The Wellness-Mindfulness Connection

The Wellness - Mindfulness Connection

How are you?

No, really, how are you? Do you really have the information to answer that question? Maybe this is a question you should be asking yourself more often. Anyone experienced in meditation will tell you–answering that question thoroughly can be the quest of a lifetime, and takes more effort than you might think.

We live in a distracted time, so much so that most of us have no idea how to be anything other than distracted–bouncing through our lives like a pinball from one obligation to the next, resorting to our mobile phones or some other bad habit when even the slightest boredom or discomfort threatens our equilibium.

Is this you? If so, what are you afraid of? What’s got you running to cheap thrills every time you feel uncomfortable?

This is how bad habits and addictive behaviors take root in our lives. Some experts think addiction and compulsiveness begin way back in the development of our brains. Inspired by this prospect, a kindergarten in Germany is experimenting with a classroom in which the children are given nothing at all to play with–a room with some simple furniture and some blankets and pillows. Teachers observe, but do not interfere. The children are given no direction in what to play or what to do.

Harsh, you might say, but it’s based on an addiction study which found that, for many, addictive behaviors began in early childhood. In many ways, toys do for kids what bad habits and addicting behaviors do for us: they thoroughly distract us from our bad feelings–at least for a time. The idea is to allow the children to come up with their own games–to give them a chance to find fun in themselves and in each other. The hope is that the children will develop key skills that will help them cope with the adult world–skills like empathy, critical and creative thinking, and above all, self care and healthy self regard.

Could you use a little more strength in any of these areas? (Is there anyone who couldn’t?)

Are you trying to kick a bad habit, lose weight, or just be happier with yourself generally?

Your journey begins with an understanding of how your brain really works as it does its best to keep you happy and breathing. You’ll need a sense of curiosity–adventure, even. Mindfulness isn’t as much a destination as it is a journey into the unknown.

Are you ready? Let’s go.

First, you should understand that your brain is wired to flee pain and seek pleasure. It’s not bad. This instinct helped our ancestors survive. For example, when you find good food–especially high-calorie food–your brain goes out of its way to remember what you ate, how good it was, and where you found it. It doesn’t care that the food is cheap and easy to get, that too much of it might kill you, or that it’s filled with additives that might harm your health. Survival is the priority.

From there, it’s not a big leap to go from satisfying hunger for the sake of survival to soothing other kinds of pain or discomfort. Before you know it, there’s no bad day that can’t be made a little better with pizza or a slice of chocolate cake. The same mechanism works for other kinds of bad habits or addictions. Your body receives a visceral, memorable payoff for engaging in the behavior, and eventually you’re going to it without even thinking.

And the grownup “toys”? They’re everywhere: cheap high calorie foods, social media, alcohol, gambling, narcotics, TV, pornography, and that’s just the beginning. It’s not to say that all these things are bad all the time–there’s nothing wrong with giving a child a toy once in a while. But these distractions, if mistaken for something essential to survival, can destroy your life.

So what’s the solution? Practice mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?
When was the last time you ate a meal–and focused only on the food in front of you and maybe the company you’re keeping in that moment? That’s mindfulness.

Meditation is one method of developing mindfulness. The task in meditation–what makes it such a challenge for so many–is doing and thinking literally nothing. It’s tougher than it sounds. No sooner have you tried to clear your mind than a jingle for laundry detergent or a bill that needs to be paid soon comes flooding in to fill that void.

The trick is to observe yourself calmly and with a sense of curiosity. When mastered, you’ll be able to observe your body and mind working, holding your own consciousness at arm’s length for a moment.

While meditating, one way to gently dismiss thoughts is to picture yourself by a small stream with fallen leaves drifting by on the water. When an intrusive thought comes into your mind, pin that thought to one of the leaves and watch it drift away. When another thought inevitably intrudes, pin that thought on a leaf and watch it drift away.

Are you thinking “this is hokey and hippy-dippy and dumb”? Pin that thought to a leaf and watch it drift away. You can do this with sensory intrusions as well–that car alarm going off, the sound of the heat kicking on, your watch ticking, your phone buzzing at you–pin these to a leaf and watch them drift away. Set a timer and give yourself 15 or 20 minutes to practice this every day. This may feel like a waste of time; it’s anything but. It gets you ready to live in your skin for the rest of the day.

Out there in the trenches of your life, this exercise starts to pay off. You’ll find that when you get a phone notification while you’re driving, you won’t automatically have to check it. When you’ve had a rotten day at work and you suddenly crave cheese fries, you won’t automatically have to give in to it.

These occasions are opportunities to observe yourself, to be curious and collect data about how your body and mind react when a craving comes on. As you work at this, the more intense urge becomes not satisfying the craving, but curiosity about the craving to see what you can learn from it.

Even if you go for that dopamine hit, whatever form that takes for you, observe! You have an opportunity to watch your mind and body as you give in to a temptation. Pay attention to how those cheese fries really taste and how they make your body feel afterward. Ask yourself questions about whether that notification was really worth risking a car accident to check, and what you really got out of the experience. For extra credit, write down what you observe. Journaling adds an extra layer of self-awareness to the exercise which can help develop mindfulness even faster.

The ultimate payoff
Thinking in this way, over time, has a cumulative effect. Your brain is like a muscle. CAT scans of experienced practitioners of meditation show clearly that certain areas of their brains light up more than for the average person. Their ability to observe themselves has grown like a muscle after years of working out. It has an impact on their personality, and these individuals show lower incidence of compulsive behavior and addiction, better focus and concentration, and can better cope with stress.

While it’s true that meditation isn’t a one-and-done proposition, adopting it as a regular practice for even a short time can begin to show significant benefits. In this way, it’s a lot like massage: it feels great once or twice, and can have great benefits long-term, but you have to give it some time.

Honestly, this is just a toe-dip in a vast pool of what there is to know about meditation and mindfulness. There is so much to learn. What’s nice is that if you only want to take it so far, you can. This isn’t a panacea, and there are cautions to consider as you go forward, but just being more aware of your thoughts and your body’s needs is crucial to building more wellness into your lifestyle.

As with everything on this blog, none of this information should be construed as medical advice or care. The employees of The Good Life Massage, including the writers of this blog, are not medical doctors. Consult with your physician before making any changes to improve your health.

Tom Gunn is the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to assist with your content marketing and social media by emailing him at tomgunn@gmail.com

Are You Un-Doing Your Massage?

A great massage will have you coming home feeling like a new person. But what about the next morning? For those who aren’t used to regular body work appointments, you might be feeling a little sore after your first visit. Stretching is one of the best ways to help your body recover.

Stretching also has other amazing benefits:

  • improves your joint range of motion.
  • increases blood flow to the muscle.
  • improves flexibility.
  • leaves you feeling fresh and energized.

What kind of stretches should I do?
For athletes, the type of stretching you do and at what time you do it matters a lot. Static stretching, for instance, may be beneficial under most circumstances. But this stretch has been proven to impair performance before a 100 meter sprint. Athletes might focus on more dynamic stretches which involve lots of mobility. For our purposes, our best recommendation is to focus on static stretches.

Static stretches are simple body positions where you reach and hold the position for 10-30 seconds. It’s that easy! Static stretches are best for muscle recovery when done correctly.

Before you begin …
Form is important when exercising your flexibility. Stretching when your muscles are cold can lead to more damage than recovery. Here are things to consider before beginning your regular stretching routine:

Use proper technique
If you feel more pain than a good stretch, it is a good indicator that something is wrong.

Warm-up before stretching
To bring a good blood flow to your muscles, go for a short walk or do some cleaning around the house.

Do not “bounce” when you stretch
It is important to hold your stretch as to prevent stress on the muscle.

Reach until you feel the stretch
Don’t aim for pain. If it hurts, you’ve gone too far. If you’re aiming to improve your flexibility, push it right to the limit of where it hurts, and over time you’ll find that your flexibility improves. Don’t try to force the results.

Maintain a daily stretching routine
The benefits of stretching, like massages, come when you do it regularly.

Stay Hydrated!
Proper water intake prevents muscle cramps.

Great stretches for each part of your body

Foam Roll Calf Stretch
Foam Rollers are great just about anything! If you don’t own your own foam roller, you can purchase them here at the Good Life Massage, are relatively inexpensive, and are widely available.Faszienrolle

  1. Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you
  2. Cross your legs and place them on top of the foam roller.
  3. With your hands to your side, gently lift yourself off of the ground and allow the foam roller to move from your knee to the ankle. Pause in places of tension for 10-30 seconds.
  4. Switch legs crossed.

Wall Calf StretchDehnung der Wadenmuskulatur

  1. While facing the wall, position your feet around four feet from the wall. Place one foot forward.
  2. Lean forward, resting your hands against the wall. Try to keep each part of your body in alignment.
  3. Keep your heel on the ground. Hold the stance for 10-30 seconds. Switch legs.

Shoulder and Tricep Stretch

  1. While standing, position your feet shoulder length a part.
  2. With the forearm of one hand, pull the elbow of your other arm past your shoulder until you feel a pull.
  3. Hold for 10-30 seconds. Switch arms.

Glute Stretch

  1. While sitting on the ground, leave one leg stretched outward, with the other leg bent.
  2. With both hands, grab the leg that is bent and pull backwards while slowly leaning back (be sure to keep your neck and shoulders relaxed).
  3. Once you feel the stretch, hold for 10-30 seconds. Switch legs.

Lower Back Stretch

  1. While sitting on the ground, leave left leg stretched outward, with your right leg bent, crossed over the straight leg.practice yoga
  2. Place your right arm on your left leg and keep your left arm stretched outward. Slowly twist until you feel a slight stretch.
  3. Hold for 10-30 seconds and switch legs.

Cobra Stretch (Lower Back)

  1. Lay down with your chest on the ground.
  2. Place your hands as if you were to do a push up.Yoga bhujangasana cobra pose by woman on green grass in the park
  3. Push off the ground while keeping your hips to the ground. Hold for 10-30 seconds.

Forearm-Finger Tip Stretch

  1. While standing, stretch out your arm with the palm of the hand facing the ceiling.
  2. Gently pull down the fingertips of your hand until you feel a slight stretch.
  3. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Then switch to the other hand.

Neck and Trapezius Stretch

  1. Be especially gentle with this stretch as to avoid pulling any muscles
  2. With one hand, cradle the back of your head and pull slightly towards your shoulder, hold for 10-30 seconds.
  3. Switch arms to stretch the other side of your neck.

Hamstring Stretch (Hurtler Stretch)

red woman stretching her foot on the floor

  1. Sit on the ground with both legs stretched out in front of you.
  2. Bend one leg in towards your outstretched leg.
  3. Slowly lean towards your outstretch leg. Touch your toes if possible. Hold your stretch for 10-30 seconds.

Upper Back Stretch

  1. Kneel down on a soft surface.
  2. Prostrate yourself on the ground extending your hands as far out in front of you as possible.fit woman bending over on mat doing pilates exercise at home in the living room
  3. Hold position for 10-30 seconds.

You won’t need to sacrifice hours in a week to create a daily stretching routine. Just Five minutes a day is an investment that can provide years of mobility as you grow older.

Tanner Zornes is a blog contributor for the Good Life Massage and a student at Brigham Young University. Special thanks to our own Vanessa Mabra, LMP for inspiring this post and assisting in the research. 

Happy In The Skin You’re In? Improving Body Image With Regular Massage

Massage has several clinically proven mental and physical health benefits, but one that most people aren’t aware of is how massage can improve body image. Our culture is full of toxic influences with regards to the way we see our bodies. Some of these sources include:

People of every sex, size and shape can suffer from poor body image.
People of every sex, size and shape can suffer from poor body image.
  • Media Ideals: While the media is often called out collectively for promoting impossible ideals for the human shape, especially for women, there’s no conspiracy at work here. Everyone likes to see a pretty face or body, and in our technological age, media outlets are using ever-more sensational and exploitative tactics to grab a bit of our over-taxed attention spans. Shouting about the unfairness of media ideals doesn’t seem to be moving the needle in terms of changing the culture, but as consumers we can remember that not all media reflects what’s realistic or healthy.
  • Family Culture: Unfortunately, insecurity about body image is not only toxic, it can be contagious. Well-meaning parents or other family members may have created insecurity or a poor sense of self-image with critical comments or by modeling body-hating behaviors and self-talk.
  • Kids Are Cruel: If something about your appearance made you stand out as a child, chances are someone teased you about it in school. Perhaps that teasing turned into a pattern of bullying, shaming, and shunning. Sure, “sticks and stones,” but those toxic feelings can easily follow us into adulthood.
  • Injury or Illness: Suffering trauma or serious illness can cause unwanted body changes that can’t be helped. These changes can have a lasting impact, even long after bones have mended and tissues have healed.
  • Childbirth: While having a baby can be a happy event, the dramatic and permanent changes that take place in a woman’s body after childbirth can definitely have an impact on self-image.

All these factors can combine and make the task of improving our own body image seem daunting, if not impossible. But we weren’t born with shame for our bodies. It was taught or conditioned in us in small stages. Unlearning that perspective can take time.

A plan of action
The good news is that body image is not a fixed state of mind. Your body image has changed before and it can change again–this time for the better.

A strategy to improve body image is more likely to be successful if it involves several methods to change your thought patterns. These might include talk therapy with a psychologist or licensed family therapist, a program of exercise, and regular massage treatment.

That’s right–massage
Studies have shown that massage has benefits for body image one might not expect. Upon closer examination, though, massage’s benefits regarding body image make perfect sense.

The power of touchCouple holding hands toward the sun
Our success as a species can be attributed to our ability to work together to solve the problems of survival. In short, we need each other whether we like it or not. We’re social creatures by nature.

Lack of touch and affection in early childhood development has been shown to cause irreversible psychological harm. Solitary confinement has been shown to be debilitating and damaging to mental health, even for those confined for relatively short periods of time.

Touch is literally the most tangible form of love and approval we can experience. When you’re touched with care by a fellow human being, the most primal parts of you are reassured that everything will be fine, that you’ll survive, that you deserve to survive, and that life will continue.

When you’re regularly touched in a therapeutic setting like massage, your body and mind get all those signals and more. Your mind/body connection is strengthened. Regular massage can nourish these feelings and help them become a natural part of your daily thinking process.

Naked with strangers
Massage as a form of self-care and as a way of enhancing wellness has been studied and proven for years, but many aren’t yet aware of it. Those coming in for the first time may be fighting feelings of anxiety, especially for those with body image issues. After all, massage is being naked (although strategically covered with a sheet) in a room with someone you’ve just met. Although the kind of massage we practice at GLM is not sexual in any way, touch therapy can be an intimate experience. Some clients experience an emotional release on the table as tension is eased throughout the body.

Further, some clients are afraid their bodies are being judged or evaluated when they come in for a session.

This isn’t so.

Massage therapists are trained to have a professional and caring mind-set when working with their clients. Our therapists don’t see a lump of biological imperfection, disesase or illness, or a collection of unhealthy habits: they see a whole person with fears, desires, needs, flaws, and virtues, all in one. We see each person as inherently valuable and wholly unique.

You should feel comfortable with your practitioner so that you can keep an open dialog with them over what is working for you and what isn’t. While our practitioners are trained professionals, they need to hear from you to know how your experience could be improved.

Wellness from the inside out
We want all our clients to be as healthy as possible, both inside and out. While external solutions like cosmetic surgery, hiring a personal trainer, improving your eating habits, and other strategies may help your body image to some extent, looks aren’t everything.

Health is one thing. How you see yourself is something else. There’s only so much that a personal trainer and plastic surgery can accomplish. A positive self-image that lasts comes from the inside out. Strengthening your mind/body connection through regular massage can be key in helping you rebuild a positive body image and loving the skin you’re in.

As with everything on this blog, none of this information should be construed as medical advice or care. The employees of The Good Life Massage, including the writers of this blog, are not medical doctors. Consult with your physician before making any changes to improve your health.

Tom Gunn is the marketing director and official blogger at The Good Life Massage. You can follow him on Twitter @goodliferenton.

Tom Gunn is the marketing director and official blogger at The Good Life Massage. You can follow him on Twitter @goodliferenton.

5 Relaxation Tips to Transform Your Life

Relaxation is a major component of staying fit, but it’s more than just doing nothing, and it’s anything but a waste of time.

At The Good Life Massage our mission for our clients is wellness. When most people hear that word, they might think of eating vegetables, exercising, drinking lots of water, etc. Those things are all great, but relaxation is one often-overlooked habit in planning for wellness. Real relaxation requires full attention, uninterrupted time, and maybe even some gentle discomfort.

Relaxation is as crucial to your body’s functioning as the strain of a good workout. Your body needs to work to both extremes in order to maintain a full range of functionality throughout your life. In other words, your body needs to move, yes. But it also needs to be able to be still and truly at rest.

Relaxation vs. Fun
In our language we tend to conflate relaxation with fun. Relaxation can and should be fun to some extent, but not all things that are fun should be considered true relaxation.

Shockwave_coaster_sfot
Roller coasters, to many people, are great fun! They’re also very stressful, and are not generally relaxing.

TV shows, movies, Internet: fun! But are they truly relaxing? They involve sitting still, but they also usually involve your mind going elsewhere. These things are designed to inflict some stress on you, to make your mind race, to put you on the edge of your seat, even make you cry. Not only can these activities eat large amounts of valuable time, they can compromise your mind/body connection.

True relaxation is a rest for the mind as well as the body. It increases and improves your mind/body connection. When was the last time you sat quietly enough that you could hear your own breath, or even your own heartbeat?

A rested mind is creative, patient, agile, responsive, and alert. A rested body can adapt to stress more readily and can relax more quickly once stress has come and gone.

This is what makes relaxation a component of wellness. When you’re well, you can handle daily stresses, including the part where the stressors have passed.

Relaxation can also improve sleep patterns. When your body becomes good at slowing down, it succumbs to sleep more readily when it’s time to hit the pillow.

Truly Relaxing Activities
Relaxation doesn’t have to take long. Just fifteen minutes a day can make a huge difference in your state of mind and sense of well-being. Below are some truly relaxing activities you can start today. Turn off your phone, give one of these a try, and see what happens!

Go for a Slow Walk (and leave the headphones at home!)

Try to pick as natural an environment as possible, but one which will be safe and easy to walk through, preferably a hiking trail, public garden, or a park. While you’re out, breathe deeply. Listen to the small sounds your body makes. Notice the sights and sounds of the world around you. Let the cares of the day drift away and try to stay focused in the present moment.

Places like Coulon Park here in Renton offer a relaxing lake view, a picturesque arboretum, and smooth walking trails.
Places like Coulon Park here in Renton offer a relaxing lake view, a picturesque arboretum, and smooth walking trails.

Massage

This one is self-serving, we admit, but it meets all the criteria above and then some. We use music of your choice, or none at all, and give you the option of adding aromatherapy and other soothing enhancements. A 60 or 90 minute massage can re-invigorate the senses, improve circulation, and help you build a stronger mind/body connection.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

YouTube abounds with audio meditations along these lines. This isn’t the mystical miracle hypnosis of the audio cassette era. This is a guided exercise usually performed lying down or from a sitting position that increases mind/body connection by systematically helping you relax the major muscles of your body. You’ll be taken through a series of movements involving flexing and relaxing your muscles while breathing deeply. This can reduce anxiety, relieve insomnia, and increase focus when practiced regularly. This usually takes anywhere between fifteen minutes and a half hour.

Sit in Silence

You don’t have to pray, meditate, or listen to new age music. Just stop! Listen to your own breathing.

Notice your thoughts as they enter and exit your mind, but try not to give them too much focus.

This is easy, can take as little as a minute or two, and can help you slow down your day’s frantic pace

Take Your Breaks at Work!

Washington State Law requires that you get two paid breaks in a full work day, so use them. If you set that boundary with your boss and co-workers, they’ll generally respect it. Make good use of that legally mandated time by doing some of the things above, even if it’s just a brief moment of silence. Studies have shown that the people who take regular breaks are not only happier at their jobs, but are more productive.

Trying some of the above exercises can help you re-think what it means to really relax and help you develop a whole new relationship with the stress in your life.

As with everything on this blog, none of this information should be construed as medical advice or care. The employees of The Good Life Massage, including the writers of this blog, are not medical doctors. Consult with your physician before making any changes to improve your health.