Saturday, February 22, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again

In the year 2000, I was 20 years old. Somehow, I fooled a local police department into believing I was a competent enough human to be responsible for answering 911 calls and for dispatching grown men with guns to locations all over the city. I did that job for 3 years, primarily on the overnight shift, which meant I typically arrived home after 10-12 hour shifts around 7:30am. Thanks to shift differentials, overtime, and low overhead (living with my parents), I made lots of money, fast. What does a 20 year old boy pretending to be a grownup buy with extra money? Toys.

One of my earliest purchases was a mountain bike. I was in school at UCF for Psychology, aiming at being some kind of law enforcement officer. The bike was to help me keep fit enough to get through the academy, once I got there. I had a mountain bike all through middle and high school, which got plenty of use, but I wanted something newer and shinier. Not knowing anything about bikes, I went to Toys R Us and bought a decent bike, thankfully, based more on cosmetic criteria than function. One plan was to ride on Cocoa Beach, the closest beach to my job, to catch the sunrises over the water. Little did I know, that riding in soft sand on a mountain bike is very tiring, very fast. That didn't stop me from enjoying the bike and sunrises on sidewalks close to the beach, however.

A Pacific Quasar, to be exact.
My parents were building a new house, one of the first to be completed in that development, about a year into my ownership of the Toys R Us mountain bike. I moved into nocturnal Floridian mountain bike heaven. There were paved streets and street lights surrounding acres and acres of cleared lots. There were piles of rocks, gravel, dirt hills, trees, and some dirt paths where the roads weren't completed yet. The few completed houses were inhabited by retired golfers and the like, so I had the streets to myself, undisturbed for hours of my over-nights off, since I was quiet and didn't vandalize anything but myself.

That year of hard, late night riding is really where the love affair with bikes started. At the age of 22, I paused UCF and started massage school part time in addition to my 50+ hour weeks at the police department. My free nights started drifting away from the bike and towards study and extra-curricular practical massage credit events. Once I met my future wife in massage school and had a license, life quickly accelerated into a move to Tallahassee after the wedding. We moved my bike with us, because I had such sentimental attachment to it. Knowing now what I know about bikes, I should have chucked it in a Goodwill bin, but instead I kept trying to repair and tweak a lost cause. I literally had ridden it into the ground, back on the empty lots in Viera.

I was in hilly Tallahassee for 5 years with a non-functional bike, getting fat at a desk job, and having no fun anytime I tried to go for a ride. Then we moved to Tampa, again with the bikes (the Wifey had one almost as sad as mine), and then to Land o Lakes, where they sat in yet another garage being rusty and treacherous. Finally, we sold them at a garage sale before moving back to Tampa a few months ago. Talk about liberation!

Because of ridiculous auto insurance rates in Tampa and because Wifey works from home, we decided to become a 1 car family. We started shopping for a bicycle for her to get around the neighborhood, if she needed something while I was at work. Then, while talking to her mother about the situation, we discover that Mom wanted to buy us BOTH bikes for Christmas. My wife's preference was to get the most simple, single gear bike possible, a beach cruiser. My preference was to get the most complicated thing possible- more gears, more gadgets, a hybrid road bike.

Lance Armstrong
This is the part where I say explicitly that my Wife was RIGHT and I was WRONG. We ended up with matching, super cute beach cruisers which I love. Simple is better. We live in an apartment and I don't want to keep up with a bunch of tools and crap to constantly adjust and maintain a complicated bike. We live in Florida, which is flat everywhere we would possible go on our bikes. When we rack them on the car and drive to the beach, they are totally usable at the beach. The point is, I made a fundamental shift in how I saw myself. I am a "Bicyclist" and not a "Cyclist." This is a hobby, a leisure activity, not a sport. I'm not racing anybody, I don't take PED's and I don't wear spandex or special shoes.

I am also a grownup now. I am not a college student or a punk teenager trying to keep the dream alive by applying a skater mentality to dirt biking in suburbia. I now have a bike and an attitude which match my life. My default attitude is laid back, relaxed, at peace- taking life as it comes at me. I want a bike that reflects that, not a tool to aggressively attack the road with "hammering." A big part of my love of biking is that I find peace in that activity, which is the antithesis of competition. That's not to say I don't have personal goals, which I'll get to in another post soon, but that I want to use a bicycle as a tool to enjoy my environment, to find relaxation and stress relief, and to stay fit.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Book Review: Stress Pandemic

The latest book in my recommended reading list is Paul Huljich's Stress Pandemic: 9 Natural steps to Survive, Master Stress, and Live Well. It is a good overview, greatest-hits-of-health kind of book that is probably going to cover a lot of things you already know, but it's worth the refresher.

Spoiler Alert! None of the "9 Natural Steps" in this "Lifestyle Solution" is Massage Therapy. That being said, there is plenty of good stress management information here. What are the 9 steps?

1. Take Charge
2. Kick Your Bad Habits
3. Learn to Say No
4. Affirmations
5. Exercise
6. Nutrition
7. Sleep
8. The Power of Awareness
9. Don't Give Up

How do I apply these 9 steps to my life?

1. I take charge by researching methods to improve myself by reading books (like this one), watching documentaries (usually about health and nutrition), blogging about how I apply the stuff I learn (like I'm doing now), and I make a clear plan of attack utilizing moderate, attainable goals.

2. Everyone has bad habits. Mine include but are not limited to: staying up late, Chinese buffets, and being a workaholic.Some have easy solutions, like going to bed earlier and avoiding Chinese buffets. The workaholism, however, takes some more planning to better prioritize my time. The trick is to be aware of the bad habits and make positive strides in the right direction, once you recognize your less desirable trends.

3. Saying "No" is hard for me, see the aforementioned workaholism, because I usually have a multitude of good options of things to do with my time and energy. I'm always needing to say no to stuff I actually want to do. Also, because I am constantly cranking the gears in my introverted head, I have many ideas and projects in development, which are hard to put aside. Prioritizing is big on this one too.

4. I have to admit, I have a huge ego. I rarely need affirmations, from myself or others, to boost my mood or self esteem. I don't spend much time looking in the mirror talking myself up, but I don't want to discount that as a good practice for many people for stress reduction, to gain perspective about their self image.

5. Personally, my favorite exercise is bike riding. I am a "bicyclist" and not a "cyclist" for many reasons, but the stress related to being a "cyclist" is the primary one. More on that dynamic in a later post. Since we moved into an apartment, I walk our tall leggy greyhound mix dog 3 times a day for about a half mile each walk. This relieves my stress immensely, because it gets me going first thing in the morning and helps me decompress from work as I look at the stars and breath in fresh air at the end of the day.  Since we moved, we are also much closer to several gorgeous beaches. Some within biking distance. If you're stressed while walking on the beach, you have bigger problems than this massage therapist can fix.

Watching the sunset this evening, from my bike seat.

6. There was a lot of good nutrition info in the book. I love my veggie juice, Nutribullet smoothies, and mono-meals. The juice and smoothies help me boost my intake of healthful foods in a quick and easy way. One food mono-meals, like eating a bunch of bananas for dinner at work, keeps things simple. It takes about 30 seconds to prep my lunch before I leave the house. It's super easy for my body to burn the food when it's one ingredient, and I don't have to leave work, wait in a line at a restaurant, and rush back in time to eat it.

7. Like I said above, my natural tendency is to stay up late and sleep less than I should. Lately, I've been listening to brain wave based, sleep enhancing music which is supposed to enhance the quality of the sleep. I am also striving towards consistency in terms of sleeping the same 8 hours every night, at the same room temperature, and with a sleeping mask.

8. Awareness, in my opinion, should be #1 on this list. Knowing what is stressing you is the first step to "Master Stress" so you can "Live Well." Either way, journaling (blogging in my case) to document what's going on in your life is a good way to be aware. Reading books like this one is also a good start to identify major, common stressors.

9. Don't give up. That one is hard to put a tangible description on. I guess I do it by using a results based approach. When I want to give up on something, I re-examine the results I want and what I'm doing wrong. If I don't know what's wrong with my routine/methods/practices, I hit the books and search the internet for better info. If I can find people who are getting the results I want, I am encouraged that it is possible to achieve, if I can learn how they did it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Science of Scary Sugars
This morning I blended up a beet, banana, ginger smoothie and was surprised at the burst of sweetness. At first, I wondered if I should have used fewer bananas. Then I remembered an episode of How It's Made that I saw that explained the lengthy process of processing sugar cane into refined white sugar. Since there is such confusion in the media about carbs, sugar, and artificial sweetness in relation to maintaining a healthy nutritional profile in your diet, I wanted to share the video.
Just because it came from a plant does NOT mean that refined white sugar is a natural food that humans can consume in nature. There's a guy in the video about 45 seconds in, who nibbles on the end of a piece of sugar cane. He could do that all day and probably be just fine. Whole plant based foods have a multitude of nutrients and compounds mixed with water and fiber in a wondrously complex package of healthfulness. Refined white sugar, on the other hand, is like a pharmaceutical grade narcotic. It is one specific, highly addictive compound, potent enough with one single serving packet, to affect the entire body for several hours.

Artificial sweeteners are like competing pharmaceutical companies, trying to duplicate the effects of a successful drug, with different chemistry, to avoid patent violations. Refined white sugar is at least a well tested substance in a worldwide, long term market, if I have to find one thing nice to say about it.

 If we consider refined white sugar to be an over the counter drug, like acetaminophen, you would never mix a couple teaspoons of Tylenol into your coffee in the morning followed by a donut with a few more teaspoons of fried Tylenol inside. You wouldn't follow that by several more teaspoons of generic acetaminophen with lunch in a diet soft drink. The moral of the story? Eat sweet whole foods, like bananas, to get your fix and avoid eating foods loaded with refined sugar or powdered chemicals that never had anything to do with a plant at all.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Deep Tissue Massage That Feels Good

A couple days ago, I picked up my client's chart to ready myself before she arrived, because she was new to me. I noticed that she had come in the day before and cut off the appointment early. That's a big red flag, so I asked my manager if there was a story. The client cut off the appointment because the first therapist was not giving her the type of massage she wanted.

I have worked with that therapist and received several massages from him over 3 and a half years. I respect his work and am very well acquainted with his style, so I planned to do the opposite style. The client asked for a Deep Tissue massage for headaches and shoulder tension. My typical MO for those issues is to start with Myofascial release with some cervical stretching, focusing on slow, deep, dry drags. Thankfully, the client in question was running late, so I got a chance to confer with my colleague prior to meeting her. He told me that he had done slow, deep, drags on the back and shoulders and that instead, she wanted something that "Felt more like a massage."

Once I had the chance to interview the client and get to work, I adopted a smooth, flowing, heavy handed Swedish style technique with plenty of thumbs. I tried not to dwell in any one place with sustained pressure, but kept moving with a moderate pressure over larger areas. The ironic thing is that I was doing an impression of the first therapist's usual technique, which the client loved, and he had done MY usual thing, which she hated.
The interesting part of this is the balance between "Deep Tissue" and what should "Feel like a massage." A musical analogy would be the bands Motorhead vs. Led Zeppelin. Both would be considered hard, powerful, and musically complex. They are on the heavier end of the rock spectrum. Motorhead is musical, but it doesn't feel good, because it's dark, brooding, and unrelenting. Led Zeppelin, on the other hand, is for dancing, partying and releasing stress. If you are looking for heavy music (Deep Tissue) they are certainly both qualified to fill the need. My client wanted something she could dance to. She wanted something she could crank up in the car and sing along to that would leave her feeling good, not something that would leave her with a headache.

I bet Lemmy never thought he'd be in a massage therapy blog!
It is important to remember that what the client asks for is just as important as what I think she needs. I got lucky this time, thanks to good communication with my co-worker, my management, and the client herself. She left happy and I was reminded to be flexible with my technique. I guess the most important thing is that she left the second day with relief from her tension and stress.