A Fresh Start

I had known for a long time that I needed to move from SW London. Having grown up in Warwickshire, even living and working in zone 6 felt hectic, but I had worked so hard to build up a client base over the course of eight years it was still a difficult decision to make. Needless to say, as we get older risk assessment becomes more and more important, and possibly even more so as a single, self employed sports massage therapist.

I decided to address the following:

  • Outline the worst case scenario.
  • Be clear on what I really want.
  • Be brutal when it comes to finances.
  • List all the pros and cons for both staying in SW London and a new location.
  • Be smart re location!

For many months I was convinced I should be moving to Cheshire. I made a great contact at a clinic, had a positive interview and allowed myself to get excited about local cycling clubs, Crossfit gyms and suitable areas I could be living.

But, after all the research and emotional investment it never happened. The job fell through, along with my excitement over a better life…and then I met Ben.

Now, I don’t want to get too fluffy here, but I am firm believer people come into our lives for a reason. Temporary or permanent; a positive or negative experience, in my view, there’s a reason for it. Ben lived in Portishead, Bristol. I had only ever passed Bristol on my way to and from Exeter Uni (many moons ago) on the M5. I had never been, or knew what it was like as a city.

Ben and I became firm friends almost overnight and I visited Portishead in November 2014 for the first time. I fell in love instantly. And yet I hadn’t even thought about living by water, let alone on a marina! A few emails later I had a part time position at a clinic in Clifton and by the end of January 2015 I was working in both Bristol and at my clinic in SW London.

Slightly crazy how quickly things can happen…

However, despite my initial excitement about being part of a clinic again (rather than being completely on my own) it was short lived when I realised it actually wasn’t the clinic for me.

So here I was, finally with my own flat on the marina and actually no work! To say I was stressed was an understatement. I’d left behind a thriving business, only to find myself experiencing sleepless nights over what to do. This was not part of the plan!

Quickly back to the drawing board, knocking on other clinic doors and I found a home at the long established Portishead Chiropractic Clinic, owned by Tom Scourfield and his wife Davina. From day one, I felt like I had been there years but, as the only massage therapist there I found myself in a position of starting from scratch re business.

No one knew who I was. No one knew how I work or whether I’m any good. How can I relax, taking my time to build a client base again when I have bills to pay now?

Some days I feel really positive and my gut instinct is that everything is going to be OK. This was the right move and if I could fast forward a year I would see that this stress is temporary. It really will all work out.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have days where I panic. When you’re new to an area, it sounds obvious, but literally everything is new. I don’t know my way around, I have few friends, a small client base and actually no guarantee I have made the right move!

It’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time. And it can totally depend on how I feel on the day, which is in itself ridiculous. But here I am giving it a go. Trying out stephanie blake massage in Portishead to see if, in a year, I can look back and say, ‘this was the best move I ever made’.

Here’s to possibilities. Here’s to risk. Here’s to a fresh start.

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You Rock My World (part II)

Continued from You Rock My World (part I)….

Rocktape:

Don’t worry, not a tape of rocks but a type of kinesiotaping called Rocktape. I think the name works as it’s quite ‘grrrr’! Although some clients have made jokes that they feel taped up like a parcel (first class all the way with my clients!), others have felt like more hardcore gym goers. (Reminds me of a Friends quote, when Ross says ‘I guess the more muscles one has, the more likely they are to go into spasm’!!)

Needless to say, it’s not just the name of the tape that promotes the ‘athlete’ feeling. They come in all kinds of patterns and colours: from commando and union jack to jet black and bright pink! You see….something for everyone!

I get carried away here. Obviously it’s not all about how it looks!

The idea is the tape lifts the skin, giving fascia (connective tissue) increased space to expand/move, rehydrate, and regain its spring (yes, technical term!). With all this going on tape can really help with several issues:

  • Posture issues
  • Symptoms such as pain and/or swelling
  • Joint support

(I’ve no doubt there’s other stuff to add here but I’ve seen for myself the immediate difference in clients after being taped for the problems listed above).

I do think it’s important to address the dreaded question of placebo effect. It’s true, taping hasn’t been around long so there’s limited research published on whether it actually works at all. That said I have to make the point of who cares?!

My aim is to help clients become pain free and have better movement. Whether this means treating a sporting injury or symptoms of stress, the end goal is the same. If taping allows us to reach this end point quicker and/or more effectively then, quite frankly I am all over it! That said, I will never feel taping is a replacement for quality Remedial Massage treatment. For me, the two go hand in hand (rather like massage and Chiro but that’s a whole other blog!).

So if you need to ‘rock out’ with me (see what I did there?!) you know where to find me…and no it’s not under a rock! (Are you shaking your head slowly whilst reading my rock puns yet?) I’m sure I can come up with more….

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You Rock My World (part I)

Nowadays there seems to be a common theme running through my massage treatments; and they revolve around rocks. First came the ‘hot rocks’, and then now the Rocktape.

It sounds crazy, and it was totally unintentional that rocks in any way, shape or form, should feature in a Remedial Massage practice, but never before have I been able to reduce symptoms of stress and/or injury so quickly until using both hot rocks and Rocktape.

It seems the combination of the two, where appropriate is proving highly affective meaning stephanie blake massage officially ‘rocks’!

Hot Rocks:

‘Hot rocks’ of course is a take on ‘hot stones’ which I introduced about eighteen months ago, in order to continue separating myself from any treatment you may find in a ‘spa’ environment. I’ve also referred to my stones as ‘remedial rocks’ (as we all know by now, I’m a sucker for a bit of alliteration!). But while a stereotypical hot stones massage is extremely relaxing etc etc, I use my rocks for remedial purposes only.

The rocks (as they will now always be called) allow me, the practitioner, to get additional heat into the body (therefore increasing blood flow, relaxing muscles and fascia etc) before increasing pressure (enter pointy pointy Steph elbows!) to focus specifically on the soft tissue that requires deep tissue work.

Those of you who know me, or treated by me, also know that I have usually recommended a lovely hot bath or shower after a massage treatment in order to ‘continue stimulating blood flow and almost extending the massage treatment itself’. With that same principle of ‘treatment extension’ in mind I have now found Rocktape to be highly effective.

Want to know more about Rocktape? Look out for You Rock My World (part II)!!

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Paris 2014: A Comedy Marathon

As someone who has now completed eight marathons in several European countries I reckon it’s fair to say I can recognise a cock up in organisation of such an event when it happens. It’s been two days since the Paris Marathon 2014 and thankfully I can see the funny side of a race that was nothing short of a disaster.

Despite months of training and pinning my hopes on a new PB, failing to achieve a targeted time would, for anyone, be upsetting. But, now back in the UK typing this blog with absolutely no DOMS, or feeling of any kind that I’d just run a marathon, I’m recalling those obstacles that prevented a good time with humour…it’s true how the saying goes ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’!

Now I hate to compare races or countries, but if you’ve ever run The London Marathon or been a spectator, you will agree with me that it’s like a well oiled machine. Marshalls and volunteers are everywhere and there’s huge signage pointing to TOILETS, BAGGAGE and WATER. There’s simply no mistaking where you need to be and when; and when you cross the finish line more volunteers appear from nowhere, handing you your goodie bag, your kit bag and helping you find friends and family if you’re feeling a little dazed and confused. As Jasper Carrot once said, ‘the St. John’s Ambulance people hunt in packs!’

OK, so how did Paris differ? It’s just as big as London with about 50, 000 runners so I was expecting something on a par when it came to organisation….

First of all getting to the start seemed to be a bit of a mission. Metros were so packed we lost some of our party who couldn’t get on so when we came to our stop we then had to co –ordinate a meeting point before the race even started.

Stressed about the time, the fact I needed the toilet, and also wanting to put my kit bag into race baggage all we could do was follow the crowd and hope all would become clear. There was no signage for ANYTHING!

50, 000 runners plus spectators all in the same place was a recipe for disaster. I found the porta-loos…all 2 of them within my starting ‘pen’. And so, I queued. And queued. And queued. And then queued some more, clearly at this point just for fun…

I missed my start with all other 3:30hr runners and had to join in when I could after I had eventually found my way to the front of the porta-loo queue (a marathon in itself!)

Pace was slow and sheer volume of runners meant I was elbowed and pushed along rather than find my own rhythm and pace. There was also a lack of barriers along the streets so enthusiastic spectators were causing bottle necks as they themselves moved into the streets to look for those they were supporting. Pedestrians even sauntering across roads as if no event was even going on. I nearly got taken out by a bike about six miles in that was being casually carried across the road!

Water stations were only ever on one side of the road which meant more pushing and shoving, so only when I was absolutely desperate did I attempt to crowd surf my way to hydration. The rest of the time I thought it a good idea to stay firmly on the opposite side of the road to keep out the way. However, organisers had thought it a good idea to put the wheely bins for half empty bottles of water opposite to the water station itself so I ended up in some real life space invader game as bottles were hurled across the road narrowly missing my head (it’s a good job body bruising is easily covered!).

To add to the fun, sliced oranges and bananas were available instead of gels, jelly beans or energy drinks, so I particularly loved running on wet cobbles trying not to slide over on orange and banana peel. Flailing about whilst trying to run and not knock out the people around me was initially a challenge, but by mile 16 I’d got this down to a fine art!

Another amusing highlight of the Paris Marathon was when the route took us through a tunnel. It was a considerable stretch of road so once in, there was no light at the end of the tunnel…there was simply no light! Organisers had decided to pop up triangular screens at the side the tunnel and set up projectors to show images of Paris and runners etc. All well and good apart from the exposed power cables and equipment placed on tables with no barriers around them! With such little lighting I had to keep checking that I had in fact taken my sunglasses off and placed them on my head. No I really wasn’t still wearing them, I just couldn’t see a damn thing. But that’s ok, the number of other runners meant that I was kinda squished out the other end eventually anyway…

One thing I would say is that the route is actually stunning. Paris is stunning. Apart from dancing with death when attempting to run over wet cobbles covered in orange peel when I decided to let go of a PB and enjoy the sights it was actually much better. It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day so why not enjoy the marathon for the sake of running?!

Hmm…my new found serenity was short lived as I approached people holding fireman hoses. Instead of aiming the fast flowing water into the air so runners could cool off nicely running through a little ‘shower’ it appeared better to point hoses directly at runners! I got blasted so hard not only was I nearly knocked off my feet AGAIN but I then incurred some sort of ice cream headache for the following ten minutes!

Finally, the last 2km arrived and I had a chance to speed up and just finish the race. Apart from the usual lower back soreness, never before have I finished a marathon not only with energy left in the tank but with no leg or hip soreness whatsoever. It felt very bizarre.

Paris will now be remembered fondly as the race with most comedy moments. There’s really no point in being grumpy about it. After all, there was a good medal at the end of it!

 

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Introducing Hot Stones into Remedial Massage

It’s always tricky looking for new CPD* courses to do each year that will increase my learning, keep me motivated and provide me with more tools to treat clients effectively. Since discovering JING Advanced Massage Training, based in Brighton, I’ve been excited by a number of courses they offer and I’m slowly working through most of their course list!

This time, after a lengthy chat with JING, I opted for their four day Intensive Hot Stone Fusion course. Now, for those of you who know me, this choice has come as a bit of a surprise. What immediately springs to mind when you say ‘hot stones’ and ‘massage’ in the same sentence? Well, for me it says ‘spa’ and ‘pampering’. Two words that couldn’t be further from what I do and how I practise.

Clients will testify that treatments from stephanie blake massage include a lot of Remedial and Deep Tissue work, which often includes use of my elbows, knuckles and forearms to achieve adequate pressure to strip out and relax knotted and distressed muscles. So, why choose a hot stone course?

 

Hot Stones with a big difference

Unlike any other hot stones course I can find in the UK, JING blew apart the concept of using stones purely for ‘indulgence’. Now, I’m not going to lie to you. After experiencing roughly six hours of hot stones massage whilst on the course it can’t be denied that treatments take muscle relaxation to a new level, BUT (and here’s the awesome part, speaking as a Remedial Massage therapist) they are also excellent for compression work, stripping and reducing inflammation (technically it’s using cold stones that does this but we’ll come back to that later!)

Instead of using my own thumbs etc. I can now use the stones to help with problems such as Piriformis Syndrome (often mistaken for Sciatica as the symptoms are very similar), frozen shoulder and super tight scalenes (and upper Traps) which may be responsible for migraines or frequent headaches.

The heat from the stones means I can get into the necessary trigger points much faster and more effectively too. Oh the joy! But as I touched on before, as beneficial as the heat can be, so too is the cold…

 

Cold Stones…really?!

We all know that often an acute injury will incur immediate inflammation around the site of pain. We also know that traditionally ice is recommended to help bring that inflammation down (and also provide some numbing effect to help the pain element). There’s always been debate around whether to apply hot or cold to injury, and certainly, after inflammation has been brought under control, I’m a huge fan of heat every time. But how about we combine the two?

Applying colder stones to the site of inflammation has an incredible effect on the body in itself, for reasons explained above, however, then apply hot stones to provide a rush of blood to the area (and therefore speeding up the flush of toxins etc) before applying yet more of the colder stones is, quite frankly a triple whammy of healing goodness!

 

Therefore…

I often remind clients that massage speeds up the bodys healing process, so by making the massage experience more intense with the use of stones (hot and/or cold) we should be getting better results even faster.

That said I am no way making my elbows and knuckles redundant! However, bringing everything together in a combination treatment in the world of Remedial and Sports is indeed exciting, hopefully for both me as a practitioner and you as the client!

 

 

*Continuing Professional Development

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Physical Pain & Mental Determination: The Ride London 100

Last September saw my first cycle event, the London Bikeathon. New to road cycling I thought I’d jump right in with a 52mile loop (which came as no surprise to those who know me!) which started and finished at Ham near Richmond upon Thames. I loved it, and less than a year on I’m sat typing this blog a little tired and achy having just completed the Ride London 100. Yes, it seemed like a good idea at the time to enter a 100mile cycling sportive from the Olympic Park, through London, out to the Surrey Hills and back again. Trust me…it’s a long way!

Needless to say the Ride London 100 was like no other cycle sportive I’ve done. Granted, I’ve only done a handful but enough to get a feel for atmosphere, what to expect and generally how they work.

Cycling is soo different from running. I know that sounds like stating the obvious but, unlike running events, usually there’s at least a little chatter amongst cyclists and I’ve always found cycling to be a far more sociable hobby than running. With running, the ear phones are in, breathing fairly hard and usually concentrating on the terrain so I don’t fall on my arse. Cycling seems entirely different. Chatting whilst on a bike is far more doable than running and I like the change.

But, for the first time, I found myself waiting to start the Ride London 100 with no one to chat with at all (and trust me, I like a natter, especially when I’m nervous. The bad jokes just fly out of my mouth!) That’s ok, I thought, once we get going I’ll probably fall into pace with someone and it’ll go from there.

Nothing. Nada. Not a one.

This time the atmosphere was one of focus only. Maybe it was the distance. Maybe it was the fact it was the biggest cycling sportive in British history and we were a part of it. Whatever the reason, no chat for me!

Several hours on a bike with only the road surface to worry about gives a girl a lot of thinking time, and at 70miles in, the mind chatter cranks up from who my perfect man might be to ‘holy crap my neck is killing, my hip flexors are on fire and really why am I doing this?!’

For the first time EVER during an event did I have the thought ‘am I going to finish this?’ But that thought had to be fleeting otherwise its game over right then and there. I’m a firm believer, where the mind wants to go, the body will follow. And follow it did.

For those who know me, the 2-3 weeks leading up to the sportive were particularly stressful. I moved house and also split with my boyfriend (who I met through cycling and has been a big cycling influence) so completing the Ride London 100 meant more to me than just being able to cycle 100miles. It would be confirmation that I can do it all on my own and it seemed to complete a ridiculously stressful month.

If I could finish this sportive I’d be able to compare myself to Wonderwoman (although perhaps a slightly less cool version as I don’t have the hair or the cape!) So my stubbornness kicked in, determination renewed and I simply repeated to myself two things:

Firstly,

‘Don’t you dare stop’

            And secondly (in the words of the adorable Dory, from Finding Nemo)

‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming’!

It sounds nuts, but seriously, if Dory can keep going all the way to Sydney Harbour then I can pedal the last 30miles to finish on The Mall!

And that I did.

The last 10miles felt like I was pedalling through treacle even though most of it, at that point was flat or down hill. I needed to shift handle or seat position every minute but nothing felt comfortable. I played with the gears so I could ‘rest’ a bit more, but ironically, not pedalling was just as bad due to so much lactic acid build up. It’s the same as that moment when you’re finishing a marathon and your legs are burning and screaming at you to stop, and as soon as you cross the line you go to do just that but it turns out you actually have to keep some movement going!

Reading this back to myself it sounds horrendous and I wonder why I continue to enter these events, pushing myself more and more each time. But I do and I love it. I’ll never be a top athlete or even an immensely amazing amateur but, for those moments I get to feel like a little hero (I don’t mean that to sound arrogant, I’m under no illusion that I am!). Perhaps it’s that which is more addictive than anything.

But ever noticed how the body remembers what causes pain but not the pain itself?

Clever isn’t it?

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May I introduce you to Pain?

Hello Pain.

It seems you have finally taken up residence in my body. I did not invite you, nor do I welcome you.

When you first knocked on my door I hid behind the sofa and ignored you, which seemed to work as you soon left. I thought it was safe to come out again but you hadn’t left my doorstep after all. You had cleverly hidden from me, so when I finally opened the door you leapt passed me and boldly, unapologetically, sat in my comfiest chair.

I still tried to ignore you.

You’d wake me up in the night and taunt me as I tried to go about my day as if you weren’t there at all. But you got worse.

The more I ignored you the worse you became Pain. I noticed you invited your friends over, Cramp and Fatigue. I came home one day only to find you had moved your stuff in, so you were no longer on my comfiest chair but also spreading onto my sofa and spilling over into the kitchen.

But I am stubborn, Pain. I am. I am far too busy to even acknowledge you are now impacting on my life on a daily basis. I can go on and continue to do all those things I love doing regardless. Especially, as I know I am going on holiday, so I will be out of my daily routine and you, and your friends, won’t know what to do with yourselves. You, Cramp and Fatigue will all move out whilst I’m away and go and be a nuisance elsewhere.

I thought I had been clever. I thought that would do the trick. I thought seeing my good friend, Foam Roller, whilst on holiday would finally rid myself of Pain, Cramp and Fatigue. But I was wrong.

When I returned from holiday you were there. Your friends had popped out for now but you warned me they would return…but you, Pain, you had never left. Because you’re patient, Pain. You may sometimes hide under the stairs or behind a curtain, but it’s just a game. You thrive on the fact I try and ignore you; it gives you strength, rather than exploit any weakness.

But I won’t let you win, Pain. I won’t let you, or your friends take up permanent residence in my house, because I have a new plan. A plan I should have put into action months ago. A plan that would have had you running down the street, and for the hills, quicker than a quick thing.

I decide to acknowledge you.

I comment on the changes you’ve made to my house. I invite you and your friends to have dinner with me so we can really get to know each other properly, after all this time. This unnerves you. You’re so used to being ignored my attention makes you uncomfortable. I even start inviting my friend, Foam Roller over on a daily basis so you two can be properly acquainted.

And this is all going so well because Cramp and Fatigue have already given up and left. So it really is just you and me again Pain. But I know how stubborn you are. The charms of Foam Roller have worn off, you see through my friend and you stay put.

So I finally invite round two of my oldest friends. Friends that I haven’t seen for a while, but the type of friends that will always be there when I really need help. Months may have passed since I last saw them last but that doesn’t matter. A phone call later and they are at my door.

May I introduce to you, Pain, to my dear friends Remedial Massage and Physiotherapy.

You weren’t prepared for them were you?! I knew it. You can’t stand either of them and I see it on your face as soon as you meet each other. They make no secret of the fact that they hate you, Pain. They don’t like want you’ve done to my house. They want you out. Now.

I see you resisting at first, and I actually commend you on your persistence. But Remedial Massage and Physiotherapy are clearly too much for the likes of you. My house is put back to the way it was and you’re shown the door pretty sharpish. After a quick hesitation, and look back, you finally decide to leave…hopefully once and for all.

But Remedial Massage and Physiotherapy know how devious you are, Pain. They explain to me they should visit on a regular basis to ensure you never return because they know only too well that you’re always lurking round the corner; waiting and hoping to get into my house again.

I try and reassure Remedial Massage and Physiotherapy that I’m fine and not to worry so much about me. I say I’ll catch up with them again soon. No let’s not put a date in the diary, I’ll give them a call when I have the time.

And then they leave, both with worried looks on their faces because they know you only too well. I have underestimated you Pain. Because there you lurk…just around the corner.

  

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