self-image

Massage Can Decrease Stress and Anxiety During Pregnancy

Did you hear the one about the 39week pregnant lady who ran a marathon and delivered her baby at the end of it? It may sound like the setup for a joke, but it’s a true story from the 2011 Chicago Marathon. Certainly that woman is a highly conditioned athlete, well prepared for such a feat that most wouldn’t want to do with baby on board.

Even if she’s not an athlete, a woman’s active lifestyle places demands on her time and energy that can get downright overwhelming, especially if she’s pregnant. Today’s expectant moms are maintaining regular exercise regimens along with the responsibilities of work and family. Long gone is the old prescribed inactivity and overeating. Pregnant women are encouraged to exercise, to the extent to which they were conditioned before pregnancy, and maintain a balanced diet. One thing that is difficult to control is stress, and any reduction of stress for an expectant mom is beneficial to mother and baby.pregnant-runner-272x300

According to the American Pregnancy Association, prenatal massage has been shown to reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains and even improve labor outcomes and newborn health. Just as massage does for any adult, in pregnant women, there is reduced stress level and stress hormones like cortisol. Pregnant women also show improved mood regulation and cardiovascular health. Biweekly massage for even just five weeks showed significant reductions in cortisol and increases in the pleasant hormones of dopamine and serotonin.

Not that there has to be immense stress or discomfort in order to justify massage. Prenatal massage is beneficial even for the most “unstoppable” of women. Whether athletic or not, all pregnant women experience reduced circulation and increased pressure on the uterus. That pressure causes edema (swelling). In later pregnancy the uterine pressure spreads to the legs, which leads to sciatic nerve pain. Massage stimulates tissue and removes toxins via the lymphatic system which helps improve circulation. It also reduces inflammation, effectively decreasing nerve pain.

The Touch Research Institute, an organization out of Miami devoted solely to touch and it’s application in science and medicine, further confirms the benefits of maternity massage. A study published in 2010 reported that women who received prenatal massage showed decreased cortisol levels, which apparently decreased excessive fetal activity. It also correlated a lower rate of prematurity in the massage group. Additionally, women in that study reported decreased depression, anxiety and leg and back pain. That study also showed a correlation with less labor pain and shorter labors from women who received massage.

Massage is safe in all three trimesters and until delivery. If the pregnancy is high risk, women should get clearance from their healthcare provider to receive massage. Before choosing a massage therapist, verify what position they place their clients during massage. The proper position includes being placed in a sidelying or semi-reclining position during the massage. Massage tables with the hole cut out and a sling for the belly aren’t considered safe because they can create strain on the uterine ligaments. Outdated concerns about acupressure points in a woman’s wrists and ankles causing early labor are unfounded. Only anecdotal reports exist of stimulating these points coinciding with the onset of labor. In all reported cases, the pregnant woman was within two weeks of her due date. The amount of pressure used (with the exception of deep pressure to the legs) during the massage should be appropriate to the activity and comfort level of each woman.

A well trained and experienced Prenatal Massage Therapist should be an essential part of every woman’s team during pregnancy. Whether she’s preparing for a competitive event or simply her new role in life.

Lorrie Garcia, LMT, NCTMB, is the owner of Evergreen Advanced Bodywork. She’s specialized in Prenatal Massage for nine years, taught Pregnancy Massage at The Massage Institute of Memphis, and worked with hundreds of women before, during, and after their pregnancies.

Willpower Woes? It’s Only a Matter of Time.

During this time of year when we review our habits and goals thoroughly, keep in mind that some things may be beyond your control, your self-control that is. This isn’t an excuse for being unaccountable, but rather, our brain’s reward system and perception of time could have as much to do with accomplishing our goals as our internal will and discipline.

will powerI found this interesting article in which researchers delved into the motivations of goals and self-control. Author, Maria Konnikova, helps reveal a bit more about how our brains work. Self-control is synonymous with delayed gratification and when we think of delayed gratification – not eating a treat now to be slimmer later, saving money now to pay for the honeymoon next year – we attribute our willpower in making it so.

Yet it’s actually not that simple. If the timing of the payoff is longer than expected in coming or comes at irregular intervals, we may give up too soon.  That leads one to ask: so when do you hold ‘em and when do you fold ‘em? It’s still up to you, but this article definitely brings up some interesting points on our perception of time vs. our mental willpower.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Can you forgo a brownie in service of the larger reward of losing weight, give up ready cash in favor of a later investment payoff? The immediate option is hot; you can taste it, smell it, feel it. The long-term choice is far cooler; it’s hard to picture it with quite as much color or power.

In psychological terms, the difference is typically seen as a dual-system trade-off: On one hand, you have the deliberative, reflective, cool system; on the other, the intuitive, reflexive, hot system. The less self-control you have, the further off and cooler the future becomes and the hotter the immediate present grows. Brownie? Yum.

But what if the reality is a little different? What if the ability to delay gratification is actually more like the commuter faced with a crowded train platform than like a dieter faced with a freshly baked treat? A failure of self-control, suggest the University of Pennsylvania neuroscientists Joseph W. Kable and Joseph T. McGuire, may not be a failure so much as a reasoned response to the uncertainty of time: If we’re not quite sure when the train will get there, why invest precious time in continuing to wait?

Click here to read the full article.

Don’t give up on your resolutions to be healthier in 2015 just yet.  Time is on your side.

 

 

Silence your Inner Critic with Self-Compassion

Think of the way we talk to our plants, our pets, our grandparents, our children.  When we are speaking to these special beings, we emit words with the energy of love, compassion and kindness.  Can we say we speak to ourselves that way on a consistent basis?

holiday blog picUnfortunately for many of us, it’s a daily task to clean up the inner thoughts we have about ourselves – especially when crossing by a mirror.  Yet showing ourselves a bit of kindness could go much further to improving our attitude, and even our general well being, according to a new study I read about in Natural Health News.

The study researched women with regard to their body image and physical measurements, and found that self-compassion, rather than self-esteem, could be a vital means to increase positive body image and protect women from unhealthy weight obsessing and dieting practices.

As explained by the article, self-esteem comes from evaluating oneself as above average, whereas self-compassion is described as when dealing with feelings of inadequacy, despair, confusion, and other forms of stress, we respond to ourselves with kindness and understanding.

We may “know” our thoughts and food are connected – especially if you’ve ever succumbed to emotional eating – but as the article says, how we treat ourselves during difficult times seems to have bearing on how we feel about our bodies and food.  Self compassion allows you to give yourself a break and realize that struggles and imperfections are a mandatory part of life.  Everyone has to deal with them – even the ones who seem to have it all together.

The holiday season is hectic enough without you being unkind in your thoughts about yourself (or others).  Remember the best way to keep a healthy body and physique is to RELEASE the obsessing about it and actually accept and be happy with the body you have right now.  Just like when you show kindness and understanding to another person, they respond well, so does your own body when you think kind thoughts about yourself.

Be easy with yourself and give yourself permission to let go.