migraine treatmentBy Magdalena Shemayev, LMBT, CPT

Too much sleep, not enough sleep. Extra cup of coffee, or you skipped your second cup today. You could be in the middle of finals at school, or maybe you just finally got a break after a long week at work. Yet, no matter what, it seems like it’s time for a migraine. The neck pain starts to creep in, maybe you yawn, and maybe you start craving sugar. You get nauseous, the pain creeps behind one eye, and all you can think about is crawling to a dark room and trying to sleep it off.

Unfortunately, it’s much harder to stop pain once it begins than it is to prevent it. A better approach lies in identifying as many migraine triggers as possible, and controlling the ones you can.

Migraine triggers are highly individual, but there are common themes. According to a large study, the most common trigger is weather, followed closely by stress and not enough sleep. For those who have dealt with migraines — many of us for our whole lives — some triggers are obvious and predictable (no, thanks, I’ll pass on the white wine!), while others are elusive and fickle. Maybe some days you can handle that extra cup of coffee, and other days, a few sips and you can feel the throbbing start. What gives?

This is where the concept of a trigger threshold is useful. A tool used to describe how and why certain combinations lead to that telltale pain, being able to identify and whittle away at your own trigger threshold is an invaluable tool for the migraineur.

Imagine a cup that, when filled, means you get a migraine. Some things add a few drops, like spending too many hours at your computer or forgetting your sunglasses on a long walk. Some things fill the cup halfway, like a glass of white wine or sleeping on your neck wrong.

What matters most is how full the cup already is. Say you skipped a meal — that’s a third of your glass. Unfortunately, you skipped that meal because you slept badly (another quarter, let’s say), and you tossed and turned so much you wrenched your neck (another quarter). Now your glass is five sixths full, so while your coworker wearing cologne isn’t usually an issue, BAM, the glass is full and now it’s migraine time.

Some triggers are controllable. Avoiding certain foods, for example, is a relatively easy solution, or sticking to two cups of coffee a day. Other triggers are completely outside our control, like the weather or whether a coworker piles on the cologne for a hot date. A lot of triggers can be controlled to an extent with regular massage to reduce stress, eating regularly and not skipping meals, stretching for muscle tension, etc. In particular, stress and physical tension reduction can go a long way toward preventing a migraine, or if one has already started, making the pain and symptoms more bearable.

One of the most common symptoms of migraines — more common even than nausea or the migraine aura itself in some studies — is neck pain. For many, neck pain is the final drop in their migraine cup, or perhaps the first symptom of the migraine itself. Many common prescription migraine medications, such as the triptans (Imitrex, Amerge, etc.) can cause muscle cramps and tension, which don’t feel great even if your head starts to feel better. Massage can help relieve the tension before and during a migraine, and regular bodywork can help reduce your overall stress levels and prevent the physical tension patterns from taking hold as easily.

Most importantly, find what combination works for you. The key is to control as many triggers and symptoms as possible so that when the uncontrollable happens, your cup isn’t already full. Many find it hard to tell what facets of their migraines are triggers and precede the migraine, or make up the migraine itself. By regularly emptying your migraine cup, or keeping the amount in it low, you can reduce your levels of pain and help prevent a migraine before it starts.


massage bodywork therapist certified personal trainer

Magdalena Shemayev is a licensed massage therapist and certified personal trainer at Renu Massage, Energy & Bodywork. She specializes in working with clients with chronic pain conditions, such as migraines or TMJ. Her goal in any session is to give the body and mind a safe space to find itself again, in order to facilitate relaxation and healing. You can contact her through her business Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/mshemayevLMT) or schedule an appointment with her through Renu Massage, Energy & Bodywork www.renumadison.com


References: “Common Triggers.” Migraine.com. www.migraine.com/mia2012/common-triggers/.

“Neck Pain.” Migraine.com. www.migraine.com/migraine-symptoms/neck-pain/.

Heidi massage bodyworker cupping therapistI am a person who likes an organized schedule. Not that I don’t love my free time, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve always been really good at coordinating my many activities so that I get to actually both have and enjoy that free time. In high school I was the only one I knew who was going to movies during finals week since I had already prepped for my exams in advance. I have an aptitude for coordinating employee schedules at work and really love that feeling when everything fits together and just works. But life doesn’t always go that way! The best laid plans don’t always pan out. And sometimes a lot of curve balls come at the same time.

There has been a recurring theme in my life of learning to live with uncertainty and even some chaos. I’ve always been one to have a lot of balls up in the air and for the most part, they do their part and stay their course. Then at one point, the universe had something completely different in mind for the direction my life was to take; all at once my life was turned upside down. Pretty much everything close to me was about to change, and I had to learn how to be OK. And man, was becoming OK a long journey. But I eventually got there and was not only OK, but actually grateful for the events that prompted my new direction, which I would have missed out on if my path hadn’t been completely reshaped. And I was feeling really proud of myself for having come out on the other side.

It’s as if I thought I was done learning this lesson (even though I really do know better), so recently as I’ve been in another set of several uncertain circumstances all at the same time, it really threw me for a loop — again!  And these circumstances really pale in comparison to the life-altering ones that happened over a decade ago. It’s so interesting to me how complacent and comfortable that I can get in feeling so secure with how things have been that I completely miss the bigger messages that it might be time to make some changes. And thus changes get made for me.

So here I go out of my comfort zone again. And though I know in my heart that all will work out fine and will very likely be better than now, it’s still just a rough emotional road for me when these times resurface. And there seems to be no shortcutting the process that my mind and spirit need to go through to get to that point where I am actually comfortable with the uncertainty, and eventually that comfort comes. And instead of feeling the satisfaction of having my planning and organization come together, I have a deeper satisfaction of both knowing that nothing is truly set in stone or secure, and yet I am still better than OK with whatever may present itself along this wonderfully interesting journey of life.

Heidi Aschenbrenner, LMBT, CCT, NCBMTB, and Member AOBTA, is the owner of Renu Massage, Energy & Bodywork specializing in Eastern bodywork therapies and the Eastern healing arts. Heidi and her team of bodywork therapists, a Reiki master, and a Certified Personal Trainer, all strive to achieve balance in each session through the use of energy work incorporated into their bodywork therapies and have all been trained in Eastern healing techniques and cupping therapy. Renu also offers an infrared sauna from Sunlighten Saunas for deeper healing and detoxification after your session. 

Reiki Acupressure CranialAs a bodyworker and certified cupping therapist, I am familiar with chronic pain. I’ve also experienced a significant amount of chronic pain personally over the years, which has led me to the work I do. Since becoming a therapist, I’ve been slowly unraveling what has built up in me all these years, including injuries, internalized stress, and the resulting emotional connections to those things. I learned in studying the body that emotions stay in our tissues, associated with the originating event that caused trauma or stress, until it is released through various forms of bodywork that I have been trained in. What I didn’t fully realize was how helpful Reiki can be in moving that process along and clearing up energetic blockages that keep the body in its same patterns of chronic pain.

I’ve worked with multiple chiropractors and physical therapists over the years, and I’ve had regular massage for the last decade both to keep my back pain in check and also because I can see the positive changes it has made for the rest of my body. After a herniated disc and all the melodrama associated with that for a good portion of a year, I have worked diligently and consistently to get my movement back so I can do the activities I so enjoy. Yet that chronic stiffness and pain still linger — even after my sacrum is back where it’s supposed to be, and the surrounding low back tissue feels soft and movable like it’s supposed to. There doesn’t seem to be any physical cause for the pain and stiffness that lingers and resurfaces from time to time. My current chiropractor suggested Reiki or another type of energy work as the next step. I had not considered this! I have two Reiki practitioners at my business, and my acupuncturist also does Reiki along with other energetic and spiritual work. It was high time I gave it a try.

I’ve been seeing one of the practitioners who works with me, and I was amazed how much I felt during the first session. Reiki works with your chakras and your energetic forces to help bring balance and healing on an energetic and spiritual level. I could literally feel energy move through my body, and my practitioner could see and feel various things happening on an energetic level as well. (Some practitioners are gifted with that, and I am fortunate to be working with one!) I have felt like I am purging deep emotions that have been buried a long time, and I am feeling lighter, more energetic, and yes, my back pain and stiffness are improving. I am going to stick with this a while. Stay tuned for another article after I feel the journey is complete! I knew several of my chakras needed work, but I am pleasantly surprised to find yet another layer of healing that can happen with the types of chronic pain issues I see so frequently with massage clients.

The body is a wondrous and complex system; we truly need to heal not just the body, but also the mind and the spirit if we want to experience complete and full healing. If there has been any physical or emotional trauma that has resulted in any kind of chronic pain over the years and you are ready to let it go, perhaps Reiki is something that can help. I’ve been very much enjoying the beginning of my journey and am so happy I was directed that way.

chakra stonesWe live in a world where being connected via texts, email, and social media is not just common but expected.  We have to set boundaries and limits from our phones if we want some true alone time.  “Disconnecting” is now something we yearn for just to have a little respite, even for the extraverts out there who thrive on social activity.  How do we find balance for ourselves?

Yin and yang are two fundamentally opposite energies, yang representing the energetic and ethereal, and yin the restful and solidified.  Many of us live our lives responding to so many inputs that we have too much yang and are neglecting the balance of yin, which ends up depleting our reserves.  Sleep is the most obvious casualty, but we also need to cultivate more yin time in our waking hours. 

Being so easily connected is a double-edged sword. I, for one, was very hesitant to start getting emails on my phone when I got my first Blackberry (back in the day when I worked as a CPA).  But I found it did actually help me take care of things more efficiently and timely, and emails didn’t pile up so much, which was quite nice.  The problem was the boundary setting, and recognizing that it’s not only ok, but it’s important and necessary to have some true “off time” every day.  We are in an “always on” mode far too often, and it’s taking a toll on us.  Many of us don’t realize how sleep deprived we actually are, and even our vacations can be high paced and energized, with not much rest time before jumping back into work. 

Does this resonate?  I love my technology, and I love the freedom it gives me.  It’s been a slow road for me to learn how to use that technology to set boundaries and limits so I can have some regular yin time in my daily life.  Using the do not disturb or sleep time is a great tool, and disconnecting work email accounts during times you are “off” is also very important.  Emails can be checked when you are back “on” again; there is no need to see them as soon as they arrive in your inbox.  It’s all about balance. 

Keeping technology at bay is only one part of the solution.  We also need better self care habits to truly sustain a good balance of yin and yang in our lives.  Especially in winter, when we tend to go into hibernation mode, we need to let our bodies get extra sleep and rest if it wants that, whether that be in the form of naps, going to bed earlier, or allowing ourselves the freedom to sleep late if we can. 

But just more sleep and turning off email is still not enough; we also need to incorporate regular activities that allow our minds and bodies to relax during waking hours – they need nurturing too.  This can be done with exercise, yoga, meditation, massage & bodywork, taking time to enjoy nature or animals, or any combination of these.  I love my Dance Mixx classes that I teach, but that’s also a high energy activity which needs some yin balance.  My personal favorite yin activity is getting massage and energy work, which is also so important for your muscles and fascia.  I had incorporated regular massage into my life long before I decided to make bodywork a career choice, because I saw the direct benefits to my body.  Now I also see the benefits to my mind. 

We recently entered into a new Chinese year, going from one that was particularly frenetic to one that is more nurturing and yin-based.  It’s been an active goal of mine to be more balanced in life and work, rest and play, and this year is the perfect time to fully implement this goal.  I think we can all use more yin in our daily routines, and I think balance is achievable, using the technology tools we all have at our disposal.  We just have to choose to let ourselves rest, believing that rest is just as important as our productive times.

SaunaWe all know a good sweat from exercise can relieve tension and improve our health, but what about sweating from sauna use?  Let’s discuss infrared (dry) saunas and their benefits.  Infrared light is not visible to the human eye but can penetrate human tissue.  As a result, infrared saunas will heat your core body temperature, improving your circulation and lowering your blood pressure, not unlike the benefits we experience during exercise, and blood flow increases similarly as well.  Increased blood flow plus lower blood pressure plus more oxygen to the cells means pain can also be reduced for any chronic conditions that are causing muscle restrictions or spasms.

Heating the body’s core temperature also penetrates the muscles down to the cellular level, so toxins may be released, and the immune system is strengthened as well.  Plus the experience is quite relaxing; you will feel refreshed after an infrared sauna session and should experience improved sleep.  If you love the health benefits of massage but need a lower cost alternative, infrared sauna use on its own might just be what you are looking for.  However, using an infrared sauna use after a massage will provide even more benefits – as you will sweat out the toxins that just got broken up and released to your circulatory system during that wonderful massage.  

So many of us seem to be in a chronic state of inflammation these days, as evidenced by the growing number of chronic ailments seen in doctors’ offices and by healing arts practitioners such as massage, naturopathy, and acupuncture.  We might not be able to break away from the prevalence of our high-stress lifestyles, but we can certainly help take care of our bodies while we live life to its fullest capacity.  After you work hard and play hard, go get a massage and sit in the sauna for a little balance and detoxification.  Do something just for you!  

Traditional Chinese Medicine tells us we can sweat out potential threats to our health as a first line of defense, and saunas have been used for detoxification purposes in India for thousands of years with ayurveda.  Sauna use can definitely aid in that immune defense and also help the body sweat out toxins and inflammation that reside deeper in the tissues.  Chronic inflammation is indeed a pervasive problem which is responsible for a host of current health problems, including acne, asthma allergies, food sensitivities and other digestive problems, and various autoimmune disorders.  The longer we keep our bodies in this state, the more likely we are to see evidence in our other systems.  

Many of us have grown accustomed to living in our inflammatory state and need to break the cycle to achieve good health.  Regular massage, cupping therapy or other bodywork, and sauna use can go a long way in resetting ourselves to help our bodies detox, reduce inflammation, and then achieve healing.  Could you use a little extra detoxification from heat therapy today?