Essential Gear for a Good Nights’ Sleep

 

As we struggle to take care of ourselves and not drown in stress, sleep is your life jacket. It lengthens your life long-term while improving creativity and brain function in the short term. On the flip side, doing without can have serious consequences and can’t be “caught up” on. We can’t always control our circumstances, but your bedroom is personal–yours–and with rare exception, entirely within your power to change. A few simple tools could make a big difference in the quality of your sleep.

Before your fill your bedroom with new gear, we strongly recommend getting rid of the junk. Relocate that TV, get that junk out from under your bed and either get rid of it or store it somewhere else. Chuck that practically-unused fitness equipment, fold your laundry and switch to body-weight exercises or join a gym. That room is made for two things: sleep, and … the other one (eh-hem). The more you focus the space to those purposes, the more it will serve you instead of the other way around.

Once you’ve cleared out the junk that’s holding you back from getting a good nights’ sleep, it’s time to select a few important things that can help you embrace a peaceful night of sleep, every night.

An alarm clock
No, your phone really isn’t good for this. Charge it somewhere else at night. The blue-white lights of the phone screen will activate chemicals in your brain that will actually stimulate you and keep you up. It’s also best to stick to clocks that have red or amber displays. Green and blue displays can have the same effect as your phone.

A white noise machine
White noise can help drown out drippy faucets, ticking clocks, creaking boards, a siren down the street, or other little sounds that might disrupt your sleep. We recommend a fan or a white noise machine that doesn’t generate the noise electronically, but electronic ones do have more options if you prefer to listen to rain or ocean wave noises as you drift off.

A medium firm pillow
Most of us think that the softer the pillow is, the better. Not so, according to sleep studies conducted in Germany. Pillows with medium firmness give you comfort along with adequate support. Sinking into a fluffy cloud every night may sound nice, but in practice it destabilizes your neck and disrupts your sleep.

An air conditioner
Did you know that there’s an optimal temperature for sleep? In the Pacific Northwest many find AC to be indispensable during the summer months, and it turns out that those people are on to something. Most experts agree that the ideal bedroom temperature is around 68 degrees–slightly cooler than usual room temperature. Keeping your room comfortable helps prevent you from waking, and makes it easier for you to go back to sleep if you do wake up.

A face mask
We offer face masks to our clients as a courtesy whenever sensory deprivation is desirable, but there’s no reason you can’t benefit from one at home. They’re inexpensive, comfortable, and prevent light from waking you up or decreasing the quality of your sleep. If you can’t handle having something on your face, at least invest in some opaque window shades so you have the option of shutting out light completely.

Experiment with these! Have fun with your new toys as you see how well they work.

Tom Gunn is the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage.

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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

3 Self-Massage Hacks (To Tide You Over Until Your Next Massage)

3 Self-Massage Hacks

Just because you’re between regular massage appointments doesn’t mean you have to suffer until your LMT gets their hands on you. Self massage is surprisingly simple to do, and can pay off big if you’re trying to get through a tough, stressful day, or want to reward yourself for surviving one.
Here are 5 simple massage hacks you can do at home or at work to keep you going until the next treatment.

1. Sub-Occipital, or the “Sweet Spot”

This one requires no more tools than your fingers on either hand. Find the spot just behind your ears where the back of your head connects to your neck. Press in at that connection point, moving your fingers towards and then away from the middle of your neck in slow repetitions. Do that for about 30 seconds.
How does that feel?

2. The “Play Ball” Back Massage

Get a tennis or racket ball and wedge it between your back and the wall. Use your legs to move your back up and down against the ball. You can vary the pressure however you like, and that ball can reach places you’ll never be able to get to without imposing on a friend or booking a massage.
This one can also be a great way to do a pre-massage check on yourself, so you know just what parts of your back seem to need the most attention from your LMT.

3. Handy Hand Massage

If you spend a lot of time at the keyboard or working with your hands, this one was made for you. This actually consists of not one technique or motion, but several in a sequence. First, firmly, but gently grasp your hands in each other. You’ll be surprised how nice this feels when you really take a moment and focus on the sensations.
Next, take each finger in the other hand and gently pull and twist, running your hand up to the finger tip.
To finish, give your fingers a shake like you’re trying to shake slime off, then clench each fist one at a time, smoothing them over gently.
The hardest, but maybe the most important part 

Don’t forget the mental, emotional component of this exercise in self care. Any massage therapist worth their salt isn’t just going through a series of motions during a session. They’re thinking of you and your needs, paying attention to what they’re feeling going on in those muscles and what needs the most attention.
A sense of caring and loving-kindness is crucial to giving a good massage, whether it’s for someone else or yourself. For many of us, the self-love and self-care aspect of this is the toughest to get past, but these techniques are about more than mechanical motions to go through.

To really get the maximum benefit, send yourself the kind of good feelings, compassion, and awareness that you’d devote to someone you really cared for.

Have you tried these and still feel like a wreck? Book your next massage now!
Choose the good life!
Tom Gunn is the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage. You can contact him to help you build your brand and reach your customers by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com

How to Prepare Now for Holiday Stress

How To Prepare Now for Holiday Stress

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” -Anonymous

Holiday stress is coming! Are you clenching up inside? Stop! You’re not naive. This isn’t your first holiday season. You have a good idea of what stresses you’ll face, how your life will be disrupted. And yet so many of us talk about the coming holidays like it’s a natural disaster that couldn’t possibly have been predicted.

Why feed the drama? You’ve got this.

Get your priorities in order
You may have asked yourself, after a particularly harrowing holiday season “Why do I put myself through this?” It’s a valid question. Maybe the holidays hold great meaning for you. Or maybe you feel obligated because of family custom or social pressure. In either case, remember this: resentment is poison.

Whether you love the reason for the season because of family or religious commitments, or couldn’t care less, resenting the holidays will only punish you. It will sap your emotional stamina, and might even become the source of unnecessary family drama. We’re here to tell you that you have a choice now. You can just react to stress as it comes, or you can plan for it now and go into this stressful time of year prepared–and not only that, happy and ready to fully enjoy everything the holidays have to offer.

If you want no part of it, draw healthy boundaries for yourself and, without antagonism or anger, let your loved ones know you hope they have a great time, but that you have other plans. The worst thing you can do for yourself or others is to go into holiday events grudgingly or with a resentful attitude.

Plan for happy
Think ahead about the most busy times of the holiday season. There’s a list of things to do, events to attend, gifts and food to buy. It seems to go on and on. But why? Maybe it’s a good time to promise yourself to say “no” or “not this year” to a few things. Commit to bowing out of some things now before the social pressure is on; you’ll be surprised how easy it is to back out of some things you just don’t have room on your plate for. And as you go, remember: “no” is a complete sentence.

You can also plan to take care of yourself now! Scheduling your massages early and often is always a great idea, but especially during the holiday season. Our clinic gets busy this time of year just like any business, so seize this chance to grab the times you know fit into your schedule. Book online or give us a call: 425-243-7705. Set your reminders on your calendar. Then take a deep breath, and know that your self-care is one less thing to worry about squeezing in.

Maintain healthy habits
Now may not be the best time to pick up a new habit, even if your intentions are great. Your will power is limited, and there’s no sense in setting yourself up for failure during the holiday season.

By all means, though, maintain the good habits you’re already doing! If you already work out, get regular massage, do yoga, meditate, or eat healthy foods, it’s more important than ever to stick with it. Letting go of your good habits will throw off your equilibrium on days when you’ll need it more than ever.

So what’s it going to be? Are you going to polish your “BUSY” badge of honor and go into the holidays proudly miserable? Or are you going to plan ahead and be thankful for whatever comes?

I know what I’m picking.

Tom Gunn is the marketing director and blog editor for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to build your brand through social media design and strategy by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com

The Enemy Within – Hidden Muscle Tension That’s Making You Miserable

The Enemy Within

What is muscle rigidity?
Your body is a miraculous machine for coping with stress. But, like any machine, it occasionally manifests a bug–a bug that can turn into a serious problem.

When you face stress, your trusty allies, your muscles, contract and tense. They become rigid as your body prepares to fight or flee whatever stressor you’re facing. In this way, your body is trying to keep you alive. You may not be facing a threat to your life when a client or your boss yells at you, but your body doesn’t know the difference. When that stressor passes, your muscles are supposed to relax, because everything is fine.

But what if everything isn’t fine? Suppose, after being yelled at by a client, you start to drive home and almost get into an accident? Or find that you’re overdrawn in your bank account? Suddenly, your muscles are tensing up yet again. If this level of stress keeps up, your body will get the message to always be ready to defend itself, keeping your muscles rigid and tense. While many of your muscles may relax as the stressor passes, some of them may stay rigid in an effort to keep you alive.

This can happen whether the stress is unexpected, or if you intentionally inflict stress on your body through exercise.

Mindfulness
Suddenly the friendly muscles that have been trying to keep you alive have become your enemy. Not only are they not really helping you survive, they’re making everything worse. As the stress continues, more and more of your muscles become tense and rigid. This can develop into debilitating chronic pain. It can affect your posture and create a chain reaction of tension as your body twists itself into a knot trying to stay ready for whatever fresh hell you might be in for.

What’s even more insidious is that you may not even notice this happening until it manifests as a persistent pain. This rigidity and tension can build up in your body, filling your senses with a kind of tense “noise” you eventually stop noticing. After all, you’re too busy pleasing your boss, avoiding car accidents, and balancing the checkbook, right? The busyness of life can easily make you ignore the stress and tension that’s mounting in your body until it manifests as some pain or disease that won’t be ignored. Unless you do something about it.

Those of you who have received massages before may understand this from personal experience. As your massage therapist releases tension throughout your body, may help you discover mucles you didn’t even know were there. As rigid muscles are gently encouraged to become soft and smooth, little pains that have become like background noise are suddenly, blessedly silenced.

Book your next massage when you’re done reading this.

The cure
There are several ways to prevent a build up of muscle rigidity caused by stress. Our favorite, of course, is regular massage, but even that isn’t a complete solution. In any case, not everyone can afford regular massage (though it might not be as out-of-reach as you might think).

Mindfulness is key. Do things that will strengthen your mind-body connection. You can start with something as simple as turning off all distractions during your meals. The point is to help yourself become more aware of your body and what messages it’s sending you, to tune in enough so that you can detect persistent tension and small pain signals coming from your muscles and connective tissues.

Exercise, however moderate, can dramatically reduce muscle rigidity and tension. Yes, exercise can be stressful on your body. It’s supposed to be! Inflicting moderate stress on your joints, muscles, and heart in this way helps your body be more agile in coping with the every-day stressors and hassles that come your way. Remember, though, to consciously and deliberately relax your muscles after tensing them in that systematic way. Stretching is a great way to do this, but there are other methods you can do any time.

Progressive relaxation
Progressive relaxation is a guided meditation practice that helps you turn your attention to each muscle group in turn, breathing deeply. Your guide talks you through putting each muscle group through a slight tension and then relaxation, literally from head to toe. Many of these exercises can be found for free on YouTube. There are several excellent recordings done by psychiatrists and other professionals available for sale at a very reasonable price. It usually only takes 10 to 30 minutes, and is well worth the effort. It’s almost as good as getting a massage, and can even be a great way to help you sleep better.

Massage, exercise, and progressive relaxation are the primary ways to cope with stress-induced muscle rigidity, but more important than these is to try to manage the amount of stress in your life. This might entail some dramatic lifestyle changes as you try to slow your pace and live your more deliberately and with a stronger mind-body connection. If you’ve recently experienced a series of dramatic or traumatic life events, the psychological component may also need to be addressed with the help of mental health professionals.

But why bother? You feel fine, right? Do you, though? Check in with your body regularly. What does it need? What do you feel from day to day? Nobody lives in bliss all the time, but you’re not supposed to be totally miserable all the time, either. Emotional pain, like physical pain, is sending you signals to make a change in order to help you survive. Listen to that, and take to heart some of the suggestions above.

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 and editor of this blog, are not medical doctors. Consult with your physician before making any changes to improve your health.

Note: stress is not the only cause of muscle rigidity. It can be a symptom of a number of diseases including Parkinson’s, tetanus, multiple sclerosis, and many more. This post refers only to muscle rigidity caused by stress. You may need to consult your doctor for chronic pain or stress that won’t go away through some of the means described in this post.

Tom Gunn is the marketing director and blog editor for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to help develop your brand, logo, and content marketing strategy by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com

Massage . . . for Kids?!

Massage for kids

Can my kid get a massage?
Kids aren’t the first thing you think of when you think about massage and spa treatments. It’s true that we serve herbal tea, not soda, and cartoon characters aren’t typically an element of the decor. But can your kid get a massage? Absolutely.

Something for everyone
It’s tempting to feel like there’s something particularly adult about getting a massage. You disrobe (though not necessarily), and there’s a sense that the aches and pains of having a grown body are what massage was invented to relieve. But when you think about it, touch therapy is something that can be beneficial to everyone.

Touch has great physical benefits, aiding in circulation, easing muscle soreness or stiffness, and most of these benefits are associated with what happens when a body begins to get well used and worn out. But the muscles of children and youth need some TLC as well. Growing muscles may not have to put up with the same pain and strain, but kids play hard and sometimes sustain injuries and accidents. The therapeutic benefits are there for them as well.

The psychological benefits also can’t be ignored. As social beings, we’re wired to respond positively to touch. Healthy touch assures us that we’re going to survive because we’re surrounded by people who will care for us. Do kids need to feel that any less than adults do?

It’s never too early to learn
Touch therapy can also help kids establish a stronger sense of self-love as they get through their awkward growing years. You remember adolescence–the persistent feeling that there’s something abnormal about you, the discomfort with your own changing body’s size and shape. All of these can be mitigated with regular massage and touch therapy in a professional setting. Massage helps establish a stronger mind-body connection for kids and adults alike.

Having your child or adolescent get a massage also helps them see touch therapy as a positive part of a self-care routine, and to see that self-care is an important part of a person’s life. Sure, they’ll follow your example, but why not start them now in the habits that will help them lead the happiest, healthiest life possible?

Safety is our priority
While massage has so many of the same benefits to kids as to adults, we do have to take some special measures on our end to ensure they have a safe, positive experience. Every minor client must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The parent or guardian must be in the treatment room during the session. In fact, if you like, the session can be booked as a couples session with the parent on the other table! It takes a little more notice to arrange, this can be a great way to have a good experience with your child.

We will not perform massage on a minor without the signed consent of a parent or guardian. Our clinic policy is that, whenever possible, minor clients are treated by massage practitioner of the same gender.

Aside from this, we also try to go out of our way to make our youngest clients feel comfortable. We’re mindful of their vulnerability in this setting, and the nervousness they might be feeling. We take extra care to let them know that they have total control over their massage experience, just like any adult. We show them how they’ll be draped to protect their privacy, and talk through exactly what parts of their body will be touched and how. Young clients should know that there’s nothing about a massage that they should have to tolerate or endure. The client or their parent are free to terminate the session at any time.

Yes, children and youth getting massage is rare. But maybe it shouldn’t be.

Tom Gunn is a the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage. You can reach him at tomgunn@gmail.com.

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