The new normal!

On 22 July, 2020, massage therapists in Scotland were allowed to go back to work as part of Phase 3 of the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. I returned to work last week and I’ve loved every minute of it! As you’d expect there are increased hygiene measures and changes to clinic procedure so that I can follow industry and government guidelines.

One of the big changes is that I’m now doing the pre-treatment consultation, which includes a Covid screening, online or by phone in advance (usually that morning or the day before). This reduces the face-to-face time at the appointment. It does mean that one appointment becomes two, but I’m enjoying the chance to ‘see’ my clients in advance of the ‘hands on’ part of the appointment, as we both wear face masks for the treatment.

We don’t know how long the new Covid-19 guidelines will be in place but for now us massage therapists will do what we need to do!

Sweet dreams are made of these

We know how important our sleep is – it’s an opportunity for essential full body and mind maintenance work. However many of us struggle to get enough. If you’re looking to improve your sleep or quality of sleep you might find some of these useful.

– Try breathing exercises. By slowing down our breathing – using the diaphragm and avoiding shallow chest breathing – we can calm the nervous system. Lie on your back and place your hands, fingers loosely interlocked, across your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose and feel your belly expand and let your hands move slightly apart. Imagine the air entering your airways making it’s way to your lungs. Then as you exhale let the old stale air make its way out through your mouth. I like the 4-7-8 method. Inhale for 4 minutes, hold for 7, then exhale for 8.

– Switch off your electrical device. Whether it’s the TV, laptop, smart phone etc, switch it off at least 30 minutes before you go to bed and that will help switch off your brain! These devices emit the short wave-length, artificial blue light, which acts as a stimulant.

– Heaven scent. When it comes to choosing an essential oil for bedtime that one that always comes top is Lavandula Augustifolia aka Lavender. Thanks to the high Ester content this bushy perennial calms and soothes the nervous system making it the perfect bedtime companion. You could also try drops of roman chamomile, mandarin or ylang ylang on your pillow or oil diffuser. I like to use a combination of these essential oils in a nourishing face oil.

– Is there something on your mind? Whether you’re struggling to get to sleep or you wake up during the night unable to get back to sleep, our monkey mind can be a nightmare to keep at bay! It might help if you get up and write things down. Or picture a relaxing scenario – lying on the beach, designing your perfect house, picking your dream football team. My cousin does the tried and tested – she counts sheep!

– Too light? We’ve just had the longest day of the year – sunrise at 0426 and sunset at 22.02. Bliss! However you might find the light creeping in to your bedroom when you don’t want it to. Make sure your room is dark enough. Use a sleep mask or invest in some blackout curtains.

– Book a massage. By making an appointment for the late afternoon / evening, this is a great way to help the mind and body relax before bedtime.

Part of my run. Holyrood Park – looking to Saint Margaret’s Loch

– Do your exercise in the morning. The World Health Organisation recommends we do 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise every week. When we exercise our body produces certain hormones, including dopamine and cortisol, which play an important role in regulating our circadian rhythm (body clock). Better to do more vigorous exercise earlier in the day and do yoga or stretches closer to bedtime for good quality sleep.

– Eat a healthy & balanced diet (not too late in the evening). I’m always on the look out for a good recipe book. The two that I can’t get enough of at the moment are: Anna Jones The Modern Cook’s Year and Hemsley Hemsley The Art of Eating Well.

– Keep hydrated. During the day carry a reusable bottle with you. There are plenty of places where you can fill it up and Scottish Water have installed Top Up Taps in ten locations around Scotland. To find out the nearest one go to
In the evening, drink herbal teas. Clipper is good quality.

– Okay, now I know I said switch off your phone but the Insight Timer app is worth checking out. It includes hundreds of guided meditations on various topics (sleep, anxiety, depression…the list is endless), of various lengths of time (from 3 minutes to 60 minutes). It switches itself off at the end and it’s free!

A (running) step too far!

One of the first questions I’ll ask a client who’s presenting muscular pain is, ‘Have you done anything differently recently that might have caused it?’

So when I started getting a sharp pain down the back of my right thigh it didn’t take me long to work out why. I’d recently increased the length (by five minutes) and regularity (from one to two/three times a week) of my run. The increase hadn’t been a chore. I have Arthur’s Seat on my doorstep with wonderful views of the coastline and across Edinburgh. Yet, I hadn’t experienced this kind of pain in my leg before. I’ve had clients who have. In those cases it was piriformis syndrome, the sharp pain caused by the piriformis muscle pressing against the sciatic nerve.

So I made an appointment with my massage therapist. In the session she focussed on the hamstring muscles and it did the trick as I’ve only had the odd twinge since. However I know that I need to take care so it doesn’t flare up again. I’d previously managed on a minimal warm up / cool down routine and my new run clearly was a step too far. Now I’m doing more although the time spent on the cool down varies!

Part of my running route around Arthurs Seat

My experience made me think about what cardio exercise I’d do if I couldn’t run. I love being outside, seeing the different seasons come and go across Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Park and beyond. I know how important it is to have a varied fitness routine so it’s not just the same muscles getting the work out. During my run I try to include some side stepping so that those neglected leg and hip muscles also get a work out (I don’t manage this every time as I feel slightly self-conscious doing it!). The other fitness I like doing is boxing at Holyrood Boxing Gym, which is a great work out, but I can’t go as often as I’d like. I realise that I need to look after my legs!

There is much talk about the benefit of massage for runners. Some claims (that it can flush out toxins and lactic acid) remain unfounded, however research backs claims that it breaks down adhesions between muscle and fascia, which restricts muscle movement, and reduces DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). It’s definitely helped me by relieving the pain that would have stopped me running.

I’ve got a feeling my running routine may change again now that the colder months are upon us. 😉

Breathing is good for you!

Hilary Clinton revealed that she used ‘alternate nostril breathing’ (Nadi Shodhana in Sanskrit) to help her deal with the stress of losing the US Presidential campaign.

As a massage therapist I see how stress negatively affects our breathing and in turn how this can impact upon us physically.

If someone is dealing with stress, the chances are they are breathing more quickly, which means the muscles involved in the action are being over worked. The scalene muscles – coming from the side of the neck, attaching on to the upper ribs – suffer at times like this, becoming tighter.

In their tightened state they may press against the brachial plexus, which is a network of nerves traveling from the spinal cord down the arm. If it is impinged by a tight scalene it can cause neck or shoulder pain and it may cause numbness/tingling in the hand. If you’re experiencing the latter, you may worry you have carpal tunnel syndrome.

Deep tissue massage can help muscle tension Claire Hay Massage therapist Edinburgh

It can be surprising for some to discover that the pain they’ve been feeling is caused by a pesky tight muscle in their neck. And what a relief to find out that massage can help!

It’s great to see this relief on a client’s face at the end of the session when the pain has eased. But usually there’s more work to be done if the goal is to be long-term pain free. The stressor (s) needs to be identified/addressed otherwise the problem will probably come back. If the pain has been going on for some time it’s unlikely one massage will fix it, so the client might need more treatments. I often recommend stretches to do at home (perfect after a massage so the improved range of movement can be fully appreciated) or articles on breathing techniques.

Massage can relieve muscle tension

So which breathing technique should you choose? You can follow Hilary’s example with the ‘alternate nostril breathing’ or try something else such as the abdominal breathing technique or Sama Vitti (‘equal breathing’). It’s all about finding the one that works for you.

(Nadi Shodhana Pranayama in Sanskrit)