Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Massage in early pregnancy

Having trained in pregnancy massage last year, and learning how wonderfully supportive it can be for an expectant mother, I was fully planning to spend my pregnancy on the couch for hours, soaking up all that care, nurturing and all round wellness for myself and my growing child.
Lucinda Cracknell massage - hands on abdomen
Pregnancy massage can provide care, nurture
and coddling for you and your precious cargo
from the earliest weeks.

Then I actually got pregnant, and reality turned out a little differently! Nausea and exhaustion meant I wasn't up to hours of kneading, or even gentle effleurage. So have I turned against early pregnancy massage? Not at all. At the stage where most people around you aren't aware of the enormous changes you're facing, being able to share your experience and get some care and coddling can be invaluable. I just realised that, for me anyway, I needed to be more selective and specific in choosing my treatments.

Is massage safe in early pregnancy?

There is a misapprehension that massage isn't possible, or safe in the first trimester. This idea comes as far as I can tell, from two sources. There was an idea, even when I trained, that massage stimulates the system such that it can cause, or increase the likelihood of, miscarriage. This just isn't the case; any stimulation is no more than going for a walk, and except for rare cases with complications, will at worst do no harm. As long as certain simple safeguards are followed (like avoiding abdominal massage), there is no evidence  or reason to think that massage poses a risk to the pregnancy.

Unfortunately, many pregnancies do miscarry in the first trimester. There are a number of reasons for this, and most are unavoidable. However, if a woman has a massage just before a miscarriage, she may make a link between the two. Some therapists don't offer first trimester massage to avoid this situation, and a lot of insurance companies won't cover it for therapist who are not specifically trained in pregnancy massage. Hence you may see therapists who won't treat in the first trimester; you may need to seek out someone who does have pregnancy massage training.

How do I get the most from massage when I fall pregnant?

Every woman's experience of pregnancy is different, and even from one pregnancy to the next, but this is what I found useful to get the most from massage in the first trimester.

  • Little and often beats long sessions. I was quite tender, so didn't want to be lying still for extended periods, and too much of the kneading exacerbated my nausea after a while. So shorter treatments suited me better.
  • Find the right position. Later in pregnancy, you need to move into the side-lying or semi-reclined position; in the first trimester there is no bump to restrict you, but your body is already changing rapidly as your ligaments loosen up and your hormones surge, so what is comfortable for you may change. Discuss the options with your massage therapist, and experiment as necessary. You may find side-lying is gentler on a nauseous, tender abdomen, or that raising your legs eases your back. Maybe you need seated massage for a few weeks. If you need to change positions during the massage to be comfortable, that's fine too. You may like to mention it to your therapists in advance, so they have plenty of bolsters and pillows on hand for maximum flexibility.
  • Identify what you need/want from the massage. Especially for shorter sessions, if you are clear about this up front, and can therefore communicate it to your massage therapist, you're much more likely to come away from the treatment feeling happy and satisfied. What you need is likely to to different at each treatment - sometimes you'll need a specific area worked on quite deeply due to physical aches and pains, other times you may need calming and grounding as anxieties crowd your mind, or simply to rest as the first trimester can bring an exhaustion that caught me by surprise and wiped me out for a period of time.
  • Make it as easy as possible. This goes for everything during pregnancy, not just massage! So if you can, find someone near to home, or work, with hours that fit into your routine. If you are finding things a struggle anyway, you don't want to have a long trip out of your way for a massage, or to feel you have to rush back afterwards. If a particular time suits you, it may be worth booking up several sessions in advance, to reserve your preferred slot. This also means you don't have to think about repeatedly making appointments, and you may get a discount for booking a package of treatments!

These are my recommendations based on my own experience of early pregnancy. Do they strike a chord with you, or was your experience different? What other suggestions would you make for newly expectant mothers? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Be kind to yourself. Treat body and mind through compassionate, healing touch - visit Lucinda's website

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Go on, stretch yourself

In April I attended a workshop on Effective Stretching, with the Middlesex School of Complementary Medicine. Most of us know the importance of stretching when exercising, but it is not just valuable for athletes, or during a workout. We all use our bodies, and can get tight muscles, and so can benefit from a regular stretching practice. In return for a little time and persistence to form new habits, you could reduce muscle tension and aches, feel more relaxed in your body, have greater body awareness and improve posture and body alignment.

Of course, this depends on performing stretches that are appropriate, and doing them correctly. Here are some of the top tips I picked up from the workshop, and one of the most useful stretches we learned.

Top tips
  • When exercising, prepare with dynamic (moving) stretches, and cool down with static stretches. 
  • Fit a few stretches into your daily routine – when you wake up feeling a bit creaky, after sitting or standing still for a long time, or when you have a few minutes waiting for the bus or while the kettle boils. 
  • Don’t bounce in a stretch, or push passed your comfort point, both are ways to injure yourself. 
  • Stretching is easier and more effective if you relax. 
  • Do not hold your breath while stretching; maintain an easy flowing breath. 
  • Hold static stretches for 10 to 15 seconds to maintain your flexibility; to improve flexibility, stay at the end point of your muscle’s elasticity, where you feel resistance (and before it hurts!) for 30 to 60 seconds. You may feel that after 15 seconds or so you are able naturally to move into a deeper stretch, but don’t force it.

Piriformis stretch

The piriformis is a muscle in the buttock, underneath the major gluteal muscles. It can become tightened, especially if we sit for long periods, which can cause discomfort in the buttock and lower back, and may also irritate the sciatic nerve causing pain down the leg. This stretch is therefore a good one if you work at a desk much of the time, or do a lot of driving.

Start by sitting on the edge of a chair, with your feet flat on the floor.
Raise one foot and place on the opposite knee, with your shin as close to horizontal as it comfortably goes.
There will be a triangle formed between your thighs and raised calf; slowly lean forward, aiming your belly button into the triangle. Hold for as long as necessary.
Release gradually and repeat on the other side.

Do this stretch daily, or more. It’s a good one to include in your regular breaks when working at a computer.

Be kind to yourself. Treat body and mind through compassionate, healing touch - visit Lucinda's website

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Help yourself to a straighter, less painful upper back

So many people who come to see me for massage have tension, restricted movement and pain in their shoulders and neck. It’s a blight of the modern lifestyle, with hours spent sitting hunched over computers, or behind the wheel of a car. A massage can work out the knots and tightness, so you feel looser, straighter and much more comfortable for weeks, or even months. Without a change in habits, however, stiffness and pain creep back in.

Lucinda Cracknell Massage - shoulder massage
Massage can help you feel looser,
straighter and more comfortable
Giving up the computer work, or long drives, may not be practical, but there are other steps you can take to lessen the impact of day to day life on your body and prolong the benefits of your massage (and reduce the discomfort when you come for your next treatment).

Try this exercise: Focus on the bottom corner of your shoulder blades (feel where they are with your hands if you need to). Have the intention of pulling those corners down and in towards your spine.

This is a very gentle, passive way of encouraging your upper back, shoulders and neck into a good, neutral position. Thinking about pulling your shoulders down, or back, can cause you to tense in your neck and shoulders, which defeats the purpose a bit.

It also helps bring your head up above your neck, rather than hanging forward. (If it still feels pushed forward, bring it fully up by looking horizontally and bringing your chin in; imagine a string from your crown floating your head upwards). Your head is pretty heavy, so if it’s pushed forward your neck and shoulder muscles are doing a lot of work to counteract that weight. That can cause, or add to, tension in those areas. Once your head is balanced on your neck, the weight is supported through your spine and the pressure is off your muscles. Much better!

Practise this alignment of your back and shoulders whenever you think of it, especially during activities that can put strain on the back like using a computer or driving. Every time you do it you take the strain off your muscles for a few moments and give them an opportunity to relax. With time and repetition, this neutral position becomes more natural and normal, until you realise you’re doing it without thinking. Congratulations, you’ve learned to look after your back and may have saved yourself future pain and discomfort. As an added incentive, by holding yourself straight you may look taller too.

Be kind to yourself. Treat body and mind through compassionate, healing touch - visit Lucinda's website

Saturday, 26 October 2013

"But will you…?" or making time to nurture yourself

I recently saw a discussion online between crafters and artisans, expressing their frustration at craft fair visitors who dismiss their work with “I could make that at home”. One participant had a great response, which was to ask them “but will you?”

There’s a big gap between what you could do and what you will do – time, energy, prioritisation and habit inevitably whittle down the list of great intentions to our actual actions. Sometimes, if you want that beautiful hand crafted gift, you’d do better to buy it from the expert at the fair than try to fit in making it yourself between work, family and all your other commitments (and maybe feeling let down if you don’t manage it).

Lucinda Cracknell Massage - on the massage table
A massage is time for yourself
For many years I used to see a therapist on a Thursday evening at 6 after work (back when I still worked in an office). I’d make sure I finished work in time to get to her, and planned other arrangements around those appointments. It was my commitment to looking after myself, and it worked well. The time came to end those sessions, but I still wanted to take the time to nurture myself, so I planned to continue to set aside that hour on a Thursday evening, for meditation and reflection, quiet down time for me. Then one week there was a deadline at
work, and I stayed a bit later. I decided it made more sense to go shopping straight from work and have “me time” a bit later – then I was hungry so I ate first, and tired, so an early night seemed like a good idea – that’s looking after myself as well, right? – and just like that the routine I’d had for years was gone; somehow I no longer had time for looking after me.

It turned out that, while in theory “I could do that at home”, when it came to “but will I?”, the answer was no.

A session with a massage therapist is time taken to look after yourself. There’s the physical work to ease pain and stiffness, and the emotional benefit of receiving touch from another person. But there are other aspects of the experience that you could do at home. Closing the door, turning off the phone, shutting out external distractions and being quiet for a while. Taking time away from work, family, chores etc to relax and recharge  Giving yourself permission to focus on you and your needs for a while. Creating a warm, welcoming, safe space to rest and reflect. 

But will you?

Maybe the answer is yes, in which case, good for you. If, like me, you find that real life trumps good intentions more often than not, don’t beat yourself up, you’re only human. Like buying a gift you “could make” but won’t, allow an expert to help you, and book a regular massage*. Once committed you will find the time to get to the appointments. It’s incredibly empowering to go from “I really should…” to “I make time for this”, and your body and mind will thank you for taking care of yourself.

Lucinda Cracknell Massage - flower-dressed massage couch
Relax and recharge

* and by booking four or more massage treatments up front, you get a 20% saving - see here for details

P.S. If you are inspired to “do it at home”, whether occasionally or to create a regular habit, here are my tips.

  • Choose the calmest room in your home, where you can sit or lie comfortably.
  • Close the door and ensure you won’t be disturbed by other people (or pets) for a set time. Turn the phone and other devices off.
  • Ensure you are warm – your temperature can drop when you are still for a while, so gather blankets to snuggle under.
  • Turn down the lighting – use lamps or candles, to create a soft, warm atmosphere.
  • Play soft music, something you find soothing (but not annoying or distracting). As well as adding to the atmosphere, this softens any external sounds that come in.
  • Lucinda Cracknell Massage - coconut shell candle holder and flowers
    Creating a welcoming,
    safe place to reflect
  • Introduce pleasant aromas – with candles, incense, essential oils, flowers or creams (see below).

Now you are ready for whatever practice works for you, and feels good right now. Some suggestion are:

  • Breathe. Simply that. Focus on slow, deep inhalation and exhalation, feeling your body rise and fall from your abdomen to your collar bone. One of the simplest ways to ground and calm yourself.
  • Meditate – your own practice, or try one of the many guided meditations and visualisations that are available.
  • Gently stretch your body, working through the different areas, easing through any tension and enjoying the sensation of length and movement, connecting with your body.
  • If you practice yoga, do some home practice, listening to what your body, and mind, need.
  • Write – take a pen and paper and pour your thoughts out. Don’t try to organise them too much, or to filter. Sometimes just expressing something that’s been going round and round in our heads can help to clarify what’s going on and illuminate the next step.
  • Pamper your body. Take a luxurious body cream and slowly and lovingly smooth it into your skin. This smells great, feels great, reconnects us with our bodies and sooths us through touch.
  • Daydream. Let your mind wander, explore your imagination, see where it takes you and experience your own creativity.

What do you do to nourish yourself? I’d love to hear your additions to the list in the comments below.

Be kind to yourself. Treat body and mind through compassionate, healing touch - visit Lucinda's website

Friday, 16 August 2013

Wellness Awareness Afternoon - 1st September

Total Balance Clinic logo

will be hosting a

Wellness Awareness Afternoon

on Sunday 1st September 2013, from 1 to 5pm

We'd be delighted if you could join us.

  • Talks and individual consultations, with advice and suggestions to help you maximise your health and vitality
  • Taster treatments – a chance to sample the benefits of many of the therapies available at Total Balance
  • Free prize draw entry for everyone who joins us on the day

The afternoon is open to everyone, and is completely complimentary, so please come along and see what's on offer to help you achieve and maintain wellness in your life.

Some activities have been confirmed, and more will be added over the next two weeks, so please check back to see what's on offer.

You'll find the clinic at 106a London Road, Apsley, HP3 9SD. You can get in touch on 01442 211 899 or

Here's the line up so far:

Taster treatments:

Ian Carter will be offering:

Sports Massage - 10 minute back, neck and shoulder massages

Pilates - individual or small group sessions, showing you how to engage your core muscles, with some simple moves to build awareness your of your own body.

Ian is a McTimoney Chiropractor, Sports Therpaist and Pilates Teacher, and Manager of Total Balance Clinic.


Lucinda Cracknell Massage Therapy sunflower logo
I'll be offering 10 minute treatments throughout the afternoon in Thai Foot massage, Indian Head Massage and back, neck, shoulder massage.
    Thai Foot Massage - this incredibly relaxing massage uses thumbs, knuckles and a wooden massage stick to press, stroke and pummel the foot and ankle. Our feet take a daily pounding, so this treatment helps soothe aching soles and reinvigorate tired tissues to leave you walking on air.

    Indian Head Massage - a gentle Westernised form of the traditional massage, incorporating the shoulders, neck and face as well as the scalp, areas where many of us hold tension. A surprisingly relaxing and enjoyable treatment.

    Back, neck, shoulder massage  - deep tissue techniques are used through clothing, to identify the source of tension and discomfort, and encourage the muscles and tissue to 

      Forever Living logo
      Gerard Keane and Jennifer Bond of Forever Living will be talking about the properties and benefits of Aloe Vera and its uses for the treatment of conditions. Aloe Vera can:

      * Nourish your digestive system
      * Infuse you with energy
      * Protect skin from free radical damage
      * Promote skin’s natural regeneration
      * Is the only vegetarian source of vitamin B12
      * And so much more

      Gerard and Jennifer will introduce many ways in which you can make use of aloe vera, including drinks, supplements, beehive products, weight management, personal care, skincare, makeup and use for animals and in the home.

      Forever Living Products came to being in 1978 and is represented around the world in over 150 countries. Gerard and Jennifer began their Forever journey in March 2010 promoting the product range which is based around organically grown Aloe Vera.


      McTimoney Chiropractic - this is a precise, whole body approach to chiropractic care. The gentle nature of the McTimoney method makes it especially suitable for people of all ages.

      Practitioner Ian Carter will explain how McTimoney Chiropractic can realign and rebalance your body to relieve pain and discomfort, and increase mobility. He will discuss the benefits to be gained in treating a range of conditions, such as back pain, discomfort and stiffness in the joints, migraine, sports injuries and arthritic pain. 


      Forever Living logo
      Gerard and Jennifer of Forever Living will be providing individual information and advice, testers and tasters. They will have some products available on the day should anyone wish to make a purchase, or by fast order on items not immediately available. They also provide a personal follow up service on purchases or enquiries.

      Forever Living Products has a professional three part advisory board service which Gerard, Jennifer and other distributors can draw on for advice on all matters medical*, nutritional/skincare and veterinary* where immediate answers cannot be provided.

      *Please note that Forever Living Products and its distributors will not override an individual's practitioner or consultant advice on medical or veterinary matters and will only provide information to work alongside existing advice.

        Postural Assessments - Ian Carter will be offering individual assessments, with recommendations to help you address any misalignment or imbalance you may be holding in your body that, if not addressed, can lead to pain, discomfort or damage to tissues and joints.

          Be kind to yourself. Treat body and mind through compassionate, healing touch - visit Lucinda's website

          Monday, 10 December 2012

          Festive massage

          Maybe you would like to treat yourself after pounding the pavements (or slaving over a computer) looking for the perfect gifts. Or perhaps you want some time for yourself in between the turkey leftovers and visits to relatives. Either way, I'm here for you (although I will be having a little break in Christmas week).

          I will be working as normal up to the 20th December. Over the holidays I will have appointments on:

          Lucinda Cracknell Massaeg Therapy Christmassy Sunflower logo with hat
          - Sunday 30th December in the morning at BAY-Yoga, Berkhamsted

          - Tuesday 1st January in the afternoon and evening at BAY-Yoga, Berkhamsted (start the New Year as you mean to go on!)

          - Thursday 3rd January all day at Sohan Jalaiai, St Albans

          - Saturday 5th January in the afternoon at Sohan Jalaiai, St Albans

          - Sunday 6th January in the morning at BAY-Yoga, Berkhamsted

          From Monday 7th January, normal service is resumed!

          So if you want a bit of non-fattening indulgence, call or e-mail and book in for a festive massage!

          Tuesday, 13 November 2012

          Time to start thinking about Christmas

          Christmas decorations
          I love the sparkle and warmth
          of Christmas decorations

          Now we've entered November, I think it's acceptable to start thinking and talking about Christmas. I love this time of the year, the presents and decorations, and yummy food. I had my first mince pie of the year last week - the gluten free ones aren't available all year round, so it's a mini celebration when they appear on the shelves again.

          I've also just started my Christmas shopping - a mixed blessing (I get to shop! With a clear conscience!) and burden (What on earth should I get for......?!?). It may be no surprise to learn that a lot of my friends and family get massages for Christmas. And guess what, yours could to!

          I have gift certificates available for all my treatments - the most popular choices are on my website, but if you want a different time, or a combination, just ask and I can tailor a certificate specifically for you. I can also suggest what might be suitable if you're not sure what someone would like, or I can provide an open certificate so they can choose their treatment.

          If you're still not sure, I'm offering buy one get one half price on all gift vouchers up to Christmas Eve. So you can treat two friends, or even get a gift for someone else and treat yourself to the second one! If you buy four gifts, you're effectively getting one for free.

          A little bit of "small print" you should know: One of each pair of certificates bought must be for someone else, the cheaper of the pair will be half price, and this offer can't be combined with any other discount.