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The importance of good circulation

Imagine what happens to a city when it’s transport corridors are blocked, everything soon grinds to a dirty, frustrating stand still. Poor traffic circulation has similarities to poor blood circulation. Reliable physical transportation of people, goods and waste are essential to the health of cities. Good blood circulation is essential to the health of your body for similar reasons. (Closed plumbing and drainage systems are a good example of circulation at work too).

Arterial  roads act like major arteries and veins in your body and secondary roads are like the arterioles and venules in your circulatory system where the flow is divided to direct blood and hormones to specific parts of your anatomy. Driveways, loading docks and internal access lanes function like the finest of blood vessels, your capillaries. It is through the capillaries that the cells, the basic building blocks of the body, get nourished and have their waste carted away through the venous system.

When we are young we usually don’t have to worry too much about blood circulation but as we age it becomes increasingly important to help our circulation remain efficient. There are many things that can undermine blood circulation, in fact pretty well any disease, significant injury, addiction or nutritional deficiency has circulatory consequences to our health. Diabetes damages capillaries in our eyes and extremities, cancerous growths deprive healthy blood flow to normal tissues, iv drug use collapses veins, smoking slows healing, soft tissue trauma creates scar tissue that impedes blood flow, high levels of stress create high blood pressure that causes strokes and heart failure and malnutrition impairs circulation through weakening the whole system.  

Adequate water intake, a balanced diet, regular age appropriate exercise, massage and good posture can all be used by almost everybody to help maintain healthy circulation. Good blood circulation gives you strength and energy, it gives your complexion a healthy colour and it is essential to the healing process when your body sustains damage. Water when it flows remains fresh, when it doesn’t flow it stagnates, so too with blood and other body fluids.

Sedentary desk-bound jobs can cause or worsen circulatory problems, given the fact that major growth areas of the job market are desk bound jobs there is a potential for circulatory diseases to increase. Already 2 of the 3 biggest killers of people in developed countries are circulatory events, stroke and heart failure.

The rate of smoking is thankfully coming down in western countries which is a big contributor to circulatory disease, unfortunately we are getting fatter which can cause circulatory problems of it’s own. Circulatory health is always a work in progress and something we forget or ignore at our own peril.

All of the Self Massage techniques and exercises in Self Massage & + 40 fitness help with the circulation of blood and body fluids


Psychosomatic disease

The word psychosomatic tends to get used in a negative, even patronizing way. The term does not mean your problems are imaginary as many seem to think, the correct definition of psychosomatic is  that your physical condition is either related by timing or causality to your thinking (and vice versa).

Everybody in some way and at some time is subject to this, if you have an irritating workmate for instance who physically drains you just by being near them it is a type of psychosomatic response. Just for the purpose of the exercise take your pulse and blood pressure before you spend time with such a person and then again after you have been with them for an hour.

Blood pressure and pulse rate are objective, measurable physiological readings. Elevated blood pressure and heart rate can cause things like headaches and palpitations, when such things are accompanied by emotional stress it may be a psychosomatic response.

Once the stigma is taken out of the term it may give you important insights into your own health. As a massage therapist, nearly everyday I see psychosomatism at work. Jaw tension, neck pain and headaches very commonly accompany heightened emotional stress. The worse the stress the worse the physical symptoms often are.

Some years ago a middle aged man came to my clinic with chronic chest pain. J had seen several doctors about this over a 30 year period who could find nothing physically wrong with him, he was healthy, fit and strong.

Over a course of about 10 massage and acupuncture treatments J casually spoke about his experiences as a young man conscripted into a paramilitary police force in a country in a state of civil war.

As a new recruit he copped his share of  military bastardization, even worse he was under the command of  officers some of whom were mercenaries who he described as psychopaths (not altogether uncommon in war zones).

As a young recruit he witnessed death, injury and torture in a place where he often did not really know who his friends and allies were. As a young recruit he had no control over what was happening around him.

J had no tearful outbursts or overt anger through any of our sessions but I did sense that he felt ashamed about not being able to stop some truly dreadful things that happened almost every day to him and to others around him.

Throughout this time his tight chest muscles became progressively looser each week and although he claimed to never have had any breathing problems previously he was surprised that his breathing somehow became easier as his chest felt more comfortable.

In our second last session J told me how a he was forced to watch a suspected female “rebel” tortured to death with electric shocks by one of the mercenary officers, an officer who used to sneak up on J from time to time and shock him for the fun of it.

The last time I saw J he told me he felt normal again for the first time in 30 years and also told me he had not even told his wife the things he said to me. J finally got his guilt off his chest.

I am not suggesting that acupuncture or massage is a magic cure for PTSD or are  any better than other types of therapy only making a point about mind and body.

Tai Chi (Tai Qi)

The roots of tai chi go back thousands of years and it comes in different forms. Like yoga it is just as much a spiritual practice as it is an exercise for many. You don’t need to “believe in it ” for tai chi to work, it’s spiritual benefit comes from the calm enegised feeling it leaves you with when you start to get the hang of it. Tai chi is  an active meditation as well as neuro motor exercise with real physical benefits.

I have been asked by many clients over the years what tai chi actually does when I have recommended it to them. This is a fair question because it doesn’t look like cardio where people are puffing and panting. Tai chi doesn’t look like strength exercise either, where someone is clearly exerting him or herself. Tai chi  stretches limbs but not nearly with as much emphasis as you find in yoga. Tai chi is actually a mixture of all these things, this is what neuro motor exercise is.

I believe that tai chi is not nearly practised as much by non- Asians as it is by Asians because unless it is explained to you that it helps your balance, agility, posture and proprioception you may not realize what the potential benefits actually are. If you practice tai chi regularly it can improve all these things.

Tai chi is harder than it looks, I was surprised how much it made my thighs work (and strengthen) when I first started because you never stand with your legs locked straight in tai chi. All of that slow controlled movement can really improve your balance and coordination by changing the way you move. The wide stances used in tai chi can help elderly people in particular a great deal because it makes you much more sure footed.

Tai chi is closely related to chi gong (qi gong), tai chi’s lesser known cousin. They both encourage strong and stable posture and movement through slowing down the simplest actions. It looks graceful because tai chi and chi gong combines balance with flowing movements.

The older you get the more your slowing reflexes, stiffening muscles and weakening legs need tai chi and chi gong. When you start to find jogging, pumping iron and ball sports too hard to keep doing it is time for you to try something like tai chi, chi gong or yoga.

If you can only make it to class once a week practice at home, there is no reason why you cant, two square metres is all you need and you will find good instruction online to help you. Finding the right teacher is more important than finding the right style, if you do not feel comfortable with your teacher find another one.

If you feel like doing it more than once a day do so, the more often you do it the better you get and the quicker you will benefit from it. Running around the block can help you play sport better but neuro motor exercise (also called functional fitness) is what will help you stay safely living independently as you age.



Tendons are tough fibrous bands of connective tissue that attach muscles to bone. Tendons act like cables, they transfer the contractile force of the working muscle to produce joint action. Tendons like cartilage and ligament contain few blood vessels, because of this can they be very slow to heal when damaged. Terndons rupture when subjected to sudden excessive loads like when a basketballer tries to jump high shooting, it is the achilles tendon at the back of the heal that ruptures in that situation because of the energetic flexing of the calf muscle when jumping.

Tendons are classified as being either positional as with the tendons on the back of your hand that you can see wiggling away as you type, or they are elastic as with the achilles tendon. Elastic tendons can store much energy as the achilles tendon does when you run and jump.

Tendonitis is a repetitive strain injury that is most likely to effect the tendons of the arms and wrists when tasks requiring short movements of the attached muscles are repeated over and over again. Data entry jobs on computers are a good example of this as are production line jobs. In all the cases I have seen of tendonitis, muscular symptoms were present well before the tendon sheath became inflamed, keeping your muscles supple with regular stretching is good for your tendons. so is Self Massage.

When your muscle is flexible there is less tension on the attached tendon, tendon and muscle action is as inseparable as the tendon and the muscle are physically.

If you had x-ray glasses you would be able to see the transition of the tissue in the muscle become denser, more fibrous and whiter as it tapers down to become tendon and attach to the bone. You would also be able to see that the longer the tendon in relation to it’s muscle the less that same muscle can bulk up with exercise. Successful body builders are helped in no small part by comparatively short tendons with longer muscles.

Like other tissues in the body our tendons are likely to be similar to that of our parents so if your parents have tendon problems it is wise to be extra vigilant about your own muscular skeletal health. Tendons and muscles seem to operate more efficiently when exercised and worked with motions that engage the full range of motion of the joints they span. When we have jobs that subject our joints to short, rapid, repeated movements tendon and muscle seems to be more likely to injure and become inflamed.

Exercises that subject our joints to similar use should be avoided an example of which is rushing through a series of press ups where full extension of the elbows and shoulders is short cut in order to do more repetitions. This is a very unwise exercise habit and will sooner or later undermine your attempts to get fitter and stronger. Slower more controlled repetitions are less likely to interfere with your attempts to get fitter. Exercise regimes that engage the full spectrum of joint movement such as practiced in yoga and tai chi are much more sustainable in the long term. 

Coughs & Colds

The common cold while still eluding a complete cure can be made less intense by trying the following:

*Your runny nose and sneezing may be more allergy related than bacterial. Many allergies we acquire along the way, we are not necessarily born with them. Spring and Autumn are peak allergy seasons due to pollinating plants, if your sneezing is ongoing an allergy test might be a good idea. If you are diagnosed with hayfever (allergic rhinitis) there are pharmaceutical, herbal and mineral suppliments and medicines that can control the symptoms. Nasal toiletting with saline water can also flush away the irritants in your sinuses. Vacuuming regularly can reduce household dust which many are allergic to. Dehumidifyers can reduce mould and mildew which are also common hayfever triggers.

*Sometimes irritation to the facial nerves are caused by muscular tension in your upper neck, I have been surprised on several occasions how much an osteopathic adjustment, acupuncture or massage has greatly relieved symptoms that felt very flu -like.

* Raw garlic can noticably relieve cold symptoms too, chop finely and sprinkle on your food. Use at least one clove at a time. Garlic can not only dry your sniffles it can give your physical energy a boost too. If you suffer from stomach ulcers or gastric erosion do not use garlic.

* If your cough has advanced to you waking up expectorating thick mucous in the morning, shower with the plug blocked so warm water accumulates in the shower pan. Then add a few drops of eucalyptus, ti tree or wintergreen oil and use your foot to swish around the water. Doing this will turn your bathroom into a big herbal steam inhalant chamber. This is much safer, convenient and more comfortable than filling a bowl with hot water and leaning over it with a towel over your head.

* One of the easiest ways to avoid catching a cold is to keep your fingers out of your nose. Disposable sanitised hand wipes are a useful thing to keep in your bag or pack to wipe your hands with after pushing a shopping trolley, using someone else’s computer and using public escalators or hand holds on buses and trains.

*It is better to use a mucolytic medicine rather than a cough suppressant when going to bed of a night time. Mucolytics make the thick sputum runnier and easier to cough up of a morning. Cough suppressants (mistakingly known as cough medicine) just allow the sputum to collect in your lungs which will make you  cough even more.

* If you keep contracting colds your immunity may be low which can be caused by a disease, lack of rest, poor nutrition, smoking and stress. Inhaling drugs is not helpful either. Carry a small bottle of ti tree or eucalyptus around with you and regularly take a good sniff up each nostril, it has an anti bacterial effect. Do this immediately after you have walked through someone’s sneeze radius. Be nice to yourself.

* In Chinese medicine ongoing respiratory problems can relate to suppressed grief, I have met a number of people who only became asthmatic immediately after the death of a loved one, divorce or losing a much valued career.