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Winter Blues

Seasonal depression affects many of us. If you have found yourself experiencing the winter blues, try the following tips to help overcome depression and restore joy to your life.

  • Get a massage, and take a hot bath afterwards, to increase blood flow to muscles and allow you to relax.
  • Turn on some background music which can offer a relaxing way to take your mind off your worries.
  • Unwind with a relaxing walk to help you reduce stress.
  • Treat yourself to a nap. Too little sleep causes slowed metabolism and increased appetite, risking over-eating, unhealthy food choices, and inactivity.
  • Keep finances in check. Studies show that financial stress is one of the main reasons adults worry.
  • Go Zen. Take up restorative yoga, tai chi, or meditation. These mind-body strategies incorporate improving posture, relaxing, and stretching to improve balance and coordination while simultaneously decreasing stress.
  • Release inner tension. Never underestimate the power of a good sex life and reconnecting with your significant other.
  • Take time to laugh. Comedy is good for the soul. Whether it comes from rented movies, downloaded comedy sketches, or going to improv or karaoke, a good laugh goes a long way.
  • Go hiking, bicycling, or skating by yourself, or with your family, to breathe good air and re-balance your life priorities.

All these activities increase your energy, and the more energy you have, the less likely you’ll be overwhelmed by depression that sometimes comes with the winter season.

So says Dr. Moshe Lewis, Chief of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at California Pacific Medical Center, St. Luke’s Campus in San Francisco.


caring touch creates well-being

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring chemical produced in the brain when we feel safe, nurtured, and receive caring touch. It acts like a hormone in our bodies to regulate the arousal level of our nervous system. It is also the hormone of attachment, the ‘neural cement’ of all loving bonds.

Because babies are unable to regulate their own nervous system, loving touch and closeness are critical for them to feel safe, calm, and not overwhelmed. The oxytocin that is released during close contact generates a satisfying relaxation and a blissful sense of safety, contentment, and belonging for the infant. It produces the wonderful feeling that ‘all is well.’ And it profoundly shapes their ability to love and trust others. The oxytocin response is key to maintaining healthy relationships throughout life.

For adults, caring touch and closeness provide the same calming of the nervous system and sense of well-being. We need caring touch, warmth, presence, and connection to cause oxytocin to cascade through our bloodstream, to help our nervous system be in the state we naturally like—calm, relaxed, alert, engaged. And to help us feel open and trusting in our close relationships.

That’s why we feel so good after a massage, and why regular massage is so beneficial to our health, sense of well-being, and our relationships, too!

Calm. Alert. Massage.

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Why do we spend roughly 10 percent of our waking hours with our eyes closed, blinking far more often than is actually necessary to keep our eyeballs lubricated? Scientists have found that the human brain uses that tiny moment of shut-eye to power down.

The mental break can last anywhere from a split second to a few seconds before attention is fully restored, researchers from Japan’s Osaka University found. And in the brief break in attention, brain regions called the default mode network collectively power up. This network is the brain’s idle setting. In times when our attention is not required by a cognitive task such as reading or speaking, this far-flung cluster of brain regions comes alive, and our thoughts wander freely.

Most of us take between 15 and 20 such moments of downtime per minute. It has been observed that most blinking takes place near the point of an implicit stop. While reading or listening to another person, this generally comes at the end of the sentence.

Another highly intelligent way our nervous system knows how to balance itself!

Rest. Stay smart. Get massage.

Massage Therapy Palo Alto

Massage Therapy Palo Alto

Better self-care is a resolution that most people make each new year, most often to lose weight, eat healthier, start exercising, or to spend more quality time with loved ones. We’re all increasingly aware that stress reduction and relaxation are critical to our health. ‘Our bodies break down under the onslaught of stress—insomnia, anxiety, depression, and all chronic disease is made worse by unremitting stress,’ says Dr. Mark Hyman, an influential Massachusetts physician, author, and founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine.

Touch, stillness, relaxation, calming the mind—all are essential to healing, staying well, and thriving. We encourage you to think about how to incorporate these practices into your self-care plans. People are increasingly viewing massage as a significant component of a more relaxed and healthy lifestyle. And the many benefits of therapeutic massage are now being researched and recognized by the medical community. Make regular massage an essential part of your self-care plans for this New Year!

Reduce stress. Thrive. Get massage.

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massage for tuning in to your bodyMindful attention to your body is a powerful self-care step. When you learn to detect the quieter distress messages your body sends, you can notice more quickly that you are out of balance and need to pay attention to self-care. To detect your body’s warnings requires increasing your sensitivity to the nuances of its messages, sensing smaller symptoms before they become full-blown. Though the body changes may seem relatively minor, they indicate early difficulty. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions below, it’s worthwhile to take a general inventory of your stress level and self-care practices.

Warning Signs Your Body Sends

  • Are you chronically tired?
  • Have you experienced unexplainable symptoms?
  • Is your mind racing, your breathing fast and shallow?
  • Are you feeling off-center, numb, detached, irritable?

Massage gives you a time-out to tune in to your body.

Massage therapists have seen time and again how increasing body awareness facilitates prevention of illness. Getting a massage is a helpful time-out to slow you down, so you can better hear your body’s messages, restore balance, and stay well.

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legs up the wallA Relaxation Tip from Massage Therapy Center

Legs-up-the-wall (supported viparita karani) is an easy, restorative yoga pose that is an invaluable source of rest and invigoration. It benefits your whole body, not just feet and legs. You can do it for just 5 minutes, or longer, and if you practice deep breathing in the pose, you’ll receive even more benefit. All you need is an empty wall; a bolster, pillow, or 2-3 large towels; and a small towel or eye bag.

1. Lay on the floor next to the wall, with a blanket under you if the spot isn’t carpeted. Swing your legs up so that your heels rest on the wall and your hips are near the wall. If you have any low back discomfort, move your body back a bit from the wall.

2. Slide a bolster, firm pillow, or 2 thick folded towels under your lower back to elevate your pelvis. Position your head directly on top of your spine, sensing your spine from the crown of the head to the tailbone is in a straight line. Bend the knees slightly so that you are not ‘locking’ out the kneecaps. If you have any neck pain, roll a towel and place it under your neck.

3. When comfortable, place an eye bag or small towel over your closed eyes. Allow the eyes to remain closed for the 5 minutes that you rest in this position. Covering the eyes helps the central nervous system rest and activates the relaxation response. Practicing legs-up-the-wall for 20 minutes while doing deep, conscious breathing is like a 2-hour nap!

4. To exit, bend the knees, lower the heels down the wall, and roll off to the right side. Lay on your side for a few breaths before sitting upright, back against the wall. Rest for a minute to let your blood pressure stabilize before you stand up.

Add this to your arsenal of stress relievers, in addition to a weekly therapeutic massage at Massage Therapy Center Palo Alto. Both will help naturally boost your energy and keep you more grounded and relaxed when life gets hectic.

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Breathing during massageThe process of breathing, of the fundamental movement of inspiration and expiration, is one of the greatest miracles of existence. It not only unleashes the energies of life, but it also provides a healing pathway into the deepest recesses of our being. To inhale fully is to fill ourselves with the prana of life, to be inspired; to exhale fully is to empty ourselves to the unknown, to be expired. Through a deepening awareness of these ever-changing rhythms of this primal process, we begin to awaken to the possibilities of being truly alive – in a conscious way.

Conscious breathing taps into the healing forces of your organic intelligence.

When receiving bodywork of any kind, you can double the benefits of the work by consciously breathing ‘through your core.’ In other words, no matter which part of you is being moved, touched, stretched, or deeply released, you can wholeheartedly engage in this process by directing your inhalation all the way down your back to your sacrum/tail bone and thus allowing your exhalation to truly empty you.

The resulting deep relaxation of that moment allows the work done by your therapist to join deeply with the healing forces of your organic intelligence. I say ‘organic’ because life expands and contracts at this subtle level flying under the radar of your personality, or your thoughts about ‘body,’ or your ideas of what you think needs to happen. There is an innate intelligence with keeps your heart beating and your nervous system revising itself to deeper levels of coherency that is exactly how life is being expressed in you – in this particular moment. We can join our consciousness to this process! And by so doing multiply the effects of the movement of bodywork that are initiated by your therapist.

© 2009 Lucia Miracchi. Lucia Miracchi is the founder and owner of Massage Therapy Center, Palo Alto. She is an educator, body therapist, counselor, artist, and entrepreneur.

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Self-care is important. Remember, tending to our self-care is just as important as outer activities and responsibilities because it is essential for maintaining balance, staying healthy, and feeling good. Nurturing ourselves is rooted in self-love, and it requires healthy boundaries, so that we can say ‘yes’ more often to what supports our well-being, and ‘no’ to what isn’t in our best interest.

Do what nourishes you. Make a list of all the things that you feel deeply nurtured and rejuvenated by. It might be doing yoga, creating art, curling up with a great book, walking in the woods, relaxing with friends, soaking in the tub, sitting in silence. Set aside time during the day, week, and month to tend to what helps you stay peaceful and renewed. Especially through the busy holidays, this is essential self-care.

Get weekly massage. There’s nothing like aware touch to bring you back into your body. Too much overdoing can truly make you feel ‘out of touch’ with yourself, as well as disconnected from those around you. Slowing down, bringing attention to the breath and your sensate world is grounding and calming, transforming stress and moving you back towards balance. Massage is a delicious way to help you relax, so you can better enjoy this holiday season!

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Come to Your Senses

Just lying down and letting ourselves drop into body awareness
is a poignant and potent way of affirming
that we are slowly but surely coming to our senses

and that the world of direct experience,
behind all the thinking and all the self-absorption,

is still intact and utterly available to us for our succor
for our healing, and for our knowing how to be…

and, when we return to the doing,
for knowing what to do and how to begin again…

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Coming To Our Senses

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