The Power of Touch

Hello!

Hope your fall is going well, and you are focusing on of all your self-care needs. Amazingly, the holidays will soon be here. Can you believe it? Remember that I am always here for you so feel free to contact me for support and guidance in your self-care maintenance.


Nearly every day I open my laptop to research topics in my field (massage and yoga). I enjoy learning more about fascia, muscles and chemical reactions that occur when one is under stressed verses in a relaxed state. I meander through blogs, articles and scientific studies to have a better understanding and working knowledge of how both bodywork and movement creates a healthier mind-body connection, reduces the effects of stress and anxiety, and its facilitation to healing the many ailments that plague us.  

Recently, I came across a term that I had to learn more about: Touch Starved- which is the body’s reaction when one is experiencing a lack of touch. (Also known as touch or skin hunger.) When I first read about this issue, my heart sank. And as you know, I've dedicated my life and practice to helping people overcome the effects of anxiety and stress but learning about the population that suffers from touch starvation has fueled me to learn more and educate those around me. 

Here's what I learned...

Touch is the first sense developed (in utero), and it’s what soothed us as babies and children, but as we age, physical contact often becomes considered taboo, in turn, people touch each other less and less. A lack of touch can make us feel lonely, depressed, angry and can lead to illness. On the flip side, healthy touch lowers heart rates, reduces anxiety and cortisol (stress hormone) production. Touch increases Oxycontin - the calming hormone - which in turn makes us feel safe and nurtured.

People who suffer from touch starvation are more likely to experience depression and stress, mood and anxiety disorders, and lowered immunity response. Just to name a few.

Touch, unfortunately, is often the most neglected of all the senses. And the more I read about touch and its importance, the more I also discovered we are living in an epidemic of touch starvation among humans especially here in the US and in the UKSeveral factors have led us to this state: ever-increasing use of technology, overly scheduled lives, fear of being falsely accused of sexual harassment, and social disconnection as more people live alone.
 

Fortunately, the effects of touch starvation are not permanent and are reversible. Just like exercise, a small amount of touch will increase your overall well-being. Experts say about 150 minutes a week of touch can greatly reduce touch hunger and its ill effects. So, remember to take some time for touch, be it hugs or cuddles, a slow dance, holding someone’s hand, a pat on the back or massage.

----------------------------------------------------

FYI: If you are interested in learning a bit more about the Science of Touch, click here to watch a short video.

Articles & Studies I found most interesting on this topic:
NCBI - The Importance of Touch, 2010
The Guardian: No Hugging: Are We Living Through A Crisis of Touch, 2018
The New York Times  - The Power of Touch, Especially for Men, 2017
Broadly - The Life of Skin-Hunger: Can You Go Crazy From A Lack of Touch, 2016
 

One Simple Decision

We choose how we live our lives. Each day we make choices, some good and some not. Here's my personal story on how I became content with my life because of one simple decision. 

IMG_4051.JPG
haywire.JPG

I approach each day with a curious enthusiasm for how I can make the most of my life to find balance and contentment. In others words, finding ways to relax so I can gracefully handle anything that comes my way. This thought process is at the basis of how I offer my energy to each person who walks into my office. 

However, my life wasn’t always balanced nor as relaxed. Not too long ago I was living in the depths of depression and anxiety. It took some time, but I crawled my way out of the chaos with a single decision that led to a domino effect of healing. 

In my last blog post, I discussed the heart infection, open-heart surgery and physical changes I had post-surgery. Well, another considerable shift happened during my recovery – a wake-up call. I realized I wasn’t happy with my life and I hadn't been for some time. I knew why but was afraid to improve it because it involved a radical, life-altering change. Avoidance became the priority which led to a deep depression and extreme anxiety where I became frozen to any attempt or alteration.

About 18 months after my surgery, my worn mental state began to affect me physically. As stated in my previous newsletter, stress and living in constant sympathetic mode (Fight-Flight-Freeze response) can cause physical changes, some very dangerous and life-threatening. 

Sleep became difficult; I woke up ill most mornings with little energy. I couldn't let anyone touch me as my skin felt electrified and my heart felt like it was going to beat out my chest. I had moments where I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Full-on panic was the norm. Then there was the rapid weight loss (see photo to the right - 25lbs less than I weigh now). I was wasting away, literally.

The only thing keeping me afloat at that time were my dogs and writing about movies. They were my escape (distraction), but by then, I knew I was going to die if I didn’t seek some help, so I went to my parents who sent me to a doctor.

After a few weeks, I returned home numbed up on medication but no stronger. Still fearful of the consequences of change, I did nothing to help myself. The sympathetic mode had its hooks in deep. No relaxation in sight. Have you ever felt like this?  

Fear kept me frozen for the next four years from making choices for my well-being. Feeling ashamed, I remained silent and never asked for help from anyone. And I will admit, there were some days I wish I no longer existed. True, this was no way to live, but I had lived so long in such a dark place that I couldn’t see the light anymore. 

So, what changed? As I mentioned in one of my Instagram posts recently, a simple decision to see a play shifted my perspective and sometimes that is all you need. In early 2014, I was working on my movie reviews, and I read one of my favorite actors, Ewan McGregor, was making his Broadway debut. Having studied theatre in college and mixed with my admiration, without much thought, I decided to see the play. 

What seems like a simple choice to most, turned out to be the genesis for my dramatic step back into the living. For years I kept my head above water, ready to let go. But that day I made a decision and looked to the future. 

Honestly, I still lacked energy, but I kept going for the next ten months following through on small healthy decisions because I had something to look forward to, finally. By the week of the play, I searched for more resources to help me find strength and inner peace. With the frenetic vibes of NYC, I knew I needed to find something to help me combat my anxiety as I was still quite fragile.

Years ago, I practiced yoga and always felt calm by the end of class. So, not wanting to have an anxiety attack before stepping into the Roundabout Theatre, I went to a yoga class. It was hard – both physically and mentally, but I felt some peace by the end. A veil began to lift, so I came back the next day and the next until it was time to leave for the play.

Going to NYC gave me something I hadn’t had in a long time – Hope. Life can be different; you just have to work at it. Next step was to build strength, heal and find courage.

With yoga back in my life, I had a path that would guide me towards relaxation, and within two months I was in a yoga teacher training which strengthened the process of my curious enthusiasm on how to find my balance. By then, I was practicing yoga every day, got off all medications and within three months I was strong enough to finally make and follow through the big decision that was too hard prior. 

Now three and a half years later, practicing yoga consistently, teaching yoga and working as a Massage Therapist, I am genuinely content, stronger and full of knowledge on how to find relaxation and help others find theirs. I continue to educate myself on what makes me happy and balanced.

Remember to remain curious about what makes you smile, calm. Don’t just sit in fear of change but permit yourself to take steps towards contentment.

I offer my story as a ray of hope to anyone who is struggling or afraid to make changes. I know it’s not easy, but you have the light within to find contentment…make a simple decision, look forward and follow your path towards relaxation. It is attainable. I am living proof! 

Katy

Stress Changes You

Recently, I posted a photo on my Instagram feed about my hair - yes, that's what I am bringing up today but give me a few seconds to explain and things will become clear.

Up until about a decade ago, I had fairly straight hair. But something happened to me, my body, that caused some changes and I ended up with curly hair as a result.

What did this? Well, a severe health issue with some prolonged stress.

Ten years ago, I was overly scheduled, taking care of others and their needs, ignoring my own and not allowing for breaks or any self-care. I had been like this for years, always putting other's needs in front of my own until I contracted endocarditis (heart infection) from a case of strep throat. Until diagnosis, my illness was a mystery because all I had were very high fevers, for weeks. Once determined what was causing the fevers, the damage to my heart had been done.

Long story short, I ended up needing open heart surgery for a double valve replacement with something called The Ross Procedure, an intense and long surgery.

The entire health issue took months from first onset to final recovery, tons of medications, and several hospitalizations. I even endured a mini stroke. In that time, I also was under extreme mental stress as I was fearful of dying.

Luckily, I had a great team of surgeons and medical professionals to fix my heart so I made a full recovery. However, shortly after my surgery, I noticed the texture in my hair changed. And stayed that way.

Now what does this have to do with massage? Well, it's about stress and the hormones your body releases. When someone is under extreme and often prolonged stress, cortisol and adrenaline - the stress hormones - are released which can cause inflammation and other damaging results to your body. 

Have you ever noticed when you are under stress that something changes about you? Unexplained weight loss or gain, changes in skin texture, mood swings, high blood pressure, etc... these are just some of the results of stress and the chemical effects it has on our minds and bodies.

As a massage therapist, I try to help people to relax and induce the parasympathetic nervous system to take over which helps deactivate the stress hormones. This helps regulate the chemical imbalances. However, if these imbalances go unchecked or linger too long, changes can occur in the body.

Case in point, the texture of my hair. Now it may seem innocuous, my hair, but it is always a reminder to take care of myself especially when life becomes too hectic. Also, I will also admit that after my illness, I slipped into a deep depression with bouts of extreme anxiety. But I will save that story for another post.

So, take some time to find moments of relaxation - go for a walk, read a good book, talk to a friend, book a massage or just breathe deeply for a few minutes. All this will help combat the effects of stress and keep you balanced.

A Personal Story - Coping With Stress

Primus

My passion in life is to help people find ways to relax in order to reduce stress so they can live healthy, full and content lives.  Recently, I came face-to-face with some personal stress, so I feel compelled to share how I cope.

There are many ways we combat stress and the effects of it. I, for one, practice yoga and I get regular massages. But probably my greatest tool for dealing with life’s stresses was spending time with my dog, Primus. Just a few minutes with him, I noticed I stopped thinking about what was bothering me.  I relaxed. Cuddling with him was like a meditation practice.
 

 

There are plenty of studies about the benefits of having animals in your home but I knew instinctively cuddling with my dog made me feel better. However, I recently lost my precious pup and I noticed the void. I knew what it was as I’ve been through this before.


Four years ago, I lost another dog; his sister, Pixie, and we were both quite lost without her.  At that time, I didn’t have many tools to fight off stress as I hadn’t gotten back into a yoga routine and massage wasn’t even on the horizon. In fact, I was in a depression and had been for years but my dog needed me so I’d take him on long walks daily, sometimes several times a day to help him (and me) get through the loss and it ended up having a profound effect on me.

Over the next few months, I noticed an improvement in my overall health and I started making decisions to help me enhance my well-being. Some decisions seemed natural, like eating better, while others seemed innocuous, at the time, but altered my life completely.

For example, one decision involved planning a trip to NYC to see a Broadway play and in a convoluted way that got me back into my yoga practice. Few people know the whole story as it’s hard to explain but once back in a consistent yoga practice everything changed for me as I learned to relax and take time to be in the present. The decisions following evolved, my long-term depression lifted and healthier options revealed themselves. It was a domino effect of self-care and it brought me to where I am today:  Content, healthy and able to help others.

And although I miss my dog terribly, he lives forever in my heart and I am eternally grateful for those wonderful walks with my best friend. I continue to practice yoga, giving and receiving massage is extremely therapeutic for me, and now taking walks by myself has kept me from sinking into an abyss of sadness.

Life has its ups and downs, and we all use a variety of techniques to work through them. For me, walks with my dog led to me having a clearer mind to make healthy choices, these decisions led me to yoga, and yoga led me to Thai Yoga Massage and then ultimately Massage Therapy, a calling.

Slow down, take a walk, meditate, cuddle with your four-legged friend or book a massage. One decision to take care of you and your well-being can have a lifetime of benefits.

I've Reduced My Stress Levels With Massage

back-pain-1491803__340.jpg

Hello all!

First my apologies, I haven't updated everyone in a while. However,  many of you know that currently I am enrolled in Massage Therapy School. Yes, I am still teaching Yoga and now I have expanded my business to include Thai Yoga Massage. So in a couple of months, I will add in more massage therapies (Swedish, Deep Tissue & Myofascial Release), all tools to help people find relaxation.

Now for the update....

Going back to school was not only the best decision of my life, but it also helped me reduce my stress levels. HowWait! Aren't you in school full-time, raising teenagers and working? The answer is yes. But one thing made all this much easier to handle: Massages.

I've been receiving some sort of massage every week, sometimes several times a week, since August when I started up in school. The times vary, and so do the modalities, sometimes it's a 20 minute Swedish or 30 minute Myofascial Release or 45 minute Deep Tissue. While in school, we not only practice giving but we are also the clients for our classmates.       

Receiving a massage feels wonderful, I can attest to that, but  I've noticed something else. Honestly,  there's been a big shift in how I feel even far after the massage is over. In fact, people in my life have noticed a difference in me and said something. They say I look happier and more content. And I will have to agree with them. Not only for the fact that I fell in LOVE with learning these techniques and how I can help people, but how receiving massage therapy has affected me both physically and mentally.

How does it work though? Massage induces your parasympathetic nervous to take over, which allows you and your body to slow down for repair processing like rest and digest. When your sympathetic nervous system is active, like in times of stress, high levels of cortisol is released which can lead to inflammation. From there, if your stress levels are always high, this inflammation can lead to illness. Receiving massages, even monthly, allows one to get off the merry-go-round of stress
 
Here's an excerpt from an article from Institute for Integrative Healthcare that explains what happens and how massage helps.

HOW MASSAGE THERAPY REDUCES STRESS

Bunker, et.al. (2003) defines “stress” as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, acute and chronic life events, type A personality traits and hostility. One study, in particular, shows us that increased social isolation is especially stressful and leads to especially high levels of cortisol (Dickerson, et.al., 2004). These emotions may be the result of actual events in our lives or they may be only perceived by us, but they bring about the production of cortisol in the body, causing overall inflammation. We learn from Field, et.al. (2005) that cortisol is the hormone marker for stress, as it is an end product of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-cortical axis. Therefore, high levels of cortisol are the body’s tell for high levels of stress.

The Negative Effects of Too Much Cortisol

High cortisol levels in the body lead to weight gain in the midsection along with a variety of other metabolic changes which lower the immune system and stress the cardiovascular system, putting a low level but constant stress on the body over long periods of time. When stress is short term, we recover physically and move on with our lives, but when stress is long-term, it begins to take its toll on our bodies. The constant high levels of cortisol in the body causes inflammation, which eventually affects the heart and blood vessels bringing on high blood pressure, hypertension and, eventually, heart disease.....

Field, et.al. (2005) demonstrates that massage therapy is shown to reduce cortisol levels by an average of 31%, increase serotonin levels 28% and dopamine levels 21% on average. Similarly, Hernandez-Reif, et.al. (2000) explain that diastolic blood pressure and hypertension decreased after massage and that there was less reported anxiety, depression, and hostility... 

There are countless studies done on the effects of massage, but I am living proof that massage works. I am so honored to be a part of a field that has so many benefits to people. Even after I graduate, I will continue to receive massages because as we all know, life and stress go hand and hand. So if you or anyone you know is suffering from stress, please share this and book an appointment with a massage therapist in your area and get off that merry-go-round.

An Update & A Decision

Recently, I finished my last documented Thai bodywork session.

Thank you to everybody who helped me with this. I am forever grateful. I learned so much from you all. Over the last couple of months, I've mulled over a decision and finally came to the conclusion that I don't want to stop learning about massage.

You all might have seen my anatomy geek posts and those along with wondering where my path should go from here, I decided to enroll in Massage Therapy school to become a licensed massage therapist.

I can't wait to help more people learn to relax with yoga and with a larger tool box of different massage modalities.
 

Putting The Energy Out Into The Universe

To learn more about how Yoga complements Martial Arts, watch the video here


Well, I do believe when you put something out in the universe, it comes to you.

For awhile now, I have wanted to travel and to teach yoga. Recently, I stumbled upon a site that may be able to help me do just that (details later).

Also, I have started putting together workshops to teach at yoga studios and martial arts gyms.

Surprisingly, I've already received interest from places I've never been before. Now only a few people knew about my plans so it's amazing I've been contacted already, out of the blue and from across the globe.

Life has so much to offer. Put energy into it, work hard and with intention. Be ready!

For more information, click here: Yin Yoga Workshop.

Look Within Without Judgment

 

Do you ever feel like everyone got a memo explaining how the world works on the day of their birth but somehow your's got lost on the way to the hospital?

For a long time, that's how I felt. And it took me most of my life to feel "normal" or that I fit in.

Often people have told me I'm cold or unfeeling. I must admit I am stoic at times not because I don't feel but because I feel too much. And I rather not be vulnerable in front of others.

All these thoughts and emotions swirl in my head constantly making life really hard at times. Luckily, I can spend time on my mat, look within without judgment. I just observe and recognize who I am. And that's the key.

Observe without judgment and life has a way of becoming clearer, understandable and you become able to unlock the mystery of you. Namaste

Yoga Journal Weekend

I can't believe my time is coming to an end here in New York City.

The last few days have been so wonderful that it almost seems like a dream. I waited months and months to get here along with a lot of hard work but it was totally worth all of it.

It was such a pleasure to meet all the fellow yogis from Business of Yoga Boot camp who came from near and far. We all were so lucky to be a part of this endeavor together and be able to create all our amazing websites.

Here are a few highlights of this weekend. From bottom left: Justin Michael Williams, our fearless leader from BOY. He helped us, along with Karen Mozes, to create the websites but also helped us define who we are as yoga teachers and business people. Leo Rising, the guest yoga teacher, taught such an inspiring class after our second day here. The photo shoot, where I got a little too nervous and finally spotting these awesome yoga leggings from Kira Grace These are the best leggings EVER!!

Thank you all for tagging along and supporting me as I made this next step. Love you all!

 

Yoga Journal Bootcamp Photo Shoot, NYC

Well, I'm back in NYC but this time for some yoga business with @yogajournal.

Here's some random pics of the photoshoot we all did for our websites, which is one of the main reasons we are here. Brand new website to be launched soon!!

Now I'm not a fan and I get nervous when lights and cameras on me and people telling to me "raise my chin," "shoulder down", "smile", "relax and breathe"....wait!! This sounds like a yoga class.

Well, it is over now and that means it's time to relax in the city before two full work days Thursday and Friday.

Wishing everyone a wonderful day!

 
Comment

Connie Holen

I'm a Visual Identity + Squarespace Web Designer for yoga, fitness and wellness studios who need a strong brand presence both on-line and off. I specializes in creating clean, modern and easy-to-manage websites that cleanly integrate online scheduling software and are optimized for local search engine results.