15 Health Benefits of Massage
I'm loving this article - it succinctly points out a lot of the benefits of massage therapy. How many were you aware of? I'm always happy to talk about the scientific and health benefits of massage therapy at your session in my Westport office. Schedule your next session and we can make a lot of these benefits happen for you!
December Monthly Special
60 Minute Session Gift Certificate for only $75 (save $15!)
This is the busiest time of year for most of us. Massage can help alleviate your stress, as well as the stress of friends and family! Take advantage of this discount by purchasing a reduced price gift certificate either at my Westport office before or after your session, or by clicking the "Purchase a Gift Certificate" link at the top of the page. Massage therapy is one of the best values for money - you'll never regret spending 60 minutes relaxing! Thank you!
Hip Flexor Stretching – Part 1
Many of us spend a large part of the day sitting. This shortens and tightens the muscle group called “Hip Flexors”, which include psoas major, psoas minor, illiacus, and a little of pectineus, predominantly. These muscles work together to flex the leg, that is, move it into the position of sitting, with the upper leg in front of the hip. Often, we're not aware of the actions these muscles take, because they are small, and seemingly insignificant compared to our large posterior hip muscles, like the gluteal group. But these muscles can become very tight and pull down on the pelvis, creating an increased tilt and causing back pain. In fact, I check the tension in this muscle every time a client comes in to work on lower back pain, because it's often implicated.
Stretching the hip flexors will help to alleviate lower back pain, and even help you walk more upright and comfortably. Ideally, the pelvis will be neutral, with no tilt. Such as below:
But tight hip flexor muscles lead to an anterior (front) pelvis tilt, which increases pressure on the lower back:
By keeping the hip flexors loose and functioning properly, the pelvis maintains it's proper position. Since the pelvis is like the fulcrum of the entire body, this makes walking, standing, and even laying feel easier. In the next few posts, I'll explore three hip flexor stretches, starting with the easiest and moving to more advanced positions. Accept my challenge and see how many you can do easily!
Hip Flexor Stretch #1
Sitting on the floor with your leg bent at the knee on the side of your body, hold your right ankle with your right hand and move your leg toward your back, letting the movement of your upper leg push your body onto the left side. Rest on your right arm and increase the stretch by pulling your ankle toward your back. Ideally, the foot would be able to touch the low back (although that almost never happens!). Breathe into the stretch and attempt to pull the ankle closer to the back, gently. Repeat on the other side.
Balancing the pelvis is beneficial for almost everyone, but especially those who work at a desk or sit most of the day. To see if you've made a difference in flexibility, perform these stretches on the front of the hip, and stretch the low back by simply trying to touch the toes. Ideally, the stretching will help you to have greater low back range of motion, and definitely decrease in pain and tension. When you come in for your scheduled massage therapy session, I'm happy to help you explore these stretches more and help with any complicated low back issues you may be experiencing. I'll see you in my Westport office!
Healthy Recipe: Curried Butternut Squash with Brown Rice
This is one of my favorite fall recipes! The squash is sweet and the curry is spicy, so they're a perfect match. When butternut squash is in season, it's healthy, inexpensive, and most of all, delicious. Roasting is one of my favorite ways to prepare it, and here, the squash roasts in the oven right along with the rice. The prep for this dish takes about half an hour, then it's all hands off time, which makes it super easy for weeknights. Feel free to substitute coconut milk for some of the water the rice cooks in; this will give the rice a creamier texture. This dish will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days, and tastes even better the next day, so it's perfect for make ahead meals and lunchtime leftovers!
The ingredients are super simple – you may already have them in your fridge. In addition to this meal being super easy, it's also really cheap!
If you're squeamish about cutting up the butternut squash, know that it gets way easier with practice. (Although if it'll make your life easier, you can get away with the pre-cubed squash from the grocery store.) I cut off the top and bottom, separate the round part from the neck (the longer part), peel each section with a sharp knife (although you could use a sharp vegetable peeler), cut each section in half then into the desired size. Scoop out the pulp and seeds – you can roast them just like pumpkin seeds with a little olive oil and salt. They're a really yummy snack or a crunchy topping for your dish.
My method of roasting most vegetables (and even croutons), is to put oil on the baking sheet before the veg; this uses the least amount of oil, and confirms nothing will stick. Then put all your veg on the sheet and toss from the bottom up, coating with oil until glossy.
The squash is best on the bottom rack, with the rice on the middle rack above it. This ensures the squash gets a little crispy and the rice doesn't.
As you can tell, my love of both jalepeno and garlic is extreme. Feel free to use more or less of any of the rice flavorings, to your taste. This was one jalepeno, and in truth, it did burn my tongue a bit! I use a microplane grater to mince my ginger, but you can chop it if you prefer.
Saute the scallion, garlic, ginger and jalepeno all at the same time – easy!
Adding the rice to the flavored oil and tossing for a minute or so ensures the rice grains stay separate and add AMAZING flavor. You're not out to color the rice at all, just to get it coated and smelling great.
Whenever cooking rice in the oven (which is the easiest way!), always bring the liquid to a boil on the stove first. It'll boil much more quickly on a burner than in the oven, which shortens your overall cooking time.
Curried Butternut Squash with Brown Rice
3-5 tablespoons canola oil (as needed)
2 cups long grain brown rice (I use basmati)
1 large butternut squash, 1.5-2.5 pounds
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon hot curry powder, to taste
6 large scallions, minced with green and white sections separated
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 inches peeled fresh ginger, minced
1 jalepeno, minced
4 cups water (with coconut milk standing in for a portion, if you prefer)
1 small bunch mint
1-2 limes, to taste
Salt & pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place about 2 tablespoons canola oil directly on the baking sheet. Set aside.
The squash: Peel and cut the butternut squash into about 2” cubes. Place the squash onto the prepared baking sheet, and toss to coat in the oil. Sprinkle the squash with the curry powders and turmeric and toss again to coat, adding more oil if you feel it's necessary. Sprinkle generously with salt and ground pepper. Place the squash on the bottom rack of the oven to cook.
The rice: In a medium cast iron, oven-proof pot, saute the white parts of the scallion, garlic, ginger and jalepeno in about 1-2 tablespoons canola oil on high heat for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir until the rice is a glossy and scented, about 1-2 more minutes. Add the water (and coconut milk, if using) and stir once more to combine. Add about 1-2 teaspoons salt, or to taste. Bring to a boil. Place the lid on and put in the oven with the squash.
Roast the squash and cook the rice for about 45 minutes each, until each is tender. If the squash starts to brown too much, simply reduce the temperature. If it's not browning enough, add another tablespoon or two of the canola oil.
In the meantime, mince the mint leaves and reserve.
When the rice and squash are cooked fully, add the squash to the pot with the rice and stir to combine. The rice should take on the orange-y color of the squash and turmeric. Add the mint and reserved green scallion tops. Squeeze in lime juice, to taste. Adjust final salt and pepper to taste and serve!
October & November Monthly Special
Extra 10 minutes for only $10!
Any time you book a session during October & November, mention this special and pay only $10 for an extra 10 minutes on your session! We can accomplish a lot in each session, but an extra 10 minutes helps you feel more relaxed, and always allows for focus on an extra area of tension (or two!). An incredible deal!
Thanks for booking, and I'll see you in my Westport office!
Trap Stretching – Part 2
Last time, we discussed the anatomy of the Trap muscle, and explored one effective stretch for it. I've also previously posted an entry about Quad muscle stretching with an addition of trap stretching. (Read Quad/Trap/SCM Stretch Post Here.) In my opinion, that modified quad stretch is the best for traps. But there's another, more relaxing stretch that we'll discuss this week.
As we discussed last week, the Trap attaches from the upper neck to the upper arm bone and down the back. Therefore, arm movement is critical in stretching the trap, as we'll discuss:
Start by lying on a hard surface on one
side of your body (we'll start with the right side for orientation
purposes). Keep your upper and lower body in a straight line, with
your toes pointed and bottom (right) arm out, perpendicular to your
body, top (left) arm resting on your body. Use your core to support
your body and the stretch by pulling your belly button into your
spine. (Please click on the image below to enlarge.)
Let your head hang over your shoulder, already stretching the side of the neck. Push your top (left) arm toward your toes, and pull your head up, essentially pulling your body in opposing directions. Slowly move your head and hand diagonally opposite, twisting the head and moving the arm up and down, until you find a tight spot. When you do find a good spot, move your arm and head in small circles, still pulling away from each other. This will help mobilize the joints and move the muscle in a way that's nearly impossible when standing up. Keep your neck and upper body loose and gentle and repeat the stretch on the other side. Remember to breathe and relax. Enjoy!
The Traps are tight on almost everyone, and although these stretches will help your movement, nothing's better than a massage! I'm happy to help you identify tighter spots during a session in my Westport office.
Trap Stretching – Part 1
Almost every client who comes into my office for massage therapy (or every person I meet!) has tight shoulders. The Trapezius (“Trap”) muscle comprises what most of us consider “shoulders”. It is a very complicated muscle, not only because of the actions it performs, but because of where on the body it is located. It's location makes it challenging to stretch and train, but not impossible, as we'll examine in the next few blog posts.
The Trap attaches from the very top of the neck at the base of the skull, out to the edge of the upper arm bone, then in and down to the inner edge of the shoulder blade, then to the lower thoracic spine (about T-12). Phew. So it's clear that the anatomy of this particular muscle is all over the back of the body. It accounts for most the movement of our shoulders (especially up to our ears!) and movement of the neck backward (extension) and from side to side, among other movements, of course.
The First Stretch:
So how do we go about stretching this muscle? First, we can learn to move the upper arm (humerus) down, which pulls the traps down from our ears, releasing tension. When our shoulders go up, when driving, or typing, or even sitting, the tension creeps up slowly and often without our realizing it. So the key point of this week's entry is to understand how to keep those shoulders down, as far down to the floor as possible. We do that by actively and mentally controlling our upper arms.
We can control this movement without weight, just by taking note of when the trap starts to move up, or with weight. With weight, all that's required is to hold the weight (it could even be a full water bottle) softly in your fist, with palms turned in to the body, shoulders back, neck and head up and straight (good posture!) and let the weight pull down your arms. It's helpful to breathe and relax and just let the weight do it's job. People are often surprised that it feels like their shoulders move down a number of inches! Repeat this stretch gently any time you start to feel tension in your shoulders, and eventually, your body will start to remember how that muscle can relax and lay comfortably.
Next week, we'll discuss more active stretches for the trap, and how tension in it can affect headaches and posture.
then, enjoy this mind over body stretch,
and I'll see you in my Westport office!
Posterior Hip Stretching - Part 2 - The Piriformis muscle
In the previous post, I addressed how stretching the gluteal muscles can help improve flexibility, and help alleviate lower back issues. Another muscle that's implicit in lower back pain is Piriformis. This muscle is tight in almost every client on my massage table, even though almost no client realizes it before the session. It can pull quite strongly on the sacrum of the spine, that is the very lowest part of the back. This means it's often responsible for lower back "aches", especially while sitting, laying, or even while sleeping. It even has it's own syndrome ["Piriformis Syndrome"], wherein its' constriction pushes on the nerve running down the back of the leg, causing tingling and even numbness in the leg, feet and toes. This is often seen in clients who run longer distances, as well as those who bicycle often, as the seat pushes directly on this muscle.
Almost every client is surprised to find this muscle is tender; regular massage works wonders for it's function, but this stretch is very important too.
The piriformis muscle attaches from the anterior sacrum to the top of the femur (thigh bone). This means it is involved in rotating the thigh interiorly and exteriorly, as well as moving the thigh up, especially in running or cycling. It's has also been suggested that it's antagonist muscles are the psoas major/minor, which are on the front of the body, deep in the abdomen and pelvis. Therefore when one muscle is tight, the other often is too. You may find that after performing this stretch, it's a little easier to stand up straighter and move your legs more freely.
I'll explain this stretch on one side of the body first, for ease of orientation. Sitting on a hard surface, cross the left leg over the right, so that the left leg is still bent, foot flat on the floor, knee pointing up. Anchor the right (opposite) elbow in the outside of the knee, as far outside as you can stretch to reach. Twist the upper body ever so slightly, and use the elbow to push the knee as far as it can stretch toward the other (right) leg; this action will twist the upper body extremely, but focus your energy on moving the knee, rather than spiraling the spine. Breathe into the stretch and repeat 3 times on each side.
Sometimes this stretch can feel very uncomfortable, as the piriformis muscle is quite deep underneath other muscles, and very small comparatively. But keep at it - the rewards of loosening the posterior hip muscles are huge! Practicing this and the previous gluteal stretch every day will make such a huge change in your lower body flexibility, opening the legs and even freeing the lower back to function optimally. Regular massage therapy on these muscles will also help you to realize where they are on your body, and how they need attention. I'm happy to help you understand these stretches more fully at your next appointment. I'll see you in my Westport office!
June Monthly Special
This month, all my wonderful loyal clients can take advantage of double referral rewards!
Typically, when you refer a new client to me, you each get $10 off your next session. But this month, when you refer a friend, he/she still gets $10 off, but my existing client gets $20 off!
It's my way of saying I have the best clients ever, and I thank each of you for coming. I'll see you in my Westport office (hopefully with a little discount!)
Posterior Hip Stretching - Part 1 - Gluteual group
Many clients come into my Westport office indicating lower back pain. While this pain is often very complicated and differs with each client, it has been clinically proven that tension in the hips affects the low back region. And although the muscles in this area are literally the largest in the body, they are often overlooked in our daily stretching routines. This is unfortunate, because not only do we use these muscles with every step and while standing, but we also pull on them while sitting, meaning they are under contractile force almost constantly. This constant force pulls on surrounding muscles and bones, causing discomfort.
In the next two posts, I'll explore the two most effective stretches to loosen this region. These particular stretches are even more effective performed in an assisted way, during a massage therapy session at my office. The next time you come in, I'll be pleased to perform the stretches along with you. Most clients are amazed when the see what the combination of massage therapy and stretching does for flexibility!
The Gluteal muscles include Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minimus. As a group, these muscles attach from the sacrum and illium of the pelvis to the top of the femur. This means they are involved in the motions of walking, rotating the thigh, getting up from a squatting/sitting position and abducting (moving away) the thigh from the hip.
The stretch involves pulling the leg forward to the chest from the knee and ankle. This first stretch can be done either standing or sitting, depending on your flexibility. Just be sure not to push yourself too far and accidentally lose your balance!
Start by bending your leg in front of your body, with the lower leg perpendicular to the upper leg, bent 90 degrees at the knee. Gently hold underneath both the knee and ankle, pulling both toward the chest. Your grip on the ankle should be relatively loose; the grip around the knee is more important in the stretch. Pulling that knee toward the chest is the critical part - start gently and breathe into it, pulling a little closer with each breath. Repeat on both sides of the body. Ideally, you should be able to touch your knee to your chest. Of course, not everyone is that flexible, but that's what regular massage is for!
Repeat this stretch daily, especially first thing in the morning and before bed, for best results. After a few good stretches, you should start to feel your range of motion increase, and hopefully that lower back will open up a bit. But always feel free to make an appointment for a session to have my help loosening up that tension. I'll see you in my Westport office!
April & May Monthly Special
Special 45 Minute Session
Many clients say they would love longer massage therapy session times, but for an economic price. Well, you asked, I answered! This month, I'm offering a special 45-minute session for only $55 (savings of almost 20%!). I normally don't offer a 45 minute session, but if you like it, and would like me to add it to my regular treatment menu, I'm happy to oblige. 45 minutes is plenty of time to work on the back and neck, and include the arms and legs for circulation, if you'd like. So come in any time this month for a special 45 minute session at a special discount! I'll see you in my Westport office!
Healthy Recipe: Mushroom & Blood Orange Stir Fry
This is one of my simplest meatless weeknight meals. The combination of the rich mushrooms, the meaty oyster sauce and the tangy-sweet oranges is incredibly satisfying. In fact, because the sauce is so simple, it actually tastes BETTER the next day, so make extra for tomorrow's lunch! If you can't find blood oranges, I've had similar results with regular oranges and a little lime or grapefruit juice. To make the meal completely vegetarian, use shitake stir fry sauce instead of oyster sauce.
4 tablespoons canola oil (roughly)
2 lbs mixed mushrooms, such as (crimini, shitake, maiitake, etc.), roughly chopped
4 large blood oranges
1 red onion, sliced into half-moon shapes
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon mirin
2 tablespoons oyster sauce (or vegetarian shitake sauce)
6 scallions, thinly sliced
Steamed brown or white rice, for serving
In a large wok or deep pan, saute the mushrooms over high heat, with just enough canola oil to brown, working in batches. There should only be a single layer of mushrooms on the bottom of the pan at one time. As each batch cooks, set aside in a bowl. In the meantime, peel and section the blood oranges and set aside in the same bowl as the cooked mushrooms, if desired. Once all the mushrooms are cooked, saute the red onion with a little more oil, if necessary, until soft and slightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger and scallion, and saute until fragrant. Add the mirin and oyster sauce and saute for about 30 more seconds. Add the mushrooms and oranges back in and cook together for about 2 minutes. Serve over steamed rice and enjoy!
To all my loyal clients:
As of March 1, I've had to raise my rates for all my sessions by $5 each. My carrying costs have increased, and as much as I don't like it, a rate increase is necessary. I still firmly believe that my rates reflect an incredible value for the massage therapy treatments I provide. I feel incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful clients; please know that I hold all of you in the highest esteem and continue to be extremely dedicated to providing you with the very best care possible. Thank you so much for your support thus far, and I hope we can continue in a professional relationship for many years to come. Thank you again!
The Snow Shoveling Workout
To my fellow Fairfield County residents: This has been a tough month. I, for one, never believed I'd be able to drive a car on a road normally again until spring. My driveway and buried car were for me, as I'm sure for most of you, a huge problem as well. The snow has begun melting a bit now, but I've noticed in a lot of my local clients, that shoveling tension remains. In this post, we'll explore a few different stretches, from back and lower body to arms and shoulders, that encompass a nice routine and should help alleviate stress from shoveling all that white stuff. Take your time exploring the stretches, and if one muscle group seems tighter, spend a little more time there. Of course, I can always help you stretch during a session in my Westport office.
Phase 1: Lower body/low back
The simplest stretch, but one that we can often get less than perfect: Touching your toes. Start with your arms high above your head, fold at the waist but sticking your rear out, and with a flat back, reach to the floor. If you find that your hamstrings are too tight to reach the floor or to feel the stretch in your low back, feel free to bend your knees a little bit. Move back up slowly, keeping the back as flat as possible.
Phase 2: Shoulder/upper arm
Reach one arm straight in front of the body, and push it toward the body with the other forearm, above the elbow. Gently use the second arm to pull the first closer to the body. This should stretch out the back of the shoulder and rotator cuff muscles. Repeat with the other arm.
Phase 3: Pecs
Stand in a doorway and hold onto the door jamb with one hand. Slowly pivot your body back so that you are perpendicular to your arm. Try to keep your grip relaxed. Repeat with the other arm.
Phase 4: Forearms
Hold one forearm out in front of your body, palm facing out. Use your other hand to gently pull your fingers closer to your body, stretching the palm side of your arm (extensor muscles). Repeat with the other arm.
Admittedly, these stretches won't affect every muscle in your body that was ravaged by the blizzard, but I think they're a good start. If you still feel some tension you can't pinpoint, I'm sure we can work it out in a massage session in my office. Enjoy!
Many clients come into my office with tension headaches. Some of these headaches are caused by upper neck tension, and some are caused by tension in and around the jaw. In this post, we'll explore how you can release some of the jaw muscles yourself at home. If you catch yourself grinding your teeth at night, or even during a stressful time during the day, give these moves a try. The more you can learn about your own body and it's patterns, the more you can learn how to ease distressful symptoms.
There are about a score of muscles on your face, but two are particularly culpable for jaw tension: Masseter and Lateral Pterygoid. The masseter is the strongest muscle in the body, with a force of up to 200 pounds of pressure on the molars, allowing us to chew and grind. It's relative is the lateral pterygoid, which is directly posterior to it, closer to the ear. Both of these muscles move the jaw at the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ).In many TMJ disorders, these two muscles are tight and not moving properly. The masseter attaches at about the bottom of the cheekbone and the bottom of the jaw; the lateral pterygoid from the TMJ to the sphenoid bone, which you can feel as about the edge of your cheekbone closest to your ear.
Starting at the bottom of your cheekbone, apply gentle pressure starting at about the middle of the cheek and moving toward the ear. Note any specific tender points along this path. Moving to directly in front of the ear, apply a gentle pressure again toward the back of the head; the intent here is to move a little lymph first toward the back of the ear, then directly down, toward the neck. Spend a little time here with the flat part of a few fingers, and note the feeling of a gentle fluid flush – that's your lymph moving.
Now a strange maneuver: Hook your little finger into your ear with your palm facing out. The idea is to feel the attachment of that lateral pterygoid as it lays directly inside the front of your ear. Open and close your jaw a few times to feel the muscle move back and forth, holding a firm pressure against the front of that inner ear. Repeat moving the jaw about 10 times, then remove the finger to release the muscle.
Move to the TMJ itself, the very edge of your jawbone. With two or three fingers and the palm facing out, apply moderate pressure to the joint, while trying to keep your jaw as relaxed as possible. A good visualization is to imagine your jaw touching the floor. Pushing that jaw all the way down helps the joint release.
Move along the bottom of the jawbone, again with palm facing out, applying moderate pressure with two or three fingers. Notice that there may be a number of knotty trigger points here; if you find one, just spend a few extra seconds applying pressure to it, but try not to increase the pressure itself, that may lead to increased tension in the muscles.
Finally, it's been postulated that the motion of yawning both increases oxygen to the brain and stretches the jaw muscles, which are under extreme pressure. If you feel the need to yawn at all while performing these movements, allow your body to stretch the muscles for you. Perform these movements on both side of the face, and remember to keep your pressure on the gentle side.
I'm happy to have helped a number of clients through TMJ disorders. These type of disorders along with neck and should tension can very effectively be addressed in just a 30 minute session, even during your lunch hour! Feel free to call me at my Westport office to schedule an appointment. See you soon!