As the year draws to a close, and we start to look ahead to a new one, it is always a good time to take stock and plan. In addition to looking at our overall lives and all its various components, it is a good time to take stock of your wellness. Did you try something new in 2017? What did you do that worked? What did you do that didn’t work? Do you need more of something (or less of something) in the coming year?
It is a good time to look at things from the whole perspective. We know that within traditional, conventional, western medicine, often times, we only look at the physical body. And certainly, without question, this is an important aspect of our health and well being. But, when we talk about whole medicine we are looking at a wellness system that addresses the spirit and the mind as well as the physical you. Whole medicine looks at the multidimensional human being.
I recently watched a news story about people in the hospital recovering from the unthinkable mass shooting in Las Vegas. The hospital brought in dogs to sit with patients in recovery. It’s a pretty safe bet, that even with the marvelous advances in medicine, that none of the dogs have a medical degree. However, they were not there to read vital signs or prescribe medications—they were there to lift and nurture the spirit of the patients.
Indeed, my friends, you are more than just your physical parts. When I speak of spirit, I speak of your energy—the light that shines from within you, the force that drives you. The spirit, sometimes referred to as the life force, is the inner you. For example, when someone talks about “team spirit” they mean the energy or drive for the team. Sports teams have cheerleaders who help bolster team spirit. You are your own cheerleader and it’s up to you to find ways to enhance your spirit, life force or energy. Spirit is your vim and vigor for life. Now, perhaps the dogs that I mentioned above are a spirit-lifting experience for the patients, but what can you do?
It is impossible for me, in this article, to provide you with a regimen tailored specifically to you, as nurturing one’s spirit is a very unique, personalized and individual choice. Some of my favorite uplifting practices are listening to healing, triumphant, and cleansing music, artistic pursuits like painting and photography, and spending time in nature. You innately know what lifts you up. You can feel it when it happens. Pay attention to those uplifting moments and create a regimen of self care based on them.
Then we have the mind to consider. The mind is like any other hardworking machine. It processes every single thing that we say, hear, do, feel, and encounter. Even when we sleep, the mind is at work. Some say that dreams are the mind’s way of organizing and working through the things we cannot when we are awake. Again, how you clear and relax your mind is going to be very unique to you. For me, meditation is a good practice. So is something called mindfulness; a practice where you learn to work with your thoughts and how to put them aside and keep them organized and from becoming overwhelming. Seeking quiet is another tool I use. During the daytime, if I sit on the front stoop outside my apartment, it’s chaotic. Cars, people, noise, and constant activity. Like it or not, the mind takes all these things in to process. But, at night, I sit out on the stoop and there is rarely a car or person in sight. It lets my mind quiet and slow down.
On a different wellness note, with the onset of colder (and sometimes snowier) weather and less sun and light, I would like to go back to my roots a little and discuss the benefits of massages in the winter months.
Winter is easily one of the best times for massage therapy. Not that there is ever a wrong time, mind you. The colder weather, spending more time indoors to escape the harsh elements, and less sunlight overall have a tendency to affect the body’s natural production of vitamin D, which plays a role in immune system function and mood.
“Massage therapy may be an effective method of deflecting common seasonal challenges,” said Jeff Smoot, 2015 President of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). “Massage benefits the way our bodies react to negative influences, whether that’s weather, anxieties or disorders.”
An ever expanding body of research has documented the impact of massage therapy for relief of anxiety and depression for people in a wide range of health situations, including seasonal illnesses, anxiety and depression. Massage therapy impacts the endocrine system, where hormones are created. Massage therapy decreases cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone, and increases oxytocin, a hormone known to elevate mood, leading to the release of serotonin and endorphins, relieving the stress and enhancing your mood.
In addition, with the winter months come colds and flus. But, massage can positively impact your immune system. This occurs through increased lymphatic flow which is rich in white blood cells that fight infections around the body.
Improved circulation is another benefit of massage therapy. The colder weather tends to slow circulation. This is sometimes why we feel stiff in the colder months. Most commonly aches and pains in the muscle tissue due to a decrease in circulation, and therefore a decrease of oxygen to muscle tissue, along with prolonged cold in the hands and feet are signs of slower circulation. Massage therapy can help by enhancing blood flow and body warmth, which in turn increases the flow of oxygen around the body.
I would like to wish each of you a happy, healthy, productive and uplifting holiday experience.
Rob Zukowski is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition, he has advanced training in Sports Massage and sports-related injuries, various relaxation therapies, and massage for oncology. His experience includes working in medical facilities, corporate health environments, wellness centers, and spas. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer, manages a wellness center, arranges corporate wellness events, works in private practice and lectures in the field of therapeutic massage therapy. You can contact him directly at [email protected].