Category Archives: Food and Your Health

Adding Magnesium to Massage

Got Magnesium?
Turns out that might be a great slogan for massage therapists – if they look both ways and proceed with caution.
Magnesium as a topical aid, and along with ingested and intravenous magnesium, has been used for a very long time in the treatment of muscular cramps and spasms.
Magnesium is the other side of the calcium formula. The movement of calcium ions out of a cell make muscles contract, while magnesium ions make muscle fibers relax. For people in the relax biz, magnesium could come in very handy.
And many folks seeking a massage are likely deficient in magnesium, possibly because we don’t eat enough of the sources – green leafy veggies, beans and bananas.
Should you add magnesium to a massage?
Well, let’s look at what’s out there.spray
Epsom salt soaks are our most traditional way of introducing topical magnesium. Many therapists make their own retail packages for client to buy or take home after a massage. A few drops of lavender or eucalyptus added to the salts and an organza bag, and the massage therapist has a take-home item for you.
But how many times do you see clients who cannot physically get in or out of a bathtub? Or don’t have a bathtub?
Epsom salt compresses are the next step down – but we all know compliance with this advice may well be zero. What client wants to wrangle wet and dry towels and plastic sheets?
Epsom salt lotions now readily available in most drugstores are another good solution. These do, however, use some pretty synthetic petrochemicals to get the hardy Epsom salts to stay in solution. Some clients don’t want that.
Oh dear, leave it to the healthy marketplace to find solutions.
Now when I head off to the vitamin health food store there’s a little group of magnesium topicals at the ready. And here’s the rub. Some don’t feel real good when applied to the skin.
My favorite one is magnesium oil spray, which is magnesium chloride. Yup, a salt. After a nice vigorous deep tissue massage on my professional test body, my spouse, I added a spritz to a tight shoulder. Immediately producing a stinging feeling described to me as rubbing salt on a wound. Run for the wet towels.
I like to use the magnesium oil spray on myself right after the shower. I tell clients to avoid it after shaving, to avoid the ouch factor.
After that experience with my professional test body I have never sprayed magnesium oil on an area post massage. I notice the makers were suggesting it as a massage oil additive, but after my experience with my unhappy test body, I’m not putting it on freshly massaged skin anytime soon.
Other forms of magnesium abound. I don’t go there with magnesium pills or drinks, largely because that’s not what I do. I massage, and telling someone to take something internally seems a bit out of my expertise area.
But for people who might need it for night cramps or diet deficiency I let them know it is out there, and they need to read and follow directions. Magnesium isn’t good for weak kidneys and in large amounts ingested magnesium is a super-dooper laxative!

History at Your Hands

We had a wonderful time picking out decorations for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party.

Pink table-covers, birthday lawn signs, a banner and bubble-making bottles, clean fun for all of us youngin’s. We’ll also be running around next weekend picking up a vanilla cake with white and pink frosting, tamales, sandwiches and the “Happy 90th” balloon. (Surprisingly popular, our cashier volunteered.)

All of which led me to ask Mom Mary the big question: To what to you attribute your long life?

Mom Mary looked at me quite surprised. “I have no idea. I’m just glad to be alive. I wish I felt better, though.”calm

Ooh-yaah. Hey, with a massage therapist in the family, many people would assume Mom Mary has the feel-good covered. Well, other than the occasional emergency neck or shoulder massage, Mom Mary has begged off the family discount. (Double for blood relatives and spouse, Mom Mary free.)

Yet thinking about it, I have had several older folks who come in for massage regularly. And I am impressed. My oldest client was 103, a World War I veteran. I have given massage services to many people aged 70s to upper 90s.

As a member of the second coddled generation, the lucky ones who grew up with food, dental care, schools and an expectation of college, I get a good sampling of how my elders got into their golden years.

Wars. Prison Camps. D-Day. Epidemics. No food, no heat. No air conditioning. Religious genocide. Ethnic genocide. Is longevity produced by adversity? Or, to put it another way, does that which does not kill you make you stronger?

It makes me wonder how my generation through the much-too-much millennials will fare. Will we prick our fingers on our computers and die? Could we ever be tough enough to skip a gluten-free meal?

I think a massage certificate for Mom Mary is in order, perhaps a pedicure as well. You should get some credit for living long, well and in good humor.

A Watery Path

I was raised on Coca-Cola. Straight or on the rocks. Peanuts or sans peanuts. It was THE drink. Why would you want water when you could have a refreshing Coke that fizzed up your nose and made you say “ahhhhhh” with satisfaction? I can still remember putting fifteen cents in the machine, opening the door to a rush of cool air, and hearing the clinking sound of the glass bottle as it left the slot. Then, of course, the pop of the metal cap on the built-in bottle-opener. It was the South, it was hot, and Coke was heaven. I have to say, unashamed, that I miss those sounds, even though I haven’t been a Coke drinker in over a decade.

I quit a long time ago, first to go to Diet Coke, because like all young women, I was dieting. In the bars, I’d have my bourbon with Diet Coke, because as my friend Anne used to say, bourbon and Diet Coke is a Southern woman’s best friend: it has Coke, bourbon, and almost none of those nasty calories! Anyway, I later quit all coke (in my area of the country the generic name for all soft drinks was “coke” just like it’s “pop” in some areas) because it was supposed to be bad for me in various ways.

I still hated water. I found it boring. Only in the last year did I take my water needs seriously. I drink about 80 ounces a day. I carry around a big plastic bottle with me and make sure to drink it all, plus more. While I used to get the water out of the tap, I started filtering with a Britta tank once my doctor told me I was registering high levels of clorine. I like water now, but I spend a lot of time preparing it and making sure I get it. I’m proud of how far I’ve come on the water thing . . . or I was, anyway.

At my studio, we offer a bottle of water to each client after the massage, with a choice of cold or room temperature. In this case, it’s part of the corporate plan, but still a great thing, right? Water, not Coke or sugary sports drinks. Well, no, apparently not. We’ve had several clients decline, one very angrily, on the grounds that all these water bottles are going into landfills and destroying the environment. The angry client declared she was going to write a letter to my boss and complain (That’s good manners, lady. I give you a nice massage, and you bite my head off about something I have absolutely no control over and which has nothing to do with the bodywork and which was MEANT to be a pleasant service to you.)

Let me add at this point that sometimes I just want to put my head down and cry. There is never enough money or time, my feet and shoulder hurt, I need health insurance and care, I’m depressed about everything from the price of fresh vegetables to oil spilling into the Gulf . . . and then I manage to get a handle on one thing (water) which is now all wrong because of the packaging. GOOD GRIEF! I find it ironic that the path between Scylla and Charybdis (the real names for the devil and the deep blue sea) was a watery one.

Sigh. Okay. So no plastic bottles. I reuse my own plastic one, but it drives my boyfriend crazy as he’s certain it’s breeding bacteria in addition to everything else. I guess I could get a metal one and try to remember to fill it three times a day, as I doubt I’ll find one as big as my plastic one. As to the studio, we’re letting corporate know that here in Seattle at least, offering plastic bottles of water is not always popular or appreciated. Our only thought is to go to paper cups, as we obviously can’t send clients home with ceramic mugs. Of course, paper kills trees. I think perhaps a large oak bucket with a dipper outside the door might be an option, but I doubt most people would find that sanitary. It’s too bad, though. Cold water out of a metal dipper tastes as good as Coke out of glass bottle on a hot day. And if you can’t please everyone anyway . . .

Weighing Choices for New Year’s Resolutions

This is generally the worst time of year for manipulative ads on weight loss. Whether it’s pills, diets, or gym memberships, you can count on TV strangers in spandex or bikinis telling you that THIS year you absolutely HAVE to have their products in order to make your New Year’s resolution come true. Well, guess what air-brushed spandex/bikini people? I never played with Barbie dolls, and New Year’s resolutions for weight loss almost never come true . . . plus, they bore me spitless.

It might be different if all this weight-loss frenzy were truly based on health concerns, but often it’s just based on vanity and cultural anxiety. And I’ve seen the damage such frenzy does both in my own early life and in the lives of the people, particularly the women, who end up on my massage table. Makes me wonder . . . unless a person is so morbidly obsese his life or quality of life is in danger, is losing weight something all that important to resolve do?

Consider this little story: When I was in massage school, I continued to teach English to make ends meet. I had a Japanese student who was an advanced speaker of English, so I tended to work with her using articles and essays to improve her spoken English. One day, I found a news article written about how thoughts on women’s weight differs from culture to culture. The geographical focus of this article was the African country of Niger, a place I was somewhat familiar with, having worked on girls’ education projects there when I was in non-profit. And in Niger, girls really, really, really want to be . . . FAT. Yes, they WANT to be as fat as they can possibly get. Regular little “butterballs” as my father used say.

A story like this can really turn your world upside down if you were raised to set goals for seeing your own skeleton in the mirror. My Japanese student and I were surprised and amused to read about a gathering of teenage girls in a beauty shop, where the most popular girl in town was also the fattest. This girl said things like, “That girl over there is pretty, but she can never gain weight.” Other girls whispered that they wished they could be as fat as the head girl so that they could be popular and make the best marriages. One average-sized girl said she was happy the way she was, but she might try to put on at least 10 to 15 pounds, just to look good and be healthy. The author noted that the richer the man in Niger, the more huge women he gathered around him, as weight is a sign of health and weatlh. Anyone seeing a reverse pattern here?

And then, there was a darker side to the story. Women weren’t just eating more food to get fat, because in many cases, food was limited. Instead, they were taking animal steroids–an extremely dangerous practice–in order to beef up. Animal steroids are banned for human use, of course, but the black market trade in Niger still does a brisk business, especially before holidays and special occasions. You can’t have the family thinking you’re a weakling or that your husband’s a bad provider, after all! One doctor who treats such women stated something to the effect of, “The world is crazy. In American women have everything, and try to look like they have nothing. Here, women have nothing and want to look like they have everything.”

In considering such a story, losing 20-30 pounds as a New Year’s resolution doesn’t seem so important. Personally, I’d rather resolve to donate monthly to a charity I like called Operation Smile for kids born around the world with cleft palate. Or make sure all of my recyclables actually make it into the recycling bin, not the trash.

Cranberry Relish (Sans SHLOK!)

With Thanksgiving less than a week away, many of us are making mental lists of all our blessings and things we have to be grateful for. For several years now, my list has included, “I am thankful that I am a grown-up, can eat what I want, have access to fresh cranberries, and will NEVER have to eat that stuff that goes SHLOK! when it slides out of the can EVER again” Oh, the very thought of it makes me shudder. When I was a child, I rated canned cranberry relish right above aspic served on a lettuce leaf with a dollop of Miracle Whip (in other words, extremely low on the list of desirable holiday foods).

Being a massage therapist, I of course lean towards healthier foods: things that are more often fresh and less likely to go SHLOK! when served. However, like most massage therapists, I spend a lot of time in sessions and not near a computer or a shelf full of cookbooks. So when I don’t have time to dig out my Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving cookbook, I usually access a neat little application called Epicurious from my iPhone. This year, I found a delicious-sounding recipe for cranberry relish that calls for fresh and dried cranberries and ruby port, and another whose secret ingredient is dried mustard. Epicurious allows you to flip through a list of recipes, save recipes as favorites, or put a recipe’s ingredients into a shopping list. Try Epicurious, especially if you think you’re a confirmed cranberry relish hater. Trust me, a hot bubbling poppoppop is way more comforting than SHLOK!

Happy Thanksgiving All!

Views on Flu

My blogging this week was thrown for a loop when I unexpectedly came down with a bug. No, not a cold or the flu. A computer bug. A Trojan virus to be exact. I was thrilled beyond imagination (which is to say the exact opposite).

As we roll on toward November, no one is exactly thrilled about those cold and flu bugs either. I have a client I see regularly who almost two months ago was already entering a state of high anxiety about flu season. After asking me an unusual amount of questions about the flu, flu shots, and how I felt about flu shots, I asked her if she was concerned about coming to me for massage if I did not have a flu shot. She said yes, a little embarrassed, and I told her that I would be happy to wear a mask during our massages, but I was not going to get a flu shot, simply because the few times that I have, I’ve developed full-blown flu.

I’m a bit of a short-term pragmatist, then, when it comes to my stance on flu shots. My father, who was a doctor, held the same view, for the same reasons. Like him, my decision is based on this reasoning: “I’m not on salary, I don’t have vacation or sick days, and if I get the flu, I will not only be miserable and bored, I will lose income, I will not be available to help my patients, and I simply don’t have time for that.” I realize from talking to other people though, especially in this area, that there are people who boycott flu shots and other types of immunizations, because they believe that the shots do more damage to the body than even the expected exposure to certain parts of the flu virus.

But no matter what my choices and why I make them, I am glad my client talked to me instead of just avoiding the massage clinic during flu season in an effort to avoid any potential flu exposure. She definitely planned on getting a flu shot, and I definitely planned on not getting a flu shot, but there was a solution we could both live with that still allows her to get the therapeutic massage work she needs. I wish my computer bug had such a painless cure!

Hotter? Colder? How Do You Like Your Water?

Love the girl who holds the world in a paper cup, sings the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Drink it up. Love her, and she’ll bring you luck. I don’t know about the truth of that, but I adore the image—and goodness knows I’ve served hundreds of Dixie cups full of water to happy, foggy massage clients. Why is water the beverage of choice? I’ve had clients ask me. Why not, say, lemonade or a nice refreshing cocktail before I go home and enjoy a post-massage nap?

Well, many therapists will tell clients to drink their water because it “flushes toxins.” However, I was always taught that was something of an over-simplification. My instructors explained that, when you mash on something with fragile parts (like a body made up of cells), you generally break something. And since massage also increases circulation, giving clients water just helps the body process out all the broken stuff faster so that the client’s bloodstream is clear of it sooner. As the reasoning goes, the body is made up of water to a large extent and needs it to function, so give it water. Were the body made up of citrus juice or vodka, then serving screwdrivers would get us to the same place.

I’ve had some interesting new questions, though, lately, on whether the temperature of the water makes a difference. Some clients prefer either hot or cold over the other, and some had heard that if they drank the water at room temperature, or even warmer, it would have greater health benefits and perhaps even increase metabolism.

Most of the information my research turned up was slightly more in favor of cold water. According to many Internet health and sports nutrition sources, cold water is absorbed by the stomach faster and thus can go to work quicker. The evidence on hot water seemed to be less scientifically oriented and joined more to specific diet philosophies such as Ayurveda, where the temperatures of food and water are considered extremely important. But even here, the purists seem to prefer boiled hot water over hot water from a tap, because the latter still has “impurities.” And some of the information I uncovered on Ayurvedic dieting did indeed say that hot water increased digestion and metabolism.

Personally, I go for the simple view: Drink as much water as you can, whatever its temperature. When I’m very hot, I prefer cold water. When I’m not, I prefer it room temperature because I will drink it, not sip at it and forget it’s there. And at no time do I like plain hot water, even if it promises me the metabolism of a hummingbird. Anyone have anything enlightening or interesting to add on this particular hot topic? Or does it just leave you cold? Okay, okay, no more water puns . . .

Swimming: Sweet Idea!

After an absurdly long stretch of gray, ugly rain, it seems that Seattle has finally decided that it will indeed join the rest of the civilized world in hosting Summer 2009. THE SUN IS OUT! Finally! It makes a Southern girl like me just want to sit on a porch swing and drink sunlight and sweet tea. And I do mean SIT. Not run, jog, or cycle. Okay, walking might be all right, but nothing faster than a brisk amble. Anything faster than that, and I’d miss the scenery, like all these gorgeous orange poppies blooming near my Northgate apartment. Anything faster, and one could be in serious danger of spilling one’s sweet tea, and that’s just wrong . . . unless the sweet tea is that nasty fake stuff from McDonald’s (which is no doubt making several past generations of Southern mothers and grandmothers spin in their graves).

Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be effective. I’ve noticed that Seattleites almost seem to think that they must pay for the blessing of good weather by attempting to kill themselves reenacting Nike commercials while it’s here. Is it wrong to enjoy sitting on a sunny porch or taking a sunny walk, and right to enjoy sweating off half of one’s body weight climbing a sunny mountain? Well, no. Still, I’ve noticed that many of my out-of-shape clients, or those whose bodies have suffered injuries over the years, feel very guilty about not being able to get out and become Lance Armstrong on a bike or one of the Williams sisters on a tennis court. And what happens sometimes is that they injure or re-injure themselves trying to “exercise and be healthy.”

In response to this tragic phenomenon, I try to suggest to my clients forms of exercise that are gentler, kinder, and in my opinion, infinitely more fun and more easily accomplished with a tea glass nearby. Take swimming, for example. I have suggested it to a LOT of clients who have seen a LOT of benefits. You don’t have the impact issues you have with many activities, and you work about three times as hard doing it as you think you are due to the resistance factor. Furthermore, you don’t have to know special strokes or even do laps. I have clients who take Styrofoam boards like little kids and kick up and down the pool and who are now enjoying greater range of motion and have less pain than they’ve had in years. This is a very good thing, people! Seattle is blessed with a number of public pools, many of them indoors and most of them easily accessible. Swimming is beneficial and fun, so remember to go splash around this summer and encourage your clients to do the same—sweet tea optional :-)

Peace Be With You: Using Guided Imagery to Promote Relaxation

Like many of my clients, I have had trouble in the past with stress, anxiety, and insomnia. I tried many things to combat these problems, some with more success than others. And I have to say that one of my favorite methods by far for reducing stress and promoting peace in my life is guided imagery.

I first encountered guided imagery several years ago in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I was working with a psychiatrist who practiced hypnotherapy. One of her techniques for relaxing clients was to have them close their eyes and breathe quietly and regularly while she painted a soothing picture with her voice. The goal was to have the client mentally insert herself into that peaceful picture and relax, as relaxation can make hypnotic regression processes, etc., much more effective. Often, she would record that part of the session so that the client could go back and listen again for further relaxation purposes.

I was so impressed with how much guided imagery calmed me, that I began to look for more variation in my diet. For the last several years, my two favorites have been Tuning Your Chakras (from the Edgar Cayce Pre-Sleep series) and Hara Breathing Meditation (by Iona Marsaa Teeguarden).

I suggest such CDs for client use (particularly at bedtime or naptime), and I also use very simple guided imagery in massage sessions. For example, when I have a client who is extremely stressed or whose purpose in massage is deep relaxation, I will sometimes end with a general Polarity Energy routine to rebalance the chakras. In beginning this, I will simply ask the client to breathe and relax as much as possible while we “go away somewhere.” Occasionally I ask the client where she wants to go, but generally, I pick the place according to whatever occurs to me at the time, and tend to go with my gut instincts for guided imagery travel. For example, as the weather has improved in Seattle, I have been doing a lot of walking around Green Lake. A few weeks ago, the cherry trees were in bloom, and as I walked, I watched the breeze shake them down like pink snow. And so in my session, I painted the scene of the lake that day: pink snow, dandelion seed parachutes, bright kites, and a tiny Chihuahua in a pink coat. “Can there really be anything too bad or scary about a world where Chihuahuas wear pink coats?” I asked. My client smiled, and the body under my hands instantly relaxed.

Sometimes we need to get out of our daily lives or at least change the scenery in our heads to achieve peace: guided imagery is a great, easy way to do this.

An Elegy to Almonds

Unripe almond on tree

Oh almonds, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

As a massage therapist, I often need to find something quick and easy to munch on between clients. Sometimes there’s no time to heat up soup, or even fix a quick sandwich. Instead of grabbing some chips, or even a “healthy” nutrition bar, I try to have some raw almonds on hand (preferably organic).

I always knew almonds were good guys, but I’d forgotten some of the benefits until recently. Several studies have shown that almonds have the potential to:

  • Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Help with age-related short-term memory
  • Lower “bad” cholesterol and raise “good” cholesterol
  • Protect against Type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease and sudden heart attacks
  • Reduce the glycemic index of meals

Almond Mini-FAQ

  • Almond flour’s gluten-free and can be used in place of wheat flour in a lot of recipes (you can’t use it for regular breads because it can’t be kneaded, but it’s fantastic for quick breads and muffins). Great for low-carbers and those with wheat sensitivities. Tip: When you use almonds for baking, add some extra eggs to make everything stick together.
  • In a controlled study, 73 grams (just 2.5 ounces) of almonds daily reduced LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad kind) by up to 9.4%. It also increased HDLs (the good kind of cholesterol) by 4.6% and reduced the LDL:HDL ratio by 12%. The LDL:HDL ratio is considered more important than the total cholesterol count.
  • An ounce of almonds contains 6 grams of protein, 210 milligrams of potassium, and 3 grams of fiber. They’re also high in manganese, magnesium, riboflavin and vitamin E, B2, and copper. At less than 170 calories an ounce, almonds are one of the most nutritionally-dense foods.
  • In Ayurveda, almonds are thought to benefit the brain and nervous system.
  • Do you stay away from almonds because of the fat content? Well, 90% of the fat in almonds is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fat is the same good stuff that’s in olive oil.
  • Get it out of your head that nuts will make you gain weight! A Spanish study followed 8,865 adults over 28 months. Those who ate nuts at least twice a week were 31% less likely to gain weight than those who never or almost never ate nuts.
  • Are you doing the low carb thing? An ounce of almonds contains 2.3 grams of net carbs (that’s what you get after subtracting the fiber grams from the total carb count), and they’re considered a healthy low carb snack.
  • Oh, and almonds aren’t actually nuts – they’re drupes. Nope, I’d never heard of drupes either. From Wikipedia: They’re fruits “in which an outer fleshy part (exocarp, or skin; and mesocarp, or flesh) surrounds a shell (the pit or stone) of hardened endocarp with a seed inside.” Some other drupes are coffee beans, mangos, pistachios, apricots, nectarines, peaches, cherries and plums. Aren’t you glad you know that?

Don’t Forget the Pine Nuts
Pine nuts are good too. Yum! But expensive, so they’re a rare treat. I’ve always considered pine nuts kind of a guilty pleasure, and I was surprised to find that they’re almost in the same class as almonds when it comes to packing a nutritional punch.

So skip the chips and go nuts!