Food and Illness

When I was in college, I loved pizza. I worked at a delivery restaurant and ate pizza every time I worked, maybe 5 times per week. I drank multiple cans of highly sugary and caffienated soda during every shift. Sometimes I ate a whole pint of ice cream for dinner, maybe once per week. I loved sweets, and because I was rail thin and thought people avoided sugar merely because it would make them fat, I ate whatever I wanted to. I did not know that my ignorance about nutrition and my favorite snacks and foods would soon be my undoing. I also enjoyed eating a bag of microwave popcorn with a huge glass of orange juice or two. I loved the sweet to salty contrast. After the pizza job, I worked in a bakery and I also learned to like coffee around that time. During my early morning bakery shifts, I drank coffee and nibbled on various muffins and cookies. Of course, as a college student, I drank beer and partied too. One of my roommates expressed concern about me. She thought I didn’t eat enough protein. As far as I was concerned, I was fine. Ramen noodles were cheap and I ate them on the days I didn’t eat at work.

In college, I developed bad sinus allergies. I woke every morning with a faucet-like runny nose. I blew my nose through my classes. Or I skipped them because I felt so crappy. I tried taking over the counter allergy medicines, but soon built a tolerance to the medicine and it only made me drowsy.

Eventually I got on a once-daily, allergy medicine prescribed by my doctor.   It was non-drowsy and non-stimulating and worked for a little while. I eventually built a tolerance to it and was back to faucet nose. And then they discontinued it anyway.

It was hell. I was miserable.

I got bronchitis a lot, too. and the doctors pumped me full of antibiotics.

One fall, after college, I caught what seemed like strep throat and, though I treated it, it morphed into Epstein Barr Syndrome (a fatigue illness like Mononucleosis). Though it was caused by a virus, my doctor of course gave me antibiotics for no reason. He also told me to rest.

This lingered seemingly forever. At my weakest, I couldn’t do more than two hours of activity, tops, in one day. I could work a short shift at the bakery and come home fatigued with a bad headache, or I could go to the grocery store and come home fatigued with a headache. Or go to a movie. Same results.

As I got better, I got some of my energy back, but not all of it. I could do more activity, but I was still weak compared to my peers. If my best friend and I went out to a bar, I would drink one beer and by the end of that beer, have an earache. I couldn’t comfortably swim under water because it hurt my ears too much to go more than a foot or two under.

All of this was dismaying. I had been an active, spry, young adult before this illness.

Then I went to my first massage therapist at age 23. When he looked at my intake form, he saw my various health issues as related. He could tell by my symptoms that my intestinal flora was out of balance, and he turned me on to a product that helped restore some of my friendly intestinal bacteria (which can be killed by coffee, by antibiotics, or by an overgrowth of candida yeast which reproduce asexually by eating sugar). My allergy symptoms decreased some.

Time passed, and I was still weak. Inspired by this massage therapist’s practice, I soon realized I wanted to be an LMT too. I signed up for massage school. On my first day of massage school, I was talking to a classmate during lunch about my health woes. She heard my symptoms and said, “It sounds like you have an overgrowth of candida yeast in your system. You should go to my herbalist, Pam.   She helped me get rid of the same thing, and she’s been through it too, so she is a great support.” I set up an appointment right away. Pam diagnosed me as having candida yeast overgrowth, 2 or 3 viruses and some parasites.   Yikes! No wonder I felt like I did. She explained that in order to heal, I must stop eating sugar for a few months, eat lots of protein and vegetables, and take the herbs and vitamins she prescribed. Stopping eating sugar meant not only avoiding cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but also avoiding wheat, gluten, dairy (except butter), fermented foods, and even fruit!!! Now, many people think they could never do that. People wondered how I had the will power. The key for me was my level of commitment. I used to be energetic and full of life. At the time of this diagnosis, I still felt half alive, and that was not acceptable to me. I would rather be fully alive or dead than half alive, so I chose fully alive, and I adhered to the candida diet, doing everything she recommended. I was literally sick and tired of being sick and tired.

After some months went by, my health had improved and I was able to incorporate a few gentle sugars, like pears, green apples, and brown rice syrup as a sweetener.

Now, I eat a typical vegetarian diet, I eat sugar in small amounts compared to most of my countrypersons, I drink an occasional coffee or a beer. I have a lot of energy for a 44-year-old.   I have a lot of energy for a 24-year-old, in fact.

Nene Fest 2016 HooperThere’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned healing crisis to teach a willing learner about empowerment around one’s own well-being. We eat Every day. Learning what to feed oneself is a powerful foundation to good health.

I am very grateful that I experienced all of this, because I got on a path of self-care and natural wellness at a very young age. I have a truly experiential understanding of what it takes to heal through diet, I have plenty of understanding of what it takes to eliminate foods, and compassion for anyone who needs to change their diet, and I can gently encourage people in my healing practice, because I got through it. So can you.

How Did I Get Into Massage?

022.JPGBack in the 1990’s, I was finished with college, had a BA from UCF in Anthropology, and worked at a restaurant. One of my coworkers told me how proud he was of his girlfriend, who was graduating from massage therapy school. I asked if it was like physical therapy, and he explained that it was kind of similar, with more emphasis on relaxation. This was the first time I had heard of this career choice and I found it a bit intriguing.

One day, a massage therapist ate at our restaurant and gave his waiter some business cards to pass out, with a coupon on the back for a free half hour massage, or a whole hour for the price of half. I was working four doubles that week, so I woke up on my day off, interestingly with the words, “The Laying On Of Hands” in my head. This quickly reminded me of the coupon, and I called to make an appointment. The therapist chided me a little for calling and expecting an appointment the same day, but he was able to get me into his schedule.

I went to his office, which was decorated with a combination of new age music, crystals, incense and walls of very clinical looking anatomy posters. I was 23 years old and had never had a massage. My goodness, the massage felt wonderful, and one thing that stood out to me was that the massage woke me up to an awareness of my body I had somehow lost. When he massaged my feet, it was like, “Oh yeah! I have feet!”

I loved massage therapy and saw this practitioner a few more times. I would look around his treatment room at the anatomical posters and the crystals, and think, hey, I could do this! This job is like a meditation in motion and a dance! Oh, but my Dad only paid for my first four years of college and that’s it. If only there was financial aid….

And one day, I picked up an alternative magazine in Orlando, where I lived, and there was an ad for a massage school and the words “Financial aid available.”

The rest is history, folks! I signed up for massage school right away, including my school’s advanced program, a detailed program about four months long that went much deeper in learning than the six month basic program. The advanced program included not just how to relax someone, but also very specific training in treating common pathologies in each area of the body, giving me plenty of competence and confidence. I took ten months of massage school, and graduated at the top of my class. Now, here I am at your service, nearly twenty years later. How may I help you?

Relax and Nurture with a Therapeutic Bath

I love baths because I find the water element so healing. In various healing traditions, astrology, tarot, and other symbolic contexts, the water element is often representative of the emotional realm.

I have noticed that visiting a large body of water, immersing myself in the ocean or a swimming hole, sitting by a powerful waterfall, or watching a river flow by, can all be therapeutic to me. In the case of swimming, and especially floating, there’s surrender in it. There’s something about the way water hugs us that is reassuring, maybe reminiscent of the womb. But if I can only be by the sea at night or during a storm, and can’t go swimming, it still soothes me. It’s vast and comforting, bigger and deeper than my deepest woes.

What’s a busy person to do when she or he needs the healing power of water but lives in a landlocked area and doesn’t have time for a beach or river trip? Take a bath.

There’s an art to bath taking. It’s way more than filling the tub and getting in (though it can be that simple). Below are some of my favorite elements to incorporate to personalize my therapeutic bath time.

I usually start by cleaning the tub before I run a bath for myself, or our children. It’s nice to start with a fresh tub, and worth the two minutes of scrubbing and rinsing the bathtub.

I usually run my baths pretty hot, but I lean more toward simply warm during the summer so I don’t overheat myself. While the water is running, it’s time to add bubbles, salts, or essential oils. I often add calming lavender essential oil to my bath water with a few drops of Earthy, grounding patchouli essential oil.

Music makes bath time more relaxing for me, and to be honest, a little less boring. If I am stressed, I don’t want to listen to worry and mind chatter. I’d rather hear classical music, or something melancholy or soulful on Pandora, like Elephant Revival or Madeline Peyroux.

I light candles, turn off the light, and crack the window open a little for fresh air and some nature sounds.

I gather various supplies for self-nurturing. I usually bring some cool drinking water, but may also bring hot tea, or even beer or wine. I might bring a washcloth, rose water spray, a bath brush or loofah, a nailbrush, and/or a pumice stone.

I often oil my skin with a mini-massage before a shower or bath, using olive or coconut oil. This helps with my circulation, and also protects my skin from being stripped of its oils by the hot water. I may massage myself more during the bath, or stretch, using the warmth of the bath to make my muscles suppler. A seated forward bend is easy to do in the tub, and it helps stretch hamstrings which are tight on many people. I have even stood facing the corner and basically did my famous “doorway stretch” in the tiled corner, opening my bath-warmed pectoral muscles, thus opening my posture. Got carpal tunnel syndrome? Do your forearm stretches in the bath. You’ve got time…

One of my favorite additions to bath time has been the honey facial. After I have washed my face gently with hot bath water, giving the pores some time to open in the steamy bathroom, I pat my face dry, and then I apply a little honey to my face and upper chest. The darker the honey is, the better, because it contains more antioxidants for my skin. It doesn’t take much more than about a spoonful. I leave the honey on for about 15 minutes, estimating time by the number of songs that have played on my laptop. Then I gently rinse. After the bath I moisturize, usually with coconut oil.

What else would make your bath just right? Padded bath pillows are nice for comfort, for instance. How about a friend? My fiancé sometimes visits me during bath time, and I think he also takes comfort in the water element and the soothing environment I create, even though he usually sits outside the tub and chats with me or holds my hand. I also have mother-daughter baths with my little girl, passing on the fine art of relaxing in the bath.

I feel truly blessed to have a home with a bathtub, and to have hot running water at the turn of a knob. This is one of the ways I heal and nurture myself, filling my own cup, so I can then give to my family and my clients and students.

Why I Like to Receive 90-Minute Massages

I like to get 90-minute massages.  For years, I almost always got 6o-minute massages, then my LMT friend, Dawn, and I were setting up a trade and she suggested we do ninety minutes.  This was about two years ago.  Wow, I don’t know how I made it 12 or 13 years as a massage therapist, often giving long massages, but never really thinking to get more than an hour myself.  Now, I won’t settle for anything less. 

I like 90-minute massages because the therapist takes time on each section of the body to really work in depth.  The therapist can work on more than just one or two of my areas that seem tight or sore, and still work thoroughly on the other areas that may need it too, but may not have been sending out as much of a pain signal. 

Everything is connected.  Fascia is one big network.  Treating one muscle group affects the whole body, and so does not treating a muscle group. Skipping the legs for instance, can affect the whole body.  Maybe kneading the Achilles tendons above the heel will release tension enough on the connective tissue to finally loosen up the tension at the base of my skull. 

During the long treatment, my therapist takes time to soothe my nervous system, working slowly enough to allow the nerves to be calm and signal the muscles it is safe to relax and let the therapist work more deeply. 

Getting a nice long massage on a regular basis helps me remember what I do for my clients.  It also promotes body awareness.  The therapist’s touch brings my attention to various muscle groups, and helps me check in with my body regularly.  I can notice that my hips are not so tight anymore, or gosh, this is the third massage in a row where I noticed my abdomen was really tight; what can I do differently? 

I deserve this!  I deserve to be soothed and healed.  I deserve to lay down for ninety minutes in the middle of a busy day or week.  I deserve the oil soaking in and nourishing my skin.  I deserve to release the tension I have been carrying. 

I deserve good circulation to my muscles and tissues, healthy digestion, stress reduction, all the benefits of massage really occurring because I took the time to receive. 

And as I pointed out before, in my recent blog, I deserve things that nurture and feed me, that fill my cup and energize me so I have more to give to others.