The Art of Self and Peer Massage

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As my regular readers will know, I love hunting out and experiencing new activities. I always love discovering ways to live a healthier lifestyle. So, when Alicia Kon told me about The Art of Self and Peer Massage workshop that she teaches, I had to give it a try.

I have suffered from migraines for the past 12 years. I believe there are a number of factors in my life that come together to cause them, and the loss of a family member triggered the first one. I’ve tried many different treatments and medicines over the years, some of which have worked and others have made things worse. Although conventional western medicine does cure my migraines most of the time, I find that doctors have very little interest in the cause of them and how they can be prevented. All they want to do is treat the symptoms. Learning proper massage techniques can help deal with the pain caused by migraines, headaches, back ache and other muscular and joint issues. If you can incorporate it into your routine, massage can help you to relax more and reduce stress, one of the major causes of migraines.

So, on a slightly chilly and grey Sunday afternoon in Wales, I threw a pot of tiger balm into my bag, tucked my yoga mat under my arm and headed over to Cardiff MADE to meet Alicia and the others who would be taking part in the workshop. It was the perfect venue for the course. Hidden away in the loft space, it was nice and cosy for us to practice the different techniques on each other.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the workshop. I’ve had people massage me before, but I’ve never learnt how to massage someone else properly. With Alicia’s calming voice expertly talking me through everything, though, I didn’t have anything to worry about. The workshop lasted 3 hours, although we were all so engrossed in what we were doing that it didn’t even feel like one hour had passed! We started by learning some simple techniques that pretty much anyone can use on themselves everyday. Just a few minutes in the morning can help wake your body up for the day, and if you practice the exercises before you go to bed they can help you sleep better. I don’t know about you, but these are both things I could use some help with on a daily basis.

The second part of the course was where we got to practice massage techniques on each other. Having a real life person responding to your touch is a great way to learn what you’re doing right, and their facial expressions will soon tell you what you’re doing wrong. When you are the person being massaged you gain an even better understanding of what you are doing to the body and how it feels. Alicia also taught us to adapt our technique to suit our own strengths and abilities, and also the physique and flexibility of the person you are touching. I even learnt a few things about myself – who knew that the vertebrae in my spine are so evenly spaced?!

I came out of the workshop feeling relaxed and refreshed. I feel confident enough to use the techniques that Alicia has taught me. Obviously, after just three hours I am no expert. However, Alicia is, so I asked her a few questions about The Art of Self and Peer Massage which she very kindly answered below.

Alicia will be holding another workshop on Sunday 11th October as part of Made in Roath 2016. For more information you can contact her aliciakon.health@gmail.com

Alicia, can you explain what The Self and Peer Massage workshop is all about?

Self Massage is based on Do In, an ancient technique from China which is very useful to prevent health issues and to help keep yourself active and fit. Some minutes everyday does the trick! Peer Massage is based on Shiatsu (from the Japanese, shi: finger, atsu: pressure) so using our fingers, palms, knuckles, elbows  we will be massaging others – the basic and most immediate result of this action/contact is increased blood and energy circulation, it raises spirits and is a first step to better health. I will be teaching acupressure points for when you have a headache, lower back pain, etc.

Who can benefit from Self and Peer Massage?

Everybody can benefit from it, and that is my philosophy behind the workshop – I am passionate about empowering people and bringing these simple techniques back into their hands.

Is it suitable for practicing while travelling?

It is an excellent tool and knowledge to use while travelling. You can apply it to yourself and on fellow travellers you meet on the way 🙂

Do you need any special equipment?

No, the heart of it is YOU CAN ONLY DO GOOD when your intention is loving, that’s why we will be exploring re-linking ourselves to the instinctive and healing power of touch, ours by birth right.

Sasieology is all about visiting new destinations and experiencing new activities. Which destination is on top of your bucket list and what activity would you like to try?

So many! Hawaii and Iceland are the latest 2. Surfing in Hawaii and walking in Iceland are some of the activiites I’d love to try out.

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Plant-Based Pause No 5: Why Eggs Aren’t Good and How to Replace Them

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.’ – Denis Waitley

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My cousin used to keep chickens as pets. She had about two dozen of them, and they would all happily run around the yard all day clucking and pecking. Then, one day, she bought some ex-battery hens to add to the group. I remember the day that the new members arrived. My uncle released them from their cage, and immediately you could tell the difference. Unlike the healthy hens that had been bred as farm pets, the ex-battery hens were skinny, scrawny, sorry-looking creatures with few feathers and sores all over their poor little bodies. For their first few minutes of freedom, they all just stood still in the middle of the yard whilst the other hens ran around them and looked at them like they were crazy. They were so used to living in a small, cramped cage that they didn’t realise they could actually move around. As soon as they started moving, however, they didn’t stop. I’ve never seen hens that looked so excited, making the most of their new life. For me, that was the day that I questioned whether humans should really eat eggs.

DSC_0602As a vegetarian, eating eggs had always been a bit of a grey area. Some vegetarians eat them, some don’t. Personally, I always did because I believed that as the egg wasn’t fertilised, it never would have become a chicken whether I ate it or not. Since progressing to becoming a plant-based vegetarian, I’ve learnt a lot more about the farming of eggs and why they are not suitable for humans to eat.

Humans get nothing nutritional from eggs. They have zero dietary fibre, about 70% of their calories are from fat (of which most is saturated) and the only thing they give you is cholesterol. Whilst we need cholesterol to survive, our bodies produce enough and we do not need any extra from food. In fact, eggs are loaded with cholesterol, about 213 milligrams for an average-sized egg. To give you an idea of how high this is, people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease or high cholesterol are advised to consume no more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol each day.

DSC_0420Even if eggs were healthy for us to eat, the way that hens are exploited and mistreated to produce them should shame us all into becoming vegan. Just like most modern farm animals, hens have been selectively bred to produce more food for humans and are far from their natural, wild origins. If left to their own devices and natural evolution, chickens would produce 10-20 eggs in their lifetime, which is 5-10 years. Modern hen-laying eggs lay 300 eggs a year. They are kept in tiny, wire battery cages that are stacked row upon row. The end of their beaks are cut off to prevent them for pecking each other, the equivalent of cutting through the quick of a human fingernail, but it doesn’t work. They lose their feathers after rubbing up against the bars of the cage, and the little light that they see is artificial. Their feet literally grow over the bars of the cages and they become trapped. By the time they are slaughtered, most hens have broken bones. A lot of eggs are laid next to dead hens because diseases such as salmonella spread so quickly in the stressful, overcrowded conditions. Being forced to lay so many eggs drains calcium from the hens’ bodies and leads to osteoporosis and brittle bones. After 72 weeks, their egg production begins to decrease and they are no longer useful to the industry. They are then slaughtered and made into cheap meat products. In some ways, the females are the lucky ones. At least they get to live for 72 weeks, even if it is in cramped and squalid conditions. Male chicks, which have no value, are gassed or minced alive shortly after hatching. The machines can mince up to 500 chicks per minute, and the resulting mush is used in animal feed and fertiliser. In the meat industry, unlaid eggs are removed from the dead bodies of hens and used in the manufacture of cakes, biscuits and pasta.

Eggs are not the easiest ingredient to replace in cooking and baking, and it does take a bit of experimenting, but you can do without them. Fruit and veggies purees, tofu, non-dairy yoghurts and eggless mayo can all be used, depending on the recipe. Vinegar and baking soda combined creates a chemical reaction that is useful in baking, especially for yummy buttermilk-style pancakes (my favourite J ). My personal fallback, however, is xantham gum, especially as it is difficult to buy other processed egg replacements in the UK.  I’ve learnt to be careful with xantham gum since I first started using it, though. I only use about ¼ of a teaspoon for every equivalent egg, and I make sure to add it to the mixture at the very end, otherwise it’s like trying to cook with chewing gum!

Plant-Based Pause No 4: The Problems With Dairy

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘The human body has no more need for cow’s milk than it does for dog’s milk, horse’s milk, or giraffe’s milk.’ – Michael Klaper, MD

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I was born covered head to toe in eczema, and it is a condition that has affected me my whole life. Unfortunately, I was born in the early 80s when health professionals knew very little about nutrition, and parents listened to their GPs without question. Even though there was evidence back then that dairy was highly unsuitable for eczema sufferers, my doctor told my parents to feed it to me, because it was ‘natural to have allergies’. My doctor didn’t have allergies himself. All he saw was the inflamed skin all over my body, he couldn’t feel the intense pain that I felt when anything touched me, or the sickness I felt when my open sores led to blood poisoning and battered my immune system, making me open to other illnesses and infections. Had my doctor advised my parents not to give me dairy when I was a child, my condition would have been a lot easier to manage.

As well as eczema and other skin complaints, dairy has also been proven to be dangerous for people with asthma and respiratory problems. Chef Chad Sarno cites asthma as one of his reasons for switching to a vegan diet.

And what about everyone else? Dairy is a vital source of calcium, right? You’re told as a child to drink milk, eat cheese and have yoghurt for dessert because it helps you grow strong bones and teeth. Then, as an adult you pass this information down to your own children.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERADairy is not the only source of calcium, nor is it the best. It is true to say that dairy contains a lot of calcium, but it also contains a lot of acid. The only way our bodies can neutralise the acid is by taking more calcium from our bones, so the more dairy we eat the less calcium we end up with. That’s why in western countries, where we consume the most dairy, we have the most cases of osteoporosis (brittle bones). There are much healthier, plant-based sources of calcium such as green leafy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy, watercress, romaine lettuce), pulses (soya, kidney beans, chick peas, broad beans, baked beans), lentils, parsnips, swede, turnips, some nuts such as almonds, Brazils, hazelnuts, pistachio and some fruits (dried figs, currants, lemons, oranges) and olives – and exceptionally high are sesame seeds.

DSC_0499Aside from anything else, when you think about it, it’s just weird that we drink milk from a cow. Cows’ milk is meant for baby cows. Apart from pets like cats that we control, we are the only species who continue to drink milk after we’re weaned. Naturally, cows produce just enough milk for their calves, the same as any other species (Please bear in mind here that a ‘natural’ cow is nothing like the cows we see in fields today which were specially bred during the agricultural revolution to produce more food). In the dairy industry, cows are artificially inseminated to keep them constantly pregnant and therefore constantly producing a flow of milk. About 50% of the calves born are male, and therefore no use to the farmers, and are shot in the head shortly after birth apart from a few that are reared for veal. Just like any animal, having their babies taken away from them is extremely distressing for the cows and they have been known to bellow for days, calling for their baby. On top of that, they have to suffer infected and swollen udders that are a result of producing too much milk.

There are many, vegan alternatives to dairy that are much kinder to other beings and do not leave you feeling sick. Butter, cheese, ice cream and yoghurt all have dairy-free alternatives. Just look for the ‘Free From’ section in your local supermarket. There are now lots of different varieties of vegan milk. Personally, I prefer unsweetened soya milk, but you can also choose from sweetened soya, almond and rice milk to name just a few. Soya milk does curdle in hot drinks, so make sure you either heat the milk or allow the drink to cool a little before you add the milk. Almonds and cashews make a great cream substitute, just soak them in water for a couple of hours and then blend them. Doing this with cashews makes a great melted cheese replacement.

All this talk about food is making me feel hungry, but before I go, next time you’re about to drink a glass of cows’ milk, please consider how it got there and if you really need it.

Plant-Based Pause No 3: B12

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘One of the secrets of life is to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks.’ – Jack Penn

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A common concern for vegans and plant-based vegetarians is that we don’t get enough nutrients. People sometimes look at me like they expect me just to keel over in front of them, they can’t believe that I can not eat animals and yet look so healthy.

There are four nutrients that can only be found in animal-based foods: cholesterol and vitamins A, D and B12. Cholesterol is made naturally in our bodies, and omnivores do not need the extra that they get from meat and eggs. Vitamin A is also made in our bodies, as is vitamin D if we have a few minutes exposure to the sun every day. Interestingly, vitamins A and D are both toxic if too much is consumed.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAIf you eat a healthy, plant-based diet, the only thing you can’t get is B12. This isn’t because we need to eat red meat, however. Some B12 is made in the intestine, but it is not enough so we are advised to consume more in food. Historically, our ancestors would have got enough B12 from the soil, where it is made by micro-organisms. When vegetables are grown in healthy, organic soil, they soak up nutrients through their roots. Also, people in the past wouldn’t have washed their vegetables as well as we have to and would have drunk dirty water, so would have literally been eating the soil. Modern mass-farming techniques, with all it’s technology and chemicals, has stripped the soil of it’s natural nutrients, including B12.

There’s no need to panic, though. Modern technology has also brought us other sources of B12, including fortified vegan milks and margarine, fortified breakfast cereals and B12 supplements (my personal choice because it’s easier to monitor my intake). Yeast extracts such as Marmite also contain B12, but be careful if you have problems with gluten. Until the day that we return to organic farming and the soil is given the chance to repair itself, these alternatives are more than adequate.

Plant-Based Pause No 2: No, It’s Not Natural for Humans to Eat Animal Products

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘People eat meat and think they will become as strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.’ – Pino Caruso

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I don’t tend to broadcast the fact that I’m a plant-based vegetarian because, to be honest, it’s not really anyone else’s business and everyone has the right to choose their own lifestyle. However, whenever a situation involves food, and let’s face it that’s very often, it’s an unavoidable subject. People notice that I’m not eating the same as them, and that I have to ask lots of questions about what the meal contains. One of the most common reactions, always said with confidence, is ‘but it’s natural for humans to eat meat’. When I ask them ‘why is it natural for humans to eat meat?’, however, I have never yet met an omnivore who has been able to give me an answer other than ‘because it is’. They know that it is natural for them to eat meat, which is when I point out that everyone knew the Earth was flat before Christopher Columbus came along.

Not only do I know that it is not natural for humans to eat meat, I also know why. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that every species could be vegan. Cats, for example, are designed to eat meat, although you will get the odd cat that it the exception to the rule and chooses to be vegetarian (my aunty’s cat Squeakers for example). There are some animals like apes, humans and dogs, however, that are more suited to eating plants.

DSC_0500For a start, we are a downright lazy species. We know this because we have designed a modern world for ourselves where technology does everything for us. We no longer have to move off the sofa if we do not choose to. So, when our early ancestors were roaming the planet looking for food, if they’d had the choice between a plant that grows out of the ground or a meal they had to chase down for four hours and kill, I think I know which one they’d go for. Lots of people today argue that it is the hunter-gatherer instinct in us that makes us want to eat meat. I have no problem with that if you actually go out and hunt the animals yourself, however I tend to find that most of the people making the argument ‘hunt’ their food pre-prepared in plastic containers from the supermarket.

Anatomically, we are better suited to eating a herbivore diet. Firstly, we have the right teeth for it. Most of our teeth are flat and our jaw can move side-to-side, perfect for grinding down and crushing plants. Carnivores, on the other hand, have sharp, pointy teeth that are designed to seize, kill and dismember prey. The four canine teeth we do have are blunt and small, and are thought to be used for display and/or defence (think of when an ape warns off a potential threat). Can you imagine actually trying to pull meat off an animal just using your canines? Try it next time you’re eating a chicken leg.

There are lots of other reasons why we are biologically better suited to eating plant-based, for example our colon which, like in other herbivores, has a pouch structure. Our body also needs lots of fibre, which is exclusively found in plant-based foods. Although it is not digested, fibre is essential to the human body as it pulls water into the intestines to keep everything moving.

And what about that age-old saying ‘Real men eat meat’? Google Rip Esselstyn – does he look manly enough to you? Rip is a committed plant-based vegetarian. After a successful career as a world-class athlete, he changed careers and trained as a firefighter in Austin, Texas. After learning that one of his colleagues had a dangerously high cholesterol level of 344, Rip encouraged all the firefighters at his station to switch to a plant-based diet. They all lost weight, lowered their cholesterol and improved their overall health. Still not convinced? Then head over to veganbodybuilding.com and check out lots of ‘real men’ who don’t eat meat, including some of the 3000 vegan body builders here in the UK.

 

Plant-Based Pause No 1: It’s Not as Scary as it Seems

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.’ – Albert Einstein 

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Just over two years ago, I made a change in my life that has had repercussions I never would have expected. I decided to go plant-based. Having been vegetarian for over 18 years (not eating or wearing anything an animal dies to produce), I thought I knew a lot about the food I ate and where it came from. How wrong I was.

Whilst looking through the listings for a local independent cinema, I came across an advert for a showing of Planeat. Watching that one movie would change my life forever. Since then, I have almost completely cut animal protein out of my diet. Apart from the occasional pizza base or soup that contain milk (I’m also allergic to gluten, so sometimes I have to take what I can get, even if it means eating a tiny bit of dairy), I no longer eat animal milk, cheese, yoghurt or eggs. The only animal product I do buy on a regular basis is honey, and I make a point to buy local honey that is ethically sourced. In fact, all the fresh produce I buy now is as local as possible, preferably organic and from the farmers market in my neighbourhood. If I do have to buy from the supermarket, I always buy British.

DSC_0445As a vegetarian, when I first decided to go plant-based, I suppose it was easier for me because I was already halfway there. I’d always said that I couldn’t give up dairy and be vegan, but now that I almost am I can honestly says it’s not as scary and difficult as it sounds.

So, what do you do if you’re thinking about trying this plant-based malarkey? You’ve heard about these strange people who only eat plant-based, whole food as close to the source as possible, and how their back-to-basics diet is curing cancer, heart disease and diabetes. You’ve maybe even seen a few testimonials of people who have tried it and lost weight, got healthier and found a new lease of life. However, completely changing the way you eat and how you think about food is daunting. Don’t fear, though, there is lots of help out there, and from people a lot more qualified than me. The best place to start is to watch Planeat or Forks Over Knives, then have a browse through their websites to learn more. Twenty years ago, when I first stopped eating meat, we didn’t have the benefit of the internet. Announcing that I was a vegetarian made me feel very alone and socially awkward, and I had little support against the critics who told me it was just a ‘phase’ I would grow out of. Nowadays, we have a whole network of friends and supporters online around the clock.

There are lots more people out there who are intrigued by the plant-based lifestyle. I know this because of the amount of questions I get asked, and you wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t the least bit interested. Most people are just scared to give it a try because it is so far removed from what the majority of us have been taught is healthy. A common question I get is ‘What do you eat?’ After years of eating meals with meat as the base, people are genuinely perplexed at how to form a meal around vegetables and whole grains. I promise you, though, it is not as difficult as it sounds. Give plant-based living a try and after a couple of months you’ll wonder why everybody doesn’t live the same way, and you’ll be the one confidently answering those questions.

My last piece of advice is to go in with an open mind, you’re going to hear and see things that will throw what you know as ‘the truth’ out of the water.