Health and Wellness Archives - Florida School of Massage


IMAP Beyond the Gym: The Stress Response

By Vincent Cambrea and Bev Browning

Stress is a life-saver.  No question about it.  When life and limb are threatened, stress is your primal first alert that you’re about to die if you don’t get moving. The will to survive is hardwired into your DNA, so your brain and body shift instantly into warp-drive to save your life. For three solid minutes of screaming terror, you’ll have more laser focus and explosive power than a superhero—plenty to outrun a lion.

Instant access to this much energy is a miraculous and complex partnership between the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). They join forces in a circuit to mount a survival campaign of choice: fight, flight, or freeze. It’s called the “Stress Response.” And although it varies in degree among people, depending on heredity, it’s universal.  We’ll give you the short list of the sequence. All this happens within nanoseconds, so prepare to be amazed.

The Power of Biodynamic Cranial Touch

~One Person’s Story of Healing and Recovery

By Jeannie Kelley

J KelleyI have studied several forms of craniosacral work over the years and can truly appreciate the various perspectives that have evolved out of the osteopathic lineage. Prior to fully exploring the Biodynamic realm in a formal class, I had experienced its nature multiple times when receiving sessions. On every single occasion – whether subtle (like energetic synchronicities) or profound (like when a part of my essence returned to my body in a way that made healing and recovery from an accident much more rapid in the time that followed) – there was something about “it”.

And whatever “IT” was, I wanted more of it! Between my impressions of Giorgia Milne as a teacher, and the depth of my experience in that first Initiatory Course, it was obvious that embarking on the year-long Mentor training was the next right choice.

Protection for the Bodyworker

by Ariela Grodner

Ariela Grodner


Protecting oneself from taking on the symptoms of dis-ease that a client exhibits is a consistent and recurring issue for practitioners across the entire spectrum of massage modalities. How does one cultivate the necessary empathy and awareness to consciously address whatever the physical issue is, without making themselves vulnerable to the very symptoms they are trying to treat?

It’s a common issue for many students of the healing arts, and one that is generally indicative of a practitioner’s underlying empathic abilities, as well as one that almost everyone determined to explore this path will have to address at some point. How do we open enough to another individual’s experience, to be able to correctly diagnose the source of their particular issue, without also opening ourselves to the risk of taking on the symptoms of that issue?

Jump Into Spring With Nourished Skin

christinaBy Christina Polnyj

Spring is bursting here in North Central Florida and it is almost impossible to stay indoors.  It’s time to visit the springs and enjoy our beloved outdoors.  The ocean is becoming more inviting everyday.  As we jump into spring and the great outdoors it is time to remember our skin, our largest organ.  It protects and connects us to the outside world and is composed of cell layers, nerves and glands.  It always makes me pause when I think everything we put on the outside of our body goes inside our body.

Meet The Baobob Tree and Why It Is Good For Your Body

by Christina Polnyj

polnyj_christinaWhile traveling recently in South Africa, I had the privilege of stumbling across a native baobob tree.  This amazing giant was one of the oldest living trees in the Limpopo wilderness.  I felt so blessed to see this beauty as I have been using baobob tree oil both in my practice and on my own skin for many years.

The baobob tree produces a beautiful, golden oil from its seed.  The oil has a slightly nutty aroma and is rich in essential fatty acids (oleic, linolenic, linoleic, palmitic, and stearic).  It is also rich in vitamin E.  These qualities make it a nutritious oil for our skin and means that it can be blended with other oils and butters to create your own perfect texture for massage and self care.

Here are some of the many benefits of baobob tree oil:

  • Helps the skin retain moisture
  • Promotes cell regeneration and heals scar tissue
  • Helps to relieve the dryness, irritation and itching of dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, and other skin ailments
  • Alleviates pain from burns (analgesic) and regenerates epithelial tissue quickly
  • Improves skin tone and elasticity
  • Especially known for skin healing properties

baobab 3

A host of legends surround the baobab tree.  Some people believe God planted the tree upside down because the branches look like roots pointing toward the sky.  Some people also believe that if you pick the flowers you may be torn apart by lions!  Another legend holds that the tree stores water and, when the water is drunk, you will be protected from crocodiles and the drinker will be mighty!

The tree can grow so large that, when hollowed out, it creates a shelter for as many as 40 people.  The fruit is full of vitamin C, the leaves are enriched in calcium, and the seeds are rich in protein.  While its benefits to humans are obvious, the baobob tree also is a blessing to other mammals, including elephants, monkeys, and baboons.  I encourage you to also partake of the manifold gifts of this blessed tree.

Christina Polnyj, LMT, Certified Aromatherapist, specializes in education and individual consultation.  Upcoming classes in Body Butter Blending (18 CE’s) will be held June 13 and 14, 2015 and The Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils  (18 CE’s) will be held August 29 and 30, 2015.  NO MASSAGE EXPERIENCE NECESSARY.  For more information, please email




Rock Your World!

by Karen Ball

Karen facultyIf you read my post from March 16, you’ll know how much importance I put on relaxation. It’s not just me either. Everywhere you look these days, you will see mountains of anecdotal and data-driven evidence on how “un-relaxed” our society is. That chronic level of stress is playing havoc on our health.

If you want to “kick-it-up a notch” in the relaxation department, then I suggest considering how to use hot and cold mineral stones within a reflexology session.

Adding stones to a reflexology session invites the recipient into such a deep experience of themselves it almost defies definition. I swear that the following statements were not written by a copy-writer! They are true, authentic experiences of clients, word-for-word, shared after receiving a Reflexology Rocks! session:

“As strange as they may sound, I feel like I entered the earth itself. I didn’t leave my body; I became part of the body of earth.”

“The experience was the most relaxed I have ever felt. It wasn’t like floating; it was more like sinking into the safety and solidity of the earth.”

“The experience is almost primordial. I have no words to describe the peaceful state I was in.”

If you are a certified reflexologist, or have taken at least one weekend of reflexology training (hands or feet) please consider joining us for this 6-hour class at FSM on Monday, April 20. If you’ve not yet taken a reflexology workshop, there is one at the school on the Saturday and Sunday preceding this class.

In this short class you will learn how to:

– safely use hot and cold mineral stones (basalt, marble and soapstone) in either a hand or foot reflexology session;

– utilize Himalayan salt crystal stones to reduce the effects of harmful electro-magnetic frequencies on the body;

– learn how to incorporate aromatherapy with hot stones;

– incorporate quartz crystal stones to balance the seven primary chakras.

More importantly though, you will yourself experience why clients rave about stone reflexology.

Details and registration here.

Reflexology Rocks! Rock your world!


Whose Job Is It?

by Karen Ball

Karen facultyI recently got into a conversation on Facebook with a new reflexologist (in another country) on whether or not reflexology “fixes” illnesses in the body. I learned that it was important to her to feel that what she was doing and her skill at delivery of those techniques could “fix” (her word) another’s maladies. 

Before sharing my inner thoughts on this subject, let me first just state that in the United States, anyone making claims to be able to “fix” someone’s health imbalances better hold a medical license before they open their mouths. Otherwise, they may find themselves in serious trouble for practicing medicine without a license.

That said, I loved the opportunity to examine this subject. I discovered that sometimes in my own life I seek confirmation that I am doing something that matters, something that will make a difference in someone else’s life. That comes from a small part of me that needs always to be “doing” in order to justify my own existence, my own importance.

If I practice reflexology from this mindset, then yes, I want to think that I am really good at what I do and that the modality is powerful enough to cure someone’s ills.

There are other places in my inner landscape from which I can speak and touch though. I can choose to trust; to trust my client’s path, trust her body’s innate wisdom, her body’s desire to return to wholeness, and trust that I can stay out of the way.

If I choose to be relaxed myself, stay present with what is happening and responsive to what I might offer, then everything is possible. Within the space of deep relaxation and acceptance, void of any coercion and judgment, the body can feel safe and supported enough to perhaps take the sometimes difficult path to restoration.

This is what I love about reflexology. It doesn’t “fix” anything – although in my 32 years of practice I have witnessed many, many amazing responses to the work – it simply provides for the client the internal physical environment that makes change possible.

It is my belief that it is the body that heals, not any intervention that I might perform. The beauty and strength of reflexology is that it puts the body into a neurological state in which the body can repair and heal itself. Relaxation heals, allowing the body to restore homeostasis. Communication relayed between reflexes and the brain directs the body to make the changes necessary to return to health. The body, in its infinite wisdom, wants to be healthy. As a reflexologist, I am fortunate to know how to create the environment in which that can happen.

I invite you to join me at FSM on April 21 and 22 to learn how to offer a relaxing foot reflexology session to your clients, friends and family. Bonus: You’ll receive lots of delicious work yourself that weekend!

Details and registration can be found here.

The Tension of Opposites

by Karen Ball

Karen facultyWhen teaching Thai Foot Reflexology, I am often asked why we start sessions on the left foot with women and on the right with men. I usually just give the simple explanation that in the Thai model the left side represents the feminine and the right, the masculine.


Here’s a little more detail:

In all the eastern practices, elements are seen as opposing forces. You are probably familiar with the Chinese model of yin/yang: night/day.  Adjectives associated with yin are: cool, inside, receptive, quiet, female, soft, water, earth, dense, moon, dark, For yang: bright, warm, male, sun, outside, expressive, hard, loud, expansive, fire. Both are necessary for existence; you can’t know one side without the other.

In Ayurvedic medicine – from which Thai bodywork arose – these opposing rhythms are referred to as the Ida and Pingala energies. In part, they flow along the opposite sides of the spinal column, ending on the lateral edge of the fifth digit of both of the feet; the Pingala on the right, the Ida on the left. Hence, in Thai Foot Reflexology we begin on the left with a woman, and on the right with a man, so as to re-enforce the more dominant rhythm of the client.

Whereas in China energy lines are referred to as meridians, the energy conduits in Thai medicine are called sen. The two forces mentioned in the paragraph above are known as Sen Ittha and Sen Pinkhala. Sen Pinkhala, the Father energy, is metaphysically represented as electricity; Sen Ittha, the Mother energy, is represented as magnetic. These two forces interact together to activate the coiled energy, called Kundalini, at the base of the spine, and awaken our dormant, libidinal and spiritual forces.

When I first read Carl Jung’s statement, “The tension of opposites is the very essence of life itself,” I had to smile. I thought first of human relationships: how opposite personalities seem to be attracted to one another and work out their differences often through tense interactions. And certainly, according to Thai medicine, that statement would be true. The tension created by the dynamic interplay of Ittha and Pinkhala is what creates the harmony and balance required to live a healthy life. This homeostasis is one of the primary goals of Thai Foot Reflexology.

I hope you’ll join me at the Florida School of Massage in Gainesville on Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22, to experience the effects of Thai Foot Reflexology yourself. Details and registration can be found here.


You’ve Heard of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, But…

Karen facultywhat about carpal tunnel of the foot?

Known as tarsal tunnel syndrome, this condition refers to neuropathy (nerve disorder) of the tibial nerve as it runs under the flexor retinaculum at the medial ankle.

Symptoms sound similar to that of its cousin, carpal tunnel syndrome, and include:

  • sharp pain
  • paresthesia (tingling, burning, pricking, or numbness) radiating up into the lower leg and/or to the hallux and first three digits
  • weakness in plantar flexion of the toes
  • swelling
  • hot and cold sensations
  • gait abnormality (over-pronation or limp)

Tarsal tunnel syndrome is caused by any of the following:

  • physical trauma to the tibial nerve
  • compression on the nerve from a lipoma, bone or cyst
  • systemic diseases (diabetes, HIV, hypothyroidism)
  • medications
  • impingement along the S1 nerve root

Pain worsens and spreads with standing for long periods of time.

As with many other situations of chronic foot pain, misdiagnosis is easy if one is relying only on a verbal description of symptoms. Fortunately, there is an easy and simple assessment that can rule out other disorders.

In a seated position, with the foot of the leg in question placed across the thigh of the other in the classic tailor’s position, firmly tap repeatedly under the medial malleolus (where reflexology points are for the lower back muscles). A positive Tinel test will produce sharp pain, pointing towards a likely case of tarsal tunnel syndrome.

The common allopathic approach to this condition is either steroid injections to reduce pain and swelling or surgery.

Tibial nerve decompression surgery involves making an incision at the ankle and then cutting the ligaments surrounding the tibial nerve, so as to relieve the pressure on the nerve.

Recovery depends on the severity of the case and the condition. Some people recover, after two or three weeks of immobilization, with no loss of motion in their feet or ankles; some never recover full sensation.

I like it when I can offer a non-invasive approach to try out before resorting to surgery. In the case of tarsal tunnel syndrome there is a manual procedure (accompanied by homework) that is very successful at relieving the symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome.

It involves a session combining reflexology to the reflexes of the low back muscles, lumbar spine, sciatic nerve, hip, thigh and knee reflexes, followed by specific manual techniques applied to the feet and lower legs to release impingement along the S1nerve root.

In the How to Relieve Chronic Foot Pain workshops, participants learn the above protocol (also effective for plantar fasciosis and peripheral neuropathy) and how to help people dealing with an additional 18 other foot ailments. 

I hope to see you at one of these events!

The Joy of Studying Plant Medicine

By Christina Polnyj

polnyj_christinaThis month I give thanks for a year of abundant learning and for the inspiration I receive from people all over the world.  One of the great joys of studying aromatherapy and plant medicine is traveling to conferences to meet like-minded individuals who are passionate in their work.  In September I travelled to Dublin, Ireland to attend Botanica, 2014, an international conference organized by Rhiannon Lewis.  Botanica promotes the safe, effective and ethical use of essential oils and plant extracts.  Rhiannon has worked passionately for years to bring this conference to fruition.  Be on the lookout for Botanica, 2016!

The conference was held at Trinity College, where I had the privilege to meet Kailash Dixit and his wife Deepa,  who travelled all the way from Nepal.  Kailash is a distiller of essential oils who has inspired me for years.  It was a great joy to finally meet face to face.   His business is called Aarya Aroma.

Nepal’s rich biodiversity offers abundant medicinal and aromatic plants.   Kailash has actively taken part in the cultivation, processing, and sales of these extraordinary gifts of Mother Nature.  Kailash and Deepa also have formed a farmer’s cooperative where local and indigenous people participate and, as a result, the community has significantly raised their socio-economic status.   As a responsible organization,  Aarya Aroma is assisting the less privileged farmers and indigenous people with cultivation and production of their plants and has guaranteed a market for the raw materials.

Passion is what Kailash embodies in his work and it truly shows in their oils which are absolutely spectacular.  For years I have followed his German Chamomile Project.  This plant produces an amazing therapeutic essential oil useful in healing muscle, tendon or ligament injuries.  It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and calming to the nervous system.

Here is link to the chamomile farm.  I particularly like photo of the footprints in the dirt from the planting of the seeds.

You can purchase this beautiful oil through the Florida School of Massage Bookstore or online at

Join Christina for her popular “Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils” January 17-18, 2015.  Find more information here or visit Christina’s website at