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North Hills Monthly

From Exercise to Aromatherapy, There are Many Options to Destress

Jan 27, 2020 02:59PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Jack's Boxing Gym

Everyone experiences some measure of stress in day-to-day life. After all, life is fast-paced and seemingly overflowing with endless work and personal obligations.

Short of packing a bag and running away to the nearest tropical island (tempting as that may sound), there are many options for ways to destress and rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit.

Eileen Albert’s favorite way is to engage in regular tai chi. Albert is a member of the Taoist Tai Chi Society, which was founded 50 years ago by a Taoist monk. Tai chi, however, goes back much further than that, as it is an ancient martial arts practice. Albert’s group meets regularly at a church in McCandless.

“We practice tai chi more as a moving meditation; the movements are self-paced, and tai chi itself is a flowing, continuous motion, slow and graceful. It is not intended as a muscle exercise; it’s more like contraction and expansion of joints, ligaments and tendons in a very soft manner,” said Albert.

“When doing tai chi, you can’t really think about anything else—you’re focused on the movements and on your own body,” she continued, adding that anyone of any age can practice tai chi, as it is extremely gentle on the body.

There are few things more relaxing than a massage, and Body Bar in McCandless offers a number of choices. One of the most popular is the Swedish massage, said Manager Fred Como. “It uses a lot of longer strokes and is not as intense as deep tissue therapy. It’s relaxing, it improves circulation, it lowers blood pressure, and it helps people relax,” he explained.

Director Margarite Labanc added that some people choose to add aromatherapy to their massages, adding scented essential oils to the massage cream to heighten the massage experience.

“We use hot towels on the hands and feet and back. It’s relaxing but also helps with reducing tension,” said Labanc. “That is really beneficial, which is why we offer a hot stone massage that incorporates heated lava stones. It’s soothing and relaxing but also aids in helping to reduce tension in the body.”

Reflexology is massage of pressure points of the feet. Janet Ramanathan is a certified holistic reflexologist with offices inside Creating Connections Counseling in Wexford. “As holistic reflexologists, we see the human being as a whole. Body, mind and spirit are all connected, and everything is interconnected. Reflexology opens the door to self-healing,” she explained.

Ramanathan said that there are different reflexology styles. “In order to optimize self-healing, I get the client into as relaxed a state as possible. I usually have them lie on a massage table without shoes or socks. I play relaxing music, have dim lighting, and use a meditation at the beginning.

“I want them to get into a very deep state of relaxation, and some people do fall asleep,” she continued. “I work on points once the client is relaxed. Most clients are surprised by how deeply relaxed they get during a session.”

Some of her clients have reported reduced pain from conditions such as plantar fasciitis and migraines.

Floating is a way to enter a deep state of relaxation, and it’s just as it sounds—a person literally floats in an isolation tank.

Tonya and Adam Winkler own True REST in Wexford. Flotation therapy is also known as REST—Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy. “It is simply the act of relaxing with all external stimuli removed, and drifting into an introspective, meditative state that rejuvenates your mind and body,” said Tonya Winkler.

After being offered water or tea, individuals are escorted to their private pod suite. “Guests are in complete control of their float pod lid, which may be left open, partially open or closed. Pods are large, and can easily accommodate people of all body sizes and heights,” said Winkler.

“Some of our guests have concerns about feeling claustrophobic while floating, however, their concerns quickly fade upon seeing the size of the pod and understanding that they can leave the lid of the pod open while floating in their private suite,” she added.

After experiencing the benefits of floating for himself, David Rapach opened Levity in Squirrel Hill. Levity’s guests float in 10 inches of water with 1,200 pounds of Epsom salt, which is three times as dense as the Dead Sea.

“After a few minutes of adjustment, you don’t feel the water, you lose where the skin starts and where the water starts; it limits sensory input coming in,” he said. “When the mind doesn’t battle gravity and sensory input, it allows it to rest, to reset, and new thinking patterns to emerge.”

The spa-like atmosphere is curated to enable guests to have a relaxing, stress-free experience. Like with any other wellness program, the more you do it, the longer lasting the benefits will be.

While floating, reflexology and massage are physically relaxing, some people like a more active way to relieve stress. Alyssa Collins is the general manager of Jack’s Boxing Gym in Ross Township. She calls boxing “the most exhausting sport ever,” and that is a good thing, at least when it comes to stress reduction.

“It takes a lot of focus, and it’s really freeing and a good release. You’re doing something with your energy, not just punching a wall or somebody,” laughed Collins.

She said that one of the gym’s trainers is a wounded veteran who discovered the gym a year and a half ago. “He was depressed and suffering from PTSD,” she explained. “He took to boxing; it is so draining physically that it is a distraction from the real world.”

Many people also lose a significant amount of weight, as it is an all-body workout.

Ingesting herbs is another way to relieve stress. Jessica Graves, owner of Una Biologicals, a natural beauty and wellness company, crafts more than 90 products including herbal salves, headache relief and body butters.

“My favorite is a group of herbs called Adaptogens,” she said. “These herbs help the body to adapt to external stressors while maintaining homeostasis (balance) within the body. The beauty is that these herbs are bidirectional, meaning that they don't push the body in one direction or another (as a stimulant or relaxant, for example) but help your systems to self-regulate.”

Some examples of Adaptogens include Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, and Dandelion & Nettle. Graves added that although the effects vary with each person and the severity of symptoms, most herbs work best when utilized regularly, as they build in the body over time.