Seasonal Cleaning: 7 Steps to Bring in Spring

springIn front of the sink, where I wash my hands every time I finish a massage, just outside the window there is a big, beautiful Ginkgo Biloba tree. This tree is my seasonal clock: naked in the winter, budding in the spring, verdantly green in the summer and golden yellow in the autumn. Every week I get to see it change and do its thing – following some innate wisdom rising through its sap – it knows what to do next and exactly when. I often think it would be nice to be as in tune as this tree to the yearly cycles of nature. How come this wisdom doesn’t just flow naturally through my veins and tissues, telling me when to blossom, when to give, when to shed? Then again, maybe it does.

Right now the asparagus are beginning to sprout, the cherry blossoms and magnolias are having flowery orgasms, farmers are beginning to sell strawberries again and the sensuous scent of jasmine is filling the air. This can only mean one thing: Spring is here!

Spring is the season of sprouting, blooming, regenerating and cleansing the body as well as renewing the spirit and making space for what is fresh and new. So, in that spirit, the following is a quick list of things to do to make way for the vibrant energy of spring.

1. Love your Liver  In Chinese medicine spring is the season correlated with the liver. So to care for your liver, eat light meals and get good rest at night. Eat lots of bitter and sour foods like dandelion, fresh lemon, apple cider vinegar, raw green things and sprouts, and bitter spices like turmeric and milk thistle.

2. Acknowledge Anger  Anger is the emotion of the liver, if you are pissed off, let it out! Punch your pillow, yell in the car, or talk to a friend about what’s stressing you out and then let it go!  Stagnant anger can accumulate in the liver and cause dis-ease later on.

3. Cleanse your body  This is the season to naturally shed off the extra pounds we gained while eating heavy winter foods that kept us warm. Perhaps try an ayurvedic kitchari cleanse or liver flush diet for a week or 10 days. You’ll feel re-energized and renewed!

4. Stretch  Eastern medicine also says that the liver maintains tendon health and flexibility, so don’t forget to do your morning stretch routine, learn tai chi or go to yoga class.

5. Get a massage  Therapeutic massage or any other kind of healing bodywork increases blood and lymph circulation which will help you detox if you are cleansing or just help you relax into the freshness of the season.

6. Clean your home  A clear space to live in makes it easier to feel clear and spacious inside. I encourage you to clean out your closet, get rid of stuff cluttering your home and get yourself a new plant to bring fresh life into your space.

7. Go outside  Fresh spring air makes your liver Qi flow. Go on hikes more often in this season and, while you’re at it, take in the fragrance of the blossoming trees.

Grand Siesta: the Power of Naps

One of my clients (who often falls asleep while getting a therapeutic massage on my table) was telling me today about his “nap guilt”. He explained, after he awoke, how in his regular life he feels guilty about taking naps. I assured him that this is a common feeling among most productive people in our society. I also explained that it’s a terrible myth.

There are many studies and articles about how this lie has been perpetuated in our world. But the truth is that resting can actually make you more effective and ultimately more productive. I found this interesting article in the New York Times talking about how we don’t have infinite energetic resources and as a result actually thrive when we are getting more rest.

After doing healing bodywork in Berkley for many years, I am quite familiar with how important rest is. Naps can be a valuable restorative tool. But there is something about them that goes against the American ethos of having to be as productive and time efficient as we possibly can every second of the day. In Oakland, where I currently live, I sometimes fall prey to this misconception when I am blissfully resting in the middle of the afternoon. In Mexico, where I grew up, everyone disappeared every day after lunch for a little while. The world quieted down, businesses closed and bodies had the chance to rest and replenish. Yes, the siesta is real and it doesn’t only feel good and give you a little break from the hectic pace that life can bring physiologically, but it is also just a fabulous idea! Napping gives your mind a chance to rest and your body time to heal.

Quick Nap Facts

1. When you nap your brain releases serotonin, the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter which also regulates many other functions.
2. When you wake you are more alert, energized and research says it also improves memory and creativity.
3. The stress hormone cortisol decreases during sleep, yes- even brief sleep! This is very beneficial to the immune system, sexual function, muscle repair and weight management.

Many of my clients fall in and out of sleep when getting massages. Most don’t like falling asleep and ‘missing out on the massage’ but I just tell them to trust that the body does what it needs and that it still knows it got a massage and reaped all the benefits of it. When the body is in a state of deep relaxation, induced by massage or napping, great potential for healing and restoration can be realized.

Contact Counts: 3 Benefits of Baby Massage

Massage of footsI have been doing pregnancy massage and postnatal massage in Berkley and Oakland as part of my holistic healing work for several years now. But recently, I decided to branch out from simply working with adults to expand my maternity care healing services. When, a little more than a year ago, I signed up for a baby massage course, I was surprised to find that massaging babies was way more than just squeezing their cute little baby fat rolls and rubbing baby oil on their tiny precious bodies.

As a therapeutic body worker, I have always been very aware of the impact that healing touch has on our nervous systems, connective tissue, muscles, mental states and how it satisfies a part of our deep human need to feel cared for and loved. But I was inspired in a new and profound way when I learned about the impact that loving touch has on babies and their fundamental development. Below are just a few examples and fabulous reasons to start massaging your little ones today.

Awakening Love
When mothers touch their infants in a soothing and comforting way, the love hormone oxytocin is released in both of them, thus awakening the biologic capacity to bond. It also lowers cortisol levels which increases immunity and supports the optimal physiological development of the baby.

Shaping the Brain
Babies’ nervous systems are developing and highly adaptive. Each tactile, sensory and relational experience provides the stimuli for specific neural pathways to develop and to create healthy or unhealthy ‘brain templates’. As a result of this, caring, loving and responsive touch is essential for the healthy organization of their nervous systems.

Affirming Secure Attachment
‘Secure attachment’ is the hip term in psychotherapy circles these days. It seems to be your stamped visa on the way to psychological health and an ability to have lasting healthy loving relationships. There are many definitions of this term. But it kind of just means that your mother really loved you and was attuned to your cues and needs when you were little. In this way, hugs, cuddles, smiles, loving baby massages (and all the nurturing ways in which the cuteness of a baby inspires most healthy people to react) are all translated in the baby’s brain into patterned neural activity which positively influences its development.

There is so much more to be said about the significance of mindful, loving touch and its importance, especially with infants. It is important at any age. But I am excited to have this new insight about how the types of touch we receive, especially at an early age, play such an essential role in the architecture of our brains and therefore our lives.

Winter Wonder: 8 Steps to Holiday Recovery

Replenishing after winter holidays

Vacations can be exhausting! Many of us often feel depleted after the holidays with family and friends. And while January is historically the month for New Year’s resolutions and fresh starts, many people feel like they need a vacation from their vacation.

Have you ever needed to go on retreat after the madness of the holidays? 

In Easter medicine it is said that staying attuned to the energy of the seasons is an important key to good health. Winter is the time to take it easy, eat warm foods, be contemplative, and relish stillness by slowing down. Even though right now in California it feels like summer, the energy of winter is dark, cold, inward and quiet. It’s the period of gestation for our dormant life energy. This is why trees lose their leaves and save their life-force to come bursting through in spring, animals hibernate or sleep more, and we humans take time off from work to presumably to slow down and have time to be with ourselves and loved ones.

But realistically, what do we do instead? Shop, shop and shop some more. Party, party – eating and drinking till our bellies are bursting. We fly, drive and go all over the place to see family and friends who often trigger all kinds of reactions in us which can be tiring and depleting. It seems clear that among many other things, culturally, we are vastly distant from being in tune with the energetic qualities of winter.

Right now, when our vitality, passion, life energy and enthusiasm are supposed to be brewing to be fully expressed in the spring- like the trees ready to bloom – instead, we are running around exhausting ourselves! So, in what remains of this season (and hopefully for the rest of the year) I invite you to cultivate slowness and notice what nourishes your body mind and spirit.

By making the intention to stay attuned to the energy of the seasons as the year unfolds, right now we can take full advantage of the quietude and stillness of winter. Here are some ideas for replenishing and attuning:

1. Notice Nature. Go for walks outside and notice the changes in the light and the plants.

2. Shop Seasonally. Go to the local San Francisco farmers markets and buy what is growing seasonally.

3. Cultivate Community. Cook something yummy and nourishing with what you bought, having your friends over to share the goodness.

4. Create Coziness. Slow down, take a candle-lit bath with essential oils, be still and relax.

5. Trade Touch. Trade massage with your close friend or lover, or call your favorite healing bodywork massage therapist to make an appointment.

6. Take Time. Sit by the fire with your favorite book while sipping tea or hot chocolate.

7. Commit to Contemplation. Write in your journal about what’s up in your inner realms.

8. Move Mindfully. Walk, take a yoga class, breathe deeply… relish your embodiment.

Happy replenishing!

This blog uses an image which is released as part of the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution license.

Why Technology Might Be Ruining Your Life

On our recent journey back to the Bay Area from our holiday vacation, I made a sad discovery.  It was an incredibly early flight- the kind in which you find yourself continually fantasizing about being in your warm bed instead. But rather than being cozy, sleepy, dreamy and present in these wee hours, I noticed that probably more that 70% of our fellow airplane travelers were looking at the screen of their smart phones, tablets, computers etc. And then I thought about it. This not only happens in airports and airplanes but everywhere I go!  How many people at any given time and place are plugged into their iphones, ipads, kindles and laptops? The gym, the grocery store- it’s everywhere!  It’s the way our culture is now, especially in Oakland and Berkeley.

I am aware that we need to engage with all these things in order to smoothly operate in society. It’s an easy and convenient way to communicate with work colleagues and loved ones alike. But for too many of us, technology becomes an incredible time-suck- an alienation from the ‘real’ world and real people. It’s an easy way to dissociate from our life, a perfect way to kill time rather than live time, a fake way to feel connected, and the best way to bypass our essential and precious human solitude.

I understand the irony, given that you are probably reading this on your computer. Here I am writing a blog, sending emails for hours on end, and wanting as many likes as possible on my Facebook page.  And yet, I am one of those people that resists technology ’till the very end, (if you could see my prehistoric phone you would know what mean!) I have always resented having to be plugged in all the time which is one of the main reasons why my chosen profession is healing bodywork.  This work keeps me present, tuned in to myself and others and makes me feel like my healing touch is making a positive impact.

To my own relief, I recently I learned that in 2009 the Unplugging Movement was born in San Francisco.  No wonder I live here- sign me up!  Well, actually, I have been one of them all along!  The movement began with families wanting to deliberately stay away from social media and technological devices to slow down their lives thereby having more time for creativity, time to be out doors, cook meals with friends, play with the kids and connect with actual human beings. To this list I personally have to add:  going to yoga class, and of course, regular therapeutic massage. Being touched is a wonderful way to be present. (And touch screens don’t count!)

In other words, what the unpluggers are trying to do is reclaim their lives, from cyberspace back to planet Earth and back to their hearts and bodies.  I invite you to dedicate some time this week to consciously creating an unplugging ritual. Take some deliberate time away from email, Facebook, your phone, your online calendar and your twitter account. Stop texting, stop posting and start breathing, stretching and singing.  Come back from the cyber-universe, from being crouched over your computer and gone, to your own embodied, breath-full, pulsing, loving self. Trust me, your body will thank you!


How Esalen Massage Has Changed My Sessions

esalen massage flowerWhenever my birthday, Christmas, my own made up self-love day, or any other great excuse for a “give-me-a-gift moment” comes around, I know what I want: a massage!

For me every massage is not only an act of self-care, but a celebration of my own embodiment. And, as a massage therapist in Berkeley, it’s the best way for me to learn about the body. Lately, I have immersed myself in Esalen Massage. I was lucky enough to attend a training at the Esalen Institute last year. It is basically the most magical place on earth, to study, eat marvelous food, soak in the hot springs and take in the utter beauty of Earth; and my healing bodywork has not been the same since. It’s not that I now do Esalen Massage but the beauty of the approach has subtly seeped more and more into my work. It’s like slowly learning a love poem you are deeply moved by.

The signature long and lyrical strokes of Esalen Massage create a soothing sense of whole- body connection. This fluid nature of Esalen bodywork blends well with other massage modalities, so for me, incorporating aspects of it into my own work has me intentionally becoming a more graceful, artful and present therapist. Embodying presence and awareness as we touch, is an elemental premise of Esalen Massage and holistic healing. Thus the quality of the practitioner’s touch becomes an invitation to a deeper connection with our own somatic awareness and a call to deliciously abide in our bodies. I am thankful for this method and the ability to incorporate its principals into my therapeutic massage treatments in Oakland.