Monthly Archives: March 2016

Five Articles You May Have Missed: Women’s Health

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As March comes to a close today, so does Women’s History Month. Before we officially wrap up the month, let’s take a moment to shift from women’s history and focus on women’s health. Below I’ve got five articles you may have missed this month about current topics in women’s health and wellness.

An iPhone App is helping researchers conduct a new study on Postpartum Depression.

In her new book Girls & Sex, author Peggy Orenstein shares the findings of her research with young girls about sex, intimacy and popular culture. You can listen to an interview with Orenstein about her research, her book, and a better way to talk to girls about sexual pleasure and health.

A new, simplified IUD inserter is improving access to birth control throughout the world.

Researchers are taking another look at the potential heart health benefits of estrogen replacement therapy during menopause.

A new study has found that high caffeine consumption in both women and men could lead to miscarriage and fertility struggles.

4 Exercises for the Pelvic Floor

When it comes to working out, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about strengthening your pelvic floor, but you should. Your pelvic floor is made up of all the muscles and tissues that support your bladder, bowels and, for women, the uterus and vagina. Building pelvic floor strength not only helps reduce incontinence and lowers your risk of pelvic organ prolapse, it also strengthens and stabilizes your core.

Below are four exercises that target the pelvic floor.

 

Bridge Pose

 

Malasana

 

Reclining Bound Angle Pose

 

And here’s a more supported variation that is useful during pregnancy, when recovering from childbirth, or whenever you feel like you need some additional support.

 

Wall Squat

With a ball

 

And without

Correct Your Posture With Cobra Pose

Between working at computers, and slouching over, staring down at our smartphones all day long, we are all destined to end up as hunchbacks if we don’t start paying closer attention to our postures and make some changes to start standing upright again.

I have offered a few suggestions in the past to correct and counter slouching posture, and those are a good place to start. But if you are looking for an exercise that will both help you stretch and open the front of your body, and build the back strength you need to hold your shoulders back and resist the urge to roll and hunch forward throughout the day, then I encourage you to practice Cobra Pose daily.

Not only does Cobra stretch your chest and abdomen, and open your ribs and lungs to improve your breathing, because you are actively engaging your back muscles and using their strength to lift the front of your body off the floor, it also strengthens the muscles that are instrumental in keeping your shoulders back and your spine nice and straight.

Remember when you do this pose that your are using your hands for balance and assistance, not as the force that pushes you off the ground. The lift comes from contracting your back muscles. Think about pulling your belly button toward your spine as you come up to stabilize your core and protect your lower back.

I recommend doing a Cobra stretch in the morning to start your day off with your chest stretched open and shoulders back, as a way to set your intention of taking notice of your posture throughout the day. Do it again at the end of your workday to counteract the sitting or slouching that you may have done during the day. It’s a great reminder to your body that a hunched forward posture is not your natural and ideal body positioning. Pull back, open up and let yourself breathe more freely.

5 Tips for Better In-Law Relationships

My in-laws are coming to town this weekend, and I am excited for them to finally see Baltimore in spring! In honor of their visit, let’s talk about in-law relationships, which for many people can be one of the most fraught and difficult relationships in their lives. It is not easy to join someone else’s family, and be immediately thrust into all new traditions and conventions. In-law relationships can really be a breeding ground for conflict, and even when the transition goes smoothly and you get along well with your in-laws, finding your footing in a new family dynamic can still be a major source of stress.

Let me start by saying that I have been very lucky to have wonderful in-laws. I have known them for a long time and really do think of them as my own family. My brother-in-law, who was a shy and quiet preteen when my husband and started dating, and with whom I communicated primarily in Simpsons references, has grown into an incredibly talented, interesting and wonderfully funny man. I adore him and really do think of him as a younger brother, and a friend. My sister-in-law has a very sweet and soothing presence. She is smart and really strong despite her quiet manner. She used to live in New York City and when my husband and were up there one weekend, my sister-in-law and I spent the afternoon together alone for the first time ever while my husband was working, and it was one the best days I’ve ever had with a friend and I so wish she had moved to Baltimore instead of all the way across the country. My mother-and-father-in-law are very warm, welcoming people. They are really easy to talk to and I love that we are all adults now and can sit around the table for hours talking about politics, relationships, life. It is really nice and I am looking forward to it this weekend.

I have had the advantage of lots of time, proximity and maturation to form strong relationships with my in-laws. Not every gets so lucky, and many in-law relationships are tense, uncomfortable and even adversarial. Sometimes these relationships are just destined to be difficult, but here are a few tips that may help you reduce conflict and make the most of your new family connections.

1. Recognize and appreciate that all families are different.

Every family has its own traditions, habits, and quirks. The family you marry into is not going to be just like the one you grew up with. Accept from the outset that your in-laws will do things a little differently than your family, and that while some of those differences will be wonderful additions to your life, others will be new sources of irritation and stress.

My husband’s family is late to everything. Do not go to the movies with them if you like to catch the coming attractions. They can plan to leave for a family trip sometime before noon, and not actually hit the road until the sun has set and evening is well on its way to night. They have stories about racing to the airport that make them sound like the McAllister family in the Home Alone movies, and I’m always impressed to hear that no one ever got left behind.

My family is the opposite. I can invite my parents to dinner at 7, and they’ll show up around 6:45, and apologize for being late. My husband’s family is fine with leaving at nightfall and arriving at their destination at 2 in the morning and falling straight into bed, whereas my family prefers to get up before dawn breaks and get on the road. If you ever see my family running through an airport, it’s only because we got restless waiting the two hours until our flight takes off and needed to do something to fill the time.

It took me many years to reach a point where this particular difference in family styles didn’t make my blood pressure shoot up every time I traveled anywhere with my in-laws. And it is still the case that when my mother-in-law says, “we’re leaving in 10 minutes,” I’m the only one who starts to shift out of her seat while my husband and his siblings stay firmly planted, knowing full well that 10 minutes doesn’t actually mean 10 minutes. But I have grown accustomed to their particular style of scheduling, and now I find it to be a rather endearing and amusing family quirk. It is such a quintessential part of their family style that everyone who knows them simply expects and accepts that they will be late to things. It’s nice when families have these kinds of specific and defining characteristics that set them apart from other families, even if they take some getting used to. The Taylors are always late, and I am always late with them, because I am part of their family now.

2. Partners should act as each other’s ambassadors.

It is important to take a hard, careful look at your own family from time to time and try to pick out the idiosyncrasies that could be the greatest source of frustration or conflict for your partner. When it comes to holidays or other events that include specific family traditions, give your partner a thorough synopses of what he/she can expect from the experience. Big family events can be very daunting. Arm your partner with as much knowledge and insider information as you can to help reduce some of the stress.

The first time I joined my husband’s family for Passover, he made sure to let me know how his family’s Seder tends to go: it’s pretty loud, they tend to jump around through the story, skipping some parts, and really elaborating on others, and at some point his grandfather would toss hardboiled eggs to everyone at the table as sort of recognition of springtime and the start of baseball season. I went in knowing that I wouldn’t be able to follow or understand anything that was going on, and I would suddenly be expected to catch an egg when it came flying through the air at me. Got it. Knowing what to expect made the experience much easier to enjoy.

3. Let the past be the past.

My husband and I started dating in high school, which means I have known my in-laws for a very long time, and said and did a lot of dumb, foolish, childish things around them. I could continue to be embarrassed by those early experiences, but instead I’ve simply let them go. If things didn’t go so well the first time you met your partner’s family, or there was a period of time early on in your relationship or marriage where interactions with your in-laws felt tense, or full of conflict, try to let those experiences and memories fade into the past as time goes on. Relationships need time and space to grow. They can’t do that if you are holding on to past slights and confrontations. My connection to my in-laws when I was a 16-year old hanging out on their couch after school every day and eating all of their bagels (they always had the best bagels) could not be more different than my relationship with them today. I am a different person. My husband is a different person. They are different people. The bagels are still the same, thank goodness.

Allow each other to change and grow, and take on new roles in each other’s lives. If your relationship with your in-laws isn’t great right now, that doesn’t mean that it can’t get better in the future. But it can’t improve if you’re keeping it trapped in past grievances and conflicts. In both marriage and in-law relationships, it is often better to simply let things go and move on.

4. Don’t assume conflicts that don’t actually exist.

My husband and I got married pretty young. There were several instances during our wedding planning process when my mother-in-law made note of how young we were. She never said it with any malice or judgment really, but more as an observation. We were young. Fact. Although I never told her at the time, I took her comments to mean that she didn’t want me to marry her son. We were young and she thought we were making a mistake, I assumed she meant. We were young and she hoped that he would get a little bit older and meet someone else, I convinced myself. We were young and this was not the life she had envisioned for her boy. She wanted something better for him. Someone better than me. These were thoughts that kept running through my head in the year between our engagement and our wedding day.

A couple of days after our wedding, my husband told me that his mom came up to him during the reception and said to him, “you seem really happy.” I realized then that my mother-in-law just wanted what all parents want for their children: for them to be happy and safe. If she had any concerns about us getting married, they likely weren’t about me as a woman and partner for her son, but simply about wanting to be sure that her child–the person she had loved and raised, and had to let go of despite every instinct to hold on to him and protect him–was making a choice that he felt secure in, and good about. She wanted him to be happy. My mother-in-law and father-in-law didn’t even meet until they were in graduate school, and here we were, two 22 year-olds, just finishing up undergrad and planning our wedding. We must have seemed very, very young to her. I could have gone on convincing myself that she didn’t want her son to be married to me. But she never said anything to that effect. It was a conflict that I had created in my own mind and one that I had to let go of. She is a warm, nurturing woman who wants her children to be happy. And she is a warm, nurturing mother-in-law who I believe wants me to be happy as well.

One other note about conflicts. If you are married without children, and your in-laws have not actually told you that they are desperately waiting for you to give them grandchildren, do not assume that they are. I mean, the definitely are. There is no doubt about that. But just do not think about it. That road only leads to madness.

5. Pick your battles.

From wedding guest lists, to holiday planning, to childrearing, to religion, and politics, and family gatherings, and health, and aging, and finances: nearly everything in life can be a source of conflict. It is not worth fighting with family (your own or your partner’s) over every little thing. Choose your battles wisely. Stand up for yourself, your opinions and your choices, but also accept that sometimes it will be preferable to back down and just go with the flow. Not everything deserves to be a fight and you don’t have to constantly assert yourself and stand up for your principles. Decide what matters most to you and really go to bat for those things. You’re not going to agree with everything your in-laws do or say, but you also don’t need to constantly call attention to those disagreements or proclaim your differences of opinion. Get really good at doing a polite head nod, and just file away all the zany things your families do so that you can talk about them later with your partner and laugh about how nutty your families are.

A Better Way To Think About Friendship

I think the best friendships are ones where you can go for months or years without seeing each other or talking routinely, but every time you come back together your relationship feels as easy and natural as it always did. It is nice to have relationships that are almost completely effortless; to find people with whom you feel instantly relaxed no matter how much time has passed between you, or how much your lives have changed. But friendships that require a little more work are not without their value. As I have gotten older, I have learned the hard way (as many adults do) that making friends is not nearly as easy as it used to be. Those deep and nearly instantaneous connections that you form throughout your childhood and college years can be much harder to come by as an adult. Most adult friendships, at least in my experience, require some amount of work. Some of my most meaningful friendships took a good deal of effort to develop. I had to work hard to connect with, regularly see, and grow close to many of my friends, but they are an important part of my life and I feel strongly that it was well worth the effort.

I think of myself as the planner among my friends. I am often the one reaching out, checking in, making plans and trying to keep my schedule as open and flexible as possible to accommodate my friends’ lives. In the past, this was a disheartening role for me to play. When you are the one doing most of the work, it can be easy to feel like your friends don’t care about you as much as you care about them. One thing I have had to learn over time, though, is that relationships don’t have to be completely balanced to be worthwhile. It is okay to invest more of your time and energy in a friendship than the other party does if you still feel like what you get out of that relationship is meaningful and good, and brings joy to your life. I am willing to put work into my friendships because I love being with my friends. I love our conversations. I love hearing about their lives. I love getting their advice and feedback when I’m struggling with a decision, or going through a tough time. It doesn’t matter to me anymore that I’m the who is most often reaching out, because what I am getting in return makes it feel worth it.

My mother-in-law once told me that she rarely has conflict with her friends because she simply accepts them for who they are and doesn’t expect them to act in ways that are counter to their more difficult or frustrating qualities. While other people might get upset at a friend’s behavior, or insist that they somehow learn to rise up and be a better all around person, my mother-in-law recognizes that everyone has their good and bad qualities, and chooses to structure her friendships around the good qualities, and just let the bad ones go. I have talked before about how a lot of our stress is of our own making, created through expectations and unnecessary demands on ourselves and others. When dealing with a difficult friend, my mother-in-law does not expect that friend to become a different, better person. She focuses on what is good and meaningful in the relationship, and shrugs her shoulders at the rest of it.

It is okay to take what we need from our relationships, and simply ignore the negative parts of people that don’t enrich our friendships. Not every friend needs to be everything for you. If you have a friend who is wonderfully joyous and funny, but is a terrible gossip, go out and have fun with her, but don’t trust her with your secrets. If you have a friend who is warm, caring and a great listener, but is a bit of homebody, connect with her during times of trouble, but maybe don’t invite her out for a raucous night on the town to help you get over a breakup. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment, and don’t force your friends into positions where they are destined to fail to meet your expectations. Our friendships serve us best when we accept them as small building blocks to a full life, rather than forcing any one friend to act as the foundation of our happiness. Instead of giving up on friendships that feel like too much work, or that always seem to bring forth conflict, first try reevaluating the way you think about your friends and the role they play in your life. Explore what your friendships mean to you, and what you personally get out of them. Remember, friendship doesn’t have to be about balance in the immediate moment. Focus instead on the longterm. Over the course of your friendship and your life, do you believe you’ll get as much out of your relationships as you put into them? The relationships that let you answer yes to that question are the ones worth investing in.

What I Learned From My Most Difficult Client

This week, I will be taking on the topic of difficult relationships, and I am starting with a story from early in my massage therapy career. When I first started my massage therapy practice, I worked part time at a spa to supplement my income. I really disliked that job. I disliked the back-to-back appointments with no space in between them to catch my breath and get off my feet for a few minutes. I disliked the expectation that we would spend our break time, or downtime between appointments on slow days, washing and folding laundry even though we didn’t get paid for the hours when we weren’t actively massaging people. I disliked that for doing the same amount of work, I was making less than a quarter of what I could earn on my own for each massage I gave (tip your spa therapists!). But most of all I disliked that I did not have any control over my own client list, which meant that I couldn’t tell this one client, the most frustrating and difficult person I have ever met, that I simply would not work with her anymore.

Let’s call her Cordelia, which is not her name, nor the name of any of my other clients. I have never known a Cordelia in my entire life, so please, any Cordelia’s that are reading this, know that I am definitely not talking about  you.

Cordelia would come in monthly to get a 60 minute hot stone massage. Our first session together began with her walking into the treatment room and immediately stating that she thought it had an antiseptic smell and wanted to change rooms. In the next room, she informed me that she did not like the music that was playing, and asked me to change it to “something better,” whatever that may be. I explained that it operated on a single system and that we could not change the music in each individual room, but that I would be happy to turn it down for her. When I did so, she complained that she could hear the soft buzzing of the table heating pad and that she would not be able to relax with that noise going the whole time. I turned off the table heater, but when I returned to the room after she had undressed and was settled on the massage table, she informed me that she was too cold without the heater, and we ended up back where we started, with the heater on and the music turned up to cover the buzzing noise. She didn’t like the way the face rest pressed into her forehead and wanted me to swap it out with one from another room. I informed her that all of the tables were exactly the same. She didn’t like how heavy the blanket felt pressing down on her body, but she was too cold without it. I offered to turn the table heater up more, but then the table was too warm and the air around us too cool. She said the room felt both stifling and freezing, and was there any way for me to bring in a fan that would create air circulation, but wouldn’t blow any cold air around her. I informed her that we had no such fan. She didn’t like the way the spa lotion felt on her skin. She was adamant that my pressure was either too light for her needs, or too deep to the point of being painful. At one point, I placed my hands on her back and she said “that’s not enough pressure.” I lifted them off and placed them back down again, applying the same amount of pressure as before and she said, “now see, that’s much too hard.” Incorporating the hot stones into the massage was an exercise in futility (and a masterful act of patience on my part). When I explained that I would first use the stones to warm my hands and massage her with my warmed hands, she insisted that only the stones should be rubbed against her skin. “I don’t like the feeling of overly warm hands,” she told me. Naturally, the stones were too hot for Cordelia’s comfort. So I would stand there, tossing a hot stone back and forth between my hands to cool it, and then gently touch it to Cordelia’s skin. “Too hot…still too hot…still too hot.” Until suddenly, “oh, too cold,” and we would have to start all over again with a new stone.

By the time our 50  minutes was up (60 minute spa massages are usually only 50 minutes of actual table work), I felt like we had accomplished nothing, but I had never been so exhausted from a session. That was the worst massage I’ve ever given, I thought, and felt both disheartened by the experience, but also relieved that I would likely never see Cordelia again. But the next month she was back. And the month after that. Session after session went the same way as that first massage: Cordelia complaining about everything imaginable and me feeling inept, frustrated and completely worn down by her very presence.

Finally, after one session that began with her requesting that I spend the entire 50 minutes working only on her right pinky finger because she had injured it a few days before (a request that I denied), I begged the scheduling staff to assign Cordelia to another therapist. I simply could not work with her any longer. I hated this woman. The very thought of having to talk to her, deal with her, actually touch her made my blood boil. I did not want to bring her comfort, or relieve her pain. I had no feelings of kindness or goodwill toward her at all, and my frustration in working with her was manifesting as physical pain, so that every time I saw her name on my schedule, I felt my whole body tense and my stomach felt sick. After my request to be rid of her, I had one or two Cordelia-free months, but then she was back on my schedule. She requested me every time, and whenever I would go out to the lobby to call her back for her session, my shoulders slumped and my head already pounding with irritation, the scheduling staff would give me a sympathetic frown and whisper “I’m sorry” as they handed me the clipboard with Cordelia’s client notes attached to it.

After about a year and a half, my personal business had grown enough that I was able to quit the spa job–a day more glorious than any that I’d had before or since. I was finally free of Cordelia, but I had learned an important lesson from her. When you are running your own business, especially in those first few years when you are still getting established, it is tempting to take any and all work you can get. You accommodate everyone. You bend over backwards to make sure that people will book with you, and leave happy enough to return over and over again. But Cordelia taught me that it is important to have limits on how much you’re willing to accommodate other people’s requests and needs. I am a good massage therapist, but I do my best work with clients that I am excited to see, and happy to be working with. Every therapist has her own particular style, and giving a good massage is really more about having the right style for a particular client than about experience and expertise.

When I was first starting out, every time I had a one-and-done client who came in for a massage, but then never returned for a follow-up session, I would agonize over what I had done wrong. If there was someone that I did not particularly like working with, but they wanted to come back, I would go out of my way to make sure I was available, scheduling them for whatever day and time they wanted, even if it meant giving up something that I wanted to do in my spare time, all to accommodate someone that I didn’t particular enjoy seeing in the first place.

I don’t do that anymore. I always try to be flexible and work with my client’s schedules to the best of my ability, but I have much firmer limits on how many hours I will work each week, and what times I am willing to be available. My schedule books up quickly and well in advance in part because I am no longer willing to accommodate any and all scheduling requests. I don’t go out of my way for overly demanding and largely inflexible clients. I don’t acquiesce to treatment requests that force me to work outside of my own style and comfort level. I do better work when I am enjoying my job.

You cannot please everyone: in work, in life, in relationships. Give more of yourself to the people in your life that you are happy to see on your schedule. There will be times when you are simply forced to deal with your own versions of Cordelia. Especially in our work lives, it seems inevitable that we will come across people that are impossible to please. Invest very little of your energy and absolutely none of your self worth in the outcome of interactions with difficult people. Grit your teeth, practice patience, and say good riddance to difficult people whenever possible. It is not worth your time to worry about making them happy. Focus instead on your interactions with the people you enjoy. Your mind, your spirit, and your quality of work will be better for it.

I saw Cordelia again about a year ago. I was in the lobby of a theater, waiting in line to get a glass of wine before the start of a play. She was standing off to the side of me, next to a man that I assume was her husband.

“It’s so hot in here,” she said to the man.

“You should leave your jacket at the coat check,” he told her.

“No,” she replied. “Then I’ll get into the theater and it will be freezing. I’ll be miserable the whole time.”

I laughed and ordered a glass of red.

Self Care After All-Day Standing

My dear friend and guest blogger, Naomi, is the photographer and owner of Urban Row Photography. With a busy wedding season approaching, she reached out and asked me to share some self care tips and stretches to help her and fellow photographers combat the aches and pains of standing all day while shooting a wedding.

Working on your feet for hours at a time is hard, tiring work. While my post was written with photographers in mind, the advice applies to anyone who has to spend hours at a time standing with few to no chances to sit and rest.

You can see all of my tips over on Urban Row Photography’s blog. Here at More Well, I’ll be devoting the rest of this week to discussing difficult relationships. How to manage them, how to change them, and how to know when it’s time to let them go. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!