by Amelia Mitchell
So many of us are missing the simple hugs, handshakes, and other ways that we physically connect as humans.
While massage and bodywork are wonderful ways to receive healthy touch, not all of us are able to access Alchemy at this time.
Below is a quick list of some other ways that can help your body receive some similar input. Not the same as a long hug with a bestie or a beloved, and a help nonetheless.
Of course all of these won't be appropriate for everyone, I hope there is something for you.
Here is a good article from the NY Times that shares some similar recommendations. Great minds think alike!
THE DISCLAIMER WE HAVE TO ADD - GET YOUR MEDICAL ADVICE FROM YOUR DOCTOR
I have had extra time on my hands over the past week because of Covid-19. I listened to an interview of the health care professionals who worked in China during the 2003 SARS epidemic.
One of the most interesting parts of the interview was a doctor talking about the holistic treatment approach they used in China to help people recover from SARS. They used the same medicine and treatments we are currently using to help people with Covid-19 but they also used Acupuncture and Tai Chi breathing exercises. I immediately looked up what Tai Chi breathing exercises might include, since my response to the current crisis has been to over prepare and do, instead of sitting with the unknown.
I have always wanted to try Tai Chi but I have never found the time before now.
So, I tried a few YouTube videos which I will link to below. The videos are similar, some focus on breath, some focus on movement, some combine the two. I began doing the exercises and I felt a calm in my system. I had not realized how stressed I was. I felt my body relax and energize. I did not realize how much I had been craving breath and movement. I felt more grounded and relaxed. The links I am including are not going to prevent anyone from getting Covid-19, they will not ‘heal’ anyone if they have it. That’s not why I am sharing. I am sharing because they reminded me to stop and take a few minutes to care for myself during this time. I am sharing because I want to help others even when I cannot work. I am sharing because doing feels better than worrying.
If any of these resonates with your system feel free to join me in some beginner Tai Chi. If it feels too much for your system or you’re sick of people on the internet telling you what you should or should not be doing feel free to disregard this all together. We will get through this in time until then I will be coming back to my breath.
The first video is explaining the Tai Chi breath: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFqrO5GkepM
This video is Tai Chi breath seated:
This video is a Tai Chi movement series that does a nice job of incorporating breath:
This video is about Qigong for when you are under the and immune boosting:
This is the same Qigong women for lung and immune boosting:
This is a lung cleansing Qigong video:
Amelia Mitchell, LMT, LLCC, BCTMB
A person stopped by the office yesterday and introduced themselves as a “healer” who is new to the area and wanted to learn about Alchemy and see if we had space available.
After a brief introduction, I explained that Alchemy doesn’t rent rooms. We have a very traditional business structure* that is far too unusual in the therapy/healing arts/massage world.
So then they asked another question that made me chuckle. “What about clients that you can’t fix?”
So much to say...
I am incredibly proud and inspired by the Alchemists- the therapists and practitioners who make up our team here at Alchemy. They are highly trained, with advanced certifications, and yes they each have a profound and unique healing presence.
We have so many clients with significant issues, people who are challenged and are not finding answers. So often, Alchemy is that place for them. That place where things begin to shift and feel better.
Yet, we do not fix. We never fix. We facilitate, we support, sometimes we challenge, and often we soothe. We listen with our ears, our hands, our hearts.
Fixing happens within the clients body. The body’s inner wisdom guides us and we follow providing the hands-on treatment needed to support change. We can’t “make” it happen though. We don’t heal. The body heals itself.
This is a different point of view. It is a way to allow trust and the inexplicable truth that we are more than sacks of muscle, sinew, and bone. There is far more to the picture, what brings life and what animates us as individuals is the place of change and power. As Alchemists we serve that. Our training and experience gives us the tools, skills, and awareness.
We also see life and all it’s challenges, including physical, emotional, societal, spiritual, and cultural challenges as part of each person’s individual path through life. It is an honor to be a part of this process whether it is for a couple of sessions or for many years. We don’t see ourselves as the be all and end all healing gods and goddesses. In fact, we are always happy to help you connect with other professionals who might be a support as well.
We know we are part of a team, led by the client, we will make suggestions and share our understandings of things. We are a part of a process. A process that lasts as long as life itself. To poorly paraphrase Dr. John Upledger, if we are “done” if we have learned all there is to learn, if we have completed everything we came here to do, we probably have about seven more minutes to live.
Because, we are never done. For those seeking, the path continues to spread out before us.
The Alchemists are honored to be on your team as you live your life. We love to bring our wisdom and experience to be of assistance. We know people get better, feel changes, improvements, and health benefits. We know that life can change with regular Massage, CranioSacral therapy, and bodywork.
We know you are better, and we know we didn’t fix you, that was an inside job.
*Alchemy doesn’t rent space, all our therapists and practitioners are employees for about 50 good reasons. If you want to read a bit more about this, you can visit About Alchemy, or Careers at Alchemy for more detailed information.
by Amelia Mitchell, LMT
EDEMA AND FLUID RETENTION CAUSES AND TREATMENT
Summer, especially when it is very hot and humid can be challenging for all of us, and yes, edema does develop more easily when we are hot.
You may have noticed your hands or feet feeling a bit tight or swollen when taking an evening walk on a summer day. What is happening is that the body is circulating more blood out to the limbs to cool itself down.
Unfortunately, sometimes this natural process of cooling can leave some extra fluid behind for a bit. For many the swelling will resolve itself quickly as soon as they cool off. In general, if this only happens occasionally, and clears overnight or sooner, there is not too much to worry about.
For those with a compromised lymphatic or venous system, or some other health challenges, the body is less able to clear the fluid and a more lasting swelling/edema can result. If you regularly have swelling of the feet, ankles, calves, or legs then looking into causes and treatments is a smart choice for the long term health of the effected area.
Swelling isn’t only uncomfortable, if an area stays swollen, or gets increasingly swollen, the health of the tissue can be challenged. The interstitial spaces can get stretched out, the body is less able to respond to infections or injury, and there is risk of a more serious condition called lymphedema developing.
If you regularly experience heavy, swollen, puffy, or tight feet or legs it is time to consult with a specialist. There are a couple of reasons that this may be happening and finding a cause is a smart first step, although even if a cause cannot be found, reliable treatment methods are available.
CAUSES OF SWELLING - EDEMA
VARICOSITIES – VENOUS INSUFFICIENCY
For most people experiencing swelling, this is a cause or a contributing factor. Gravity is the biggest challenge to circulation in the legs. Varicose veins (varicosities) can develop both at the surface and deeper in the leg; and while many find them unsightly, the real issue is a gradual failure of the valves and walls of these large veins. When this happens, venous blood does not move out of the legs as easily. With a reduced level of circulation, fluid is not removed from the interstitial (between the cell) spaces as efficiently. This leads to swelling, known medically as edema. The lymphatic system provides a boost and generally moves 10-15% of interstitial fluid, however as varicosities worsen, the load increases and can overwhelm the lymphatics. Treatment of varicosities is required for relief and long-term health of the legs in this case. For most people experiencing swelling of their legs, diagnostic sonograms of their legs is an important first step in treatment.
SURGERIES – INJURIES - LYMPH NODE REMOVAL
Edema and Lymphedema can develop at any time when a person has lost lymph node(s) due to surgery, illness, or disease. Once lymph nodes are gone, they do not re-grow and the lymphatic system must re-route the lymphatic fluid through different pathways. This is often a delicate balance and one extra stressor can bring on swelling/edema. Surgery or injuries on the legs can also damage the local lymphatics and do cause long term swelling for many. Often it is more localized, like an ankle that was once broken is more prone to swelling after a long day.
CHRONIC OR SEVERE ILLNESS
Heart conditions are a primary concern, in general one is aware of heart issues before swelling occurs due to an inability to fully move blood from the legs. Many medications can cause edema, and this side effect always needs to be balanced against the other benefits. Edema can also develop in severe illness if the body is depleted in proteins or other nutrients. In all these circumstances, medical intervention is the first step, with support to manage the condition to follow.
A small number of people were born with a lymphatic system that doesn’t work properly. Often they will reach their teens or adulthood with no outward symptoms, and will one day develop edema often moving quickly to lymphedema. While relatively rare, primary lymphedema is a diagnosis that is given when no other reasons can be found. Care and treatment is the same.
Often for any cause, there is a genetic factor. If you are aware of other family members having issues with swelling, that is probably the case for you as well.
TREATMENT AND TIPS
This is simply an introduction to the topic of edema and swelling. If you are experiencing challenges, please make an appointment to see your doctor or a specialist. At Alchemy, Amelia Mitchell, LMT, LLCC, BCTMB is a certified Lymphedema/Lymph Drainage Therapy specialist and can consult on your situation and provide treatment. Amelia will also make referrals to other medical professionals as appropriate.
By Sarah Spruill
Osteoarthritis of the knee is a very common ailment which manifests itself primarily in people over 50, although it shows up in younger individuals as well. There are around 3-million cases of osteoarthritis in the knee diagnosed every year. Because it is so common, and so painful, there are many many researched and proven treatment options for this type of “wear-and-tear” arthritis.
Massage therapy is one of these treatments., with so many benefits., especially the reduction of pain.
Massage can be an immensely helpful, supportive treatment to alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knee and help get people back into comfortable movement. A 2012 study explored massage therapy as a practice to alleviate osteoarthritis pain in the knees.
The study took a group of 125 individuals and randomly assigned them to one of four groups, each treatment group received a different combination of half or full hour massage, once or twice weekly. After eight weeks, the study showed that those who received hour-long massages, either once or twice weekly, “had significant improvements in pain, function, and global response.” Moreover, those who received hour-long massage had great results in reducing the intensity of their pain. The study concluded that “the optimal dose of massage was, on average, 60-minutes once per week” and that there “is promising potential for the use of massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee.”
While this study has shown an "optimal" dosage of massage - we at Alchemy know that everyone is different and those with osteoarthritis of the knee are individuals with complex lives and bodies that play a part in how they experience their symptoms and the kind of treatment that would best suit them.
We work to develop a treatment plan that takes many factors beyond knee pain into account to be able to provide effective, individualized support. Our goal is to get people out of pain and back into comfortable movement and living their life. From years of client experience, we have seen that many choose to continue massage for maintenance, often monthly.
If you are ready to experience the benefits of massage for knee pain or any other challenge, please schedule a session with one of our therapists or practitioners. They will help develop a treatment plan that works for you.
We are also available by phone at 410-263-1272 if you would like to discuss your situation.
By Amelia Mitchell
Families and friend groups have systems, and we each have a special role with clear expectations, change rocks the boat. We all know what to expect from Uncle Matthew, or how Mom and your sister interact over cooking, and these days some of our differences have become even more polarizing and challenging.
From what I can tell, my buttons, triggers, and soft spots were installed early. Some seemingly before birth. It then follows that the people most able to push those buttons, find my weaknesses, and trigger a response are those who have known me for a very long time, they are my family.
In order to shift a dynamic, we do need to become aware enough of ourselves and how we are participating in it to make a change. For example, as the oldest daughter, I am a caretaker and uber-responsible. When I do this for others it is easy to go too far, I am often allowing them to be less responsible for themselves and am I then taking extra credit for my “goodness.” This dynamic leaves me cranky, tired, and feeling like I am carrying and processing far too many people’s emotions. All of a sudden, I am managing everyone’s expectations and keeping the peace.
Wow. That’s too much. Are you aware of any family dynamics that you get sucked right into when you are together? Are there scripts or emotions that always show up? Is there a good person and a bad person? Or an old bruised wound that gets the band-aid ripped off each holiday dinner? Perhaps there are misunderstandings that sit just below the surface, leading the conversation to reaffirm everyone’s point of view over and over and over? It might go like this, Mom love’s you more, or Cousin Sue always gets treats from Grandma, or nobody has ever understood who I actually am!
I’d love to be the family dynamic fairy who could pop into family events and sprinkle fairy dust over you all! Instead, I do have some ideas about how strengthening your personal boundaries can begin a shift.
First off, you have to be willing to be a bit uncomfortable, a short uncomfortable conversation will NOT KILL YOU. It is hard, it can feel like the room is closing in, you can do it, it will be ok.
Now, as with anything practice improves our skills. Let us start with something smaller, not the biggest issue. That way you get to practice and ease into the process. A few small successes will help you build skills and confidence.
So, what are boundaries?
They can literally be the physical edges of your skin, and saying no to a hug, or noticing you feel uncomfortable when crowded is a clue to where your physical boundaries lie. We have awareness of our personal space beyond our skin and some of us are more and less comfortable with others in that space.
Boundaries are also interpersonal, a line in the sand that says, this is ok with me and this is not. For example, I’m happy to shop and cook a big family meal, and I expect you dear family members to clean up afterwards. Or, I’d love to watch the grandbaby on occasion or one specific day of the week, however I am not able (interested in) to provide full time care when you go back to work. Boundaries are often a combo of interpersonal and energetic, we don’t exactly know what we do want, we know this doesn’t feel right. Coming to trust what your gut is telling you, the yes/no is very helpful.
Boundaries are also flexible, it is perfectly reasonable to have different boundaries with different people. For a whole combination of reasons, I am happy to help out one friend in a challenging situation, while for another all I want to do is send them my good wishes in messenger. That is 100% ok. Boundaries should be fluid.
If it feels like your boundaries have been washed away by tidal waves of other people’s needs or requirements, a tune up is needed.
Back to choosing a couple of things to work with, remember, start small.
Saying no when you have always said yes or acquiesced non-verbally is a good place to start reinforcing your boundaries.
I live in a large body, that’s simply what it is, we have a good relationship and I don’t expect it to change size. Because restaurants are often more interested in fitting in another booth than making sufficient space for their patrons, sometimes I will be shown to a table that I literally don’t fit at. Years ago, I might have simply gone along and sat their uncomfortably, squished in a tiny chair with arms or a booth with no room for me. I’ve come to realize that my body isn’t bad or wrong. There is really good science to explain my body size and I’m not going to apologize or feel unworthy of a seat in a restaurant. So now, as happened today, when offered a table that I cannot be comfortable at, I said No, this won’t work for my body, and simply asked for another. I am a patron and deserving of a seat that accommodates me. If that isn’t possible, I can go somewhere else. (yes, part of saying no, is feeling of value)
What small thing happens a bit too often that you say yes to when it coulda, shoulda been a No? Are you now picking up your nephew from school all the time after you did your sister a favor one month when she was in a training program? Have you lent money a few too many times to someone? Are you going along with something simply to avoid disappointing or angering someone? Are you trying not to rock the boat?
Again, start small here, and find something you can say no to. Disorganized host who calls you three times before you arrive for holiday dinner to pick up extra things? Perhaps you say yes to the first request and then say no, I’m not able to do that, to additional requests? Friends you really enjoy, however as an introvert it is exhausting to be there for the whole event, say yes, I’d love to come for dessert. Effectively saying no to spending longer than you are able.
You see, a short hard moment brings a whole lot of relief. It is not our job to keep the peace and make everyone happy. Actually our job is to take care of ourselves first. You know, as the flight attendants always say, put on your oxygen mask first, before taking care of others who need help.
I am asking you to take a moment and find a gentle no that will bring space and peace to your life. It might even show up at a holiday dinner this weekend.
What could you say no to?
If you want to learn more about boundaries, you can join me for Balanced Boundaries, an Alchemy Evening on Thursday, May 15th at 7:00pm.
We will also be offering a one day class on getting grounded and healthy boundaries this summer.
Which leaves me with my final tip for those no’s.
If you have identified a place where it would be good to say no, and it feels a bit daunting, take a moment before speaking it. Feel your feet firmly on the ground, sink in a bit and feel the support of the earth beneath you - I like to imagine/feel roots of a tree growing out from my feet going deeply into the earth. When I need that extra support, I take a few deep breaths and make that contact, it brings me stability, strength, and grace. This can be done in an instant and once steady I feel able to go and speak what is true and valid for me.
by Sarah Spruill
When most people think about massage and therapeutic bodywork they think about the physical benefits of pain relief and healing. Beyond that, many think of massage as an immensely relaxing, calming experience. Although all these things are true, there are many more positive benefits from massage. One of these that many are unaware of is the positive effect massage can have on our mental health in addition to physical health.
Massage in itself is a great opportunity for relaxation which can be beneficial to our mental health; however, massage can go beyond simple relaxation. The benefits of massage for mental health purposes have been researched and studied for years. A recent 2010 analytical study of 17 clinical trials found that massage therapy may aid in reducing depression. The study included 786 participants who received massage therapy as an interventional treatment for clinical depression. This intervention proved to be effective as “all trials showed positive [effects] of massage therapy on depressed people.” The clinical trial concluded that “massage therapy is significantly associated with alleviated depressive symptoms.”
Not only can those of us living with depression find benefits from massage, but anxiety disorders have also been shown to benefit from massage therapy. Another 2010 clinical research trial found that massage is equally effective in lessening the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder as breathing exercises and a calming environment. The trial concluded that massage is an effective complementary and alternative medical treatment for anxiety. Each year there is more and more cutting-edge research on the topic of massage therapy for mental health benefits.
Massage has countless benefits and for our minds bodies and spirits, and can be the perfect moment for us to quiet our minds and be present for ourselves. Be it for simple relaxation or as a tool to potentially help alleviate symptoms of depression or anxiety, massage therapy can have a place in everyone’s lives. For more information about the benefits of massage and differently modalities offered please visit Alchemy Healing Arts Center’s website or give a call to 410-263-1272.
My specialty, and our specialty at Alchemy is assisting, guiding, and supporting the body in dropping out of an on-the-go aroused and stress-filled state.
There are dozens of studies that reference the value of massage and other hands-on modalities in reducing the body’s response to stress, inciting relaxation, and bringing calm to an over aroused person. There are also hundreds of studies showing how powerful massage is for actual healing - I could write about that all day as well, we see those successes regularly. Today I am focused on the simple value of relaxation.
Because I am fascinated by the fact that therapeutic massage, craniosacral therapy, lymph drainage, all of these forms of touch switch the system to a new place, switch chaos to relaxation. Bring us down off the ledge. And that is a much nicer place to live.
Even more importantly though, coming back to a place of relaxation, coming to know a life with less stress, learning to make choices, over and over that bring you to a place of peace. I think these are the choices that will bring us true health and well-being. No matter how long or short our lives are.
We know that massage can effect biochemistry with decreased levels of cortisol and increased levels of serotonin and dopamine across dozens of studies. These studies show us that the actions of intentional informed touch can bring real and lasting physiological change to the body.
That’s not a good enough reason to get a massage though is it?
They may be relaxing, but shouldn’t it do more to be health care or important?
And hey we are often proud of our stress, strut our “busyness”, our multi-tasking.
It has come to define us, and I invite you to let that one go - let’s look at shifting towards health instead. For me, I have learned to bring more and more stress relieving awareness and practices into my life over the years. That said, there is always more to do, however I am as gentle as I can be with myself - because if BEING HARD ON MYSELF WORKED - IT WOULD HAVE WORKED BY NOW!
That something so simple as getting a regular massage could really significantly change your body and reduce your stress response is wonderful and amazing to me. That is the news, that is what I want to crow about. That feeling after a massage - that wonderful place of relaxation, that not a care in the world, that slowness, that deep breath, that is the news! That is enough! We can create the space and time to make getting bodywork a priority.
I challenge you, add a regular massage with a quality licensed therapist to your life once a month. In six months, please share with me how your life has changed. I promise it will.
Amelia Mitchell, LMT, LLCC, BCTMB
A survey of over one thousand fibromyalgia (FM) patients revealed that regardless of age, gender, or duration of symptoms, people coping with this painful and fatiguing condition prefer massage therapy over other non-drug therapies (Fibromyalgia Network Journal July 2004)
“Fibromyalgia syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms that include chronic pain in muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissues. It is one of a collection of chronic disorders that often go hand in hand. Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is frequently seen with chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, sleep disorders and several other chronic conditions.”
While Fibromyalgia is seen to be a relatively new condition, at this point we do have sufficient information to discuss its treatment with massage therapy. In 2000 the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) stated: "Fibromyalgia is another pain condition frequently seen by health care providers, and one in which there often is no universally effective treatment. Studies have found that up to 91 percent of people with fibromyalgia use some form of CAM, and up to 75 percent use massage therapy."
What are the results that patients with Fibromyalgia are receiving with massage?
Massage truly is an antidote to the feeling of being a cog in the medical machine. Patients, caregivers, health care workers and others under unremitting daily stress find massage is an oasis of peace in a frantic world.
What type of massage is recommended for Fibromyalgia?
Studies have shown that gentle massage (which does not cause pain) brings the greatest symptom relief over time. Intensity can be increased over time, if desired by the client, however maintaining a pain-free session appears to be important.
One thing that we have noticed at Alchemy with our clients with Fibromyalgia is that their symptoms, pain levels, and responses are quite variable, so there is no “one size fits all” protocol from person to person or even from session to session.
We use a foundation of classic Swedish massage, with added techniques from Lymph Drainage Therapy, Hot Stone Massage and Myofascial Release. Energy techniques such as Reiki can be very helpful during a painful flare-up.
How Often Is Massage Recommended?
Many report that a higher frequency of massage does help in reducing the symptoms more quickly, so weekly or even twice a week is somewhere to start. That said, at Alchemy, we are always looking to move our clients to a place of maintenance, out of a more acute situation. So we will be looking for what a good schedule is for your body. For some, it is weekly, for others massage less frequently still provides major benefits.
Notes from Catherine Whelan's Alchemy Evening Presentation
The Gut Brain Connection - A CranioSacral Perspective.
Ways to combat chronic stress: we are not trying to avoid stress we are trying to change our reaction to it.
“Adopting the right attitude can convert negative stress into a positive one”
Stephen Porges Poly Vagal Theory
Dan Siegel Wheel of Awareness
Hans Seyle first researcher of stress
Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger
Owner Amelia Mitchell, brings her years of experience as a therapist as well as a deep interest in wellness, self-care, and healing to Alchemy's blog.