Slow Down, You Move Too Fast…

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I went to Phoenix, AZ for a training last weekend. It was a great class, continuing my training in Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy. I learned 2-footed strokes. Yes, I use my feet as well as my hands to massage! I had previously learned seated and 1-footed strokes. Now, we pulled out all the stops and just stepped right up onto our clients. Ashiatsu is intended for larger bodies and those who like deep pressure. I’m really excited about what I learned. It’s very fun.

As class progressed through 3 days, it became a joke that I was always going too fast. I laughed, realizing over and over that I was ahead of my classmates. I thought about my lifestyle and how I feel like I’m always dashing off to pick up my son or head to cook team (that’s another story I’ll tell sometime). I don’t have a lot of down time or pure leisure. Anyway, as I tried hard to slow down my massage strokes, I would take a deep breath, remind myself I didn’t have to cook dinner right then or hurry for carpool. As I slowed my feet down, I could feel more of the back or legs I was working on. My feet came alive in a new way. I relaxed my arms and brow and enjoyed myself a lot more.

After 4 days away from my endearing little family, I was eager to hit the road and get home. Sunday evening at 5:25, I zoomed out of class and merged into westbound traffic. The plan was to make efficient, minimal stops and get home by about midnight. At 8 pm, I had made it about half-way through the desert. I pulled off the freeway to fill my tank and drink the strategic coffee that would keep me awake for the monotonous drive to LA.

At the end of the exit ramp, my car died. Huh?? It took me a bit to figure out that it had clunked out; I was so surprised. We have an older car, but it’s been very reliable. For the first time in my life I had to put on the hazards and literally push my car out of the way of other cars. I was able to coast down the hill and turn into a gas station. It wasn’t the best parking job, but it worked. What was I going to do next??

Phone calls to home base, a couple of helpful strangers, a pack of chocolate donettes…nothing made that car work. “Jr.” helped me push it into a good parking space for the night. Then I headed off to find the one hotel in Quartzsite, AZ. Please see link below. This is a very humble town. http://www.ci.quartzsite.az.us/about/ I spent the night in Quartzsite and started fresh in the morning.

Our instructor informed us in class that there’s always someone who cries. There may be countless reasons, but it’s inevitable. I had calculated just enough energy to drive home that Sunday night. I had not factored in getting stuck in a small town on the edge of the desert. I cried like a baby. After checking into the hotel, I finally calmed down and recounted many blessings in my unexpected scenario. 1) car breaking down at a town instead of in the desert 2) ability to push it into gas station 3) Chris’s and Jr.’s help and kindness 4) Fransisco’s ride to the Super 8 5)existence of the Super 8 6) AAA membership 7) cell phone reception 8) husband.

After a great night’s sleep, my (long-distance) husband and I tackled the situation with the help of AAA. The day ahead involved an almost nerve-racking amount of waiting for this restless mama. I became an expert at waiting by day’s end. The hardest part was waiting for the busy mechanics to eat their well-earned lunch before they diagnosed and fixed my car’s problem. God bless the mechanics, truly. But as soon as I had paid up and gassed the car up, I was on the road like a bat out of the desert. I drove all the way without risking stopping again until I got into Pasadena. (I believe that was 207 miles, but who’s counting?)

I was 500 feet from my driveway when a cop redirected traffic down a side street. I nearly collapsed in maniacal laughter. It took me about 15 minutes to get around our long block. By then the last of an unfortunate traffic accident had been cleared and the police detour was gone. I entered the driveway, parked the car, practically fell out the door as my leg and backside were so numb, and ran into the house. Hugs and kisses all around. Within 5 minutes I was wrestling with my son.

Slow down indeed. I hadn’t realized how accustomed I had become to the hustle and bustle of greater LA. I am far from the fast lane, but you know you’re in the middle of nowhere when the 1 Burger King in town is listed as a top employer on the municipal website. Where there’s 1 taxi driver, 1 hotel and 2 mechanics. If I hand’t had an adventure in Quartzsite, AZ, continued in Blythe, CA, I wouldn’t have really known they existed. If there hadn’t been only 1 (unavailable) taxi driver and 1 hotel, I probably wouldn’t have walked past and truly admired the colorful wildflowers growing on the side of the freeway.

Hopefully, as I weave my new massage technique into my practice I will remember this very vivid example of slowing down. An unhurried massage is often a very good one.

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Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy

At the end of the week I’ll be heading to Scottsdale, AZ to attend the second part of a training for a massage technique called Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy. A rather long name, I know. It’s a great modality where I use my clean, smooth feet to deliver a great massage to the back of the body. It’s perfect for those who like deeper pressure (and aren’t put off by feet!). Here’s a link if you’re intrigued. http://deepfeet.com/

I learned the first part of the modality in June ’09. The first part involves what are called seated strokes and one-footed strokes. Some of the strokes are delivered to the back while the therapist is seated on a high stool. The one-footed strokes are performed standing on the table with one foot anchored on the table and the other foot surfing around on the back, hips and glutes, and back of legs. What I’ll be learning next are the two-footed strokes. There are lovely, deep strokes up and down the spine as well as up and down the back of the legs. It almost looks like the person is getting rolled out like pizza dough (happy pizza dough). I’m excited to not only have the chance to learn more of the Ashiatsu technique, but also to have a few days off from mom-duty.

I decided to start the conversation with my son early. “Mommy’s going to be gone next week for a few days,” I offered during a cuddle time.  “Yes!” he replied, raising his hand in the air enthusiastically. “Now Daddy and I can implement our secret plan!” Oh, gee, I’m so sorry you’ll miss me. Seeing as how he gets at least 50% of his trouble-maker tendencies from me, I asked “What’s your secret plan?” “I can’t tell you, Mommy!” rolling his eyes. “It’s a secret.”

A couple days later my son asked if we could go to In ‘N Out Burgers instead of eating the fantastic meal I was preparing. “No, but I bet when I’m gone, Daddy will take you there.”  “Yes!” was his reply, cunning in his eyes as he began to realize what amazing potential there could be in Mommy leaving town. Will I miss him/them? Sure, but I will enjoy a few days off from making lunches, nagging him to get up, get dressed, brush his teeth, get in the car….need I go on? Parents are always working. We only get paid for some of it.

You called?

A cardinal rule of business, big or small, is to be responsive to clients. All the experts agree – return phone calls promptly. That sounds pretty straightforward. True confession time here:

Phone calls, at times, are my Achilles heel!

Here’s the back story – I had been married a year and had agreed with my husband that we wanted to try to have a kid or 2. I was accelerating towards burn-out in my job of 6 years. I had explored some education options for a career move. I wanted something that would provide flexibility, something that might blend well with having a family. When I looked into massage, things clicked and I pursued an education in this field.

Almost 7 years into the experiment I would have to say that massage was a great choice for me. Although my work life has taken different iterations at different times in the life of my little guy, we have a pretty good groove down now, balancing family life and paying the bills. Most days I pick him up from school and spend time with him doing homework, playing, and being together. My husband and I agreed that we really didn’t want our kid to be in other people’s care for huge chunks of his life. This choice has had specific financial implications. But a young kid grows up so fast and the early years are so important that we’ve felt it has always been a great choice.

Things get more complicated when we turn our attention to returning phone calls, that pillar of good business practice. I try my darnedest to not take or make phone calls while I am on mom-duty. There are 2 reasons for this. If you’ve ever made a phone call to a parent while their kid is around on the other side of the call, you’ll know why. Parents answering phones are like magnets for kids. The brain of a child is apparently hard-wired to view the phone as a direct threat that must be countered. Reason #2 is fear of reason #1 even when my kid cooperates with me.

As I reflect on the frustration that simple phone calls cause me, I realize that our communication options have profoundly changed in our culture and re-shaped our expectations. With the advent of cell phones, text messages, and the like, we have come to expect that we can get a message through or obtain a reply from people at practically any time, in any place. There are very few off-limit times and places left. I personally draw the line at the restroom. I have a strict no-answer policy if I’m in the restroom. I know first hand from some public restrooms that others do not draw the line there.

I have been noticing this new normalcy of constant availability in my church. The church attracts a younger crowd and I often notice someone responding, at least visually, to a phone during the service. I was incredulous when I saw the drummer check his phone during a song! Well, if this is how 20-somethings view normal life, imagine what perspective my son will have when he’s 20. I can’t even imagine.

Yes, modern life is changing us. And it poses one more challenge to the balance of family life and work life. Where I draw the line on answering calls and checking email while I’m on mom-duty sends a message to my son about a variety of things: the importance of my work, the importance of time with him, what it’s like to juggle both. Perhaps my choices will result in a lost client on occasion. I can only hope that most days we come out ahead in this experiment that is my flexible-career-that-allows-me-lots-of-time-with-family scenario.

I’ll end with this story. I hope you’ll find it funny. One day my son and I had some time to kill before heading into the YMCA. There’s a nice track that we sometimes walk around. He suggested we play a game while we walk. He put his hand up to his ear and said “buzz-buzz, buzz-buzz.”  It took me a second…what was he doing? And then I got it. He was calling me (phone on vibrate setting). We proceeded to talk on our pretend cell phones as we walked the track side-by-side. Yes, that paints a modern picture, doesn’t it?

little known muscle series – subscapularis

This is the first is an occasional series about muscles most of us are unaware of…that is, until they get cranky. In each article, I hope to explain a bit about the muscle, it’s function and importance and how I address it during a massage session to my client’s benefit.

We’ll start with one of my favorites: subscapularis. Subscap for short. Now, for those of you who can’t remember high school anatomy class, I’ll start with the basics. Where in the world is it? Subscap is found on the front side of the shoulder blade, the side that is up against the back of your rib cage. This should immediately tip you off as to why this is a little known muscle! It attaches to the top of the arm bone, the humerus. It rotates the arm medially. That means that if your arm is hanging by your side, palm towards your leg, this muscle rotates the elbow backwards so that your hand is now facing the back of the body. Hopefully that’s clear.

Subscap is part of the rotator cuff. That may be a familiar term to some who have had shoulder injuries or strains. Subscap has 3 buddies that make up the rotator cuff (infraspinatus, teres minor, and supraspinatus). These muscles help stabilize the arm in the shoulder joint. One of the main reasons rotator cuff injuries are not uncommon is that these 4 muscles help stabilize a joint that has a great deal of range of motion. That range of motion comes at the cost of stability, especially when the muscles are weak, given a sudden jolt or load, or subjected to repetitive overuse. Fans of baseball are very familiar with pitchers experiencing rotator cuff injuries.

What I’ve found in my massage practice is that the rotator cuff muscles are worth checking into if a client is experiencing upper body strain or fatigue, if they clock long hours in front of a computer or steering wheel, and if they walk around with shoulders high and the head out in front of the body. I’ve found that when the subscap is tight, the shoulders ride high. When the subscap is able to release some of its tension, the whole shoulder can drop and relax.

So, how do you get to it if it’s up against the back of the shoulder blade you might fairly ask. I like to joke with my clients that the spa portion of the massage is about to end when we address subscap. If you were floating lazily on a cloud of relaxation, this is sure to bring you back to earth. One of my client’s likes to say this about working his subscaps: “You like to see grown men cry, don’t you?” Perhaps. Don’t worry, I never just spring subscap on clients. Anyway, here’s how we get to it. This next part is like anatomy mapquest:

with my client lying face up on the table,

I take the arm out from under the sheet,

bring it a little bit away from the body,

bend the elbow slightly and

put the hand on a towel on the table near the side of the body.

I put a dab o’ lotion in the armpit area and

slide my flat fingers in towards the subscap.

I am now gently “pinning” the muscle.

I instruct my client to push down with the hand.

This contracts the muscle (medial rotation) and stretches it.

Repeat, being sure to breathe and smile.

For some people this is very intense and has the feeling that we’re deep inside the body. For others it’s no big deal. We know it’s important work when it’s more intense. Sometimes I can feel the muscle twitching and then giving up its death grip on the shoulder. In combination with other upper body massage work, addressing this muscle can leave you feeling fantastic and much freer in the neck and shoulder region.

So, there you go! Let me know if you want to explore subscap during a massage session sometime (if you’re a local reader, of course – it’s very tricky to work on from a distance!). Do you have any rotator cuff stories to tell? Use the comments below to tell your tale.

massage is like fine dining

Years ago I took a leap forward in my cooking skills when I took a class from a friend who had studied cooking in India. I went from macaroni & cheese to tamatar kabli chana. Some of the things he taught me about what makes a great meal remind me of the elements of a great massage.

A great meal delights the eater with a variety of tastes and flavors, some subtle, some bold. From start to finish, a great meal includes a variety of textures and temperatures. It compliments hot foods with soothing foods and beverages. There are supporting foods and headline foods. Complex flavors may be followed by simple ones. And the dining experience is often characterized by a pleasant ambience, attentive service from the staff or host, and a combination of getting what you ordered and being surprised by what you didn’t even know you wanted.

A great massage unfolds in a similar manner. Great massages I’ve received have been in a pleasant environment. I like to be reassured that what I’ve requested has been understood and that the massage therapist is confident in his or her skills. I believe a great massage includes a variety of strokes, some long and flowing, others specific and targeted. There is a variety of speeds, a little jostling here and firm compression there to round out the kneading strokes and deeper strokes. Massage, like fine cuisine, speaks to the nervous system. The different amounts of pressure, the quality of a therapist’s touch, the atmosphere of the room can restore the nervous system that needs to be soothed or stimulate the one that needs to be boosted. The aromas, colors, and tastes of a great meal satisfy the brain as much as the stomach. And in both contexts the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Today I got a wonderful compliment from a client. It was the first massage I had given her. Before the session was even over she said, “I can’t wait until my next massage.” Satiated and anticipating the next meal at the same time. Since my experience in my friend’s cooking class, I have often thought about how the elements of a great massage are similar to fine dining. I trust my clients benefit from me mulling this over for years too.

lessons from traffic school

I recently had the opportunity to sit at my laptop for extended periods of time…okay, I confess: I had to take traffic school. My crime? Turning left out of a parking lot during prohibited hours. I have since noticed the friendly police officer parked across the street from the parking lot many afternoons. Argh!

I’m glad traffic school is offered on-line. It was pretty painless. And I was probably due for a refresher on traffic laws. I think a lot of other Southern CA drivers could stand to be reminded that the maximum freeway speed is technically 65 mph. Of course, it would be extremely dangerous to drive that slowly.

Completing traffic school on-line reminded me of how challenging it is to have good posture when sitting at a computer. I assume most people know the basics of ergonomics by now, so I’ll focus below on other tips:

  • Beware the laptop! First of all, laptops are both good & evil. They give us lots of flexibility (good). You have either the keyboard at a decent height ergonomically or the screen, but not both (bad). So, always be wary of laptops and limit your time at them. Play around with different places to use your laptop. Sometimes I set mine on top of the microwave and type standing up. Move around and don’t get too stagnant.
  • Love your eyes. Eyes and screens are not a match made in heaven. Eyes need a break. So, look away often. Look out at a distance often. Close your eyes and count down from 10 in your favorite language. If you haven’t learned to type without looking at the keyboard, please take the time to learn. You’re likely to be typing on a computer for the rest of your life. If you have screen-addicted children, please teach them to be kind to their eyes too.
  • Stretch your neck. There are a whole host of muscles in the neck and shoulder area I affectionately call the “concentration muscles.” They try to “help” our eyes and brains concentrate on what we’re doing by bringing our heads forward to somehow see better or be more engaged. After a couple of hours (or years!!), we are all out of whack and feel upper back and shoulder strains. Every time you finish a paragraph, tuck your chin and retract your neck by pretending to push something back with your head.
  • Counteract computer posture. We hunch, slouch, and practically stop breathing when we sit at computers for hours on end. So, counteract that regularly and in a number of ways. Take breaks and breathe deeply; your internal organs will thank you. Stretch your chest muscles by standing with your back against the wall, arms up like you’re surrendering, then slide your hands up above your head against the wall. Swim the back stroke once a week.
  • Get a posture buddy. Find someone else at the office or at home to whom you can be mutually accountable for decent posture. Determine in advance how you want to be reminded or encouraged when you’re hopelessly slumped at your desk. Are gentle reminders in a 50’s style mom voice effective for you and your buddy? Perhaps you’re more of a biting sacrasm duo. Find what works and make those endless treks passed each other’s cubicles more worthwhile.

I hope some of these suggestions will help you have better posture next time you take traffic school on-line or surf the web endlessly trying to find the speed limit for city roads (do you know it??). What are some of your favorite strategies for not becoming one with your computer? Post in the comments below.

Ditch the pillow

Like many people, my neck gives me a little grief at times. Carrying our heads forward of their optimal position stacked on top of the spine is very common. It can be the product of many tiny things we do each day and have done for years. Having our heads forward, for one thing, strains the upper back muscles who have to hold on tight to keep the head upright.

So, one thing I’ve been doing recently to give my little neck and upper back some love is lying down at the end of the day without my pillow. I take 5-10 minutes to let my head feel that position of alignment with the spine, using the bed as my plumbline. It feels good, like a supported stretch. When a few minutes have passed and I feel ready to sleep, I grab my pillow and roll onto my side. Just a few minutes, but therapeutic nonetheless.

Another stretch that I like I also do at the end of the day. I lay on my back all the way at the edge of my bed so that my shoulder is lined up with the edge. I let my arm hang off the side of the bed, shoulder height and higher. This gives me a great stretch through the pectoralis major muscle. I stretch my fingers back to increase the stretch and bring it into the forearm more. I do this with my massage clients and most people are surprised how tight they are in this area and how good the stretch feels. Since almost everything we do as humans is in front of us (driving, typing, playing an instrument, washing the dishes) we tend to roll our shoulders forward. Combine this with the forward head carriage and you have a prescription for a cranky upper back. This is about the laziest way to do something good for yourself to combat the day’s posture challenges.

Some people prefer a pectoralis stretch in a doorway or up against a wall. These are also great options I sometimes choose. Basically we all need some help combating our rolled forward shoulders. So pick a stretch you like and do it as often as you remember. Your body will thank you.