Self-care, Thoughts on Life

How do you find balance in a culture of extremes?

How do youLately I’ve been curious. How do people do it? How do people manage to balance everything they’re involved in: family, career, health, social life, hobbies, personal growth and self-care?  How do you know when you’re out of balance?

Up until very recently, I found it nearly impossible to feel balanced in my life. I was working a full time job and building a business on the side, which often required 20-30 hours of my time per week on nights and weekends.

Americans are working more than ever right now; more than any other country in the industrialized world. On average, we are working 47 hours per week (which actually seems low). This leaves very little time for all things fun and self-care.

It came to a tipping point when I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like I was going to explode. (In fact, I did, you can read about my explosion here.) I realized that my sanity was more important. I asked my boss if I could work less at my full-time job. I was astonished that my employer was happy to accommodate my needs, and I was offered the same health benefits as I was receiving at full-time working 24-hours per week.  My work load at this job lessened and the amount of stress I experienced was cut in half.

I felt more balanced, less stressed, and more optimistic in general. I continue to re-work my schedule and evaluate my stress levels. In an effort to share what I’ve learned through my own imbalances, I came up with 4 ideas to help you find more balance in your life.

Make a schedule for time off.  Maybe you already do this! Or, maybe you only take time off when you’re burned out or sick. Sound familiar? Solution: every 3 months, take 5 days off in-a-row.  This would equal 4 vacations per year or 1 month off per year.  Place as much importance on your time away from the office as your time in the office. That’s how we create a balance.

Take care of yourself every single day.  Start by doing one small thing everyday that helps you relax, re-center and lighten your mood. Imagine how great your life could be?  Beyond what you can do each day, what could you do each week, month, and year that would help? For example, maybe once a year you take a new class that inspires your creativity.  Maybe each month you get a massage, and once a week you go for a hike.  Think of what makes you happiest and plug those happy experiences into your daily life. Balance work with play and place a higher importance on self-care.

Reflect. Journaling is a powerful tool to create change. I highly recommend taking notes on how you’re feeling, what’s contributing to your happiness, and what’s contributing to your stress. Hand writing is cathartic so it helps relieve stress right then and there. I use writing as a way to release; an outlet to discharge thoughts I no longer want to control my mood. It’s the cheapest therapy there is.

Put the phone away. Turn it off. Delete the dreaded facebook app from your phone. Ask yourself with love, is my relationship with my phone balanced? Is it stressing me out? I suggest taking phone breaks. Just like vacation, we need time away. If the phone isn’t an issue, look to see if there’s another gadget or behavior that is subtly impacting your life. I take social media breaks often, put my phone away when I’m with friends, and turn it off from time to time ;). It’s so freeing!

How do you do it? How do you find balance? I’d love to hear from you!

Lots of love,

Tara

 

Medicine, Self-care, Wellness

4 ways to relax without the guilt

Symbol of HealthYou already know that incorporating relaxation into your day is important, but perhaps you’re unsure how to do it. On top of this uncertainty, every time you try to relax, you feel guilty or fear that you’ll become so lazy you’ll never get up again. Rest is part of life. Without proper rest we’d be dead a heck of a lot sooner. When you’re an athlete and you don’t rest the proper amount, you’re more prone to injury. Sitting on the sidelines of life is not fun.

My perspective on relaxation is based on my own struggles to truly enjoy my downtime, or to make rest and relaxation a priority. I have more success and joy in my life when I incorporate small amounts of rest and relaxation into each and everyday.

  1. Be deliberate with your time. Set aside time everyday where you don’t do anything but relax. Turn off all your gadgets. You will never have time to relax if you don’t make time for it. If you don’t take time to relax you run the risk of burning out.  When you’re forced to rest it’s less enjoyable because you’re completely run down and sick or in copious amounts of pain. You can learn more about what to do with copious amounts of pain here.
  2. TRE® or gentle movement. Gentle movement is proven to decrease anxiety, improve mood and sleep. Furthermore, movement brings your attention from your thoughts (worry and stress) into your body (presence). Gentle movement stimulates the body and mind to act as one. When you walk or stretch, neurons are firing, muscles are twitching and the brain is activated. Pain and energy shift, and wa-la! you’re more grounded, centered and relaxed.
  3. Get outside. Ah, nature. Trees, land, dirt, sky, water, sand, stars, birds… some of the most accessible medicine we have. The smells, sounds, and colors of nature are natural analgesics. Attune your senses to nature and you’ll feel relaxed in less than 5 minutes. If you can’t get outside, bring nature to you. Smell a flower, essential oil or eat a vegetable.
  4. Breathe. This is simple. It’s easier than sensing into nature, moving your body and managing your time. Fact: you’re already breathing right now. Tune in for a moment, feel your belly expand on your inhale. Notice where you feel the air move in and out of your mouth or nostrils. Sit up tall. Fill up your lungs with air; empty them completely on each exhalation. Relax your jaw. Breathing is my number one relaxation tool. You don’t have to do anything, just turn your attention to your breath. Let your breathing work for you. Take 5 to 10 slow, deep breaths. Do this as often as you need.

    Relaxation is accessible to you at any moment. All it comes down to is this, how do you want to live? You can live a life that is full of stress and anxiety, or you can learn how to relax and enjoy the ride. It’s up to you!

EnJOY,

Tara

Massage Therapy, Self-care

Back to Earth Meditation

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I find that being grounded and connected to reality is a moment-to-moment practice. I’m a daily meditator because I’m a chronic worrier and negative self-talker. If I don’t meditate, practice yoga, receive bodywork, etc. my worrying and stress levels sky rocket. When I’m worried or stressed I feel like I’m living amongst the stars, I literally feel and act like a space cadet. My thoughts become irrational, I talk to myself negatively, and I isolate. No wonder they created that phrase.

The opposite of spacey is grounded. I strive to live a more grounded life, and relinquish irrational thoughts and negative self talk.

Since meditation helps me release my worries and stress, I wanted to share a very simple technique that I use to ground. Use this when you want to reconnect with yourself, with the present moment and/or tap into the everlasting support available to you anytime, anywhere.

This meditation will leave you feeling more connected, supported and guided throughout your day. It takes very little time to come back to Earth.

::: 1 minute Back to Earth meditation for grounding :::
Find a comfortable seat or stand in a sunny spot near a window.
Sit upright with a lifted heart and relaxed shoulders.
Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath.
Become aware of the areas of your body that are connected to the ground.
Imagine long, sturdy roots extending out + down from your body to the center of the earth.
Breathe into your entire body, as well as your newfound roots.
Simply notice that you’re fully supported right now.
Perhaps repeat a mantra silently a few times, “I am safe, I am supported, I am …”
Open your eyes, continue to breathe + move about slowly.
Namaste,
Tara
Massage Therapy, Responsibility, Self-care, Thoughts on Life

My life’s work.

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Dear One,
There is nothing wrong with you or your body. The pain that brought you into my office (or someone else’s) is inherently OK. What happened was this. You labelled pain as a problem and your super smart brain created a magnificent story. The story about your pain + the pain itself gained momentum, making it complicated and difficult for your physical pain to get any better. You sought answers. You sought remedies. You even found me!
When your story about the pain became larger than the pain itself it amounted to suffering. Your suffering happened on a subconscious level. It was natural. It was innocent. It’s part of how you coped. You created distance from your pain (you didn’t want to feel it!) through your stories, with the hope of getting rid of it. This made the pain more powerful, more gooey and now you feel more stuck than ever.
What I want to know is this… can you meet yourself (with this pain) where you are right now? Can you acknowledge with integrity a story you’ve created about your pain that keeps your pain alive? How does that story truly help you in your healing? What happens to your physical pain when you release all of your resistance to it?
Right now, are you willing to relate to your pain in a completely new way?
I can’t fix your pain because your pain is not a problem. What I can do is meet you where you’re at, exactly as you are with total acceptance.
You are already whole and complete right now and it’s my life’s work to help you realize it.
Namaste,
Tara
Massage Therapy, Responsibility, Self-care, Wellness

How Often Should I Get a Massage?

cropped-20141126_40761.jpgMany new clients wonder how often they should get a massage. The standard recommendation in the massage industry is once per month for health benefits. I often recommend frequency of visits based on the individual needs of my clients, and their goals for massage.

There are a few things to keep in mind about massage therapy.

  1. Massage has a cumulative effect on the body. This means that the benefits obtained after your first session will be improved with your next treatment. If you schedule your appointments too far apart, the progress made in your previous treatment will be lost and you’ll have to start over. This proves to be a waste of time and money.
  2. Pain patterns take time to develop, therefore they take time to diminish and heal. In other words, a chronic injury or issue can not be solved in one treatment. If you’ve been suffering from chronic pain or haven’t recovered 100% from a past injury, it’s essential to receive massage treatments more regularly to experience positive results.
  3. Massage therapy is a form of preventative healthcare. There are numerous benefits of massage therapy that could potentially help reduce doctor visits, enhance overall immunity, and diminish low back pain.

If you suffer from chronic pain or experience high stress at home or work, I suggest receiving massage 2-4x per month until the pain and/or stress starts to decrease. If you’re including massage in a general wellness plan to reduce stress and relax tight muscles you might consider once a month treatments.

There are numerous factors to consider when deciding how often to receive massage treatments. After your first session, it will be apparent how frequent you need massage to obtain the results you’re seeking.

How often do you receive massage? Are you getting positive results from regular treatments? Let me know your thoughts!

Tara Shultis MA, LMT, RYT

Massage Therapy, Self-care, Wellness

5 Ways to Improve Flexibility

STRETCH (1)Incorporating stretching into your wellness routine has numerous benefits for your body and mind. Here I will discuss my top 3 reasons why everyone can benefit from stretching and 5 easy-to-do stretches that target major muscle groups that are most likely tight right now (hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, calves, and chest).

Top 3 Reasons Why:

  1. Decrease back pain– the culprit of most low back pain is due to hypertonic hip flexors and hamstrings. To help release pain experienced in your low back, incorporate stretches for the hamstrings and hip flexors.
  2. Increase joint range of motion– with your joints working at their optimal range of motion, you can more easily complete daily tasks like reaching to put something on the top shelf, or bending down to pick up your shoes.
  3. Heighten awareness between body + mind– when you stretch, you’re engaging your mind by focusing on a specific area of the body. As you stretch, you might start to notice how that joint and the surrounding muscles feel. Gentle stretching “wakes up” all the little muscle fibers to move a muscle beyond its normal resting position.

Guidelines for stretching

  • Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times per stretch
  • Do not stretch your muscles or joints past their normal range of motion
  • You should feel a slight pull on each muscle as you stretch (you shouldn’t feel any pain)
  • Always listen to your body and stretch when your muscles are warm
  • Deepen your breath, and focus on lengthening your exhale, OR just breathe normally.

5 stretches you can do anywhere:

The following stretches are simple and easy to incorporate into your daily routine. If you’re not a daily stretcher, you can reap the benefits by stretching 2-3 times per week.

uttanasanaseated_forward_bendHamstrings – standing forward fold, or seated forward fold.  For either option, hinge at your hips, extend your spine and bend forward. You might keep your knees slightly bent. The goal is not to touch your toes, but to find a position where you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your upper thighs.

9-Back-of-Leg-StretchQuadriceps – Standing up, grab your right ankle with your right hand, bend your knee and bring your heel to your butt. Keep your hips squared forward, and your knee pointing down toward the ground.

hip-flexor-stretchHip flexors– To stretch your left hip flexors, lunge forward with your right leg, lower your left knee and lower leg to the ground, resting the top of your foot against the floor. Tuck your tailbone, gently press your hips forward, bending deeply into your right knee, making sure your right knee does not move past your right toes. You might cushion your left knee by placing a towel, mat or blanket underneath it.

calf-stretchCalves– From standing position, take a step forward with your left leg, lean into a wall for support by placing both palms against the wall at shoulder level. Bend your left knee, and press through your right heel, keeping your right leg straight.

chest-doorway_stretch_towardChest– I love this stretch! Use a doorway, place both arms at 90 degree angles on either side of the doorway. Lean forward until you feel a slight stretch in your upper chest muscles.

 

Tara Shultis, MA, LMT, RYT

Massage Therapy, Self-care, Wellness

6 Ideas for Self-Massage

cropped-cropped-20141126_4053.jpgOne of the great things about self-massage is you can do it anywhere at your convenience. I recommend self-massage to most of my clients because it’s a great way to maintain healthy muscles in between appointments.  In this article I offer 6 do-it-yourself techniques you can use at home to release tension and maintain a relaxed body and mind (and have fun doing it)!

Having relaxed and supple muscles is the goal.  You don’t want your muscles to be too tight or too stretched out, but chances are, you have a little of both!  Neither is desirable because both lead to some sort of muscular imbalance or chronic issue.  Muscle pain is mostly attributed to the “knots” or tight areas in your muscle tissue. The fancy, massage term for a knot, is trigger point. Trigger points are small, tight areas of unhealthy muscle tissue that eventually cut off their own blood supply.  They become tender and painful. You can’t go through life without having trigger points, just as you can’t go through adolescence without having pimples.  Trigger points cause pain patterns, poor muscular firing and postural issues.

An example of how trigger points might affect posture is when you have tight or shortened Pectoralis muscles, your shoulders begin to round forward, shortening the resting length of your pecs and stretching the muscles of your back.  The lengthened muscles of your back start to ache and develop tight areas of tension due to the muscles being stretched past their normal resting length.  In order to release the tension that has built up over time in your back, you must first release the tension in your pectoralis major and minor (chest muscles). Hint: you can work on these trigger points on your own (see below #6).


Tune into your body for a moment and start to notice where you’re holding tension, and where your body feels fluid and at ease.  Rate the tension you’re noticing on a scale of 0-10.  If your pain is above a 5 or 6 grab one of these handy tools and start taking action today. Experiment with different ideas, and keep an open mind.  They might not get rid of all the pain in the first go, but as you practice once a day for at least a week or two, you will start to feel a difference!

Here is a list of ideas for self-massage that you can try in the comfort of your own home.

  1. foam rollerFoam Roller – this is a great way to get at those tight muscles and increase joint range of motion.  Using a foam roller is a science as well as an art.  You must be mindful and move slowly.  I’d recommend watching a few tutorials if you’ve never used one before. You can target isolated areas of pain, or use a foam roller for an overall muscle melt-down targeting all of your major muscle groups.  Simply use the weight of your body to compress the foam roller against the ground with the muscle you’re trying to loosen up. Roll slowly back and forth until you start to notice the muscle release.  Roll the entire length of the muscle or rest on an area of tension until it softens.  Warning, this might be painful, use caution and back off if your pain level reaches an 8 or 9.
  2. tennis ballTennis Ball – any small, round and pliable object will do.  All you need to do is place the ball underneath the trigger point and hold the ball in place with the floor or wall.  If the trigger point is in your piriformis (a lateral rotator of the hip) you can sit or lie down on the ball and hold the position until you start to feel the muscle release.  A couple minutes at a time will do- you can stop when it starts to feel less painful.
  3. sitting-posturePosture awareness + deep breathing – This one is SO important for all of us who work with our hands out in front of us (i.e. sitting at a computer, massage therapist, pretty much everyone).  As you’re sitting here, reading this take note of your posture.  Are you leaning in?  Are your shoulders rounding forward?  How is your breathing- short and shallow or deep and slow?  Is your lower back protected, or aching with discomfort?  Start to pay attention to the cues of your body. Breath deep, full breaths into your belly.  Pull your shoulders up towards your ears, round them down your back and let them go. Soften your jaw by making space between your teeth.  Breath practice, meditation and mindfulness towards posture are very helpful tools in releasing tension and pain.
  4. rolling pins
    image courtesy etsy.com

    Rolling Pin – Wipe off the whole wheat flour, and start rolling out your muscles.  Muscles you might target are: Your calves – both the front of your lower leg, and the back.  Your inner, medial and outer upper thigh or quad.  Your hamstrings, outer hips and glutes.   The occiput which is at the base of your skull just above your uppermost cervical vertebra- you might even rest your head at this spot on the rolling pin (or tennis ball) lying on the couch. *Be mindful not to roll over bony landmarks!  All muscles are game with this tool.

  5. iceIce + Heat – Also referred to as a vascular flush.  The idea is to bring blood flow to the area of restriction or pain to reduce inflammation and increase function. With a subacute injury 3 days to 3 weeks afterwards you can ice the area for 3 minutes, and contrast with heat for 1 minute.  Do this 3 times for a total time of 11 minutes ending with 3 minutes of ice.  The parameters for ice and heat treatment depend on the amount of time that has passed after an injury. Within the first three days of an injury use the procedure known as RICE. If it’s a chronic issue, do the opposite of the subacute treatment starting with 3 minutes of heat to 1 minute of ice for 2 rounds; total time 8 minutes.
  6. myofascial-1Muscle + skin rolling – I saved the best for last.  Using the sensitivity of your own bare hands, grab your muscles and roll them between your thumb and fingers. Muscles you can easily target are your pecs, quads, deltoids, biceps, triceps, anterior tibialis, calves, feet, occiput, masseter, forearms, hands, and more!  You can actually sink into the belly of your muscles to find trigger points, hold the point for a little bit of time, then release.  Move slowly.  You don’t have to use a lot of pressure to release built up tension, it’s quite the opposite.  Apply light to moderate pressure to start, and be patient.  Breath into the tension to help your muscles relax on their own accord.

I know there’s more self-massage tools out there!  What tools do you use?  If you found these tips helpful I’d love to hear what works and what doesn’t.

Tara Shultis, MA, LMT, RYT