Spas have been known as places of healing for thousands of years and continue to promise relaxation, rejuvenation and a renewed sense of purpose. At the basic level, local day spas offer therapeutic treatments like massage, body treatments and facials, which can help you take care of your body and improve your sense of well-being. At the highest level, overnight spas can even help you cope with medical issues or with a major life setback like divorce and death.
I found myself staying in bed all day, not wanting to see anyone, not wanting to go anywhere. I had little energy and low self-confidence. I felt shame and embarrassment that I wasn’t functioning like I thought I should be.
A fourth-year undergraduate in university, I thought I might be suffering from some kind of memory impairment. I went into an exam which I had studied for, and couldn’t understand a word on the test paper. I couldn’t remember anything I had crammed into my brain for the past three days.
My professors kindly let me postpone that exam and gave me indefinite extensions on two papers after I confessed I was feeling suicidal. “No exam or undone paper is worth killing yourself over!” one understanding teacher said.
Despite overwhelming anxiety at my ability to perform or even talk to anyone at a conference I had committed to go to, I forced myself to get on the plane. I was shaking in terror of failure. I traveled 3000 miles to be at the conference near where my mother and little brother had moved to, across Canada, after the divorce from my father. Visiting friends in their 22nd floor Toronto apartment, I wanted to throw myself off their balcony.
It’s that time again. Yep, spring, which while welcome after a brutal winter still has a fearsome downside for allergy sufferers. That’s because the trees are having sex, which they do once a year, which is kind of sweet and almost chaste of them.
Unfortunately, most trees depend on the wind, unlike most flowering plants which get pollinating insects to do the job of moving grains of male pollen onto female stigmas. Trees being, well, trees, and usually the biggest living things around, they churn out a huge volume of pollen. So much of it, in fact, that cars, windows, house siding, lawn furniture and decks can all turn green and yellow under the onslaught in an hour or two.
That means we all breathe in some of that pollen. It’s inescapable, especially on dry windy days when it gets blown from one county to the next. For allergy sufferers, those days are hellish.
Several therapeutic movement-based treatments work with massage, or separate from it, to improve the body’s alignment, and through that, other physical complaints from bad posture to pain. Rolfing, Feldenkrais and the Alexander Technique have that in common, but differing approaches to getting there. Actors, musicians, computer users, athletes — both professional and recreational, and those of us whose bodies are changing as we age, have all claimed to get relief from these approaches.
Some massage therapists study them to supplement the health benefits of massage with the tools for patients to help themselves, on or off the massage table, including exercises and increasing mind-body awareness.
Repetitive movements, say, like that of a cello player, hunching over a computer, holding the body in an awkward positions due to laziness, habit, stress, emotional blockage or other psychological issues, all can contribute to pain, discomfort and inefficiency of the body. Proponents and practitioners of these therapies make claims of good health through improved behavior of the muscles and muscle systems, leading to better posture and more balanced body alignment, less discomfort and pain and reduced mental stress. The patient is guided, through hands-on body work and/or exercise instruction, to go beyond being just a passive recipient and re-think old movement habits, making changes in the way they carry themselves and move that will lead to looking and feeling better. Some people claim that their chronic pain fades, their hunched back straightens, and that others tell them they look taller and slimmer or more graceful and confident.
Rolfing was founded by Dr. Ida Rolf, a physiologist and biochemist in early 20th century New York City. Her approach used hands-on, deep tissue manipulation of muscles to reposition tissues in order to improve postural misalignments and sagging caused by pent-up emotions. Her technique separates opposing pairs of muscle fibers, which take turns contracting, and was originally called Postural Release, then Structural Integration, and finally Rolfing. Done as a “recipe” of ten sessions, it is mostly hands-on, although exercises are also involved, like arcing and pelvic tilts. Both passive and active movement retraining are used with the goal of creating a vertically aligned body that will stand up better to the forces of gravity.
Some have considered Rolfing more painful than other modalities of bodywork and others say much less so than it used to be. Many claim relief of stress, pain, headache and improved balance and flexibility. Certified Rolfers can be found at www.rolf.org/find.
People no longer experience life as a succession of roles which shift like clockwork purely on the basis on their age. What it means to be 40, 50 and 60 has changed. People are living longer than ever before, and as the first wave of baby boomers enters retirement the process of aging is evolving, beset by unique challenges as well as opportunities.
Many new types of facilities are sprouting up that not only treat seniors medically, but also help them maintain quality of life in extreme old age. The Center for Healthy Aging, a facility on the grounds of Northern Dutchess Hospital, in Rhinebeck, is an example. It offers geriatric assessments and works collaboratively with patients, caregivers and primary-care providers to deliver inpatient, outpatient, and transitional care to people age 65 and older.
The center opened in 2011 with a full-time medical director, Dr. Jodi Friedman. A year later she was joined by part-time social worker Allison Gould. The center caters to seniors in several counties, providing assistance in developing a customized, comprehensive wellness plan.
Friedman treats “mostly the oldest and most complicated medically patients,” usually referrals from other doctors. Gould sees younger seniors as well — people in their mid-seventies — who are dealing with emotional issues related to aging, such as bereavement or fears about dementia.
To further reach out to the growing community of retirees, the center has begun partnering with [email protected], a not-for-profit networking organization that’s located in the same building and dedicated to helping its 56 members stay at home and maintain their independence.
The center, which accepts private insurance and Medicare, can refer its clients to community services such as [email protected] It can come up with a program of therapy, including alternative modalities such as massage and acupuncture. It offers use of a medically based fitness center and educational programs. In the fall and spring, it hosts a lecture series, in which past topics have included financial wellness, relaxation and meditation workshops, and aging gracefully.
Isn’t “healthy aging” a bit of an oxymoron? “There’s more chronic illnesses, and people are on a lot of medications,” said Friedman, who has a background in family practice. “We try to look at their medications in the context of different medical problems. Part of being a healthy older person is managing these multiple problems.”