Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches
Photo by pvera.
Most people will suffer from a tension headache at some point in their life. But for some they experience these headaches on a daily basis.

This type of headache can last from half an hour to several days and often grows in severity throughout the day. The pain can range from moderate to severe but is not usually accompanied with other symptoms like a migraine is.

Tension headaches can be caused by emotional tension, stress and anxiety; physical tension in the neck, back of the skull, and the scalp; and triggers, such as caffeine, tiredness, bright light, etc.

Here are a few things that can help with tension headaches.
- Compresses. Add 5 drops of lavender essential oil to some hot or cold water. Place a small towel in to the water, ring out the excess water, fold in half and place on your forehead, and/or neck. Try using a gel eye mask which can be cooled in the fridge before placing over your eyes.
- Essential Oils. Peppermint, roman chamomile, lavender and eucalyptus are all effective essential oils for relieving headaches. Place 4-6 drops of your chosen oil in an oil burner, add a drop to a tissue and inhale, or add 5 drops to 10ml of massage carrier oil and massage in to your forehead, temples, and back of neck.
- Massage. A professional massage from a trained therapist can help with relaxation, stress relief and target any tense and painful muscles which could be contributing to your headaches. I would recommend either an Indian Head Massage or an Aromatherapy back, face and scalp massage.
- Exercise. Exercise is good for the mind, not just the body. Exercise provides a way for the body to release tension and pent-up frustration therefore helping with stress relief.
- Posture. Keep an eye on your posture when you are sat at your desk or at home in front of the TV as poor posture can put strain on the muscles in your neck and shoulders which can contribute to tension headaches. Also, when reading or using a computer, ensure there is adequate lighting so you do not strain your eyes.
- Meditation. There is a wide variety of meditation CDs available on the market today and these are a great way to spend some time relaxing and looking after yourself.

If you are unsure of what is causing the tension headaches, it might be useful to keep a diary to see if any patterns emerge. You may then be able to make some adjustments to your lifestyle and avoid any triggers which may be causing the headaches.

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Monday, 15 September 2008

Water – How Much Should You Drink?

Daily Water Intake
Photo by Chris2.
The recommended amount of water intake per day seems to vary quite a lot from source to source often making it a little confusing for everyone.

The body gets its water from three sources:
1. From drinks
2. From food, especially fruit and vegetables
3. As a by-product of chemical reactions within the body.

Adults need 2-3 litres of water per day to maintain a healthy body. Of this, approximately 1.2 litres (6-8 glasses) must be obtained directly from drinks such as water, fruit juice, herbal tea, milk, etc.

If you are physically active or the weather is hot or humid, more water is generally needed.

Caffeinated drinks CAN contribute toward your daily water intake. Although caffeine is a diuretic, drinks containing caffeine will not result in dehydration if drunk in moderation. It is recommended that you do not consume more than 400mg caffeine in a day (3-5 cups of coffee depending on strength). This figure is less (300mg or 2-3 cups of coffee) for women during pregnancy.

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Saturday, 13 September 2008

Essential Oil of the Week: Clary Sage

Botanical Name: Salvia sclarea

Aroma type: Herbaceous

Note: Top

I have to be honest that I really disliked the smell of this oil when I first started training in Aromatherapy. I thought it smelt like hay! Over the years it has grown on me and it is now one of my favourite oils. Not because I now like the smell of it but because it is such a beneficial oil and has so many uses.

Clary Sage was known in the Middle Ages as 'Oculus Christi' - the 'Eye of Christ' and was a highly regarded medicine. It was also known for its ability to heal eye problems.

Its main properties are antidepressant, antispasmodic, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, astringent, bactericidal, carminative, deodorant, digestive, emmenagogue (regulates menstruation), euphoric, hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), sedative, uterine tonic, and nerve tonic.

Clary Sage is a necessary essential oil for every woman. It contains a hormone-like compound similar to oestrogen that regulates hormonal balance making it an excellent oil for menstrual cramps, PMT, heavy periods, irregular/lack of periods, endometriosis, labour pains, post-natal depression, and menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. No woman is too young or too old to appreciate the properties of this oil.

Men - don’t feel left out though as Clary Sage can be beneficial for you too. It can help with exhaustion, depression, digestive problems, respiratory problems, muscular aches and pains, migraine, high blood pressure, nervous tension, and insomnia.

It blends especially well with bergamot, cypress, lavender, sandalwood, frankincense, jasmine, pine, chamomile, geranium, juniper, and ylang ylang.

Clary sage oil is a strong sedative and should be avoided when consuming alcohol, as it can exaggerate the effects of alcohol. It is also advisable to avoid before driving or other activities requiring a high level of focus and concentration. It is a non-toxic, non-sensitizing essential oil, but in large doses it can cause headaches.

In many textbooks, clary sage is mentioned as being not a suitable oil to use in conjunction with the contraceptive pill or HRT. This is because clary sage is said to have oestrogen-like properties. However, in Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs, it says that it is very unlikely that the essential oils used in a massage would interfere with these as the hormonal effect that the essential oils have is likely to be far weaker than that of the contraceptive pill or HRT.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Skills Update

At the weekend, I attended a two-day course in Advanced Massage Techniques with TEACH (Training & Education in Alternative & Complementary Health) Therapy in Wales. The course was run by Joanne Perkins who is a registered Osteopath.

The course taught me how to assess whether a client has any postural problems such as scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis or pelvic imbalances; how to assess the spine for flexibility, tenderness, and mobility; exercises and stretches to help with postural problems and back pain; deep tissue massage techniques; and articulation techniques.

The course covered various muscular-skeletal conditions such as sciatica, arthritis, frozen shoulder, whiplash, slipped disks, etc and how to treat them with massage techniques, exercises, and stretches.

It was very informative and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t wait to go on the follow up course next year.

Information about courses run by TEACH therapy can be found on their website.

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Monday, 8 September 2008

Abdominal Massage for Menstrual Cramps

Abdominal Massage for Menstrual Cramps
Photo by hypertypo.
It is estimated that menstrual cramps affect more than 50% of women. The severity of this type of cramp can vary from one woman to the next and can range from mild to severe. Mild menstrual cramps may be barely noticeable and of a short duration while severe menstrual cramps can be quite debilitating and often interfere with a woman's regular activities for several days just before and/or during their period. Of the 50% of women who suffer with menstrual cramps, up to 15% would describe their menstrual cramps as severe.

Some women find that abdominal massage can help reduce the pain associated with menstrual cramps.

In this post, I will outline a basic abdominal self-massage routine for you to use.

Abdominal massage can be carried out while sitting, standing, or lying down. I personally use this self-massage routine while laying down as I find it more comfortable and relaxing. I would recommend placing a small pillow under your knees to take the strain off your lower back which can also be quite painful during menstruation.

The following massage routine is very simple to do and only takes 5 minutes! Carry out daily starting a couple days before your period and then continuing throughout to gain maximum benefit, or just use it when you are in pain.

Pour a small amount of massage oil into the palm of your hands and rub your hands together. You only need a 50p-size amount (approx. 1tsp) of oil in the palm of your hand to carry out the massage but this will depend on your size and your skin type.

Place the palm of your dominant hand (left hand if you are left-handed or right hand if you are right-handed) above your belly button and the other hand on top. At this point I like to take three deep breaths to help me relax and center myself.

Slowly rub your stomach with both hands in a clockwise direction starting from the lower right of your abdomen for 20-30 times. The clockwise direction is synchronous with the digestive pathway of your colon. Move your hands below your rib cage on either side of your torso and massage in a downward direction towards the groin 5-6 times. Finish by kneading the abdomen in a circular motion 3-4 times, again in a clockwise direction.

You may also find it beneficial to follow the abdominal massage with some massage around the lower back and hips.

Place both hands on your hips with your thumbs at the front and fingers facing each other on either side of the spine. Use your fingers to massage in a circular motion around the hips, across the tops of the buttocks, and around the sacrum area. Change your hands over so that your thumbs are now at the back. Use your thumbs to massage your lower back in the same circular motion as before. With thumbs placed either side of the spine, slide the thumbs outward toward the hips applying pressure as you go. Do this all the way down to the top of the buttocks.

Essential oils can also be beneficial for menstrual cramps. Basil, Clary Sage, Fennel, Geranium, Juniper, Marjoram, Cypress, and Peppermint are all excellent oils to use for this.

I would recommend blending 9 drops Clary Sage, 8 drops Geranium, and 8 drops Cypress with 50ml of Sweet Almond or Grape Seed carrier oil. Use this therapeutic blend to massage your abdomen and lower back. You will probably find that this amount will last you throughout your period.

Always perform a patch test before using the blend on a large area of the skin and body, especially if you have sensitive skin. Simply place a drop of the blend on the inside of your forearm and leave on over night. If any redness or itching occurs (this may happen instantly or appear the next day), immediately wash the area to remove the oils and discontinue use.

Abdominal massage is also beneficial for other ailments such as bloating, IBS, constipation, colitis, endometriosis, sluggish digestion, and stomach ache to name but a few. It helps tone the muscles of the abdomen and also relieves any tension held there.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Relieving Muscle Tension

With this technique you can learn to recognise where you are holding tension in your muscles and how to relieve it.

Find a quiet place to do this exercise away from distractions – unplug the phone, let people know that you want some quite time for 10-20 minutes. You might like to play a relaxation CD. Lie down on your bed, the sofa or on the floor. Use a pillow or small cushion under your head and neck and one under your knees to take any pressure off your lower back. Make sure you are lying comfortably with your legs slightly parted and your arms beside your body.

Take three deep breathes, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count to 7 on the in breath and 11 on the out breath. Bring your focus to your hands. Clench them tightly for 5-10 seconds and then slowly release them for 20 seconds while breathing normally. Now bring your focus down to the toes on your left foot. Tighten or clench the muscles in your toes in the same way as you did with your hands and release. Then move up your left leg, across your pelvis, and up your right leg. Now come up the front of your body, working on the muscles of your stomach, chest and shoulders. Return to the lower back and work your way up the muscles of your back up to the shoulders. Relax your left shoulder, and work your way down the arm to your fingertips and then move on to the right arm. Now move up your neck, up the back of your head and over the top of the scalp, forehead and finally your face. Tighten and release all the muscles along the way.

As you relax each muscle, let go of any tension. If you feel any areas tensing up again, go back to that area and tighten and release again. You can also repeat this technique on areas that you notice have the most tension.

If you don’t think you will be able to remember the order outlined in this technique, you can start at your head and work down your body to the feet – it will work just as well. Alternatively, you could record the instructions on to a tape and play them back so that you can follow the order.

You can do this technique anywhere really – on the bus, in the queue at the supermarket, or sat at your desk. Not only does this technique help relax your muscles and helps with tension, but it also helps with relaxation and stress relief in general. If you did this exercise everyday, you would start to notice a real difference in how you feel. The more you practice relaxation, the more it will become second nature to you.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Types of Massage

Different Types of Massage
There are so many different types of massage available today and it seems like a new approach emerges every week. This often makes it very hard for people to choose which massage they would like and which therapist they should see. Many of the styles overlap with similar techniques, benefits and uses but each type also has its speciality. In this post I will briefly discuss the most popular massage techniques to help clarify things a little.

Swedish Massage. This is where all Western massage techniques started. Most therapists will learn Swedish massage techniques during their training. This type of massage can be both relaxing and stimulating depending on the clients needs.

Holistic Massage. Although this type of massage uses Swedish massage techniques, it is a lot lighter and slower and focuses on relaxation. It doesn’t use the tapotement techniques that Swedish massage does.

Deep Tissue Massage. This massage uses more pressure to access the deeper muscles and to help release tension and any knots that have built up in the muscles.

Sports/Remedial Massage. This type of massage is geared towards athletes and people who have injuries. It can help improve sporting performance, prevent and heal injuries. It uses stretching and mobilising techniques as well as the usual massage techniques.

Other special forms of massage. These include Aromatherapy Massage, Hot Stone Massage, Trigger Point Massage, Manual Lymphatic Drainage, and Myofascial Release. These may be used on their own or in conjunction with the massage types listed above.

The massage techniques listed above are Western techniques but there are also numerous Eastern massage techniques such as Thai Massage, Shiatsu, Tui Na, Ayurvedic, and Acupressure Massage.

Some therapists, like myself, have trained in various types of massage and will incorporate bits from each into their treatments and customise every treatment to suit the needs of their client.

When choosing which type of massage you should have, first think of your needs. Are you suffering from tension in your shoulders due to stress or sitting at a computer for long hours? Then try Swedish, Holistic or Deep Tissue Massage. If you are an athlete or do exercise regularly you might like to try Swedish, Deep tissue or Sports Massage. If you just need some relaxation try Swedish, Holistic or another special form of massage such as Aromatherapy or Hot Stone Massage.

It also comes down to personal preference so you might have to try out various types of massage before you find the one that you like and suits your needs the most.