by Donna Finando, L.Ac., L.M.T.

Self-Care: Be a Wellness Example, MASSAGE MagazineThere are many ways we help our clients. The most obvious way is through the work we do—we reduce myofascial restrictions, help their muscles remain fluid and supple, and increase freedom of movement. We facilitate the flow of blood and body fluids as well as nervous innervation, and we increase cellular metabolism, all of which allows their bodies to function more efficiently and contributes to their general health. 

We need to do the same for ourselves. Working at maintaining our own wellness is another, more subtle way of helping our patients. By keeping ourselves healthy, we’re acting as a role model for them. 

There are four components of a healthy lifestyle: movement, diet, rest and relaxation, and sleep.

The first—and the one I believe to be most important—is movement, or exercise. The more you move, the more you will be able to move. Exercise reduces stress and calms us; reduces depression and anxiety; and increases clarity of mind. It helps strengthen our heart, lungs and cardiovascular system, as well as aids in the proper functioning of our digestive tract. It combats chronic diseases: heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It helps us manage our weight, and it promotes better sleep patterns. Movement is life. We need to keep moving. Make some time for exercise each week. If you partake in your favorite exercise, it will be something you look forward to doing. Plus, it can be fun.

Having studied physiology, we all know that the components of our bodies are made up of the foods we eat. That being said, I believe the most important dietary rule of thumb is to eat whole, natural foods that are well balanced and varied, as well as comprised of a variety of different foods. Proteins, which include lean beef, pork, fish, eggs and low-fat dairy that are organic or naturally produced without the use of antibiotics and hormones, are a good choice. Beans, soy and whole grains are also good vegetable sources of proteins.

Fruits and vegetables, preferably in season and grown locally, are an essential part of a well-balanced diet. If you can get them, organic fruits and vegetables are a good choice; your exposure to pesticides and fertilizers, which are shown to have adverse health affects, can be substantially reduced. Whole grains and whole-grain products, such as wheat, oats, brown rice, barley and quinoa, are dramatically superior to the processed and enriched white flours from which most of our bread and pastry products are made.

Good fats, including olive and peanut oils, avocado, nuts, seeds and the omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon, trout, catfish, mackerel, flaxseed and walnuts, are an important addition to the diet. And of course, the generous ingestion of purified water is incredibly important for overall body functioning. 

Reducing or eliminating certain items is just as important as eating well; for example, keep refined carbohydrates (foods containing white flour and white sugar: pastries, cookies, ice cream, sugared cereals, sweetened beverages) as occasional treats. Also, beware of foods with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners; fast foods and junk foods; foods containing chemicals, additives and preservatives; and food colorings. Read labels. If you can’t pronounce it, stay away from it! Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol, and stop smoking (if you smoke). In caring for our diet in this way, we’re trying to stay in sync with Mother Nature, of which we are a part.

Rest and relaxation is another element of a healthy lifestyle that sometimes gets put on the back burner, but is important for a balanced life. We work hard, and we give of ourselves to our families, friends and clients. We have to be just as generous with ourselves. Nourish yourself by doing something you love and that relaxes you, whatever that might be. It doesn’t have to be every day, but try for every week.

Sleep is key. The average adult needs 7.5 hours of sleep every night. When we don’t get it, we build up a sleep deficit. Without sufficient sleep, our mental clarity and mood suffer. Sleep improves concentration, productivity and mood and reduces irritability. We probably know this, but sometimes we have to work at making it happen in our lives, for our own sakes.

When you are well and healthy, your patients will know it and feel it—and they’ll ask you how you do it. You’ll be helping them, by helping yourself.

Donna Finando, MASSAGE MagazineDonna Finando, L.Ac., L.M.T. is co-author with Steven Finando of Trigger Point Therapy for Myofascial Pain, The Practice of Informed Touch (Healing Arts Press, 1999, 2005). She is the author of Trigger Point Self-Care Manual (Healing Arts Press, 2005) and Acupoint and Trigger Point Therapy for Babies and Children (Healing Arts Press, 2008). Finando maintains a private practice in Long Island, New York, where she’s lived and worked for more than 30 years.