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October 2008

October 21, 2008

How To Be With Your Massage Therapist

The relationship between massage therapist and recipient is a special one. Giving a good massage requires careful listening and constant attention to a client's reactions, however subtle they may be. Receiving a good massage is just as active - it requires exposing your body to and communicating honestly with someone who may be a virtual stranger. I feel honored every time a new client trusts me with her care, especially if that someone is new to massage. Here are a few thoughts about how to act or Be in order to receive the best possible massage.

One of the things I find myself saying over and over is, "Relax your...." If your therapist is gently shaking your arm or your leg, pay attention to that area – are you holding it stiff? If your therapist is moving your arm or leg around, pay attention to that area – are you trying to help move it somewhere? Are you holding your fingers straight for the therapist’s convenience? We are trained to work with a limp body and can separate your fingers myself! If your muscles are actively engaged, they cannot also be relaxed.

Try this right now: hold one hand flat, fingers spread apart from one another like you are showing a child how to count to five. Using your other thumb, try to massage your palm. Now, allow the fingers to go limp, even if they curl up. Now try massaging. Notice the difference?

Most times, clients are unconscious that they are doing any of this. I invite you to notice how each part of your body feels as your therapist works on it and to relax your muscles if you are holding them tight. Your body will thank you!

Please see my article, "How to Talk to Your Massage Therapist," for my thoughts on effective communication for great massage.

A Bad Gut Feeling

Guest Editorial from Dr. Chandler Collins
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You're not alone. Ever. Every second of every day you're accompanied by billions of other organisms that live within you, flourishing based upon the choices you make.

This is a good thing.

I'm talking primarily about your digestive tract. Specifically, the beneficial bacteria -- frequently referred to as the normal flora -- that exist in your intestines. While other parts of your body are also populated by friendly bugs, your gut is where their impact seems to be most frequently noticed.

We have what is termed a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria in our gut. That is, both us humans and the bacteria that live inside us benefit from each other.

The bacteria get a nice, warm, moist, dark place through which food passes on a regular basis. Compared to trying to scrape it out on a counter top or a random doorknob, our guts are the bacterial equivalent of Club Med.

In return, these bacteria help us by breaking down food for easy absorption, producing vitamins, and protecting us from unwanted invaders. The unwanted variety can frequently come in the form of other bacteria or parasites that are pathogenic, or harmful.

Interestingly, some of the most beneficial bacterial strains in our gut, if allowed to overly proliferate, can also be harmful. Ever heard of people getting sick from an infection by E. Coli? It just so happens that E. Coli is a very useful bacterial strain that normally inhabits your intestinal tract, producing much needed Vitamin K as well as certain B vitamins.

When Bugs Go Bad

So what’s the problem? Everything should just go along without trouble, right? As long as you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.

Unfortunately, we’re usually the ones who start off the family feud. Antibiotics are the usual culprit.

Say you have a strong case of bacterial bronchitis and your doctor prescribes a round of antibiotics to make things right. Pretty soon, you’re breathing easier and coughing up less mucous.

Part of clearing out the bugs in your lungs involved some collateral damage to the ones in your gut, however. Generally speaking, antibiotics do not discriminate between “good” and “bad” (or nonpathogenic and pathogenic) varieties of bacteria.

So once you took those antibiotics to take care of your lung infection, you managed to kill off a good deal of the bacteria in your intestines, too.

This isn’t the only way we can upset our balance of normal flora.

For the little ones among us, simply being born by c-section reduces your chances of having a normally populated intestinal tract. Passing through the birth canal allows infants to pick up bacterial strains that help to populate the gut. Without that process, we start off at a relative disadvantage.

Consuming contaminated food or drink is also an obvious way to give potentially pathogenic bacteria a foot hold in your digestive tract. If one strain of bacteria populates your gut in large numbers, it can push out some other, healthy bacterial strains. Club Med can only handle so many customers at once.

Reading the Signs

Knowing when you have an imbalance is the first step to correcting it. Common signs are frequent gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. Many will cycle on a regular basis through many of the above.

Symptoms can also be more subtle. Since our normal flora help us to assimilate nutrients, anything related to nutritional deficiencies is up for grabs. This can be as varied as skin dryness or irritation to unusual sensitivity to light.

If you suspect a problem with your flora, a good lab test involving a stool sample is key. Regular human labs don’t seem to be that great at finding tricky bacterial or parasitic problems related to the gut however. Being their bread and butter, vet labs are great at finding this kind of problem in pets.

However, in lieu of giving my patients a pseudonym of “Fido” and sending their sample off to the local vet lab, we’ve found a good lab that does a fantastic job of handling human samples. They also analyze the sample to determine specifically what bacterial strains are present or absent, as well as any varieties of pathogenic bugs that might be, well, bugging you.

Any lab that does this for you should be able to send you a list of natural and prescriptive agents to help you kill off the bad guys. If they don’t, ask around for one that does.

Now What?

Step two is to get rid of the bad guys and bring in the good.

What we have to do to get rid of bad bacteria or parasites is as varied as the bugs themselves. There are dozens of common herbs and prescriptive agents that handle the job nicely.

The good stuff is known as probiotics. These are supplements that contain beneficial bacterial strains in easily digestible powder, capsule, or liquid forms.

Since taking things by mouth involves having it pass through your stomach — an environment rich in hydrochloric acid — before it gets to your intestines, this is a bit like trying to get rid of all the weeds in your back yard and then repopulate it with healthy grass. The only catch is that you’re not allowed to leave your back porch!

We can’t directly access the intestinal tract. Anything we take has to pass through the stomach first. This makes repopulating your digestive tract like a war of attrition. If we send down enough numbers to make it through the stomach, with any luck they’ll take hold in the intestines and stay for good.

You can commonly find good bacteria in regular yogurt from the grocery store, but the bacteria are usually in insufficient numbers to really get the job done. Most commercial brands of yogurt contain live cultures measured in millions of organisms.

By contrast, with my patients I’ve found that repopulating the gut takes on the order of tens of billions of organisms a day to have a good chance at taking hold. Finding a good probiotic supplement that fulfills this requirement is usually what’s necessary.

You can find supplements that’ll do the trick at your local health food store. High quality, potent varieties can only be found at specialty pharmacies or a health care provider knowledgeable in natural remedies.

Going Forward

For most people, taking probiotics on a regular basis isn’t necessary. Some do find that taking regular probiotics in low doses helps them feel more regular, experience less bloating and flatulence, and have better energy throughout the day.

However, if you have to take antibiotics for any reason, it’s a good idea to follow that up with a round of probiotics. If you experience persistent problems, get in to see your local health care practitioner. Your friends in your gut, and the rest of you, will appreciate it!