Play With A Purpose, Relax With Intention

Unwinding, A Master Class–Part 2How to Play With Purpose Relax With Intention

Sharpen your saw
When a saw blade becomes dull, you put way more work into it than necessary. So it is with you. We’ve talked on this space before about relaxation, and how important it is to practice it as a skill, but it’s high time to revive the topic with some reflections on how to improve your relaxation practice in every area of your life.

The most important work
Unstring your bow, sharpen your saw, whatever analogy you like to use, these metaphors are trying to teach us something about relaxation, and it’s this: relaxation is a form of work–the kind of work that helps you work better. It’s time we start treating it as such. Don’t believe me? Work means change! If you’re doing relaxation well, there should be some change from the beginning of it to the end.

Further, you put yourself to the task for a specific purpose. Unwinding helps you get perspective on your life in a holistic way. True, you need to relax to work most efficiently, but you’re not just a cog in some machine–you’re a multifaceted, complex creature. Sometimes just the right kind of relaxation can help you remember that.

You can pace yourself. Small and incremental change is still change, and it has a sort of compound interest effect as the days add up. The results may be small at first, but they can accumulate over time. Long vacations give you the advantage of being able to go deep in your self-care, but don’t dismiss the benefits of doing a little every day. Establishing habits of self care and relaxation can enrich your life in ways you can’t yet know.

Just as not all stress is the same, so not all relaxation is the same. You need to take that into account before you choose what kind of relaxation you pursue.

Rest the body

This is where regular massage comes in and can be of most benefit to you. The body is put through it’s own stresses, regardless of your activity level, and you need to care for it.

Relax by … moving?
Exercise can be immensely relaxing–not because of how you feel while doing it, necessarily, but how you feel afterwards. Yoga practitioners will talk your ear off about how soothing it is on the nerves, and how good it is for stabilizing both your body and your mood. What any kind of exercise does for you is that it puts your body through stress in small, tolerable portions. When your body goes through this regularly, it grows stronger in order to adapt to this regular, tolerable stress. When something big hits, like a major stressful event, your body is better able to cope with what’s happening, and recovers from the shock of it more quickly.

That aside, a there’s no body more relaxed than a body that’s been thoroughly worked out. If you don’t feel as weak as a kitten coming out of the gym, you might not be getting as much out of the experience as you could.

Regular massage can also play a key role in helping your body recover from exercise and help you get the most out of your workouts. Not to mention that it feels great.

Nom nom
Have you thought of eating as relaxation? It really can be! But it’s not about eating for entertainment–that’s a different thing. Sweets and comfort foods may feed the soul, but a good, nutritious meal can be truly relaxing to your body in the sense that it can prepare your body to do its work better.

A meal that’s truly relaxing to your system

  • tastes good
  • is well-balanced, both in terms of portions and nutrition
  • is light enough to not stress your digestive system

Foodies all over the world are discovering that not only can this kind of eating be good for you, it can be an amazing sensory experience, and an adventure that’s well worth having. What’s more, they’re eager to share what they’ve tasted and how to make it.

Go ahead and add some novelty to the foods you choose when it’s time to party, keeping in mind that what your body really wants is a balance of flavors incorporating whole grains, green vegetables, and lean meat or proteins. Your body will thank you.

Breathing
Close your eyes and take a deep breath right now. Doesn’t that feel good? Taking care of your breath, and learning to breathe deeply is key to helping your body stay relaxed and help you cope with stress as it comes. Activities like aerobic exercise, massage, and meditation can all help you improve your breathing. Pursue improving your breath with intention, and every day will begin to feel like a gift.

The bottom line with relaxing the body is that your body is after balance. You can’t just live on wheat grass and water all the time, and you can’t expect to stay healthy if your body is under constant strain with no rest or variation. The opposite is also true. Always eating the same things and always doing the same things with your body creates stress and wear over time. Remember that your body is that of an animal–it needs a natural balance of rest and activity, feast and fasting to truly thrive.

Rest the mind

Exorcise
Expel the demons! It can be helpful to feed your mind with something other than the worries of the day. There’s something about humans that makes us crave stories. We want our heart strings pulled and our senses shocked. But make your catharsis meaningful. Whether it’s video games, movies, or a long-form television drama, use with moderation, and make sure the morals, meanings, and messages reflect your values. Entertainment can be a test drive for your emotions. What are you preparing your emotions to do? What kinds of reactions are you training your brain to have to different situations?

Reading, writing, learning
Similar to the exercise you put your body through, reading, writing and learning are necessary ways to exercise the powers of the mind. Is it stressful to the mind to learn something new, or to concentrate the powers of expression and reason? Absolutely. But it’s stressful in the mild, strengthening way exercise is helpful to the body.

Journaling or other creative writing has been shown to benefit health in surprising ways. University of Texas Austin psychologist and researcher contends that journaling actually strengthens the immune cells known as T-lymphocytes. It can also just help you cope with the challenges you’re facing, giving you insights about yourself you might not otherwise discover. It can also help you set aside unproductive worrying and focus your work time more effectively.

Relaxation is a skill you can spend your life improving on and enjoying. Pursue it with gusto and intention rather just going through the motions.

Choose the good life.

Tom Gunn is the blog editor and Marketing Director for The Good Life Massage. You can reach him to help you develop your brand with content marketing by reaching out to him at tomgunn@gmail.com

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5 Ways Everyone Is Doing Relaxation Wrong

Unwinding–A Master Class, Part 1

5 Ways Everyone Is Doing Relaxation Wrong

“Relax!” verb, directive – a phrase you say that will almost guarantee the person being addressed will never, ever be able to relax.

We throw the words “relax and unwind” around too easily. We tell people to do it as though it was as easy as breathing (well, it kinda is, but more on that in part 2). This casual tossing around of these words has damaged the concept in our minds. We’re too quick to think we “don’t have time” to relax (lie), or more commonly that what we are doing is relaxing when it’s absolutely not.

Relaxation isn’t the same thing as “fun”. Relaxing things can be fun, but not all fun things are relaxing. We live in a busy, distracted world, and the best most of us feel we can do to “unwind” is to get some TV in before bed, maybe go out for dinner from time to time and take our annual vacation.

How is that working out for you?

Can we do better?

In this two-part post, we’ll explore what relaxation isn’t, what it is, and ask ourselves some tough questions about how to do it best.

Your body: temple or amusement park?
Be careful about using food as entertainment, especially if it’s cheap, fried, sugary, or some combination of these things. These kinds of foods hack the pleasure centers of the brain, overwhelming your sense of being satisfied with a need for the explosive dopamine hit to continue. This is why “you can’t eat just one”. It’s a food hijacking your brain and using the mechanisms designed to help you to survive to help you gorge.

Foods high in sugars kick up insulin production in your body, which in turn puts stress on your circulatory system and your heart. Over time, this can aggravate the negative effects of daily stress on the body. A diet high in saturated fats and trans fats can have a similar effect. Excess, with food or alcohol can also do a lot of damage, even when it’s done in the name of fun or relaxation.

There’s nothing wrong with a little indulgence now and then, but just know that you’re trading some mental and psychological pleasure for some bodily stress that can accumulate to a deadly result over a long period of time. We’re not saying “no dessert!” (God forbid!) Just use moderation and understand the trade-off you’re making. If bodily stress is a major concern, don’t neglect this aspect of how you treat your body.

Mind games
Real unwinding is not just about your physical well being–the tension in your muscles, etc. It has just as much to do with your mind.

It’s easy to confuse the mind with the self, and so we forget that the mind is a tool. It helps us make decisions, interprets our experiences, and produces our feelings. Since it’s a tool, we need to keep it working well. This means you need to regularly rest it and sharpen it. But too often we abuse it by overindulging it with sensational experiences, cheap thrills, and shallow, fleeting pleasures.

Screens
We can hardly get away from them. An outside observer might guess that we’re slaves to these flat, glowing surfaces. They’ve filled our living rooms, bedrooms, classrooms, workplaces, and even our pockets, purses, and cars. A lot has been said to question the wisdom of this cultural shift, but let’s focus for a moment on how it affects your stress and relaxation.

The light from screens can actually cause stress. Sleep studies have shown that the stimulation caused by the bright LCD and LED-style screens that fill our lives inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone that signals to your body that it’s night and that it’s time to sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping you might consider keeping the screens off for an hour or two before going to bed and see if that helps at all.

And what about social media? Studies have shown conclusively that the most social media you use, the less happy and healthy you are. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram, while fun and useful at times, can also breed envy and depression as we compare and contrast everyone’s best days with our worst and get drawn into unproductive political debating and ruminating. Even the “news” we find there turns out to be less than reliable.

Porn
Long gone are the days of a guilty pile of mags stashed in the woods or the furtive trips to the adult video store. The device you’re reading this on right now is a private, anonymous conduit to see more naked bodies than a Victorian libertine could’ve seen in a lifetime.

Cultural enthusiasm for this stuff has given way to a justified backlash as critics point out exploitative norms in the industry, and psychologists critically interrogate porn’s value in enhancing our sex lives. Porn use can cost you your job and cause public humiliation, not to mention the damage it can do to your libido, your relationships, and your ability to enjoy healthy sexuality.

Porn is like a mental junk food, hijacking your senses and your brain to keep you riding high on oxytocin and dopamine while it reroutes your sex drive to fleeting, superficial experiences. In most cases, these experiences, while they can be intensely pleasurable in the moment, only serve to isolate you rather than build a lasting bond with another person.

Bingeing
Let’s be honest: if it were healthy, we wouldn’t call watching hours of television on end “bingeing”. Letting yourself get swept up in a drama can be cathartic. There’s nothing wrong with some escapism now and then. But is there any drama that’s worth the loss of sleep and every negative consequence that flows from that?

Entertainment, but for zombies
Going out for drinks, watching TV, video games, movies–we all have a set list of the things we do because it’s the weekend, or it’s time to relax, or it just seems like the thing to do. But does that mean it’s relaxing? Does that mean it’s worth your time?

Examine your recreational choices and question them–really put them under the hot lights and interrogate them–for what they’re actually giving you. Are you really getting out of them what you think? Is it time to break the mold and try something new?

In part 2, we’ll talk about healthy ways to unwind that are truly relaxing and life-enhancing long term.

Choose the good life.

Tom Gunn is the blog editor and Marketing Director for The Good Life Massage. You can send you comments to him directly or ask him how he can help you build your brand through content marketing by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com

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 therapist so that you can keep an open dialog with them over what is working for you and what isn’t. While our massage therapists 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.