Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares some insights into what 'sports massage' actually is and the fact that it's benefits go far beyond sports people and also how the treatment might be adapted to suit you individually.
The term ‘Sports Massage’ can sometimes be misleading if taken literally. It is of course a very useful, and often necessary, treatment for sports people, but it can also be beneficial for a whole host of different people. People working from home since the start of the pandemic might not have the best ergonomic set-up and as a result are experiencing neck or back pain. Take delivery drivers, who are sat in the same position all day, using the same restrictive movement patterns to drive. Think of the security guard, standing in a stationary position on their feet most of the day. All of these people and more are using their bodies in a way that will build muscle tension, increase areas of restriction within the soft tissues, and cause restrictions in ranges and ease of movement. Sports massage can help them!
Sports massage helps to resolve chronic pain, injuries, muscle aches and restricted range of movement. At some point in our life, we have or will experience one of the issues listed above. What is great about sports massage is that it uses a range of techniques to assess and treat a problem, rather than following a repeated routine of massage strokes. Each treatment is tailored to the individual and your therapist will spend some time talking to you and listening to your story before assessing you physically. I have treated countless individuals and even if the problem seems to be manifesting in the same way, every body is different and responds differently to treatment, so no two treatments are ever exactly the same.
Something that seems to put people off getting a sports massage is the reported pain that comes with it. Whilst some techniques can and will cause some degree of pain, it is never the goal of sports massage to cause pain. Your therapist should maintain good communication with you throughout the treatment in regards to pressure and pain, and make use of your breathing to help with relaxation in those more intense moments. I always give my clients a choice if I think that a certain technique is going to really help them but I know that it will be painful for them. I explain the technique beforehand and constantly check in during the application, giving them the choice to bow out at any point. Any deeper massage strokes are always applied very slowly, giving the tissues time to adapt and let me in without causing damage.
If somebody is new to sports massage or is feeling particularly sensitive, I use lighter techniques to work with more superficial soft tissue. Sometimes, a lighter more relaxing touch is exactly what the client needs and it is important to realise that massage is mostly affecting the neuromuscular system rather than effecting change physically. Stress is a major factor is some muscle tension, particularly if focused around the shoulders. The nervous system responds to stress by increasing muscle contraction in order to protect the body and prepare it for fight or flight. A relaxing and gentle approach can melt away the tension because the nervous system is responding to that touch and sending signals to ease off protective muscle tension.
A sports massage should leave you with a feeling of freedom within your body, feeling lighter and moving with more ease. You shouldn’t feel limited by discomfort in your daily activities. Those little everyday stresses on your body can develop into chronic problems if left to their own devices. Sports massage plays an important part in the recovery process, whether that’s from an intense training regime or from everyday stressors. Regular massage allows the body to function with less restriction and the hands on approach provides an important element of social touch, something that has been lacking since the start of the pandemic. If you haven’t before, give sports massage a go this year and see the difference it could make in your life.
Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares her challenging experience in attempting a plastic free month and some helpful suggestions as to how to reduce your plastic consumption when it is ubiquitous. Prepare to be challenged!
July is ‘Plastic free month’. Its purpose is to raise awareness and encourage people to reduce their plastic waste. Sounds like a great idea and it might just be the reminder and call to action that some of us need to make a change in our plastic consumption and subsequent waste. But how easy is it?
Not so easy. I challenged myself to not buy any new plastic in the month of June. Using plastic products that I already had was okay, I just couldn’t buy any new plastic for a month...I lasted a week. Which in hindsight is quite impressive. I hadn’t realised before I set myself the challenge just how much plastic is EVERYWHERE. Not to mention that in the month of June I was having work done on my kitchen so my only food options were ready made meals or takeout: cue the plastic.
Kitchen work aside, I still thought that if I made the conscious decision to avoid buying plastic, I could. For that first week I deliberately bought take out food from places that I knew used cardboard boxes or, even better, compostable packaging. Another relatively easy choice, which I’ve already been making for several years, is taking my own cloth bags to go shopping. I also buy dry goods and toiletries such as hand soap and shampoo from a zero waste refill shop - more on that later.
All of the above aside, it is quite literally impossible to buy milk (dairy or alternative) without plastic and oat milk is something I consume daily. The only alternative there would be to make my own, and quite frankly I just don’t have the time! The other thing that is impossible to avoid is tags on clothing. I am an avid charity shop goer and I feel that reusing clothes that otherwise would be thrown out is a great waste saver, but you can’t avoid the plastic price tag! It’s in the little details that I got caught out (and those are just a couple of examples) and if I wasn’t doing the challenge I probably wouldn’t even notice them. It has really opened my eyes to just how much plastic is used. We don’t even realise our consumption of it on a daily basis.
If we can’t cut it out completely, thankfully, there are ways that we can REDUCE our plastic consumption and waste. Starting with zero waste refill shops. You bring your own container and fill it with ingredients or products that the shop buys in bulk, therefore reducing plastic packaging needs. Granted, there are some in London that only stock very expensive organic products and ingredients and charge extortionate amounts for them. However there are a few gems in and around West Norwood:
Sustenance - West Norwood (pop up at Portico Kitchen)
Healthier without - Streatham → apparently they now have their own oat milk dispenser!
BYO - Tooting market
Some other great ways to reduce are:
Where you do need to purchase plastic containers see if you can reuse them before recycling them. If you have kids, plastic containers can become all sorts of arty creations! If you are a keen gardener, plastic bottles or lids can become germination pots and plastic bags or sheets can become cloches. Paying a little bit of attention and being more conscious of your decisions in regard to plastic consumption and waste can make a big difference.
Start small and build habits. Good luck!
Sports massage therapist and WNT's resident professional dancer, Lauren, shares the myriad benefits of dancing and encourages you to have a go to boost your wellbeing in honour of today's International Dance Day
In 1982, the International Dance Day was first celebrated marking the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), the creator of modern ballet. International Dance Day was started to spread the message of the benefits of dance, celebrate dance and bring people together.
The benefits of dance, to me, are endless. It is physically invigorating, allows creativity to blossom and encourages a social atmosphere. For me, dance is therapy. There is a sense of letting go, of releasing and feeling lighter in yourself. It is a full
body experience, including the mind and spirit. If you’re feeling a bit stressed or a bit stuck in a routine, I highly encourage you to put on some music and let your body follow it. Most likely you will feel a little self-conscious in yourself at first, and it will
feel hard to find the first ‘move’. Don’t worry about moves or steps, just start off by swaying a little to the music and let your body follow naturally in the flow of movement. It doesn’t have to be a spectacular ‘dance’, we are just dancing.
As a professional dancer, a lot of my life is consumed by dance. Maintaining technique and broadening my versatility of styles is something that I work on every day. When you’re a dancer by trade, you’re a dancer in life. This day is a celebration for those who see the value and importance of the art form ‘dance’, and acts as a wake up call for governments, politicians and institutions which have not yet recognised its value to the people and to the individual.
The pandemic has hit all of us hard, but especially the dance and theatre industry. We have not been allowed to perform for over a year now. For some, it has been too much and artists and friends have already started pursuing other careers. But for those that have remained through it all, I have seen the sheer guts and resilience of dancers and artists, fighting for their artistry and freedom to dance. Dancing in living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, gardens, and zooming in to classes from all over the
world because we simply can’t stop.
We can’t stop because dancing feels good! I believe there’s a dance style out there for everyone and encourage you to find yours. Here’s a ‘short’ list: ballet, jazz, modern, tap, contemporary, swing, lindy hop, hip hop, jive, ballroom, salsa, samba, street jazz, krumping. Look and see what there is in your local area, classes will be back in the studio from 17th May!
And when you’ve started your new dance hobby, look after your body by coming to see me at West Norwood Therapies for a sports massage! I absolutely love how being a dancer informs my work as a massage therapist. I'm particularly interested in improving clients’ range of movement and flexibility to give them freedom in their bodies.
Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares her journey with veganism and how it is a lifestyle as much as a diet choice and encourages an open attitude to how we relate to our consumption.
I’m going to start this blog with a quote from the Veganuary website: “Since 2014, Veganuary has inspired and supported more than one million people in 192 countries to try vegan for January. Last year, more than 400,000 people took the pledge to try a vegan diet, while more than 600 brands, restaurants, and supermarkets promoted the campaign, and launched more than 1200 new vegan products and menus in the UK market alone.”
It is safe to say that Veganism has grown considerably and swiftly over the past 6 years or so. That is a very short amount of time for something that was unknown to many people to have become so popular and dare I say, trendy. Of course, a vegan lifestyle is a lot more than a trend to those that follow it, but I do think that its rise in popular culture has helped vegans navigate meals out and quick dinners with a lot more ease. I say ‘vegan lifestyle’ because it is not just about the food! Veganism cuts animal products out of all things that we use, from shampoo to the clothes that we wear. Vegan leather is now becoming fairly mainstream with some big brands, such as Dr.Martens footwear.
I have a personal story with veganism. I didn’t really understand what it was and when I first heard that people ate food without using anything that came from an animal I thought it was impossible! Then I worked on a cruise ship for 6 months and my cabin mate was a fully fledged vegan. I couldn’t comprehend how she did it on the ship as we had to eat from the Officer’s mess - buffet style - and everything at least contained dairy or eggs if not meat, apart from the salad bar at the end. She would duly eat some salad at meal times and then back in our cabin she had stashes of vegan cereal bars, dried fruit, nuts, and most importantly of all, peanut butter. Just the jar and a spoon, that’s all that was required!
It proves just how hard it was not so long ago to be vegan. You had to prepare in advance, otherwise you would be stuck with nothing to eat. It seemed to me at the time that you would be giving up so much and that it must be a constant struggle to live a vegan lifestyle. But I think subconsciously my cabin mate inspired the beginning of my interest and enthusiasm for veganism. I then read the book, ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer and it pushed me over the edge to make a change.
After trying to commit to being fully vegan for about a year and a half back in 2017/18, I have now settled into what some might call a flexitarian. At home, we eat plant based most of the time and buy organic free range eggs from the farmer’s market along with an occasional bit of cheese (mainly from sheep/goats). My main motivation of wanting to adopt a more plant based diet is now my carbon footprint and the impact that mass meat and dairy production is having on the environment. We make exceptions on meat for special occasions and really celebrate the cooking and eating of a good quality piece of meat, bought from a small, family owned farm.
We don’t need meat in every meal, or as a convenience product. What we choose to eat is very personal, but sometimes I think our choices are not conscious ones. We are shown what to eat from years of marketing and perhaps from what we learned at the dinner table as kids. But we can make a conscious change, or we can at least try, little by little. I think one of the best things we can do for Veganuary is to educate ourselves a bit. There is a whole lifestyle behind the movement and it is for the good of our fellow animals and the planet to pay it some attention. If you can give it a go for the month of January that is amazing. If you can commit to one fully plant based meal a week then go for it!
Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares why she is celebrating Thanksgiving this year and the benefits she's found in regularly practicing gratitude, even when - and perhaps especially when - things are hard.
Thanksgiving is a tradition celebrated by the United States and Canada. It began as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. I have never personally given much thought to Thanksgiving but as I now live with an American who hasn’t seen his family in over a year, I’m giving it some thought this year!
This year has been a crazy one for all of us, at least in the sense that we were not expecting a full blown pandemic. Some days it might be hard to think about what we’re thankful for. So with this blog I want to remind myself and hopefully some readers to think of the small things that we have in our lives to be thankful for everyday.
Some time half way through this year I started a morning ‘ritual’ where I would write down my ‘24 hour win’, three things I am grateful for, and an intention for the day. It really grounds me right at the beginning of my day before I read any ‘doom and gloom’ news or expose myself to anxiety-inducing stimuli. Often, my three things I am grateful for are the same or similar to the day before or things I wrote last week. That’s OK. I am grateful everyday that I am healthy, everyday that my body is strong and carries me, everyday that I get to speak with a friend or family member, everyday that I take a walk outside in nature, everyday that I make myself some good food, everyday that I enjoy a cup of tea. The list goes on. I can be thankful for these things every single day. Being grateful and giving thanks for these everyday things reminds me of just how abundant my life is.
I, as well as many others, have lost work because of the lockdown. This is really hard, and in modern society we attach a lot of self worth and purpose to our work. So when we lose this work, we can lose our sense of purpose along with it. By being thankful for things in our lives every morning, we see that there is so much more to our purpose and self worth.
This Thanksgiving I encourage you to give thought to what you can be thankful for. If it is a certain friend or someone that has shown you kindness, show them that you are thankful with a little message or card (you will also feel happy from saying thanks!). As for me, I am celebrating my own Thanksgiving with my little family this Sunday, cooking and eating great food as a little gift to ourselves at the end of a hard year. Thankful that we have each other and the means to create and enjoy a good meal.
Happy Thanksgiving from ours to yours!
National Fitness Day - 23rd September 2020
Sometimes it feels as though we are constantly told, “just be more active”. It’s easy to say it, but with busy schedules and blinkered options it can be hard to actually make it happen. Perhaps the global pandemic has given you the time to explore some more active options, such as getting out for a walk, going for a run, cycling to work. These are exactly the types of things that you can work into your current day as a commute or lunchtime activity without needing to set aside separate time. If these seem pretty obvious activities but they don’t really give you much joy, then you need to look outside of your exercise blinkers! National Fitness Day (on the 23rd September 2020) can be a great starting point and really highlights the social and motivational aspect of fitness. From ‘plank-offs’, yoga and pilates classes to treadmill challenges, high-street HIIT classes, dance offs and mass walks.
With the surge of online technology and connection recently, there are even a whole host of activities you can take part in from home. Get Zoom installed and you’re ready to go! Always wanted to try Tai Chi? Or maybe dip your toes into some ballet shoes? If you search for it, it will be there. With online classes, make sure you always pick the beginner option if it’s something new you are trying and take it easy. Learning a physical skill online, the teacher is not always able to correct things properly, so just make sure you feel comfortable with every movement and don’t push yourself too far.
However, for me personally, online classes can be a bit lonely and lack the motivation of in-person classes and activities. In 2020 the aim of National Fitness Day is to demonstrate the inclusive power physical activity can have by celebrating how ‘Fitness Unites Us’. Especially now it seems more important than ever to be able to connect with people again and come together to help each other.
My nearest green space is Tooting Common and every morning when I walk my dog I see at least 4 different workout groups. There seems to be something for everyone, from a more gentle workout including yoga postures, to a more bootcamp style session that has a competitive element. The overriding theme is FUN. This is the key to continued exercise success! For many, exercise is viewed as a chore, it’s hard, it takes effort. I am not here to deny the effort and challenge involved in physical activity but if you are having fun at the same time it sort of cancels the hardship out. This week I’ve been lucky enough to be in Cornwall and I tried surfing for the first time. Yes it was VERY hard but I had so much fun, and I found it exhilarating. It’s that sweet rush of endorphins that physical exertion gives you that keeps you coming back!
A big barrier to exercise is cost, especially when you don’t enjoy things like running and cycling. A walk may seem tame or boring but if you have time on the weekend or on a day off it can be a great way to explore new areas. Walking for 2-3 hours (or more!) is a major form of physical activity, completely free and easily sociable with friends and family. If you love dogs but don’t have the means to own one, there are many apps which allow you to ‘borrow’ neighbours’ dogs and take them on a walk!
Think outside of the box...do you have a friend that teaches a form of exercise you want to try? Perhaps you could do a skill swap if money is tight. Or many studios around town have new sign up offers for the first month - how many are near you that you could take advantage of? Sign up to every studio, one after the other! If you hate the thought of running on your own, join a club: the social aspect is often enough to flip your perspective on something.
The days when I feel most tired, I always try and get my blood pumping a little. The endorphin release and boost of adrenaline wakes me up a lot more effectively than coffee! But remember, rest and recovery are also important. Especially with beginners, I see people go ‘gung-ho’ for exercise with all the best intentions but then burnout at the end of the week. Starting small and building up intensity is the best way to develop into a stable routine. Look after your body and give it the rest it needs. Try and incorporate some stretching and relaxation into your week. For the more experienced and frequent exercisers, a maintenance massage once a month can make you perform optimally in your workouts.
Remember, the key is FUN. Enjoy moving your body and get your friends involved, you’ll feel better.
Blogs from the WNT team. For our blogs from before June 2020 please see individual profile pages - it's a good way to get to know practitioners too.