What if a light on our foreheads flashed MAINT REQD when our bodies needed to get our attention?

We have a new car that has a helpful little light that goes on when Maintenance is Required. I believe it’s time for an oil change and a new air filter. The older car this one replaced could have always had a MAINT REQD light on. I was reflecting the other day how we never go to the mechanic any more. I don’t exactly miss him, although he was a very nice man. I’m sure he’s doing fine without us.

Seeing the MAINT REQD light made me think about the human body, my body, and the bodies I regularly work on doing massage. For a long time I’ve said that many of us walk around in our bodies the way we drive around in our cars: without a clue how they work and only paying attention when something “breaks.” Of course others of us are very body-aware and really cultivate health by carefully choosing what we eat, how we move and exercise, prioritizing sleep and rest, and including joyful activities along with all the responsibilities that characterize our lives. However, there are times when we take our bodies for granted and get a bit miffed when “something breaks” or we finally admit we carry a lot of pain around each day in our necks, shoulders, hips or feet.

MAINT: What is your Maintenance Required? For me, maintenance includes good food, laughter, chiropractic, massage, and sleep to name a few. I am really struggling these days with regular exercise, although I’ve been loving Walkahikes! What good care do you take of your precious resource of a body? Do tell in the comments below. Thanks!


The Injury Process

That's my foot!

I had been intending to write about the injury process, NOT intending to GET  injured! On Friday I took my son for a hike. It was a gorgeous day and we returned to one of our favorite spots: Switzer Falls in the Angeles National Forest. About 30 feet into the hike I twisted my ankle jumping over some water. I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately it felt fine and we hiked around for about 3 hours. We had so much fun.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized my ankle was hurting. It hadn’t hurt or felt injured at all during the hike. I was quite surprised and immediately went into injury treatment mode. Obviously this wasn’t a major sprain, but taking the following steps was really important in helping to minimize the damage.

R stands for REST. When you have an injury you must stop using the injured body part. When it’s the ankle that means stop putting weight on it. This is probably the hardest part, unless it’s hurting really, really badly. Then it’s easy.

I stands for ICE. Get ice on the injured part as soon as possible. It could be an ice pack, bag of ice, pack of peas or a cold stream. A good rule of thumb for ice is to use it for about 10-15 minutes with 20 minutes in between. When using ice packs, do not put them directly on the skin and don’t leave them on too long. You can burn your skin.

C stands for COMPRESSION. The body is sending lots of extra helpers to the injured area: fibroblasts to weave a scar over the injured structure, white blood cells to fight infection, chemicals that help manage pain, etc. Compressing the area helps keep inflammation in check. Too much inflammation can cause secondary problems. You can compress the injured body part with a piece of clothing (sock, shoe, t-shirt), a strip of cloth, towel, or the fabulous invention: the ACE bandage.

E stands for ELEVATION. Elevating the body part also helps to manage the huge influx of helper agents that the body is sending to the injured area. It helps the lymphatic system of the body clear out molecular debris caused in the injury.

Another common treatment for injury is taking anti-inflammatory medication or applying an anti-inflammatory creme. Of course, you know your body best in terms of administering any medications, so use common sense and follow the directions on the package. It never hurts to go to the doctor or urgent care clinic if you are concerned about how badly you’ve injured yourself. A trained professional can assess the degree of injury and rule out any complicating factors. An acute sprain can mask symptoms indicating a more serious injury like a fracture.

Next step is SLEEP! I don’t mean go directly to sleep, but remember that our amazing human bodies are designed to heal and restore during a good night’s sleep. It’s even more important when you are recovering from an injury. Our bodies accomplish a lot of repair during our sleep.

MASSAGE? Yes! Massage can be part of your recovery as well, after the acute stage of injury (roughly the first 24-48 hours). Massage can “reduce adhesions and influence the direction of new collagen fibers in the healing process. It can address edema and toxic accumulations from secondary muscle spasm. Massage will also help with stiffness from the temporary loss of joint function.” A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology by Ruth Werner, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 1998 p. 89. I know I felt my leg muscles could benefit from massage after icing and elevating for a couple of days.

Throughout your injury try to gently move the injured part through its regular range of motion as soon as you can without further hurting it. This gentle stretching and use is better than total immobilization because it encourages the body’s natural scar tissue to align properly with the muscle, tendon or ligament fibers and creates a stronger “patch” in the injured area.

Now I hope that not all of the topics I plan to write about actually happen to me personally. That might curtail my choice of topics drastically. Let me know if you have any questions about the injury process. Oh, and remember to warm up those ligaments before your next hike – I know I will!

Are your nerves compromised?

Neck after neck of tight, cranky muscles made me wonder the other day: How do nearby muscles respond to spinal misalignment? Misalignment of the vertebrae is also called subluxation. I decided to find the answer for you and for me by asking our good Dr. Rion Zimmerman, D.C. Dr. Zimmerman runs a thriving family chiropractic practice in La Cañada.

Me: If vertebrae are out of alignment, how do the muscles surrounding or attaching to those vertebrae respond?

Dr. Z: I define a subluxation as an unhealthy neurological pattern or habit that creates a physical, chemical and/or emotional response. The muscles’ response could be considered a physical response and what the muscles do is increase in muscle tone, get tight or hard. This tonal increase is based on a response within the autonomic nervous system known as “fight or flight.”

Me: How do people usually experience or feel spinal misalignment?

Dr. Z: A subluxation occurs in response to stress: physical, chemical or emotional. A basic way to break neurological symptoms down is through the three main types of nerves that create these symptoms. Sensory nerves which would respond with burning or sharp pain; motor nerves which would respond with lack of coordination or weakness; and the autonomic nervous system which would respond with symptoms to the organs all throughout the body, for example digestive or respiratory dysfunction.

Me: I have often heard people wonder if after chiropractic adjustments, tight muscles just pull the vertebrae out of alignment again. Is there a negative loop that needs to be broken here? If so, how is it broken?

Dr. Z: Remember the subluxation is an unhealthy neurological pattern or habit in the body. So it is not the muscle pulling out the vertebrae but the nerve that is not properly activating the muscle. After an adjustment the nerve will fire but with time the old negative pattern will force symptoms to return. Generally there is a recommended treatment plan that involves multiple chiropractic adjustments. These multiple chiropractic adjustments are recommended to help create a new healthier pattern in the nervous system.

Me: How does targeted stretching and exercise play a positive role in our bodies being able to hold alignment properly, naturally, or effortlessly?

Dr. Z: A new healthier pattern is developed in the nervous system through chiropractic adjustments. It is then up to the patient to help maintain this pattern with a customized exercise and nutritional plan.

Me: What differences are there in misalignment of vertebrae in the neck, mid-back and low-back, if any?

Dr. Z: Chiropractic is holistic because of its effect on the nervous system. Each part of the spine houses a different part of the spinal cord which distributes to different muscles, organs and cells. An extreme example of this would be a severe spinal cord injury. If the cervical portion (neck) of the spinal cord is ruptured then everything below it is affected, both arms and legs along with all organs. If the lumbar (lower back) portion is ruptured than both legs and all organs that correlate with those levels are affected.

Dr. Zimmerman is a chiropractor specializing in preventative, hands-on care in La Cañada. He can be reached at 818-952-0172 and

Thanks Doc!

body-psychology: guest post by Connor McClenahan

Hi Readers, I had a great conversation with a client recently who agreed to write it up for all of you to enjoy too. Write any questions in the comments below and I’ll get some answers for you from my guest writer. Susan

Hi, my name is Connor McClenahan, and I am currently studying for my doctorate in psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. While I am by no means a professional, I have encountered some ideas in my studies that Susan asked me to share.

We live in a culture that separates mind and body. Many people have a belief that our bodies are secular houses for our sacred emotional souls. However, Body-psychotherapy affirms the body as an intimate part of the self.

Body-psychotherapy looks at how emotions are expressed in the body throughout life. It claims that the body’s expressions, posture, and muscular pattern tell the story of a person’s emotional history and personality. Just as words are the means for expressing ideas, so our bodies are the means for expressing emotions. Think about what you do when you want to express emotion to someone: You may move your hands, change your facial expression, or change your posture. When certain emotions are repeatedly experienced their pattern becomes engrained in the structure of one’s body.

Let me give an example: A girl grows up in a house where she is constantly afraid of her unpredictable mother. Whenever she’s around her, she raises and tightens her shoulders and breathes short breaths. As a woman, she will have a holding pattern in her muscles that reflect her emotional experience. She may often experience tight shoulders and shortness of breath, accompanied by the thought that her world is unpredictable (like her mother). She may also appear to have a collapsed chest and high shoulders. Her body is an expression of her painful emotional history.

Want to test it out? This exercise will help you see the intimate connection between your emotions and your body:

  1. Collapse your shoulders down and inward.  Allow your spine to slouch.  Sit with it… how do you feel?
  2.  Stand up, let your shoulders rotate back and down, keep your spine straight, your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent.  Stand there for a second.  How do you feel now?

In position #1, you probably felt sad or defeated.  In position #2, you probably felt competent and self-assured.  For some fun, try doing position #1 while trying to feel self-confident, or position #2 while trying to feel defeated.  It’s pretty difficult to do without changing your body!

If you feel repeated soreness or tightness in your muscles, it may be worth spending some time processing through your own emotional history.  A Body-psychotherapist may be able to help you explore, understand, and heal not only your muscular patterns, but your emotional history that holds it.  Of course, massages will still help your sore muscles.  No wonder massages seem to not only relax your muscles, but your mind as well.

Here are some resources if you’d like to know more:

sTre$s Part 4 or Relaxation Part 2: the importance of sleep!

I recently heard Denise Byer speak about sleep at a health and wellness seminar in La Cañada. She is a sleep consultant representing a company called Private Quarters. Denise’s facts about sleep re-iterated what I knew deep down – sleep plays a huge role in our health and wellness. I asked Denise if she could share with us some of the amazing information she has learned about sleep and inspire us to get more!

1.  What have experts determined about what happens when we sleep? What are some of the downsides to not getting enough sleep?

So many things go on in our bodies while we sleep, they can’t all be listed here.  But there are a few things that I believe most people would be very interested in.

Very simply put, actual cellular repair occurs while we sleep.  So for our health – sleep is vital.

Our appetite controllers (called peptides) are affected by our sleep.  Ghrelins stimulate hunger and Leptin signals satiety (or fullness) to the brain.  When we don’t sleep well, our ghrelin levels are increased.  And not only are we more hungry, we tend to crave comfort foods, which are usually more fattening.  After a good night’s sleep (which is no less than 8 hours –discussed in more detail below), leptin is increased.  So you actually can sleep away those extra pounds!

And beauty sleep isn’t all myth either.  Growth hormones peak during sleep which contribute to cell and tissue repair.  Collagen 1 production is accelerated during sleep, which helps keep moisture in our skin.  We want that moisture, because when skin is dehydrated it looks less youthful and supple.

During sleep, neurons are regenerated.  Lack of sleep affects the functioning of several areas of the brain.  I find it fascinating that during verbal learning tests on subjects who are fully rested, MRI scans show that the temporal lobe area of the cerebral cortex, which controls language is very active. However, in sleep-deprived subjects there is no activity within this region. The effects of this inactivity can be observed by the slurred speech in subjects who have gone for prolonged periods with no sleep

REM sleep stimulates areas of the brain used for learning and memory. When a person is taught a new skill his or her performance does not improve until he or she receives at least eight hours of sleep. An extended period of sleep ensures that the brain will be able to complete the full sleep cycle, including REM sleep. The necessity of sleep for learning could be due to the fact that sleep increases the production of proteins while reducing the rate at which they are broken down. Proteins are used to regenerate the neurons within the brain. Without them new synapses may not be able to be formed, thus limiting the amount of information a sleep-deprived individual can maintain.

2. What are the stages of sleep, how do they differ, and how long do we tend to stay in each stage throughout the night?

The periods of non-REM sleep are comprised of Stages 1–4 and last from 90 to 120 minutes, each stage lasting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. In more detail:

The first stage is actually a transitional stage.  During this stage, one is very easily awoken.

The second stage is the first real stage of sleep.  However, the person in this stage is still not what you might call “soundly” sleeping and can still be awoken relatively easily.

When a person enters stages 3 and 4, there is no muscle activity.  These stages are considered deep sleep.  It is during these stages children experience bedwetting and night terrors can occur.

The final stage is called REM sleep, which is an acronym for Rapid Eye Movement.  This is the deepest stage of sleep

We’ve heard the phrase “sleep like a baby.”  There is some legitimacy in this.  Infants spend almost 50% of their time in REM sleep. Adults spend nearly half of sleep time in stage 2, about 20% in REM and the other 30% is divided between the other three stages.

3.  How many hours is considered a good night’s sleep?

Sleep loss impairs our judgment, especially about sleep.  In our fast-paced world, functioning on less sleep becomes sort of a badge of honor.  Sleep specialists say that if you think you’re doing fine on less sleep, or adapting to, you’re wrong.  And if you work in a profession where it’s important to judge your level of functioning, this can be a big problem.  In fact, losing just 1 ½ hours of sleep a night results in a 32% decrease in daytime awareness.

Studies show that those who believe they’ve adapted to getting six hours of sleep instead of seven or eight actually do poorly on tests of mental alertness and performance.  There is a point in sleep deprivation where we lose touch with how impaired we are.

4. If people want to sleep better, what are some things you recommend?

Bedtime habits and environment are equally important in getting a good night’s sleep.


*        Fix a bedtime and awakening time. Your body gets used to falling asleep at a certain time if it is relatively fixed.

*        Avoid napping during the day unless you can limit it to 30-45 minutes.

*        Avoid alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime.  While it has an immediate sleep-inducing effect, a few hours later as the alcohol levels start to fall, there is a stimulant or wake-up effect.  Similarly, avoid caffeine 4-6 hours.

*        Regular exercise, particularly in the afternoon can help deepen sleep.  However, strenuous exercise within 2 hours before bed can decrease your ability to fall asleep.

*        Avoid television right before bed.  It is a stimulant which will increase adrenaline levels, making sleep difficult and disruptable.


*        Use comfortable bedding. Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep. Evaluate whether or not this is a source of your problem and make appropriate changes.

*        Have your room at a comfortable temperature. The optimal temperature for sleeping is actually between 63-65 degrees.

*        Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.  Consider ear plugs, a fan or white noise machine and an eye mask.

*        Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body “know” that the bed is associated with sleeping.

*        Don’t take your worries to bed. Leave your worries about job, school, daily life, etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a “worry period” during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues.

*        Establish a pre-sleep ritual. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep.

*        Get into your favorite sleeping position. If you don’t fall asleep within 15-30 minutes, get up, go into another room, and read until sleepy.
Bonus Question: Do you have any events coming up that you’d like to tell people about? If someone is already a fan of Private Quarters products and wants to know more about your products, what’s the best way to contact you?

If you are interested in beginning to build a comfortable bed, I host an open house trunk show at my home the first Sunday of every month from 11 am -2 pm.  The next one will be on February 3.  Call for more information: (818) 951-4244.  You can look at my website, for information, or email me with questions denisebyer (at) msn (dot) com.  Additionally, I do one-on-one consultations.

sTre$s! part 2

This is a mini-series on stress – how our amazing bodies can rise to meet a challenge and how we can manage stress so that we don’t die from it!

As I mentioned in Part 1, our stress response consists of 3 phases: the alarm, the activating system and recovery. I recently read The Hidden Link between Adrenaline and Stress by Dr. Archibald Hart (Thomas Nelson 1995). He describes the amazing ways we are hard-wired to mobilize to meet a challenge. Every system of the body does its part. However, if we live in a constant state of stress, we will suffer the physical consequences (also described briefly in my first article). I’ll share with you some of the most important insights I gleaned from the book.

“To protect yourself against dying of or suffering ill effects from stress, you must learn how to switch off your production of adrenaline when it is no longer needed, and stop using it for non-emergency life situations (like driving on the freeway)!” (Hart, p. 28)

“Nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without some arousal of the stress response system. It is a biological law that we must work, and even fight, to accomplish a worthwhile goal. Challenge and fulfillment are important to health and well being. The lack of it causes us to atrophy in body and mind. But –  and this point is crucial to my whole argument – challenge and stress must be accompanied by, and work in harmony with, relaxation and rest.” (Hart, p. 42)

“We cannot avoid all arousal, all the time, nor should we even try…What should we do in times like these? It is crucial to plan adequate time for recovery. Sooner or later the crisis will be over, and that is when you must make time for adequate recuperation of your adrenaline system. It is simply a matter of responsible self-management.” (Hart, p. 136)

“The primary and most successful method of adrenaline reduction is conscious physical relaxation. When you relax the body, the mind can’t keep itself in a state of emergency. A relaxed body begins to relax the mind.” (Hart, p. 134)

So, let’s get personal. Here’s what I am doing with the information I read.

  1. I’m getting more sleep! Dr. Hart has a whole chapter on the importance of sleep. One of my new (school) year resolutions is to be in bed by 10:30 pm. This regularity helps me tremendously in the morning. I am a lot less grouchy! Most people I know, especially parents, could use more sleep.
  2. I’m noticing when my stress level is elevated and deciding whether I need the extra adrenaline or not. This consciousness is amazing. I never would have thought that noticing and deciding could be so powerful. I’ve found I really can turn off the adrenaline if I decide I don’t need it. If I need energy to face a challenge, yes I’ll take the adrenaline. If I need more creativity, I’ll do better without the influx of adrenaline.
  3. I’m making time for recovery, unapologetically. I will not pack the schedule too full and perpetuate the chicken-with-her-head-cut-off mode of operation. It’s just not enjoyable.
  4. I’m planning physical relaxation into my schedule. I know, I know, I’m always talking about massage (wink). For me and for many of my clients, massage helps us remember we’re human. What Dr. Hart described on page 134 rings true (see above). And, massage is one way to help flush out the chemical toxins in our bodies produced by the adrenaline response.
  5. I’m appreciating the body. I’m happy to celebrate that my body is designed to rise to incredible challenges and I’m confident it will amaze me when I need it to.

Stay tuned for the third part of this series where Dr. Angel Duncan will teach you a relaxation exercise you can use to increase your physical well being and decrease your stress. I’m also trying to line up an interview with a sleep consultant for you.

Inspired by anything? Want to share a resolution you have? Please use the comments below!

P.S. Somehow I published a draft of part 1 instead of my final version. Wander back to re-read part 1. You’ll see some of the information re-worked.

sTe$s!? part 1

I recently read a great book about stress. How cheerful, you might say. Well, I did it for you, my dear reader. I did, in fact, begin my reading with altruistic motives, wishing to share with you the way stress affects the body and teach you how to manage stress to minimize its negative impact in your life.

Little did I know how much I needed the info myself!

Life is sneaky that way, isn’t it? Here I stand, at this beginning of the school year, full of hope and healthy resolutions. The book I read is called The Hidden Link Between Adrenaline and Stress, by Dr. Archibald Hart (Thomas Nelson, 1995). Although it’s not the most recent book on stress, it’s an easy-to-read, inspiring book nonetheless. I’ll share some highlights with you in three parts. In Part 1 I’ll describe the most important insights I gleaned about how our bodies mobilize to meet a challenge. In Part 2 I’ll describe healthy ways to manage stress. Part 3 is a guest post by one of my clients, Dr. Angel Duncan, who will share a relaxation exercise with you.

  • The stress response: The amazing human body is hard-wired with the ability to respond to threats with a complex and efficient system of mobilization. You’ve heard of “fight or flight” I’m sure. Behind this catchy phrase is a whole host of chemical reactions that occur when we are faced with a major challenge:
    • Your eyes dilate, the rate and force of your heart’s contractions increase, and your blood vessels constrict, so your blood pressure rises. Blood is borrowed from the intestinal reservoir and shunted to your major muscles, lungs, heart, and brain, preparing you for battle. Bowel and bladder function shut down temporarily, conserving energy needed to power your muscles, whether you choose to stay and fight or run away. (This efficient summary is from The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Bantam Books 2003 p.59.)
    • Here’s a family example: one time my older brother was working on his motorcycle in the garage. It suddenly caught on fire. My brother lifted the motorcycle up and threw it 10 feet out of the garage where he was able to put out the fire safely. This response demonstrated quick decision-making & abnormal strength, 2 hallmarks of an adrenaline response.
  • This system kicks in whether the challenge we face is life-threatening or simply our morning commute! To face our daily challenges, we really don’t need all that, especially the increased blood pressure, wouldn’t you agree?! Dr. Hart describes our activation this way:

“We are mobilized to act. We become physically stronger (which can be dangerous if we are angry) and mentally sharper. Notice I said ‘sharper,’ not ‘more creative or innovative.’” (Hart, p. 66)

I don’t know about you, but most of my challenges could use a greater measure of creativity and less blood pressure. I don’t particularly gain anything when I yell at my kid to hurry up and fall asleep already!

  • The stress response has 3 important steps: alarm, activation, and RECOVERY. In our culture, this third step is often overlooked. I’ll discuss the importance of recovery in Part 2.
  • Humans are incredibly ADAPTABLE. For example, our eyes can adapt from bright outdoor sunshine to dim indoor lighting within a minute or two. Unfortunately, we can also adapt to conditions we shouldn’t adapt to, like high levels of stress. Our adrenaline response has some great short-term features, like a decreased sensation of pain for example. This serves the purpose of helping us continue with a challenge even when we are injured. Imagine the need to carry your child down a mountain after some catastrophe, perhaps a task that would be physically impossible for you unless you knew you were in a life-threatening emergency.
  • The long-term effects of adrenaline on the body are ultimately destructive. Here are a few examples: higher blood pressure, depleted endorphins and therefore an increased sensation of pain, quicker (and less discriminating) activation of a stress response, depletion of the brain’s natural tranquilizers and therefore increased anxiety. The list goes on, but you can see it’s a picture of diminishing returns.

As I said, refreshing my knowledge of how the body acts under stress has been great for me personally. The summer was in some ways a little more relaxed, but also a little stressful trying to balance work and family time. I was looking forward to the school year beginning in a grass-is-greener kind of way. Then I remembered that there’s a lot of hustling hither and thither with the kiddo, part of life I find stress-inducing. Learning to monitor and manage my stress response, which I’ll share with you in the next post, was a great way for me to start the school year. Stay tuned!

And, please, if you have any great stories about how your adrenaline helped you in a real crisis or hindered you in a daily challenge, please share with everyone in the comments below.