Sitting at a desk is hard on the body. Here are several ways to easily reduce the knots and tension:

1. Start with Right Angles. Adjust your workspace so that your feet, hips, and arms are at right angles to the floor. Your screen should be directly in front of your eyes so that your neck remains neutral, neither craned up or hunched down. Your keyboard should be in easy reach with your arms parallel to the floor. No need to strain to keep a straight back; use a pillow to bring the chair back closer to you. You can also use a small stool to bring the floor up to your feet and stacks of books to adjust the height of the computer and keyboard.

2. Engage the Core. A lot of pain that comes from sitting is caused by a weak core, since sitting allows the belly to soften. Try a sneaky seated crunch: Put both hands on your thighs, then try to curl your chest down toward your legs while resisting the movement with the arms. Hold this for 10 seconds and then release. This can especially help with low back pain and sometimes neck pain as well.

3. Rest the Eyes. Cup your palms over your eyes, with the heels of your hands resting on the cheekbones. It is hard on our eyes to stay at one focal distance for an extended period of time, like staring at a computer screen, and palming the eyes every so often helps to change that distance. The eyes affect our entire nervous system, and so releasing eye strain helps our entire body relax.

4. Stretch the Pecs. Use a door frame or clasp your hands behind your back to stretch your pecs every time you get up. The pecs are the root of a lot of upper back and shoulder tension, and even some neck tension. The shoulders roll forward and inward when sitting at a computer, which tightens the pecs and stretches the upper back beyond what it can support for prolonged periods of time. Stretching the pecs regularly during your workday helps offset this process.

5. Stand Up Every 30 min. Stand up and maybe walk around a little every 30 minutes, and it will do wonders for how you feel at the end of your workday. Our bodies are designed to be hunter gatherers and stay active throughout the day, so getting out of that sitting and concentrating position really makes a difference. Just standing up for a moment helps, but try to walk a little, take three deep belly breaths where you blow all the air out each time, twist your trunk back forth, and do some stretches like 8 Ways to Do Yoga at Your Desk.

by Chelsea Henry

Therapy Balls are a great tool for self-care because they work with the body in ways that usually require a massage therapist. Using them to their full potential requires a certain understanding of the relevant anatomy that comes from a teacher or bodyworker, but it can also be fun just to listen to the body and play with what feels good.

The therapy balls themselves come in many shapes and sizes, though most are pliant, rubbery balls 6-10″ in diameter. The texture of the balls is grippy, which allows you to hook into the superficial fascia and work with the body’s connective tissue. This is especially useful when addressing dysfunction and injury.

The softness of the ball is important because it is less likely to impinge nerves, and because of how it interacts with the bone. A pliant ball is able to yield at bony prominences, which is just more comfortable in general, but it is also able to nestle in around the bone. This allows it to better address attachment and insertion sites, and to stimulate the bone itself from multiple angles, which may improve bone strength.

Therapy Ball self-treatments work specific muscles to release tension and increase performance. A  foam roller treats the body as one large muscle. In contrast, Therapy Balls address the complexity of tissues under the skin, stretching in multiple directions. Conventional stretching lengthens muscles longitudinally, whereas balls can also provide transverse and diagonal expansion. This reduces the risk of injury and avoids circulatory compression.

Using the muscles as a road map to the body, Therapy Ball self-treatments feel wonderful. Many students say they feel like they just received a great massage by the time they are done with class. They have released tightness and improved range of motion, as well as addressing structural issues that can lead to chronic conditions.

Sleep is a complex biological process that is vital to our overall wellbeing. There are now 85 different recognized sleep disorders that affect almost 70 million Americans, and the long-term consequences of sleep loss are associated with a long list of chronic and sometimes very serious health conditions. In addition to being linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke, poor quality sleep is also related to chronic musculoskeletal pain, specifically osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and low-back pain.

Massage, Yoga, and Mindfulness are all drug-free ways to improve quality of sleep.

Massage: People who receive massage experience deeper, more restorative, less disturbed sleep. It doesn’t matter which modality of massage or what time of day; studies consistently report that massage contributes to a more organized sleep pattern, where the various stages of sleep happen in consistent order and duration. The positive effects of massage on sleep also contributes to a reduction in pain-sensitizing neurotransmitters, which lowers pain levels. (Source: Ruth Werner, Massage Bodywork)

Yoga: There have been several studies recently that show yoga can improve disrupted sleep. A Harvard Medical School study showed that yoga can help chronic insomnia, making it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, feel well-rested, and wake up after sleeping. A study of cancer survivors linked yoga to better sleep quality, less fatigue, and improved sense of quality of life. In general, yoga seems to increase sleep efficiency, enhance quality of life, and decrease insomnia. (Source: Michael J Breus, PhD, Psychology Today)

Mindfulness: Like Yoga and Massage, Mindfulness is a way to invoke the Relaxation Response, which is a deep physiological shift in the body that is the opposite of the stress response. For many people, sleep disorders are a reaction to stress. Spending 20 min a day in a mindfulness practice helps create a reflex to bring forth a feeling of relaxation. Then it is easier to access that feeling of relaxation at night to assist in falling asleep and maintaining better quality of sleep. A study on a mindfulness awareness program showed results including less insomnia, fatigue, and depression. (Source: Julie Corliss, Harvard Health)

Sleep is crucial to our health, and Massage, Yoga, and Mindfulness are all effective tools for improving the overall quality of our sleep without using pharmacological drugs. They help with insomnia, fatigue, pain levels, sleep pattern organization, and sleep efficiency. Getting enough high quality sleep is a cornerstone of a healthy life, and there are many ways to improve your sleep and your sense of wellbeing.

from Erin Law

The first thing I want to say is, energetically, I feel lighter when I get bodywork and I want other people to feel that way. It’s like 10 pounds lifts off the body just from getting a massage. I think that setting that time aside for yourself is a testimony to self love and self care. It is preventative medicine really, it keeps us out of the doctor and out of the chiropractor. I also think that when you go and get bodywork and feel better, it is easier for you to give love. I really believe that it ripples out on the goodness quotient.

Massage also brings body awareness. I consider myself someone who is incredibly aware of my body, but I will get bodywork and think, wow, I didn’t know my body was experiencing tightness and constrictions there. It reminds me how interconnected the body is in general. I might have tension in my glute, but it could be coming from something in the front of the body. Also, a lot of us spend time looking down at our devices, which really rounds us down, and massage can help return us to a healthy home base. We use so much technology that it is easier and easier to forget about how the whole body is connected, and so it is good to develop the awareness of the relationships of our body.

Massage also allows for some deeper work to be done, and gives us a chance to sort of tune up the muscles that are doing all the supporting and the grunt work, if you will. Once that muscle tension has been alleviated, performance is automatically enhanced in whatever activity you are doing. Having that tension limits possibilities for range of motion, and so releasing it increases possibilities in the field of whatever you are doing.

If you are an athlete, getting massage is as important as brushing your teeth in the morning. You can’t expect that much out of your body if you don’t give it the care it deserves. Massage promotes longevity, because you can be active for longer, or be an athlete for longer. If you want to be active, you have to treat your body well.

Cupping therapy is an important part of our integrative health practice because it supports the process of many of our treatments. I talked with several of our talented therapists about how it complements the work that they do. Every session of Ha.Lé Bodywork is adjusted to meet the needs of the client in the moment. For example, our therapists may take a sports massage focus for highly active bodies, a therapeutic or medical massage focus to treat pain and structure issues, or a lymphatic focus to move fluids and support the healing process. Often a combination of techniques are used, and cupping therapy helps support many of these treatment goals.

Sports bodywork:

Cupping therapy helps to jump start myofascial release. The negative pressure of the suction combined with movement gives a different sensation than other myofascial techniques and helps the muscle reset itself to where it needs to be because the fascia has released. It is a great complement to other techniques and can sometimes create shifts that provide instant relief and allow chronic problems to just fade away.

Therapeutic bodywork:

Using cupping therapy after an Ashiatsu treatment really helps to bring the blood flow to the area, especially any area that is feeling stagnant, like the back or arm. The suction also helps to release the muscle when it is contracting, making for a faster release and bringing blood flow more quickly to the area. Afterward, people tend to feel either really energized or like they just ran a marathon.

Lymphatic bodywork:

Cupping can be very effective in helping to break up scar tissue that is impeding lymph flow, but it is not usually indicated for treating lymphadema or other lymphatic issues directly because it can be too aggressive for the lymph system. However, cupping works through the use of negative pressure, and there is ongoing conversation in the lymphatic massage community as we learn more about how to use cups and other negative pressure tools gently enough to support the lymphatic system.

Acupuncture:

Cupping facilitates better movement of blood and qi in an acupuncture treatment because of the openness of the tissue. The cups create negative pressure, as compared with massage, which uses positive pressure. This negative pressure opens up muscle and tissue, which works in concert with acupuncture needles to move qi.

by Barbara Y.

For my entire life, I’ve been somewhat clumsy. I tripped over things, ran into corners and fell often. As a kid, this wasn’t so bad but as an adult it became more problematic. As a result, I’ve needed a good bit of bodywork, having done various types of massage with many different therapists for over 20 years.  I always thought it was just me, something in my personality that made me prone to falling. However, all this changed when I had the great fortune to meet Will Ravenel at HaLe’.

Not only has Will, through Rolf Therapy and Myofascial Release, balanced the structure of my body so I’m more grounded with better posture, I haven’t had a bad fall since working with him (knock on wood). Rolf Therapy was something I’d always heard about with curiosity but kept putting off. I’m forever grateful to Janice Cathey for suggesting this form of bodywork, as it’s been perfect for me. I’ve heard others talk about their Rolf therapists with mixed reviews. I have only glowing praise for Will. He is not only extremely knowledgeable about the human body, he’s a kind and generous person. He takes time to explain the work, giving exercises and advice on maintaining good posture. Will has helped me understand how integrated we are physiologically and how to maintain a balanced and grounded way of moving through the world.

The lymph system is both a producer of materials that help us heal and a septic system, and so supporting its function through lymphatic massage can speed our recovery from surgery. Lymphatic massage assists the body in moving inflammatory components back out of the system and it gooses our immune system function to help the healing process.

There is a cascade of events that allows us to heal. Part of that process is the inflammatory response, which is necessary for healing to happen when we disrupt the body through surgery. Inflammation also means there will be swelling localized to the surgical area, which slows the lymph system’s ability to do its job of moving wastes out and healthy components in. After surgery, it is also the lymph system that helps the body process all the materials that need to be moved out, including excess fluids given during surgery.

Lymphatic massage assists the function of the lymph system through all these processes. It also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is especially good in healing times because it allows our bodies to really rest in order to heal efficiently and effectively. This also has an analgesic effect because the parasympathetic nervous system calms our perception of pain. There is a whole interplay of physiological functions that lymphatic work supports, helping to heal from surgery, reduce post surgical pain and swelling, and speed return to function. It also helps avoid infection because it helps keep the immune system more fully functional.

Receiving lymphatic massage feels gentle and rhythmic, helping us to breathe more deeply and rest more fully, and is safer for tissues that are still healing after surgery. Even clients who have always thought they need deep and vigorous massage are surprised at how effective and soothing lymphatic massage is, with its relatively light touch. It is both satisfying and plenty deep enough to do profound work in supporting the healing process.

The psoas (pronounced so-az) is the one muscle that attaches the upper body to the lower body. It allows locomotion by allowing you to lift your legs to actually walk. It is the filet mignon of the body, the tenderloin, and is actually very delicate. It needs to be treated with sensitivity, so that it becomes juicy and full and soft. When it is juicy, you walk like a dancer, with legs that just swing from your body.

It is also the emotional core of the body, holding massive amounts of emotional information. It is where we hold birth and childhood trauma, or any other trauma, because it is directly a part of our flight or fight response. This makes sense because you are either running or curling into a ball, which are both primarily psoas reactions. When you’ve been traumatized and just want to curl up, that is the psoas acting as a protector, and when you release that, you can stand up straight, face the world, and approach it with ease.  It can also hold good stuff if you create that. A relaxed and juicy psoas leads to full body orgasms that flow through your whole body.

One of the best things you can do for your psoas is Constructive Rest Pose, where you lie on your back with your knees bent and feet parallel to each other at the width of your hip sockets, about 12-16″ away from your buttocks. You can also put your feet up on a chair. This pose allows the psoas to drop and lengthen. A fetal curl also allows it to soften and relax. These simple relaxations are so important. They not only change the body physically, but you can feel yourself moving more deeply into the floor. Your sympathetic nervous system gets a break and the body gets soft, bringing us a treasure trove for the body, mind, and spirit.

You can also work with balls to soften and hydrate the feet, standing up and pressing and releasing the foot onto a ball. This hydrates the tissues all the way up to the psoas, which is why we do a lot of it in class.

The psoas is fascinating because everything lands there, all your emotional issues, everything, and it works best when it is soft and relaxed. We can play with it, approaching it with a childlike curiosity of how things move. And when the psoas is juicy, we will all walk like dancers, with an easy flow.

The history of cupping is documented in the medical histories of many parts of the world, including countries of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, as well as Asian countries. Cupping is the practice of applying specially designed cups to the skin using suction for the purpose of relieving muscle pain, reducing swelling, and increasing the circulation of blood and qi to an injured area. It can be used to assist in lymphatic drainage and in reducing cellulite. Cupping can also aid in alleviating digestive issues, such as constipation. Facial cupping can aid in the reduction of fine lines and facial puffiness.

Historically all kinds of items were used for cupping– animal horns, bamboo, stone, and sea shells are some of the materials used for cupping. Nowadays, in the modern clinic setting specially designed glass cups are used, as well as cups made of polycarbonate plastic or silicone, all of which can be easily cleaned after use.

How does it work? In order to answer this question let’s compare massage therapy and cupping. Massage therapy creates “positive pressure” by compressing tissue to relieve muscle tension. In contrast, cupping uses suction to create “negative pressure.” The suction action of cupping expands and opens up the layers of body tissue, allowing better circulation of blood and qi.

Cupping will often leave round marks, commonly referred to as bruises, though the marks are not true bruises, like those that occur from a compression injury. The marks gradually disappear a few days after treatment.

Massage therapy for older adults is a promising way to help them retain health and independence.

Older adults who received an hour-long massage once a week for six weeks showed significant improvements in balance, neurological and cardiovascular measures. In the recent study, 35 volunteers were randomly assigned to the massage group or a control group.

Those who received massage therapy had lower blood pressure and more stability immediately after the sessions, an hour after and even a week after the regimen ended.

The participants were healthy volunteers aged 58 to 68 who were recruited through brochures and posters in medical offices, libraries, stores, fitness facilities and by word-of-mouth in and around Birmingham, Alabama. People with a history of chronic disease that affected balance, heart health or nervous system function were not eligible to participate.

Each person in the treatment group received a standard, 60-minute massage therapy protocol once a week for six consecutive weeks. The study, published in 2012, is especially significant because most prior research examined the effects of a single session.

Older adults need options to help them stay independent and active, and massage may be a great non-pharmaceutical approach. Falls, many of them debilitating if not fatal, occur in one of every three adults 65 and older. Health care costs associated with falls alone are expected to reach $32 billion by 2020, according to a 2009 study.

Multiple factors contribute to falls among older adults, including visual system influences, balance impairment, and cardiovascular and neurological conditions. Falls break hips and arms, cause head injuries, and contribute to decline in quality of life.

Even bruising and emotional trauma from a fall can make someone more hesitant – and lack of confidence can compound the risk of additional incidents. Trying to compensate for muscle imbalances, pain and new or old injuries often actually cause the fall.

We already know massage therapy reduces pain and improves clients’ sense of well being. This study suggests that regular massage for older adults can do far, far more.

The study by JoEllen M. Sefton, Ceren Yarar and Jack W. Berry, Neuromechanics Research Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, Auburn University, AL, and Department of Psychology, Samford University, Birmingham, AL, was published in the September 2012 issue of the InternatIonal Journal of TherapeutIc Massage and Bodywork.