountains. Of course it wasn’t that easy to escape getting wet.  The smaller town of Mae Sariang had their own party going on when we arrived,  and  again we succumbed to more water fights as we explored the town last night looking for a cold drink. We had left our pink buckets back in Chiang Mai so this time our only defense was to say “Kop koon ka” (Thank you very much-i think) and let them bathe us with water.  This time I just I found that offering my shoulder up and letting the healing power of water renew my fiery skin was pretty renewing. There was a town parade with more live music and dancing in the streets.  Today it is quiet, though and tomorrow we will take a guided tour to visit a Karen village and take a boat ride down a river close to the Myanmar border.  The people we have met are so friendly and helpful.  I did think the mountains would be a bit cooler, but no. It is currently 100 degrees F, and “feels like 113,” according to weather.com.  I agree.

 It has been over two weeks since my last post-sorry! I’ve been in vacation mode, but also on the move. In Cambodia, we visited three major cities: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and the surrounding Angkor Wat temples, and Battambang.  I’ve been writing and  accumulating thoughts and pictures everyday. I’ll try to catch you up on my wherabouts with some pictures. Fair?

Hello from phnom penh!

You may or may not know that I’m in Cambodia.  Last night around 12am my friend Justine and I arrived after 18 hours of travel. Side note: this wordpress app wants to autocorrect phnom penh to “phenomena openhanded” which I have to say poetically describes my my first impressions of the city quite accurately.  However lonely planet guidebook informs us that phnom penh is actually “the pearl of Asia”. Also a side note but worth observing: long distance plane travel gets harder on the body as we age but you can override that with the excitement that you are being hauled into space at insane speeds and will be soon pooped out in a whole new world. Do astronauts have severe dehydration or what? Anyway this trip was a long time coming.
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This post and hopefully many more over the next six weeks are in fact side notes to my regular posts about massage teqniques and wellness related things. When I started the blog it was supposed to serve as a creative outlet as well as inform my clients. What does the “b” in blog stand for? Its not boring or bullshit, right? My drive for writing about what i do seemed to taper off in the lsst months. Sometimes in the quiet space of a massage studio you find yourself daydreaming of loud and crowded things. I seem to have manifested that for myself. And now I have the space and time to write about a different side of myself.  There is my disclaimer for a shift in the voice around here and an apology for not updating since October. Okay, enough of that.

Justine and I started our morning with a real accostation of the senses; in the best way. It was like a shot of espresso. Guilty-seattle girl. The first street we turned down out of the hotel was an open market. I know soon that i will be desensitized to this sort of scene so all the better to capture these details now. There were tiny bananas and a wriggling carp on the asphalt-(metaphor for fish out of water?). Literally that fish was trying to wriggle away from the hot water. There were babies on mopeds and grandmas in hammocks swinging over their raw meat, tuk tuk drivers beckoning us every 10 feet, clothing and shoes and books and auto parts for sale and the humidity crawling down my spine and thawing out my cold Seattle bones. All this while I tried to stay out of the way of motorcycles and tuk tuks.

Later we visited the national museum which houses loads and loads of Buddha and Vishnu statues. I learned a bit about the Khmer civilization. There was a peacecul shady garden spot and a liter of water for one dollar. Everything is cheap here, as promised. After we rested for a bit we headed out on a tuk tuk for a tour of the city and ended up at the Russian market. This is where the real shopping is done. Bartering is expected. I scored a watch, three bracelets and a Buddhist figurine for 9 bucks. I probably overpaid. But probably the tuk tuk city tour for ten dollars was our favorite because our driver was so sweet. We didnt even mind when he ran out of gas. By the way I don’t know how there would ever be a traffic violation in phnom penh. Ever. You can tell all the lines have been crossed too often for too long, or maybe the lines were never drawn. There is no Median line in the middle of the road, they only have their horns and good sense to stay out of eachothers way. And there are no crosswalks.

I didn’t even describe my meals yet,  but I will save room for later. I wouldnt want you to get bored because the b in this blog stands for boisterous, blissful and bouyant. 

Thank you for reading. Stay tuned. Over and out.

It’s National Massage Awareness Week!

Get a massage! And tell your friends too!

I remember my first professional massage. It was after a car accident in 2004. I was receiving chiropractic for minor whiplash as well.  The massage therapist took me into this tiny room in the chiropractor’s clinic. She gave me the rundown on what was about to happen, what to expect to feel, what clothes to take off.  She made me feel very comfortable.

And then she started touching me, and it was like the velvet curtains parted to reveal the wizard. In that  first massage, my body began relaxing in a way I had never felt before.  Tension that I didn’t even know existed was lifted from me. I got regular massage for months after that car accident. It began to really make an impression on me–literally. Really, my whiplash was a scapegoat to get me in touch with other injuries from childhood. Over the course of 20 years I was active in a lot of sports–Soccer, basketball, volleyball, running, lacrosse and skiing had left a mark on body.  Not to mention emotional stress of which I had no idea how to deal.  The combination of chiropractic and massage started pulling on a string, and a slow unwinding began.

Fast forward to me at 32 (Today is my birthday actually. I thought it kind of fitting for this blog post that its falls on Massage Awareness Week…) and I’ve had countless professional massages from countless wonderful therapists.  I obviously think about massage a lot. Massage pays my bills, empowers me to own my own business, keeps my body healthy and free, and allows me to express myself more fully. That list applies to both giving and receiving it. I think its pretty cool.

I’d love to hear about how massage has made an impact in your life. Feel free to comment on this blog post!

And, more importantly, don’t forget to schedule your next massage appointment.

Thanks for reading!

Love,

jen

Tummy Time

Remember when you were 3 months-old and your parents put you on your tummy for you to attempt to roll over? Maybe you don’t remember it, but you and your tummy were building a connection that would last you a lifetime. There you were lying like a beached whale on your fuzzy little blanket, checking out some shiny primary-colored plastic toy, half cognizant of the audience of adults cheering you on, “Roll over! Go for it!”

My nephew Miller, 3 mos. contemplating tummy time

With every wriggle from side to side in attempt to get out of that mess, your core muscles were getting stronger, and your organs were getting a little massage. It probably helped relieve those gas pains that had kept you and your mom up at 4am.  Fast forward to your adulthood. Hopefully you and your tummy are on good terms. Maybe you wriggle around on the floor sometimes? Hopefully you do some self massage from time to time after Thanksgiving dinner? But when is the last time you really checked in with it? On either a physical or emotional level? You know the old adages:

“Trust your gut”,

“I can feel it in my gut” or

“I have butterflies in my stomach”?

These all go to show we have an innate intuition deep in our core about things. I would venture to say that when we keep an open conversation going between these gut feelings and the rest of us, those “things” go a lot smoother.  Smooth moves in the gut are a bonus as well!

I love doing belly massage. Sometimes people ask me what is my favorite part of the body to massage. It changes from time to time, but the belly is always a top fave.  I’ve come to see that many people would rather ignore their own bellies; they see them as a nuisance, something to get around, push out of the way, or cinch up.  But as one of my clients has put it whenever I work on his, “It feels like you are looking under the hood of the car.”  There is a lot of vital stuff in there! You may ask, “Why are you calling it the “tummy” and “belly” like you’re talking to a four year old?” This is the way my awesome visceral manipulation teachers talk about it, and so I do too. You can call it the abdomen, the guts, the tummy, or the belly, but try not to call all this stuff just your “stomach”. You stomach is just one organ nestled in there. So what else is in there?

Abdominal muscles

External and Internal Intercostals

Diaphragm

External and Internal Obliques

Transversus Abdominis

Rectus Abdominis

Quadratus Lumborum

Iliopsoas (Psoas Major,and Iliacus)

Psoas Minor—absent in about 40% of people

Underneath all that soft tissue of our abdominal muscles is our vital digestive system:

Abdominal Viscera

Lower Esophogeal sphincter

Stomach

Large Intestine

Small Intestine

Gall Bladder

Liver

Spleen

Pancreas

Kidneys

Bladder

Rectum

Our digestive health is interrelated to our nervous system in that sympathetic (fight or flight) vs parasympathetic states (rest and digest), are expressed through smooth muscle contraction at every stage of our digestive tract from the esophogus to the anus. When we are stressed, the smooth muscle is tight and constricted. All sphincters are in lock down mode because evolutionary speaking, we don’t need to go to the bathroom when we are running from that tiger.  When we are relaxed, the smooth muscle tissue relaxes and contracts and relaxes, creating a natural peristalsis (like a snake eating a mouse), and moving food through the system with optimal absorption and digestion.  Smooth muscle contraction is also stimulated by direct pressure, meaning we can manipulate the tissue into peristalsis even if the rest of us is still a little stressed.  And since the abdominal viscera is most innervated tissue in the body, we can flood the brain and spinal cord with good anti-stress hormones when we relax the belly, and thus we relax the rest of us. What a groovy relationship, right?

Belly massage

Why get belly massage?

Feel lighter and longer in the trunk

Move with a better sense of moving from your core

Feel more awareness of the entire breath cycle in whole abdominal cavity

Relieve gas, bloating pains, and indigestion

Relieve hidden stress

Increase Parasympathetic response—Rest and Digest Vs Sympathetic response—Fight or Flight.

I have been taking Visceral Manipulation classes from Marty Ryan. His seminars are called “Love Your Guts”. With his guidance and my own intuition, I’ve learned how to gently and effectively palpate the organs. If this is something you are interested in trying, please let me have a hand in it. HMM, Bellies! So juicy. I hope you think so too.


Fall Into a Health Routine

Happy October!

Around here it takes a couple weeks to really accept that it is in fact, Fall. Yes, it’s here. September’s gorgeous mountain views and golden 8pm sunsets are long gone. October brings a nice low hanging grey blanket of a sky. Perfect for warming up our introspective selves. Time to find a nice safe spot for those sun glasses. You’ll want them in June 2012.

This is why I love my calendar’s October picture of a spider web next to the word “Accept”.  I think the artist, Nikki McClure is local.  She is accepting of the turn of the season, apparently. I’ve decided to be too. I just decided. I think part of acceptance is preparation.

With the impending rain and cold and flu season upon us, how about falling into a new routine of taking better care of yourself? Maybe this means getting a gym membership and actually going, or going to a place like Banya 5 where you can sweat out the stressors and toxins of the week. Or maybe it means doing a seasonal cleanse where you can eliminate the foods from your regular diet which aren’t serving you anymore. OR, maybe, just maybe, you can come for regular massages with me!  If you ask any of my regular clients, (which you can’t, but I’ll ask them for you) I’m sure they would tell you that regular massage therapy has changed their lives. They would say it has saved them from many sick days and from kinks in their neck from sleeping wrong (which by the way is hardly ever just from sleeping wrong–it is often a cumulative effect). They have dodged sprained ankles, torn knee ligaments, low back pain, strained upper back muscles, carpal tunnel, and the list goes on.  When the body gets regular TLC from a trained professional, the risk of tissue injury goes way down. And injury prevention is only one benefit of massage….Wow, amazing!

Cheers to you and your health!

Jen

Intraoral Massage

One regular client of mine usually comes in with shoulder, neck and jaw pain. She especially feels chronic jaw tension which has been diagnosed as TMJ.  Unconsciously but relentlessly, she clenches and grinds her teeth.  She has chewed through two night guards. She has been to dentists, orthordontists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and naturopaths. It is a constant battle with the stress of a rigorous job for which she travels internationally, a marriage, an ill parent for whom she is the power of attorney, and she is trying to manage her own health. Fortunately she does factor in her own health. For this, I am proud.

Whenever I get to see her for a massage, I make sure to do intra oral massage. She is a great candidate because of the obvious clenching and grinding.

Many people clench and grind their teeth these days. It seems like an obvious place to beat up on ourselves actually. Our verbal communication has become more restricted as a society. The less we talk, the more stuck these jaw muscles become. Remember, a tight muscle isn’t always strong-tight like after pumping iron; it is often weak-tight. With lack of fresh oxygenated blood and nutrients, a stagnant muscle gets glued down to surrounding structures.  Picture a caterpillar larvae embedded in its caccoon before breaking out with its new wings.

Anyway, I read somewhere the other day, “Real communication is done over a phone conversation.” Hilarious! Probably this writer was taking a sardonic view on our communication culture.  Sure, phone communication is a step up from texting or emailing, but what happened to talking face to face, where you get to make eye contact, observe smiles and grimaces, and pick up on subtle facial expressions that really show a deeper story in this human being?

Nowadays we like to text, email, tweet, send newsletters and blog posts to keep up with the Jonses.  Do you ever think about the implications on our bodies? You are more than likely aware of the  effect on your neck and shoulders and arm muscles.  I know I have touched on it with an earlier post, “Computer-itis”.  The forward posture for long periods of time with such intense focus does numbers on our back and neck muscles.  But what about the lack of speaking, lack of verbal expression, lack of primal like communication that is also taking place? I think about these things. Maybe that just makes me weird. Maybe it’s also why I sing when I’m alone in my car.

I want to take you through the process of unwinding that happens with Intraoral massage.

The first step with doing Intraoral massage is to use latex gloves. I carefully put them on and am careful not to snap the glove on my wrist, to avoid conjuring images of other not so comfy healthcare workers. I ease into her mouth with one finger hooking the lip and gliding over the top teeth like I’ve caught myself the prettiest marlin in the sea.  I land on the upper gum line and surf slowly deeper and superior at an angle toward the ear.  I check in with her: “How’s that pressure so far?”

She gives me a slight nod or a thumbs up or an eyebrow raise in curiosity to let me know it’s fair game.  The tissue feels taut and angry up on the lateral pterygoids. This is a muscle that is chronically short and embedded by  surrounding fascia.  My job is to hook that fascia, stretch that fascia, bring blood to this area, and let that little butterfly of a muscle free! So I do just this, slowly, confidently, with intention, imagining the potential of a free pteregoid and a nice slack jaw bone. I spend about 2 to 3 minutes on this one spot. She breathes and breathes. Then, we both feel the release.  I slowly remove my finger. I notice that side of her face looks rosier and more supple.  I smile at her and ask how she feels.

“That was good,” she says with a deep sigh.  I could really feel it was tight. I could feel it up in my temples too. She gently rubs her cheek and temples. “It feels so much more open on this side already.”

“Good! Should we even out the other side?”

After the massage has ended and she’s dressed herself, she emerges from the massage room with a bright smile and fully flushed cheeks.

“Thank you so much. I feel so much better.”

“Look in the mirror. You got yourself a pretty big smile there.”

“Wow, I do!” She traces the perimeters of her now prominent rosy cheekbones. “I feel like its easier to smile!”

I hand her a glass of water. “Cheers to the cheapest facelift in town!”

Hydrotherapy 101: Inflammation and cold therapy

Hydrotherapy is a big topic.  I love water and I like using it as therapy. “What should I use, heat or ice?” clients love to ask.  My quick answer is “Use both but end with ice. Always end with ice.” Heat has numerous wonders. Everybody loves heat. It’s the favored team in the Superbowl, and ice is the underdog.  The underdog has the slow creeping win. Ice surprises you in the 4th quarter with guts and glory, zest and vigor.

I want to highlight some benefits of ice because I get the feeling that some of my clients think I have a touch of  sadomasticist behavior everytime I reach for it. In fact, ice massage is incredibly healing. Here’s why:

Ice has an abrupt stimulus, which kicks your body into action. Superficial blood vessels at first constrict, causing blood to be sent down to deeper tissues. Then as you thaw out these same superficial blood vessels dilate like crazy, trying to redistribute warm blood to the places that cooled down. Red blood cells and white blood cell counts increase 70-100% with this new supply of blood. Another benefit is that cold penetrates deeper and longer than heat.

It is important to recognize the signs of inflammation: redness, heat, swelling, and pain. Redness is caused by the dilation of small blood vessels in the area of injury. Heat results from increased blood flow through the area and is experienced only in peripheral parts of the body such as the skin. Fever is brought about by chemical mediators of inflammation and contributes to the rise in temperature at the injury. Swelling, called edema is primarily caused by the accumulation of action.  All this action signals our trusty pain receptors to fire resulting in pain.

If you see feel these cardinal signs of inflammation you can probably guess what i’d recommend. Ice ice baby.

Your best friend

Ice a specific area for 20 minutes at a time with with one of these trusty gel packs which you can find at any Bartell’s or Walgreens. I always have a few in the freezer. They are great for headaches too.

Also very handy and even more specific is the ice cube-dixie cup.  Just fill up a few dixie cups with water and store them in your freezer.  The next time you have a kink in your neck or achy wrists and forearms, you’ll have a “cool” easy tool to ice down the area.

You'll want to marry it

The third icing tip I have is specifically for plantar fasciitis.  This is a pesky type of inflammation on the bottom of the foot. The plantar fascia extends from the heel bone to the five toes. It has been reported that two million Americans suffer from it often due to long periods of weight bearing, or with long periods of repetitive high impact, like in running. The symptoms are pain and numbness on the bottom of the foot, and are usually more severe in the morning with the first steps out of bed.  Stretching the foot before getting out of bed helps. Also icing before you go to sleep may decrease that inflammation and aid in healing faster over night.  Rolling  the foot over a frozen plastic water bottle is the best way (and cheapest way) to iron out the fibrotic tissue and cool down the inflammation.

Plantar Fasciitis "cold feet" massage