Setting this goal of writing one blog post per week was a big deal for me. I put it off for a long time for many reasons, including that I knew a week like this one would come - I'm tired, mentally and physically. I have no bandwidth for focusing or critical thinking. Researching and composing an engaging post feels REALLY hard right now. Too hard.
I'm not even stressed - I'm exhausted from all good things. Today I returned from a quick trip to Lake Chelan with my parents who are in town. It was great; a fun and relaxing mini-vacation. But I'm depleted from all the driving and time outdoors in the hot and super smoky air. And like anyone with messy old kitties, I spent a lot of time and energy deep-cleaning my house prior to my parents' arrival. I knew I'd be tired from a busy weekend, but thought I could still cover the blog post topic I'd planned.
But, I was wrong. The usual energy boost methods aren't enough so I'm spending my time instead recharging my batteries with the methods that work for me: taking naps, doing yoga, eating well, playing in my garden, moving mindfully. More importantly than writing a content-rich post, I want to be rested and fully present for working hands-on with clients this week. So I've decided to go easier on myself today; to be Self-Compassionate and honor my mind and body's need for rest.
In the past I would have taken the road of Self-Criticism, telling myself all of the ways in which I could have better prepared for this week and beating myself up for not writing the post in advance. Or I may have listened to my Inner Critic saying "you'll never complete this goal so just give up now." But neither of those voices actually serves me in a healthy way. And after practicing enough Self-Compassion, I've learned how to recognize the Inner Critic voices and not to listen to them anymore.
The interesting part of this Self-Compassion moment, is that when I let myself "off the hook" for the topic I'd planned, I realized that I could share this as a topic. It requires less of my energy to relate my current experience. So ironically, by allowing myself to not meet my weekly goal, I found the inspiration to still achieve it! And I'm acknowledging the feeling that this is just a "filler" blog post and that it is also okay.
Sometimes we have to rest and "do less" than what we planned in order to have energy to do more in the future. The next time your inner critic starts speaking loudly when you're too tired to do something well, check in with your voice of Self-Compassion. If you need help finding that voice, try this guided meditation by one of my favorite teachers, Tara Brach. Remember to start small and practice daily. Like any unfamiliar habit, it takes time and repetition to learn to be kind to ourselves
When I attend social events and people learn I'm a massage therapist, they often like to tell me about their personal experiences with massage, good and bad. Two common expectations I hear regarding massage are:
1. I didn't feel better immediately after the massage so it didn't work, and
2. An hour of massage didn't fully resolve my issue so it wasn't helpful.
Those are pretty high expectations to have of both your body's healing ability, and of the massage therapist (spoiler alert- we're HUMAN!) Focusing on two common complaints- headaches and back pain- here are some analogies I use to respond to the above expectations.
Reviving a Wilted Plant
If you a water a wilted plant, how long does it take until it is fully healthy and vibrant again? Maybe it's only 1 day because it just needed a bit of water and hasn't been wilted for long. But what if that plant has been without water for weeks, was chewed on by an animal (thanks, kitty cat), needs a bigger pot and/or different light? It's going to take a lot longer and more care for it to fully bounce back. The body is the same way. Perhaps you will recover from that ongoing headache after just one massage. Or maybe there are more stress factors causing your headache and it will take more sessions to fully resolve.
Starting a New Exercise Program
When you start a new workout plan, how long does it take to notice results? After a couple of workouts, you likely feel better in some way- perhaps more energized or mentally calmer. But it's unrealistic to expect to meet weight or strength goals within just a workout or two. If you're seeking massage treatment for an ongoing issue, expecting it to be resolved in one session is like expecting a 1/2 mile run to prepare you for a 5k after not running for years.
With a new exercise program it's also common to feel a bit worse initially- more sore, or perhaps exhausted. These are all normal responses for the body with massage as well. The muscle tissue takes a couple days to repair and rebuild in a healthier form after strenuous exercise or treatment massage. Especially after injury, you may feel more sore soon after a massage. (You should not be bruised or in acute pain) But if you feel better within the next day or two than you did before the massage, it is beneficial.
Finding the Ideal Teacher
Have you ever struggled to learn a new concept but never quite got it until the right person explained it and all of a sudden it made a lot of sense to you? We all learn in different ways and connect with different teachers based on the approach that works best for us. Massage is similar in that you may need to try multiple massage therapists until you find one that works well for you. Every massage therapist has their own style and training, so if you don't like massage based on the few experiences you've had, it may mean you haven't found the right LMT for you yet. (Or maybe you don't like massage and that's OK too!) Find an LMT with whom you feel at ease, look forward to seeing, enjoy the massage, and feel *better* after every session (for at least a few days) because that's the person who knows how to communicate with your tissue.
Many of my clients notice significant relief from back spasms and headaches within 24-48 hours. But they also know it may take a few sessions to fully resolve because we've had this conversation. The next time you have a relentless headache or unexpected muscle spasm, give your body a few massage sessions to fully heal. If you feel great after just one visit, that's awesome! If not, notice in what ways you do feel *better* and allow yourself at least 2-3 visits before deciding whether massage is helpful. You deserve it!
* A Note on feeling "Better:"
To "feel better" doesn't mean to feel perfect or how you felt prior to the current pain, injury or ailment you're experiencing. "Better" means noticing an improvement in how you feel. Perhaps you still have that headache, but it's more tolerable because you're breathing more easily and feel calmer. Or maybe your back is still in spasm, but you can move in a greater range of motion with the same or less pain than before the massage. This is the goal I have as a massage therapist- to make a positive change and facilitate improvement in your system as much as I reasonably can within each session.
A common frustration I hear from many people is the inability to quiet the "hampster brain." I'm guessing you know that feeling when you just want to relax or go to sleep but your mind starts racing with random thoughts or worries or whatever it thinks you need to focus on instead of being calm. It can also happen when we want to focus or be present but find ourselves easily distracted.
As a solution for the busy brain, Meditation is often suggested as an ongoing daily practice. Personally, I love meditation. But let's be honest, it's not a quick fix! It has profound and positive effects, but it can take time to have a noticeable impact. So while I highly recommend starting a meditation practice (here's my favorite app) if you don't currently have one, I want to offer another short-term solution to quiet that busy little hampster wheel.
You've likely heard of setting intentions to manifest goals and desires. But intention setting can also be used to help you return to the present moment when your mind starts to wander. During sessions, when clients mention they are struggling to relax and quiet the mind, I invite them to set an intention for the session. This can be just a word or two to help you come back to the present moment. And it works better than just trying to focus on the breath.
To get you started, here are some common intentions that apply to most people at some time or other. Choose an intention that serves you best in each moment, whether it be for sleep, receiving massage or acupuncture/energy healing, meditation or focusing the mind on the present situation.
LET GO / RELEASE
I release ______ (fears, anger, negativity, resistance, etc.)
I am _____(free, whole, deserving, etc.)
This no longer serves me. / I release what no longer serves me.
There is only this moment.
Next time you feel distracted by thoughts, take a few breaths and invite yourself to set an intention.
Ask "What do I need in this moment?"
Usually, the first word or short phrase that pops into your head is the most potent intention for that moment. Say it out loud or feel it in your body. Also keep it positive and non-judgmental. Saying "be quiet, brain," probably isn't a helpful intention. ;-)
Trust yourself and focus on the intention. Breathe it in to your whole being. Exhale out the busy thoughts and return to the intention when your mind wanders.