Getting to know your practitioner – Nicole McCowan, FGHG massage therapist

What do you love about your work as a remedial and pregnancy massage therapist?

I love being able to give women relief from any aches, pains or discomfort they have. I also absolutely adore when women lie down on the table and 9 times out of 10 there is an instant “Ähhhhhhhh” moment as they allow themselves to relax, knowing that the next 60-90 minutes is all about them and nurturing their bodies. Being a remedial and pregnancy massage therapist it’s my job be as caring, kind, compassionate and knowledgeable about the body as I can possibly be. Considering these are my favourite things to be in life, I truly think I have one of the best jobs in the world!

As well as being an aromatherapist and reiki practitioner, you teach feminine embodiment yoga. Would you like to tell us a bit about that?

Love to, it’s a massive passion of mine. Feminine Embodiment Yoga (FEY) is a specialised yoga practice uniquely celebrating the female form and flow. The practice allows you to strengthen your body through a combination of hatha yoga poses and rhythmic movements. It also has a strong focus on breath, balancing active and restorative poses and meditation. I love being a woman and learning about how unique our minds, emotions and bodies are, so when I discovered a yoga style specifically developed for women I couldn’t get enough and I enjoy sharing this practice with all women.

As a Practitioner, layering treatments with several modalities brings incredible results. For example, in a birth preparation massage the physical massage will work on an anatomical level, with the essential oils in the massage oil penetrating to a physiological level, add some reiki to reach the energetic level and once the massage is complete we the discuss home care and simple yoga postures and stretches that can work wonders to continue the birth preparation process.

Do you think women could benefit from feminine embodiment yoga during their fertility journey? How?

Definitely, Feminine Embodiment Yoga (FEY) focuses on relaxing the nervous system by releasing physical and emotional tension from the body. When the nervous system is relaxed your body goes from being in the ‘fight or flight’ mode (sympathetic nervous system) to “rest and digest”mode (parasympathetic nervous system) allowing your body to heal and restore itself.  The practice also targets specific areas of women’s bodies for greater engagement and toning. For example, in today’s society we do a lot of sitting at desks, in front of the TV, in the car, on transport etc. So FEY focuses on building strength in your legs, bottom and core, as well as stretching out the hips and pelvis, as these areas can become tight and locked. This is especially beneficial for fertility as it creates space and increases blood flow and nutrients to the area.

You support many women with massage on their journey through pregnancy and also post birth. What are some of the biggest challenges you see women going through physically and emotionally during these times?

It is an amazing privilege to be able to support women through this time of great transition as their bodies adapt and change to accommodate the next generation they are growing inside them. Exhaustion and fatigue are common challenges I see women facing during pregnancy and post birth. We live in a fast pace society and being the matriarch of the family comes with a never ending to do list, which you have just added “grow human” and/or “raise child” to the list! It’s important to get enough rest so your body and the baby has the best chance to grow and thrive. Getting a massage is amazing for this and I’m delighted when women come in to see me, having placed importance on putting themselves and their babies on top of their priority list. A massage helps relieve tension, headaches, body aches and pains, and cramping, to name a few. Massage for birth preparation is crucial to be in the most relaxed, rested and healthy state for the labour.

Post birth massage is essential to relieve the stress your body has gone through in labour and accelerate the healing process by releasing tense muscles which aids in moving lymph, fresh blood and nutrients around the body. It can be a challenge to find the time with a newborn to make it into the clinic so we recommend timing it just after a feed and then your gorgeous baby can sleep peacefully in their pram in the room while you receive a much needed massage. If they wake and cry it wouldn’t be the first time the awesome team on reception coo them back to sleep (it’s literally a pleasure and cuteness overload). If leaving the house still seems too hard (which it totally can be trying to time feed and sleep cycles) we offer home visit massages, we recommend you have someone at home with you to watch over baby so you can fully relax in the massage and receive as much nurturing as you give your bundle of joy.

How else can men and women benefit from massage?

Massage can benefit men and women in so many ways by increasing circulation, assisting detoxification, relieving tension and pain, reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and boosting your immune system, just to name a few.

Massage also counteracts all the sitting we do which is an awesome benefit considering how many of us have office jobs equating to prolonged periods of sitting. All this sitting leads postural stress which most times manifests in the shoulders and neck. More advanced postural stress can show up as pain or weakness in the lower back and gluteals. More often than not after a massage I will have patients comment how they didn’t realise how tense they were or how tight a specific area was until it was massaged. It’s highly beneficial to have a regular massage, even just once a month, to check in with your body before any aches or pains become acute or chronic.

What part of your work has ever brought you to tears?

As much as I try, I can’t help the rush of emotion when I hear about the birth, see pictures of, or meet a baby of a mother I have been massaging during her pregnancy. Its humbling and special to be able to share the joys of watching their belly grow and feeling the baby move when they receive a massage in Mum’s tum. Knowing that I have been able to support the mother through massage, which may have helped them have a more relaxed and enjoyable pregnancy is just wonderful.

Learn more about Nicole McCowan, remedial massage therapist at Fertile Ground Health Group or make an appointment to have one of her fabulous massage treatments. Online Booking

Yin for the Sleep Win…#Yinning

Deep Sleep Yin Yoga with Jane Holland at The Melbourne Apothecary

How many nights have you SWORN you would get off Netflix earlier/ stopped scrolling social media in bed/ run a bath/ rubbed lavender in your pillow/ done a guided mediation/ got a better night’s sleep?! Or perhaps you tend to lay in bed, wide eyed, coaxing yourself to drop down, only to become more restless the longer you remain awake?! If you answered yes, you are not alone! An astonishing 39.8% Australians are not getting the recommended quality and/or quantity of sleep each night, leading to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, cognitive dysfunction, poor immune regulation and higher chances of depression and anxiety during and post-pregnancy (Adams 2017).  And this where yin yoga comes into play – yin for the sleep win. Let’s dive in.

Increasingly, we are living in a screen-driven, complex, and uncertain world. The prevalence of sleep problems and prescribed sleep medications actually increased between 2010 and 2016, suggesting that despite increasing awareness in the general media and medical literature about sleep, we are not making meaningful changes!

So, what can you do?

One of the first things you can do to support your sleep is to get honest and conduct a night-time audit. It is much harder to change a behaviour you are not aware of, so understanding your patterns and how they might be contributing to poor sleep comes first.

  1. RECORD… Track your movements between 6pm and bedtime each night for the next two weeks. Keep a record of the times you ate/ drank, what you watched on TV, amount of alcoholic drinks/ cigarettes, interactions with partners/ family/ housemates, time on your phone, reading, what you do when lying down to bed, exercise etc. Also note caffeine intake (how many coffees/ teas/ cola drinks you had during the day) Make this as detailed as possible.
  2. ASSESS… Each morning, record how your sleep was the previous evening – how many times you woke, if you got up during the night, how vital you feel when you wake on a scale of 1-10 (if you have a device that tracks this you could record the data as well).
  3. REVIEW… After two weeks, go back to your journal and notice if there are correlations between evening activities and sleep quality/ quantity.
The next step? Operation SLEEP HYGIENE
  1. EDIT… Start small. That is, find ONE thing you can remove from your evening ritual that might be connected to poor sleep, and introduce ONE thing that might improve your sleep.

SUGGESTIONS…

  1. REMOVE– Wi-Fi in your home after 9pm, scrolling on apps whilst lying in bed, alcoholic drinks, caffeine after midday, bright lighting around the home in the evening, arguments with family/ housemates, going straight from Netflix to bed, eating/ working within an hour of going to sleep, electronics in the bedroom.
  2. INTRODUCE– dimmed lighting for an hour before sleeping, sipping warm water in the fresh air for 10 minutes before bed, yin yoga, 10 mins of meditation, reading, a warm shower or bath, daily exercise (20-30mins), going to bed at the same time every night, removing all electronic devices from your bedroom
  3. REVIEW… Notice what changes for you over the following two weeks. Does your sleep improve? What are you feeling since your audit? Can you introduce another small change after these two weeks?

Including meditation and gentle yoga before bed is one simple method of reducing stress and supporting in to ‘come home’ to your body and breath. Studies have shown that including meditation, breathwork and yoga reduces stress and associated negative health effects, as well as improving sleep quality and quantity.

Yin yoga, a practice which includes long held postures targeting deep connective tissue and calming the nervous system, has shown great promise in reducing stress and ensuring good sleep hygiene.

A 2012 US study found 55% of participants who included yoga in their weekly practices reported improved sleep, and 85% reduced stress (Stussman 2015). Yoga’s ability to increase relaxation and induce a balanced mental state has also been explored, with a regular yoga practice resulting in an increase in the total number of hours slept, significantly less time getting to sleep, and a feeling of being rested in the morning (Woodyard 2011).

While there is not one definitive answer to improving sleep quality and quantity, becoming aware of our daily habits and behaviours is an incredibly important starting point in establishing what is true. By getting honest, it is possible to firstly acknowledge and then establish what changes can be made. Implementing a regular yoga and meditation practice may provide both a nourishing and supportive way to come back into alignment with our natural cycles, improve sleep and experience deep rest.

So as the sun sets on your day, watch your own habits and behaviours as you prepare for sleep. Will you be winding down with nature and following your natural rhythms supported by yoga and mindfulness? Or will you scrolling mindlessly, yearning for deep restoration but unwilling to make changes… The choice is yours.

Written by Jane Holland

Jane Holland is a respected yin yoga teacher, international retreat facilitator and educator. She is the creator and facilitator of our current “Deep Sleep” series – yin yoga for restoration.

 

 

References:

Woodyard C. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Int J Yoga. 2011;4(2):49-54. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.85485

(Stussman BJ, Black LI, Barnes PM, Clarke TC, Nahin RL. Wellness-related use of common complementary health approaches among adults: United States, 2012. National health statistics reports; no 85. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.)

Adams RJ, Appleton SL, Taylor AW et al. Sleep health of Australian adults in 2016: results of the 2016 Sleep Health Foundation national survey. Sleep Health 2017;3:35-42

Daukantaitė D, Tellhed U, Maddux RE, Svensson T, Melander O. Five-week yin yoga-based interventions decreased plasma adrenomedullin and increased psychological health in stressed adults: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2018 Jul 18;13(7):e0200518. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200518. PMID: 30020987; PMCID: PMC6051627.

Sleep Boosters

By Consuella Garreffa, Diploma Remedial Massage, Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition) – current

Making up the triangle of a healthy lifestyle alongside diet and exercise, is ensuring a restful sleep cycle. Sleep allows our body and mind to fully relax and recharge. We like to think something that is so important for our wellbeing should be so easy. But often a full night’s uninterrupted sleep is not as easy at it seems.

Have you ever got into bed and felt like every problem you put on the back burner during the day has now decided to pop up to be solved and two hours later you’re suddenly wondering why humans talk and monkeys don’t?

After a long day out and about I think we can all agree that this is the last thing that needs to be solved!

With a little help from these sleep boosters you should see less time solving the language of the world at all hours of the night and more time recharging your body and mind for the next day ahead.

1. MASSAGE

Human touch is an important part of survival. This is no wonder when you think of all the things it helps to alleviate when receiving a cuddle from a friend in times of stress, a pat on the back for encouragement, or a massage when you’ve got aching muscles. But there is more to massage than what you may think. A one-hour therapeutic massage has been shown to positively increase our hormones serotonin and melatonin needed for that crucial nights sleep.

2. SWITCH OFF

Research suggests that exposure to blue light (projecting from LED, mobile phones, computers and tv screens) down-regulates production of the sleep hormone Melatonin. Switching off these devices at least an hour before going to bed will help the body to produce melatonin – important for that peaceful nights sleep.

3. TEMPERATURE

Throughout the day our body temperature likes to sit at around 37degrees, when we go to sleep this temperature generally drops, varying 1-2degrees. Make sure your room is well ventilated; keep a window open where possible. Ensure pyjamas are made of natural fibres such as cotton, allowing the body to breathe. Shall you dare, sleeping naked is most optimal, allowing your skin to fully breathe.

4. MEDITATE

Whether you’re in a full time job, on holidays or retired; it is always important to take time to check in. Meditation prior to going to bed helps to manage stressors by grounding thoughts. Free useful apps such as Headspace and the Smiling Mind App will assist in guided meditations or you could choose to download the Be Fertile meditations from Fertile Ground website. All you have to do is select one that connects with you.

5. SMELL THE ROSES

Smells may trigger different emotions and feelings for different individuals. Essential oils such as lavender, vetiver, chamomile and bergamot can be applied topically with oil such as sweet almond oil or place a few drops in a diffuser in the bedroom. Don’t have a diffuser but having a shower or bath prior to bed? Pop a few drops on a hot face washer in the shower and let the steam diffuse it whilst bathing to promote calm and relaxation.

6. LET THAT WATER RUN

Talking about showers, have that shower just before bed. The warmth of the shower can help signal that temperature drop spoken about earlier. Once warming up the body needs to cool down as you get out and dry yourself off. It can also be a nice mindful exercise to practice visualising any daily stressors being washed beyond your head, down your shoulders and down the drain… simply washing away any heavy thoughts.

7. BELLY BLISS

Eating and sleeping can be two of the best past times. Let’s keep them apart though. Once we’ve had a beautiful satisfying meal our body has a slight temperature rise as metabolism speeds up and digestion occurs. Allowing a few hours prior to lying down ensures that the most of our dinner has moved through our stomach and therefore will not be likely to cause any discomfort such as reflux or heartburn.

8. FEEL THE SUN

Spending time outdoors during the day time gives us a lovely boost of serotonin. Serotonin is a wonder hormone helping us feel happy and at good levels we feel content with a positive outlook and mental state. As the sun goes down and it gets darker this serotonin is then converted to that very important sleep hormone mentioned earlier, melatonin. We LOVE melatonin at sleep time!

9. MOVE

MOVE. It’s that simple. Our body is designed to move. Just 20 minutes a day is proven to help assist in a productive sleep as well as increased energy during the day – double bonus!

 

Consuella_Garreffa colour

Consuella Garreffa, Diploma Remedial Massage, Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition) – current

Consuella Garreffa is a Remedial Massage therapist with years of valuable experience and is currently studying a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutrition. Since birth Consuella has been immersed in natural living principles, growing up on a vineyard in Mildura where traditional methods were opted to prevent disease and treat any health complaints.

Helpful hints for a good night’s sleep

Written by Gina Fox, Naturopath

Getting a good night’s sleep is an excellent starting point to improve your attention span and concentration, raise energy levels and increase your tolerance to stressful incidents during the day.

When to Eat and When to Sleep

  • Preferably eat dinner before 7.30pm at least 4 hours before bed
  • Avoid having a heavy evening meal
  • Do not go to bed with an over full stomach or feeling hungry
  • Have a regular bed time to allow your body to maintain a constant sleep/wake cycle.
  • Avoid daytime naps

Relax before Bed

  • There are a number of techniques to use to promote relaxation before bed. Try progressive relaxation by first tensing and then relaxing each area of the body. Begin by contracting the muscles in the feet and work your way slowly up through the thighs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, arms, eyes, forehead and face.  Hold the contraction for 2 seconds then relax the muscles.  You can do this exercise once or twice while in bed to promote deep relaxation.
  • Deep breathing exercises before bed. In fact if you do these regularly during the day it will have a cumulative effect on relaxing you and helping you sleep well.
  • Have a warm bath before bed with 3-4 drops of sleep inducing essential oils such as lavender. Or put a quarter of a cup of epsom salts in the water to aid muscle relaxation.
  • Don’t work or study before bed and aim to stop the study at least 1 hour prior to sleeping
  • Burning essential oils in the bedroom before sleep can be helpful. Choose one of the relaxing oils such as Bergamot, Lavender; Frankincense; Sweet Marjoram; Sweet Orange; Rose; Ylang Ylang.  Alternatively putting a drop or two of essential oil on a hanky by your pillow may have a similar calming effect.

Foods that may help sleep

  • Foods high in tryptophan may induce sleep. A cup of hot milk before bed may be helpful.
  • Include plenty of magnesium rich foods in the diet such as vegetables, nuts, seeds, soy products and whole grain foods.
  • Eat calcium rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and soy.
  • If you have a problem with dips in energy levels during the day you may need to eat a light snack half an hour before bed to ensure blood glucose is balanced so you don’t wake in the night. Oatmeal, wholegrain cereals or a handful of almonds before bed can be helpful.  Avoid salty foods which can be stimulating.
  • Have a cup of herbal tea with sleep inducing properties before bed. Try lemon balm, chamomile, catnip, hops, passion flower, skullcap or valerian.

Foods that may hinder a good nights sleep

  • As a general rule coffee and caffeine drinks should be avoided after 1pm in the afternoon and certainly not taken after dinner. Food and drinks high in caffeine include soft drinks, colas, chocolate, coffee-flavoured ice cream, hot cocoa and tea.  Some people may be very sensitive to caffeine and may even have a problem with decaffeinated coffee.
  • Alcohol can impair sleep as it causes the release of adrenalin.
  • Do not take stimulating supplements in the evening eg B-complex or iron.
  • If you often get up to urinate during the night then avoiding drinks for the two hours before bed – common culprits are alcohol, coffee and apple juice.
  • Foods to avoid in the evening are those high in fats, heavily spiced foods and MSG. Other foods to avoid in the evening are sauerkraut, bacon and other smoked products, spinach, eggplant, wine and cheese as they all produce tyramine, releasing norepinephrine which is a brain stimulant

Exercise and Lifestyle

  • Regular physical exercise improves general well-being, relaxes tense muscles and has a good effect on sleep. The exercise should be undertaken morning, afternoon or early evening. 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate intensity is ideal.  Avoid strenuous exercise within three hours of bed as this might keep you awake.
  • An evening stroll after dinner or gentle stretching exercises before bed can help.
  • Gentle yoga in the evening can be beneficial and sleep inducing.
  • Don’t watch television in bed and in fact switch the TV off at least half an hour prior to bed. Use that half hour to do something relaxing such as a warm bath, stretching or relaxation exercises, reading a book or listening to relaxing music.

Noise and environment

  • Check for any electrical appliances near the bed and remove them.
  • Check if there is a fuse box on the wall behind your bed in another room. If so you may need to alter the position of your bed.
  • Try to maintain a consistent body temperature when you sleep. Have different summer and winter covers to avoid seasonal temperature fluctuations.
  • Noise control. If you are bothered by loud constant noises then try and reduce them.  High quality ear plugs can be helpful if noise is a factor.
  • A dark and quiet room is a recipe for a good nights sleep. And of course make sure you have a comfortable bed – not too hard and not too soft!

What to do if you wake up or still can’t get to sleep?

  • Practice a deep breathing or relaxation technique.
  • Or get up and do something monotonous until you feel sleepy.

Medication/Drugs and their effect on sleep

  • If you are on any medication check with your doctor if a side effect might be insomnia. The doctor may be able to suggest alternative medication if it is the cause of sleeping problems but don’t just come off your medication without first discussing this with your doctor.

Research compiled from:

Cameron M, 1993 Lifetime Encyclopedia of natural Remedies, Prentice Hall, New Jersey|
Haas E 1992 Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Berkeley, USA
Murray M, Pizzorno J, 1998 Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine, Little, Brown and Co, London
Osiecki H, 1998 The Physician’s Handbook of Clinical Nutrition, Bioconcepts Publishing,  Queensland

Gina FoxGina Fox, Naturopath

Gina Fox is a naturopath with over 15 years’ experience. She trained under Francesca Naish (author of Better Babies) and has a Masters in Reproductive Medicine. As well as being an experienced clinician she is a speaker, naturopathic lecturer and student clinic supervisor.

Gina is highly skilled in providing naturopathic care for women’s health issues, pre-conception health, infertility, IVF support, pregnancy care and through menopause. She treats a wide range of issues including recurrent miscarriage, thyroid, auto-immune antibodies and she has seen good results working with men to improve sperm quality. She also enjoys the post birth appointments with mother and baby, maximizing wellness for the whole family and educating parents on how to manage many common childhood illnesses. Her professional approach involves working in collaboration with doctors and specialists to create an effective co-ordinated treatment.

Gina loves to help couples achieve full-term pregnancies and give birth to beautiful healthy babies. Gina excels at addressing underlying stressors while couples achieve their optimal fertility. Her own meditation practice led her to become a meditation instructor and co-develop the Be Fertile series of guided relaxation CDs for women around conception, IVF and pregnancy support.