Massage Is Better Together

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Like many things in life, while massage sessions are a great way to care for oneself, gifting massage sessions are also a great way to care for one’s others.  And sometimes, you can care for all involved all at the same time.

At Mantis Massage, we have a couples room (*currently only available at our South Congress location) as well as a ton of super qualified therapists, allowing for the possibility of simultaneous appointments.  This means that you can give your bestie a fabulous session of body work and get one for yourself at the same time.

You’ll both enjoy each other’s company even better as a result.  While massage brain is not quite as serious a perception bender as a pair of beer goggles, you’ll likely appreciate each other’s cheesy jokes just a little bit more fully.  

And now that you’re together, and you’re both relaxed, it can be the beginning of a day of fun and relaxing activities to recharge your batteries and soothe your minds.  Both of them.

Have a friend, co-worker, significant other, parent or sibling who could really use a massage?  Maybe consider using it as an excuse to get one for yourself as well. Because we know we could all use a little less stress and a little more relaxation.  Consider your improved mood a bonus gift, helping to make their day all that much more enjoyable.

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Possum Wisdom

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Sometimes when you’re feeling indecisive about something, the best decision is not to make a decision at all, and instead come in for a massage.

Humans are excellent problem solvers.  Sometimes though we come across a problem so big, that our brains simply can’t compute.   Our brains start out going through all the possibilities and they circle round and round the problem until they forget which solutions have already been discounted and mistake them for new ideas.  Sometimes we just can’t think our way out of a problem.

The wisdom of the possum tells us that sometimes when you don’t know what to do, the best option is to do nothing at all. When faced with an insurmountable threat, a possum will shut down it’s nervous system and collapse into a coma like state.  By “playing dead” the threat or predator is fooled into being uninterested in the possum and it will leave. The possum is then free to “come back to life” and go about living as it was before.

Now, I am not suggesting that you will your body into a coma on the massage table! However, the relaxation derived from a massage session can often help to work not unlike a coma, shutting off your brain temporarily with the sure knowledge that you will return to it later.  

Sometimes this “brain vacation” is all you need to stop the frenzied circling and open up your brain to fresh new ideas, as well as fresh blood from improved circulation and the calm that comes from relaxation and tension relief.  

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So next time you find yourself working through a seemingly insurmountable problem, think like a possum and make the decision of making no decision at all.

Where You Start May Not Be Where You’ll End

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Life is constantly changing, and massage is no exception to that rule.  A little bit of adaptability can go a long way in helping us humans to cope with the many changes in our lives.  

It happens all the time that at the start of a session, a client may say, “It’s just my shoulder, that’s the only thing that’s bothering me,” and while this IS true at the start of the session, it may actually change as the session progresses.  

What humans and other creatures experience as pain sensation is physically a nerve signal that travels from the area of pain to the brain.  Because of something called Gate Control Theory, only the loudest pain signals will get through at any given time. Also, activation of nerves which do not transmit pain signals, such as those for touch, pressure, and vibration can interfere with signals from pain fibers, thereby inhibiting pain.

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This of course, is where the massage comes in.  As Massage Therapists, we are taking control of the gate, inhibiting the pain signals from reaching your brain and instead letting in the friendly signals, the ones that don’t want to hurt you.  What also happens is that sometimes clients will start to feel pain elsewhere in the body, someplace that they have been ignoring. The signal wasn’t loud enough before, and it couldn’t get through the gate.  

So while at the start of the massage it was all about the shoulder, after spending some time on the table you may find that there are other areas that also need to be addressed.  Maybe you started out wanting just a relaxation massage, and then changed your mind mid-way through. Or maybe the opposite is true. You thought you booked your appointment for some real deep body work, but then life happened and day of you really just need to zen out.  And that’s OK! We are happy to be flexible with you and help you help your body figure out what it needs.

And that might change!  Because where you start may not be where you’ll end up.  

 

The Importance of Solitude

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Such much of lives are filled with others.  We live with others, work with others, and play with others.  Much of the time our lives are enriched by our connections with others, sharing experiences, sharing wisdom, sharing love.  So much of this time shared has a positive impact on our lives, and yet we still find that we need a bit of solitude.

Solitude often gets a bad rap.  So much of the time, solitude is portrayed as something that one would experience only if there were no other available option.  But Solitude, most especially when sought out, when lived on purpose, can have enormous benefits. Solitude gives you the opportunity to filter away all outside influences and to listen to your own inner wisdom.  

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke says it this way, “Listen to your inner self and your feelings every time.  Should you be mistaken, after all, the natural growth of your inner life will guide you slowly and in good time to other conclusions,”.  Rilke speaks much of the power and strength of solitude in achieving an understanding of one’s self. He suggests spending endless hours within one’s depth of solitude.  He was also writing these words in 1904.

Returning back to 2018, it may not be practical for one to sit endlessly for hours at a time, sipping tea and staring out the window.  However, living the often hectic lives that we do in 2018 may mean that the need for solitude has become greater than ever.

So I would encourage everyone, at the next available opportunity, to take some time for solitude.  Allow yourself to get lost in your own thoughts, and not even with the expectation of necessarily finding anything.  Recent studies have shown that our brains are still working out internal processes even when we are sitting around doing “nothing”.

Maybe the next available opportunity for you will be the next time you find yourself lying face down on a massage table.  If you ever don’t feel chatty during a massage session, just let us know. We won’t be offended. In fact, speaking for myself at least, I would be honored to provide you with a safe space for you to explore the depths of your inner solitude.  

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The Dance of Calm & Chaos

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Austin also has its fair share of chaos.  Think I-35 during rush hour, Barton Springs on Mother’s Day, and I could go on and on.  And we need that chaos. Austin is one of the top creative cities in the nation and is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.  The law of conservation of energy reminds us that one cannot create something from nothing. Energy can neither be created, nor destroyed.  Therefore the energy needed for creative endeavors must be harnessed from the existing swirl of energy around us. It must be harnessed from the chaos.  

Mantis is where we help you harness the calm.  

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Throughout life there is a dance of chaos and calm, each contributing in their own unique way to our quest for balance.  If we have only chaos, we pay the price with an increase in stress and sometimes even tension and anxiety. If we have only calm, it is certainly much more difficult to create, or be productive.  We may even find boredom. But with a careful choreography of the two together in unison, we find the creativity, vitality and progress that we need balanced out with the stillness, serenity, and calm that we crave.  

Modern life in Austin provides the chaos.  Mantis is here for you to induce the calm.

Just think about a whole hour or more to yourself, devoted just to you, your body and releasing the tension.  The music is calm and relaxing, the scents are pleasant, the temperature is perfect. All of this sets the scene for you to enjoy your massage session to the utmost, relaxing holding patterns and resetting your muscles so that they are available at your disposal, ready to go for any project that you are ready to take on. 

Summer is the Best Time to get a Massage

Summer is the best time to get a massage for several reasons.

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ONE:

Your muscles are already warmed up!  It’s true, the weather does actually have a physical effect on the body.  This is also why I hate being cold. When you’re body feels cold (not actual cold, like hypothermia, just uncomfortable the air is colder than my body cold) your body automatically tenses up as a way of conserving heat.  Your veins actually contract slightly, (called vasoconstriction) so that your body disperses less heat. SO, if your body is already warm and mobile (from vasodilation), then your muscles will already be in an enhanced state of relaxation.  That means that your massage session will be that much more productive. (This is also the reason that we use table warmers and hot towels!!)

TWO:

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Summer is often synonymous with travel.  Think cross-country road trips, flights to foreign countries, or just hopping home to visit your parents for the summer if you’re in school.  As advanced as humans have become at globe-trotting, we still have not really figured out how to make it exactly ergonomic. Travel often finds you in cramped spaces, sleeping in odd configurations, not sleeping enough, and just generally keeps your body out of whack.  Massage is a great way to get you back into whack, relaxing your muscles, improving your sleep, and returning your body back to balance.

THREE:

Summer is often synonymous with travel.  What’s that you say? I’ve said that already?  Well, here’s the thing. Here at Mantis, we have a some really great, oft-sought-after therapists.  Sometimes it can be challenging to get a prime spot on their schedules. But summer means that some of our other clients might be going out of town just as you are coming back into town, opening up a spot for you on our schedules.  Now that’s what I call a symbiotic relationship.

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Body Mechanics

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As Massage Therapists, we know how important it is to maintain good body mechanics while we’re at work.  Using proper postures means that we are able to conserve energy and avoid injury. But using good body mechanics isn’t just important for massage therapists, they are important for everyone!

While you move about your day, whether you’re working for an employer and doing work for yourself to help make life happen, chances are that you’re using your body while you’re doing it!  Unless you’ve somehow mastered telekinesis, in which case I’d like to sign up to be your student.

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Especially when we are doing work for ourselves, it can seem unimportant to pay attention to body mechanics, because chances are that we are not going to be working on this same project all day, everyday.  But the truth is, life is happening now! And if you are standing on your head in an awkward twist just so that you can get some asparagus green paint into the bottom corner of your pantry, there’s a good chance you could injure yourself while doing it.  

The basic principles of body mechanics are just not to strain your body, especially not with repetition.  Awkward reaches, unstable stools or ladders, or simply craning your neck to get a better view of your Netflix screen can really add up to unnecessary strain and pain in your muscles and joints.  All of this can be not only uncomfortable, but can actually lead to injury.

So if you are doing something in your life that hurts your body, stop and think, “Is this really necessary?”.  If what you’re doing is exercise, then yeah maybe it might hurt a little even if you’re doing it right. But for just about anything else, it will probably pay off in the long run to stop and get the bigger ladder, to interrupt your Netflix binge to re-adjust your neck, or to pay a professional to paint your pantry.  

Living in the Present Moment

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Sometimes we spend our entire present thinking about the future. Or the past.  Or both. Unfortunately this sometimes means that we are totally missing out on what is happening for us right now.  

As humans living in 2018, life can be kinda stressful.  It may seem like we’ll never get ahead unless we are constantly thinking two steps ahead of where we are now.  But what if we have something to learn in the here and now that is absolutely essential to our future success?

For me, this applies to massage because I often find my body pining for a massage for several days or weeks before I am able to get myself in for a session.  Yes, Massage Therapists need Massage Therapy too!! So I end up spending days or weeks thinking about my future massage session. Then, once the time for the session finally arrives I spend the whole session thinking about how great I’m going to feel afterwards.  Then time absolutely FLIES by and suddenly the massage is over and I’m now stuck in the past thinking, “Wow wasn’t that really great and I should now probably schedule another massage."

Regular massage can be SOOO beneficial for your body, especially if you have any chronic pain or alignment issues.  Massage will be that much MORE beneficial if you can really take the time to focus in on what’s happening in the present moment, whether that is before, during, or after the session.  Being fully present in the moment during your massage session will help improve your breathing, help your body relax more fully, and help your body to better integrate the body work from your massage session.  Which just means that all the benefits of massage will last that much longer.

So take a moment to stop, take a deep breath, and just look around.  Or close your eyes if safe to do so and feel the air, smell the smells, and listen to the sounds.  You might just notice something you would have otherwise missed.

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Hydrotherapy

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There are lots of fun ways to take care of yourself, and did you know that one of the coolest resources we can use is water?  I’m talking about Hydrotherapy, and it’s anything that takes advantage of the physical properties of water, such as temperature and pressure, to stimulate blood circulation and treat the symptoms of certain diseases. This can mean anything from using water jets, underwater massage, underwater exercise, mineral baths, whirlpool baths, hot Roman baths, hot tubs or Jacuzzis, and cold plunges or cryotherapy.

For our purposes, we’re talking about water outside of your body.  For water inside your body, see my recent post about hydration.

You already know about the awesome benefits of taking a whole body soak in a warm epsom salt bath from my post about Massage Preparation for First Timers, but just as a reminder, all you have to do is stir 2 cups of epsom salt (can be found in most grocery stores) into a hot bath.  Sit and relax for at least 20 minutes to feel the benefits of reduced inflammation.  

Ice is also technically water, which makes using ice on your sore muscles a part of hydrotherapy as well.   Just make sure not to sustain ice usage for more than 10 minutes at a time, as this can actually start to cause some localized inflammation of its own.  

And here’s the really cool part.  We live in Austin, which means that we are blessed with relatively easy access to Barton Springs pool (there is of course a certain amount of skill involved in first finding a parking space!).  Once you’ve tackled parking, you’re in for a real treat of natural spring hydrotherapy.

For those who don’t know (or just haven’t gotten around to it yet) Barton Springs Pool is a natural pool that is part of Barton Creek in South Central Austin.   The pool is fed from underground springs that keep the water the same temperature year round, averaging about 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. This is no cryotherapy cold plunge, the water is nowhere near freezing, though you’re still likely to hear several shrieks of shock as folks drop in for their first dip.  Rather, the water is just cold enough to help rid your body of inflammation without being so cold that you get completely numb and want to kill whomever dragged you there. This is also a great way to experience the cold of the water and its benefits while simultaneously experiencing the warmth of the sun and its benefits.   It’s a win win for you, and for the Barton Springs Salamander that calls the creek home.  

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The Importance of Play

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The child within needs a way to get out sometimes.  I recently had the pleasure of attending the Austin Maker Faire, “a gathering of fascinating, curious people...From engineers to artists to scientists to crafters, Maker Faire is a venue for these "makers" to show hobbies, experiments, projects,” which is geared towards kids and getting their brains hooked on learning.  Though my grandmother would probably still consider me a kid, at 31 you would think that I’d be a little out of place in such a setting. Instead, I was welcomed at all the stations, encouraged to be myself, and rediscover my creativity. This while my husband illuminated hundreds of kids with the vast and intriguing world of virtual reality.  

While we adults are all caught up in the world of being such, and all of the responsibilities that go along with it, it is important to take a step back sometimes.  Like waaaay back, to when we were kids. What would 8 year old Sandra do? She’d probably tell me that I’m spending too much time doing boring things, and not nearly enough time playing with her friends.  

According to Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., in his article for Psychology Today entitled “Why Play Is Important”, “[Play] can encourage creativity, planning, problem solving, and a whole bunch of task-specific skills like spatial reasoning and logic. For both humans and animals, play is a low-risk way to develop our cognitive abilities.”  Now, I’m not saying that we should do everything that dogs do, but minus the butt sniffing shenanigans they really seem to have a lot of their lives figured out.

Play helps to reduce stress and activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which signals to our bodies that we are in a safe space, free from danger.  Existing in this state helps us think about things that maybe we haven’t had time for previously, sometimes revealing new, ingenious, even playful solutions.  Play is also a great way to encourage bonding and can help strengthen relationships.  And laughing.  Laughing is sooooo good for you.  

So take some time today to play.  The kid inside you will be glad you did.  

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Hurts So Good

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Here at Mantis Massage, we specialize in Deep Tissue massage.  This means that we work with the muscles in your body that are deep to some other muscles in your body.  They are closer to the core, meaning that sometimes, we have to go through other muscle to get to them. A lot of people think that deep tissue massage means deep pressure.  Not so! There are ways to access deep tissue without using deep pressure, and it is also true that you can use deep pressure and not necessarily be accessing deep tissue - at least not directly.  

This may seem like a technical difference that doesn’t really apply to you as a client.  But here’s why this distinction is important! Sometimes people think that just because massage hurts means that it is doing something good for your muscles, or that conversely if it doesn’t hurt then it’s not really working.

MYTHBUSTERS TIME!

The way that massage works with your body is by working with your neurological system.  Your therapist is using pressure to signal sensory organs within your muscle tissue, letting them know that is it ok to let go of the muscle contraction that is causing tension, pain and even blood stagnation in your body.  Every body is different, and for some people that means that more pressure will feel good to them, as they can feel their body loosening up and reacting well to the pressure. We like to call this “Therapeutic Pain”. Yes, it hurts.  But it hurts so good. It hurts in a way that feels therapeutic. You can feel it working, and the wisdom in your body says, “Yes! This is a good thing!”.

For other people, lots and lots of pressure signals a stress response in their bodies.  The pressure can be too much, and the body senses danger, avoiding the possibility of being crushed.  In this case, the pain does not feel therapeutic. There is pain, but no gain.  Instead, it feels like alarm! Your body is resisting the pressure and it just feels like pain, without the benefit of therapy.  

This distinction can be subtle, and thus is a reason why it is so important to keep communication channels open with your therapist.  This can also vary for different muscles and different areas of the body.

The most important takeaway here is that if your massage just hurts - and not in a good way - this doesn’t make you a wimp or mean that you need to just clam up and take it.  Massage should feel GOOD! Even if that means that it hurts so good. If it hurts in a good way, you’ll know it. And you are the only one that can really measure this difference.  Also, massage can be really effective even if it doesn’t hurt. It is entirely possible to communicate with your muscles using light pressure. It’s all about you, your muscles, and what y’all need.  

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The Importance of Self-Care

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These past few weeks we’ve been sharing with you some effective self-care techniques.  I hold the importance of self-care as a self-evident truth, however, I realize that it just may be possible that some of you out there are wondering, "Why do I need this?"  So, this week we will explore, what is self-care, why do we need it, and what does it do for us?

Put simply, self-care is the maintenance of one's personal well-being and health.  Every person has a different set of needs when it comes to health and/or well-being, so self-care may look different to different folks.  Of course, we all have physical selves, and non-physical selves. In philosophy, self-care refers to the care and cultivation of self in a comprehensive sense, focusing in particular on the soul and the knowledge of self.

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So what is self-care?  It’s whatever you want it to be!  Or whatever your “self” needs it to be.  In this blog, we’ve talked about self-care in the form of proper hydration, getting the appropriate amount of sleep, and taking care of your (tired) hands.  Self-care basically just means taking the time to listen to your body, and letting it tell you what it needs.  And then, importantly, act on it! Attend to your needs! No, we’re not telling you to be selfish or gobble up all of the available resources.  We are telling you that it’s ok to attend to your needs, and reminding you that you will be better able to care for others once your own needs are met.  In fact, self-care can actually make you more effective and improve your energy!

Which brings me to my next point.  We all need self-care, all the time.  But some of us need extra self-care, more often.  Either we’re feeling vulnerable because of our body’s hormonal fluctuations, we’re under a stressful deadline at work, or we’re going through a period of adjustment or grieving.  Maybe we’re spending all of our time and resources caring for someone who has difficulty caring for themselves. When we are caring for others, self-care becomes exponentially, vitally important.  

Even a few minutes taken out of a stressful day for a quick soak in a bath, a short walk through nature, or asking for help when you need it (and saying "no" when you need to) can help reaffirm your sense of self-worth.  Attending to yourself and listening to your needs is important to maintaining a healthy relationship with you. Your new habit of taking care of yourself can help improve confidence and self-esteem too.

Self-care is also an important mirror for the people around you.  Humans are social animals, taking cues from everyone around us. Setting functional boundaries to take care of yourself shows others that they can self-care too, and signals to them that they have your support to do so.

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Hydration

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Humans need water to live, and while we’re probably all getting the bare minimum, few of us are getting enough for optimal health on a regular basis.  According to a recent U.S. National Health Nutrition Examination Survey using data from 2009 to 2012, only about 30 percent of American's daily water intake came from plain water.  The rest came from other liquids, such as juice, tea and soda.

While these all have water in them, and do count towards your total water needs, many nutritionists agree that that a high intake of fresh drinking water, separate and distinct from other sources of moisture, is necessary for good health.  This is where you get the common suggestion of eight servings per day of eight fluid ounces.

If you’re looking at all water sources, the average male human needs about 3.7 liters (appx. 1 gallon) of liquid water per day, with the average female human needing about 2.7 liters (appx. 0.75 gallon).  This will vary of course along with how much salt you’re eating, how much you’re exercising, and how often you’re getting massage.  And you can put away your swimsuit, playing in water doesn't count!

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So why is it important to stay hydrated?

Your body uses water for EVERYTHING!  But seriously, drinking enough water to stay well hydrated helps your body to maintain its temperature, can help you to lose weight, think better, improve your mood, prevent disease (and headaches!), and make your skin glow.  Water does all this because it acts as a building block, a solvent for chemical reactions, and a transport material for nutrients and waste.

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However, it IS possible to drink too much water.  

An overconsumption of water can lead to water intoxication, which can dangerously dilute the concentration of salts in the body. A persistent desire to drink inordinate quantities of water, often accompanied by frequent urination, may be a symptom of a problem and is worth talking about with a medical professional.  

Sleep as Self-Care

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Did you know that as infants, it is recommended that we sleep up to 17 hours a day!?  Healthy adults need 7 to 10 hours, but as Americans, we rarely seem to get it. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, Americans are practicing an average of 6.8 hours of sleep per night.  And we’ve been trending towards less sleep. In 1942 the average was 7.9 hours.

There are lots of reasons for this, and we won’t go into them here.  Instead, this week we’re going to talk about what you can do to make sure you’re getting enough shut eye - and why it matters.  

How much sleep we get affects our performance, mood, stress levels and overall health and well-being.  An ongoing lack of sleep can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, emotional difficulties, poor job performance, obesity, a lowered perception of quality of life as well as a higher risk of premature death.  NOT ideal.

So what can you do to improve your sleep practice? Well, first of all, see what I did there?  By thinking about your sleep as a daily practice, instead of just something that does or doesn’t happen, it puts you back in the driver’s seat.  And also, it takes practice! Your body responds very well to routines, and getting enough sleep also means that you are more likely to get tired at the appropriate times, which in turn makes it easier to get enough sleep and so on.  

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PLAN

And on that note, make a plan!  Just thinking you want to get more sleep and then barreling full speed ahead without making a plan is a great way to crash and burn.  Take some time to think about a sleep goal. How much sleep you need depends on your level of daily activity, whether or not you’re pregnant, and even your gender.  According the the National Sleep Foundation, women (on average) need 20 minutes more sleep than men do.

Once you know your sleep quantity goal, you can start thinking about what timing works best for your schedule, and then try to stick to your new sleep schedule, even if your work/life happens at a different time every day.  Establishing a regular routine helps your body tune its natural circadian rhythm.

LIMIT YOUR SCREEN TIME

If possible, try to separate your screen time from your relaxation time.  This means turning off Netflix, putting away Candy Crush and finishing reading these (fantastic) blog posts at least 2 hours before your planned snooze time.  Even though it feels like you’re relaxing while you watch GOT, you’re brain is still working out, worrying about undead dragons and whether or not you’re going to enjoy your new [can we call it life?!] as a White Walker.  

MASSAGE

One of the excellent benefits of massage is that it can improve the quality of your sleep.  The reason for this is that massage helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your body’s regulatory system that can only function optimally once the fight or flight question has been answered.  When you are constantly making stressful decisions, i.e. Life, your body stays in sympathetic mode, and all the other stuff gets sent to the back burner. Sleep is not something that is easy to do while you are in the midst of fighting or flying.  Massage helps signal to your body that the danger has passed, and that it’s ok to start attending to the rest of your body’s needs, like breathing and digestion. Deep breathing and proper digestion help to make your sleep deeper and more productive.  

SLEEP ON YOUR BACK

Remember that position that we had you in during the massage where you were flat on your back, with a bolster or pillow underneath your knees? We do this because it is the optimal position that takes pressure off of your spine and doesn’t put unnecessary pressure on your shoulder joints. If you just can’t fall asleep on your back (the struggle is real!) sleep on your side with a soft yet supportive pillow between your knees, and a pillow for your head that is high enough and supportive enough so you’re not collapsing onto your shoulder. And please, please, please don’t sleep on your stomach. Unless of course you have a perfectly aligned headrest hanging off the side of your bed. There just isn’t a good way to sleep on your stomach without stressing the joints and muscles of the neck. That is of course, if you also intend to breathe while sleeping. Which. We. Consider. Important.

DREAMING

Once you’ve got a good sleep practice going, you are that much more likely to spend at least 2 hours a night experiencing dreams.  Although we may or may not remember our dreams, these unconscious adventures help us to improve learning and memory, and even help us to process our emotions.  Emotional balance helps reduce stress, which makes sleep easier, which means more dreams, which helps us process emotions and reduce stress and...now I’ve put you to sleep :)

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Self-Care: Hands Edition

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If you have hands, they probably hurt.  My clients are often surprised by this, until I remind them that we use our hands for everything! **If you don't have hands, your wrists, forearms, etc probably hurt, in which case most of the following still applies**

So what can you do about it?

First and foremost, book a massage.  And when you’re talking with your therapist pre-session, make sure to mention that your hands hurt and that you’d like to have some work done there.  Your body has a lot of soreness to attend to during your session, so if you don’t mention a specific area, we might forsake it in the interest of spending more time on, say, your tired shoulders.  

Now that you have your massage booked, there’s actually a lot you can do for your tired hands in the meantime!

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ICE

Depending on the level of inflammation and soreness in your hands (did you type a 20-page essay and then go rock climbing for 3 hours?), you may need to start with ice.  Use either a couple of ice packs, or a bowl full of ice water. When using ice packs, never apply directly to the skin. Instead, use a cloth or towel to protect your body’s largest organ.  Limit your cold therapy to about 10 minutes. Longer than that and you can actually trigger an inflammatory response from your body, thereby creating MORE inflammation, and MORE soreness.

HEAT

Run warm water over some towels and then wrap them around your hands until the towels cool off.  Test the heat of the towels on the inside of your wrist, as this is your most temperature sensitive area, to avoid burning your hands.  Never use boiling water or a microwave, as they can get too hot or heat unevenly.

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EPSOM SALT

Add about 1 tbsp of epsom salt for 8 oz of water.  You won’t need much if you’re just soaking your hands.  Whole body sore? Try a whole body epsom salt bath. You’ll need about 2 cups of salt for a standard bathtub.  Make sure to soak for about 20 minutes to help rid your body of inflammation.

STRETCHES

Whether using a soft ball to squeeze, silly putty, or just your average wall, stretching each finger and each individual joint in your hand will help increase blood flow, reduce inflammation, and get your hands back to feeling like themselves again.  

MASSAGE

You can also use your hands to massage your hands (Whoa.).  You can even use some tiger balm, lotion or massage oil to make your hands feel really pampered.  Use your opposite hand to clamp down on the webbing between each finger, especially the meaty muscle between your thumb and forefinger.  Take your time, and do what feels good. There isn’t really a wrong way to do it. Just know that just because something hurts doesn’t make it good for you (more on that in a future post!).  In fact, if your self-massage hurts in a bad way, you should probably stop. Sometimes massage hurts so good, but when it doesn’t, it’s ok to ease off and try another technique. 

Did you know that your head is (really) heavy?

Humans.  We're pretty proud of the size of our skulls, and the brains they contain.  "The bigger, the better!" we say.  And all that species bustin' brain matter really adds up.  In weight, if not actual brainpower.  On average, the head of an adult human weighs about 10 to 11 pounds (4.5 to 5 kg).  That’s a ton (no not an actual ton) of weight for your neck to be holding up any time you’re using your head.  And here’s to hoping that is more often than not.

The good news is that your spinal column, and specifically your cervical vertebrae, along with your neck muscles (and ligaments, tendons, etc) are perfectly suited to balance the weight of your head without causing strain.  However, that is really only true when your posture allows for the proper alignment of the aforementioned bones, muscles and stuff.

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Enter smartphones.  And computers. And even an old-fashioned paperback book.  The way we interact with our modern society means that, more often than not, we are looking down at something.  Now, when I was growing up and the elders in my life told me to sit up straight, I was pretty sure that they didn’t know what they were talking about and that good posture was pretty unnecessary.  Sure, it looks nice, and I will get around to that later thank you very much. I just had better things to do.

But here’s the thing, in all my teenage wisdom, I had overlooked the idea that good posture might have an actual purpose.  Turns out it does!  Imagine that.

When your back is rounded forward, and your shoulders are rolled forward to keep your hands on the keyboard, your head will automatically follow because well, you still need to see.  And every inch forward makes a really big difference.

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As Erik Dalton writes in the March/April 2015 issue of Massage & Bodywork Magazine, “For every inch the head moves forward from its ideal gravitational center, it feels as if it weighs an [extra] 10 pounds. The concept is the same as holding a 10-pound weight close to the body, then extending the weight straight out in front of you...your brain’s perception of how heavy the weight feels change[s], and so does the amount of effort required... for supporting the weight [of] the head."

 Imagine if poor Scout here were balancing a bowling ball!

Imagine if poor Scout here were balancing a bowling ball!

That’s 10 pounds of extra weight that your neck muscles weren't planning on carrying!  Can you imagine going about your work and all of a sudden your boss is like, “Oh hey can you just hold this 10 pound bowling ball all day, but continue along at the same rate of production?  Or get more done, and do it faster while you’re at it?  You know what, make that 2 bowling balls."

You’d revolt! (I’d hope you’d revolt). And that’s just what your neck muscles are doing. They’re wielding a revolution. And the tactic at their disposal is that they will hurt, and continue to hurt, until you get rid of the *gd* bowling ball.  

 

So give it a try.  Stand firmly, with your feet planted solidly on the ground with the majority of your weight in your heels.  Roll your shoulders up, back, and then down, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Engage your lower abdominal muscles and look straight ahead with soft eyes.  How does your neck feel?

Now, we know that modern humans are not much unlike teenage me.  They all have better things to do. But if you can take a few seconds every hour or so to help reset your posture, it will start to become more and more automatic.  In the meantime, our skilled massage therapists are here to help your muscles along the journey.  But it can be done.  Because if Robin Wright can do it, I can do it too, dammit.

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MASSAGE: SXSW EDITION

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Did you know that you can receive a massage while listening to literally any kind of music?

 

At Mantis, your massage is all about you.  But did you know that? I mean really know that?  There are tons of ways to customize your massage. We want your session to be as unique as you are.  

STARTING WITH:  THE MUSIC

Each of our therapists has her own personal style, and that will probably be reflected in the music that she chooses for your session.  But there’s the key, the music is a choice. At Mantis, we don’t impose music on our therapists, they get to choose it. As therapists, sometimes we remember to ask you about your music preference, and sometimes we don’t.  As a client, you might not even have a music preference, and making too many choices before your session can start to feel like work - we DEFINITELY don’t want that. But maybe you do have a music preference. Maybe you just came from a fantastic SXSW jam session from this AMAZING new artist that you just discovered via your new best friend that you just met at the Westworld interactive.  If it can be found on Spotify, then it can be played during your massage session. But also! If for some reason it can’t be found on Spotify, but it has found its way onto your iphone, you’re in luck. Our sound systems are equipped to hook up to your phone too! (*apple products only*) Volume is also totally customizable. Some clients have even been known to choose no music at all, which is totally allowed!

TO HEAT, OR NOT TO HEAT, THAT IS THE QUESTION...

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I heard once that in every room with at least 3 people in it, statistically you will find that ⅓ of the people are too cold, ⅓ are too hot, and ⅓ are just right.  It’s the story of Goldilocks and indoor climate control. The great thing about your massage session is that in this case, you are in charge. We’ve got heating pads on every massage table, and all have multiple heat settings.  We’ve also got warm, cozy blankets and optional hot towels. If heat just isn’t your thing, we also have fans in every room. Basically, no matter where you fall on the super scientific Goldilocks Heat Spectrum, we’ve got you covered.  

UM...WHAT’S GOING ON WITH YOUR BODY?

Sometimes, your whole body hurts.  That’s why you came in for a massage, amirite?  But sometimes, your body feels pretty great. Except for that one thing, which hurts like an evil demon of tension has gotten a hold of this one part of your body and just won’t let go.  (Is it possible to just chop off a chunk of my shoulder so I can go about my day?) Basically, we can spend your session giving an even balance of attention to your whole body, or, we can delve into your problem areas and exorcise the demon.  However we spend the focus of your session is totally up to you.

And on that note, it’s Spring!  Which means everything is, well, blooming.  If you are an allergy sufferer and just don’t want to spend any time with your face down, that’s ok!  Or maybe you’d rather spend all of the time with your face down to get your drainage going. Don't worry, we have tissues!  Just let us know what works for you and we’ll get you set up so you’re nice and cozy.  We can also change out our bolsters for pillows or set you up in side lying position. If you’ve got a bun in the oven, let us know when booking and we can make sure that a super qualified prenatal therapist sets you up with the level of bolstering that you need to keep you and your baby-to-be comfy and supported.    

UNDER PRESSURE...do wap, do do do do do (I’m not a musician, ok?)

Here at Mantis, we specialize in Deep Tissue.  But that doesn’t mean that’s the only thing we know how to do.  Maybe you usually like deeper pressure, but this week you’re recovering from all the hard work you’ve been doing festival hopping.  We can adjust accordingly and give you a nice relaxing massage to bring you back to yourself again.  Or maybe all that head-banging has beckoned the afore mentioned demon.  We've got the leverage to push it back out.  

This is one of the most important parts of the massage to customize.  Pressure is totally subjective, and sometimes different areas of the body need to be addressed differently.  I usually offer my clients a menu of pressure choices that go in order of intensity from Light to Medium to Firm to Deep.  Let us know what you like and what you don’t.

ESSENTIAL OILS

Soothing Lavender.  Peppy Peppermint. Some people totally dig essential oils.  Aromatherapy can be a powerful tool to alleviate stress. Research has even shown that intensive sniffing of lavender oils can help with some of the symptoms of PMS.  However great some people find essential oils to be, some people just don’t like them. Hormones can have a startling effect on your senses and if you’re pregnant, ovulating, or experiencing menopause, you can be super sensitive to strong smells.  We want you to smell nice..things. We want you to smell the things you want to smell and not smell the things you don’t. So let us know what’s going on in that ol' olfactory factory of yours.

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COMMUNICATION

I've mentioned this before, but I think it's worth sounding like a broken record.  Eyes may be the window into the soul, but straight up verbal communication is like a breezy open doorway.  If you tell us about your individual needs, we will do our best to deliver.  But if you never tell us, we'll never know.  This is your therapy session.  Let it be as therapeutic for you as it possibly can be.  


 

(Just A Few) Health Benefits of Massage

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Photo credit hannah h.

So you know that massage feels good.  And that might be enough to keep coming back for more.  But did you also know that massage is good for you? Massage has a TON of health benefits for the body.  This week we’re going to take some time to name just a few.

PHYSICAL BENEFITS:

Massage helps relieve muscle tension, whether that tension stems from an injury, postural issues, or just from hitting the gym hard and heavy.  Or from hitting Jim hard and heavy (oh, for the love of puns!).  Whatever the source of your muscle tension, massage communicates with your nervous system and says, “Hey muscles, you can let go now.  I’ve got it from here,”. 

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In fact, what usually causes that sudden muscle ache is that a muscle (often Levator Scapulae - a topic for another post!) becomes overstretched or strained in some way.  The wisdom of our bodies will tell this muscle that there is some sort of danger present, and the muscle will contract in order to protect itself.  Which is great! This prevents tears or further muscle strain, and keeps you from becoming Stretch Armstrong.  

What’s not great is that sometimes, even once the danger has passed, the muscle stays contracted.  It doesn’t always know when to let go. The muscle contraction is what hurts, because your blood flow has been interrupted.  Because it takes energy to maintain a muscle contraction, this can also cause fatigue - either limited to the muscle itself, or if enough of your muscles are stuck in contraction, all over body fatigue.  And that’s where massage comes in. As Massage Therapists, we are using pressure (or other various massage techniques) to actually communicate, through the sensors in your muscles, with your nervous system.  The message is that the danger has passed, and that it is ok to let go. Your sensors go, “Ohhhh...right”, and then your muscles go, “Ahhhh..” as the muscle contraction is released and the pain dissipates.  

So by relieving muscle tension, massage in turn also helps promote better blood flow, ease fatigue, improve sleep, improve heart health, and give your skin a nice rosy glow of vitality.  

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PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS:

It feels good to feel good!  Why this might seem like a simple detail, taking time for yourself to do something that feels good has tremendous psychological benefits.  You could be rewarding yourself for reaching a goal or completing a job well done. Or it could be that you are simply nourishing yourself and listening to your body’s needs.   Either way, doing something that feels good is a great way to affirm yourself in a positive way. It reinforces the idea that you deserve good things, because you do!

IN-BETWEEN-ERS

Stress is one of those concepts that is so common that we seldom give it much thought.  But what is stress? Is it an emotion or a physiological process? In short, it’s both. Stress in the body is actually a response to a stressor.  Sometimes that stressor is psychological, sometimes it’s physical. Either way, the body will respond physically to this stressor, which in turn can also have an emotional effect on our well-being.  Sometimes it can feel like you’re going in circles!

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The good news is that massage is great for stress!  While the physical touch of your Massage Therapist initiates a chain reaction of relaxation in the body, your mind is also attended to by the act of stopping and slowing down.  By taking a mini vacation from the physical and emotional stressors in your life, you begin to break the hold that stress has on you. Basically, you’re still going in circles, but in the opposite direction.  The more relaxed you are, the less stress you will feel, which will make you more relaxed, and… you get the idea.

What is this cupping thing anyway?

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If you watched any of the 2016 Summer Olympic games, or saw the Lady Gaga Netflix documentary Five Foot Two, chances are you’ve seen those weird hickey-like circles on people’s backs.  And if that’s the case, chances are you’ve heard of cupping, and wondered to yourself, “What the heck is that stuff all about anyway?”

Turns out Cupping Therapy has been around literally thousands of years.  It has just become more widely known recently because, well, the internet & social media.  

 

First of all, what IS cupping?

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Cupping therapy is a bodywork modality that uses negative pressure (produced by using suction cups), rather than tissue compression, to facilitate rigid soft tissue release and to loosen and lift connective tissue while increasing localized blood and lymph flow to the skin and muscles.  

Dry cupping, using glass, plastic, or silicone cups uses either a small amount of heat to create a vacuum, or a manual or electronic air pump to suck out the air in the cups to create the suction needed to lift the skin and fascia away from the bones and muscles.  It’s like massage in the reverse.  Instead of applying a positive pressure to push the soft tissues around, it uses a negative pressure to lift and move them around.  Neat, huh?

 

And WHAT’S with the weird circles?

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According to CuppingResource.com, clients may “experience a slight twinge when the skin is pulled up by suction. Because the skin is tugged upwards, sometimes tiny capillaries under the surface of the skin tend to expand, and after the cup is removed, patients might notice a circular bruise accompanied by some amount of swelling.”  The bruises will heal on their own and usually disappear completely within anywhere from a few days to a week or two.  

But don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt like it looks like it does.  During the time that the cups are working, you feel a slight negative pressure - just like you feel pressure from a massage.  You’ll definitely feel it.  And yeah it can sort of be uncomfortable. But it doesn’t feel like a punch in the back (which is honestly what I was picturing the first time I saw these bruises!)  It just feels like someone is lifting your stuck muscles away from each other.  This can feel like a rush of relief as the tightness dissipates and new fresh blood rushes into your sore, tired muscles.  

 

So WHY do therapists offer cupping?

Cupping therapy can relieve blood stagnation, improve blood circulation, decrease high blood pressure, loosen connective tissue, promote healing and relaxation, and aid in your body’s natural detoxification.  

 

WHERE do I find this fantastic treatment?  

At Mantis, we have several therapists that offer Cupping Therapy!  Swing by our South Congress location to see Khammi, Julia, or Melissa.  Closer to our Airport location?  Melissa works there too!  If you know ahead of time that you want cupping, mention it in the notes when you book!

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Less Stress = Better Massage

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Adulting is hard.  Life can be stressful at times (or let’s be honest, all the time!), because there are seemingly always more things that are constantly demanding our attention beyond the task at hand.  While our initial instinct may be to simply avoid all of the things in our lives that are causing us stress, this can start to be a problem when it becomes necessary to leave the house.  (This is why in my next life I’m coming back as a house cat!)

So unless your new hobby is learning how to be a hermit (and you’re lucky enough to have someone shop your Fancy Feast for you), learning how to deal with stress is a must.  As we mentioned in a previous post, while a single massage is great for reducing stress and increasing general well-being, whatever part of your lifestyle created the tension in your body to begin with may still be waiting for you after you leave your session.  Incorporating regular massage sessions into your routine is a great addition to your zen toolbox.  And your sessions will be even more beneficial if they are joined by several other stress management techniques.  

FIRST OF ALL, BREATHE.

Yes, it seems like it should be second nature.  And it is, at a bare minimum.  But if you take a little bit of space in your mind to just notice your breathing, it’s amazing how often we’re not really doing it.  Sometimes, you may notice that you’re actually holding your breath without even realizing it.  Long, slow, deep breaths are a great way to calm the body and the mind.  And it takes less time than refilling your cup of coffee.  

INERTIA.

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A body in motion stays in motion, and a body at rest stays at rest.  For some people, this means that they tend to flit like a hummingbird from task to task, while for others this means that once you sit down to work on that important project you just don’t get up until quitin’ time.  Both have their occasional benefits, but the body works best when in balance.  If your life requires you to spend a lot of time in stillness, a few minutes of movement every hour can help keep away brain fog and increase your breathing.  If your lifestyle involves constant movement, even a few minutes to stop, stay still and take in your surroundings can do wonders for your blood pressure.  Personally, I use my dog for this because well, she’s gorgeous.  Every time we go for a walk, I make her sit for a few minutes at this one intersection before we cross the street.  And I just look at her, sitting peacefully, ready to attend to the next task as it comes along.

GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY.

Humans are a tremendously creative species.  We are not about sticking to the status quo, and are constantly exploring new ways of doing things.  This is why I am using a keyboard to type out a message to send out to all of you on the interwebs.  That creativity can take an abundance of forms, but research has shown that working with your hands makes you feel good.  Check out this great read from the Guardian on how (not) to become a stonemason.  From knitting to making music to building tacos, whatever hobby gives you the feels, working with your hands can help clear your mind and give you a boost of confidence and purpose.  Hint: This is part of why I became a massage therapist in the first place...

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