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News, Wellness

How Are Those New Year Resolutions Coming Along?

March 3, 2014

Written by guest editor and milk + honey licensed massage therapist, Matt W.

New Year's Resolutions

Hi everyone. I  wanted to check in and see how those New Year Resolutions were coming along.

I know, New Year Resolutions were so three months ago, but if life got in the way, and we didn’t follow through, we may just forget that we wanted something different for ourselves in the first place. Don’t wilt if your “New Me” hasn’t completely hatched yet. Often we begin things without realizing there’s also a middle and an end to them. These things take time, about three weeks according to some, or a life time according to others.

Changing often requires a lot of hard work, faith, and support. In the beginning, it can be difficult. In the end, it will ideally be second nature. Yet we are constantly changing in between those two poles. We can change what we habitually do, and by doing so, we can change, at the very least, our experience of ourselves. There’s some science behind this for sure, and a lot of it is very exciting.

As the mechanisms for brain change become better understood, the implications seem to grow. The enormous generalization I would like to make here is that the things you do in your daily life change you. I would add that the way you do things in your daily life also changes you. We can all take advantage of the brain’s adaptability in creating new habits by, well, doing new things. Every activity you undertake affects the physiology of your brain, the neural networks, and the body. The more you do a thing, the easier it is to do it. This goes for habits of mental action and feelings as well as for physical action.

The double edged sword inherent to the brain’s nature for change and engraining will conjure arguments for free will, and this is where you’ll find the best results. Frustration and one’s ability to tolerate frustration seems to play a key roll. Something about just barely succeeding (or failing) sends all kinds of urgency cues to your brain that you really want to improve your skill, or your effort, or your will power right here specifically.

Weightlifting provides the obvious analogy whereby the weight you almost cannot lift is the very weight that will increase your strength the most. You can fine tune and take advantage of other components of the equation to get the most out of your efforts.  Collectives of individuals striving for the same excellence, expert coaching, goal affirming environmental cues all contribute to this phenomenon. I find it interesting that, under the right circumstances, you can change your habits of thoughts and feelings as well.

If you have a strong sense concerning what you want to change, and why, you can get some great advice on classic goal setting and accomplishment. You can change your basic behavior and there are some great tools to help you with that. Take advantage of a service like HabitForge or simply follow the wholesome and common sense advice available regarding goal setting.

Humans are complex, no doubt, and this brings me to the paradox of self-initiated change. We are who we are. Not liking who we are can provide enormous motivation for change, but ultimately provides your inner saboteur its greatest monkey wrench. It is what Buddhist nun Pema Chodron describes as “self-aggression.” We all have pieces of ourselves we’d rather not see, let alone show to others, and yet these are the very aspects of our being that require the most love. Change that ignores this, or skips over this step, will only provide incomplete results.

Working with this habit, the habit of seeing oneself as not good enough, or the habit of seeing success and failure in absolute terms, can be pretty interesting. Working in this way requires a new habit, and that habit is compassion, for yourself and others. So you didn’t make it to the gym today, and aren’t going to. Maybe tonight you give yourself some love in a different way, and support yourself for going back tomorrow. Cut yourself some slack.

Now, you have a couple of options. You can agree to forget, or agree to remember that you made your resolutions. Should you agree to remember, then you can notice where you fail. You can be gentle with yourself when you do. You can gently but firmly pull yourself back up, and put yourself back on that horse. Good luck, and enjoy the rest of 2014.


Do: Sanctuary and Refuge

January 20, 2014

Written by guest editor and milk + honey licensed massage therapist, Matt W.

With the holiday season behind us and February in our sights, let’s review our efforts and the fruits of our labors.

Consider taking a moment of refuge and asking for sanctuary.

Where does the idea of “sanctuary” come from?
Sanctuary as a Western concept arose from an older (ancient Greek and Roman) recognition of sacred spaces, and the right to use these spaces to make contact with the divine, or at least to seek refuge within that holiness. They chose places of natural beauty, quietude, and awe to represent their sanctuaries. The Catholic church later adopted the notion of sanctuary, the dominant characteristic of which was protection from civic and criminal persecution. It was meant as an opportunity to repent, and to take refuge in the higher laws of God, thusly enjoying a reprieve from the sometimes unjust lower laws of society. A similar concept of higher law pervaded serious Buddhist concepts. To take refuge in Buddhism ultimately means making a commitment to practices of wakefulness, thereby taking refuge in ultimate truth.

What does sanctuary or refuge mean now?
When I turn the words, “sanctuary” or “refuge,” over in my mind, notions of security, protection, but also humility and sacredness arise. This doesn’t have to have religious connotations my scientific friends. The sick day is a perfect example of taking refuge from ordinary life. To take refuge is to remove oneself from outside influences, and sometimes to remove oneself as an influence to others. It is to temporarily escape the laws of noise by taking refuge in the laws of quiet.

So, how do we do it?

For many of us, the refuge we enter must be a place whereby we can drop off our preoccupations before entering. We must access provisions that separate us from the storm. A powerful refuge, one worthy of being called a sanctuary, will take this to the next level. It will provide refuge from the the more aggressive aspects of our own personalities.

You need to recognize the need to step back. Set aside time to do so. Find a place to go, and go alone. Don’t make demands on any sanctuary or refuge, but give thanks and be respectful to it. Make agreements and allowances. If you seek refuge in nature — say, on the Green Belt in Austin — take water and put your phone on airplane mode. Refuge can be portable. A yogini takes refuge in her breath. A child takes refuge in play and imagination, or in the arms of a parent. We all need refuge, and the good news is that most of us can access it somehow.

We need pauses and rests, and we do so by taking refuge.

Source: zug55/Flickr


Feel Good Health

June 3, 2012

Matt is one of our fantastic massage therapists at milk + honey spa 2nd Street District.

When speaking with my clients concerning their goals for our session, many of them specify distinct musculoskeletal concerns they would like me to address, while others simply shrug and answer with,  “I just wanna relax and feel good.” Almost inevitably they wind up getting a little of both.

I have a definite scope of practice as a massage therapist that focuses on stress relief and relief from myofascial dysfunction.  I cannot avoid working with individual’s health and fitness goals. As such my clients consistently expose me to new practices related to those goals. I’m a curious person and I do my own research too.

Should you poke around in cyberspace for answers to your health or fitness goals, you will inevitably encounter marketing motivating you to take up behavior XYZ for the sake of health, happiness, and feeling good. I think the underlying narrative suggests that if you’re not healthy you won’t feel good, but what about the other way around? Does feeling good promote health?

Photo courtesy of Colin Gray

The short answer, turns out, is yes.

Surely you’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine. According to laughter boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes muscles and is even good for your heart. It’s like a whole body internal massage. Of course laughter also improves mood. Similarly, behavioral psychologists have famously experimented with and confirmed the relationship between acts such as smiling and the mental and emotional state of their subjects. Many have measured their results in the relative abundance or absence of stress-hormones and neurotransmitter levels. They advocate a certain fake it ’till you make it approach.

Laughing with friends is even better because it engenders those feelings of safety, connection, and community that allow us to step away from our stress triggers. Leisure, and respite from routine also allows us to normalize our stress levels. Sun on the skin (protected by a high SPF of course) elevates moods and increases vitamin D production. Hearing the gentler sounds of nature, breezes through the trees, and the soft lap of water on the shores lowers the heart rate and connects us with something bigger than our problems. Touch produces the feel good hormone oxytocin, so even spending time at the petting zoo can be rewarding. Hearing your favorite music produces all kinds of feel good neurotransmitters and activates ecstatic centers in the brain. In fact, preemie babies have shown to thrive when their care takers play soothing music.

So is this really news to you? In this day and age we all know that the body and mind influence one another. Though stress effects allow an organism to overcome extreme threat, the correlation between prolonged stress and illness, including myofascial dysfunction, are well documented. We all know that the effects of stress correlate positively with disease. Feeling good promotes health, and it does so primarily because it combats the effects of prolonged extreme stress.

I constantly hear people in our culture defend their behaviors of overwork. They delay their private time and feel-good time, citing obstacles and goals. People brag about how much they’ve done and how little they’ve slept, or how much time they don’t have. I do it too. It’s a feature of our culture. We feel we must continue our efforts even when our physical and emotional well being suffer. Truly, life without challenge would feel empty. But there’s another side of the story that describes an optimal balance for health, and even productivity. has an article about this called “Bring Back the 40-Hour Work Week.” That balance requires the phenomenon of making sure you feel good.

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