Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Discover our therapists: Silvia

Silvia's smile lighting up the salon.
Seven years ago, Silvia Verdina boarded a flight from Italy with a one-way ticket to Sydney, ready for the complete life-overhaul that comes with relocating to the other side of the world. Step 1: career. We are lucky that we nabbed her in the process!

Silvia was dissatisfied in menial retail work and sought the fulfilment of a career in which she could “help people to feel better”, which is when she began seriously exploring natural therapies, ultimately enrolling in a diploma of remedial massage.

“I love receiving massages myself and I just want to give the same kind of care to my clients. I just want people to feel they can deal with their stress in a better way, or deal with their pain.”

Six years later, four of which at Balmain Massage, and Silvia has built a league of loyal followers who refuse to see any other therapist. They love her for her skill, but also for the intriguing conversation and stories of worldwide adventures. Most of all, they feel a strong connection with Silvia, knowing that she can genuinely empathise with them as she battles with chronic neck pain herself.

“Even if they have some other kind of pain compared to me, they still are in pain and you can definitely understand and help them to feel better without being in pain during the treatment.”

Silvia is also a sought-after beauty therapist.
She is pictured here treating Blanca. 
While some therapists become known for a very specific style of massage, Silvia sees herself as a bit of a chameleon, which adds even further to her popularity.

“I don’t have a massage style in the sense that for every client I try to tailor the treatment to the client, so sometimes I can be super light and gentle and sometimes I can be super tough and strong…it always depends what I think is best for the particular condition.”

Some people are surprised by Silvia’s strength, given her slim frame, but she has a few tricks up her sleeve.

“I try to use my bodyweight to basically sink in and obviously use my elbows to get into certain areas and I try to use loads of other passive stretches, and some techniques to be able to be stronger.”

Massage therapy is a physically arduous job for all practitioners, requiring a high degree of fitness and physical upkeep. This is particularly important in Silvia’s case with her sensitive neck; if you sneak a peak during your massage, you will often find her simultaneously stretching, which gives her longevity and means that your massage will be brilliant from start to finish. She also focuses on self-care.

“First of all, I try to have regular massages myself. I try to manage my stress by doing physical exercise. That helps me to focus and be mindful. So it’s not just physical exercise, it’s actually kind of meditation….and I play an instrument; that makes me feel much better. So music helps me to release the stress. I try to eat heathy food.”

The future is looking dazzling for Silvia as she celebrates her newly-granted permanent residency. We are thrilled that she is here to stay! These days you will find Silvia at Balmain Massage four days a week, or organising events for a community of fellow expats on her days off. She is also training as an aerialist and just bought a pair of roller blades...this busy little bee continues to leave impression on Balmain!

Silvia flying on the lyra

Monday, 26 June 2017

The science behind the art with Sarah Smart

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that the art of aromatherapy is choosing the prettiest-smelling essential oils and rubbing them all over your body, because, after all, essential oils do smell gorgeous. But scratch the surface and you’ll discover an intricate scientific process that requires two years of study and over 350 clinical hours to master. Sarah Smart of Aromatherapy with Sarah, resident aromatherapist at The Balmain Massage and Wellness Centre, breaks down the chemistry behind the art.

Compared with other modalities, aromatherapy requires quite a comprehensive consultation before you even hit the table. Not only is Sarah pinpointing specific areas of concern, she then needs to select and potentially combine oils before the treatment can begin. The first step is to determine the patient's age, stress levels, aches and pains, medical conditions, allergies and intolerances and the results they wish to achieve from the treatment; often this is simply relaxation but may also be to alleviate symptoms, or to invigorate, for example.

Equipped with this information, Sarah will have a sense of the therapeutic properties that will best serve each client and can begin the process of oil-matching. Each essential oil fits into a number of categories, including pain-relieving, cramp-relieving, sedative, nervine and anti-depressant. Sometimes a single oil will cover all of the desired health benefits; “Sweet orange is anti-depressant, which is uplifting and calming, but then it’s also anti-spasmodic, so would help with cramping, or aches and pains” Sarah explains.

Sound simple so far? This is where the chemistry REALLY kicks in. Essential oils have astonishing health benefits and just as many contraindications. With some oils boasting over 100 therapeutic properties, it can be rather complex. Did you know that epileptics should avoid fennel, hysso, peppermint and sage essential oils, or that marjoram and ylang ylang are not suitable for those with low blood pressure? Contraindications become largely intuitive with the training that Sarah has had but must be carefully considered pre-treatment. Age is pertinent as well; a weaker dilution will be used on children and the elderly whose skin is generally more sensitive than others’.

If one oil doesn’t cut it, the next step is creating what Sarah describes as a “synergy of blends based on their therapeutic properties”, which is a three-tiered system consisting of a top note, middle note and base. The top note is generally light, fresh and uplifting, like sweet orange as Sarah explains. The middle note would be something like lavender, which makes up the bulk of the blend, giving it body and balance, followed by a rich and intense base such as frankincense.  

Once the perfect oil or blend is selected, they are mixed with a carrier oil such as jojoba, sweet almond oil or coconut. Only then can the massage can begin!

Sarah is a mum, an holistic healer and an essential oil expert. You can find her at the Balmain Massage and Wellness Centre Monday-Friday, on Etsy, or her website

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The sad truth about winter blues

When you are categorically NOT a ‘winter person’, there is no layered fashion or hot-cuppa-in-bed powerful enough to force you to embrace the dreariness of a cloud-plagued sky. You’ll probably notice your mood collapse with a thud as the temperature drops, and your motivation evaporate in front of the warm heater. Winter blues, we call it.

As it turns out, you could be experiencing a legitimate disorder with its very own acronym: SAD. Fitting, isn’t it? Seasonal Affective Disorder is actually classified as a major depressive disorder which recurs at around the same time every year and becomes dormant during other seasons. In other words, the symptoms are identical to those which constitute depression, only they are presented seasonally; loss of energy, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, irritability, lethargy, insomnia social anxiety and weight gain…which sheds a whole new light on that winter body vs summer body phenomenon!

SAD is caused by a triple-whammy of chemical changes in the brain. Melatonin is a hormone that responds to darkness by causing sleepiness. Combine the lethargy with inhibited serotonin activity and a lack of exposure to natural sources of Vitamin D – i.e. sunlight on the skin – and your internal rhythms are thrown completely out of whack. Who knew sunshine had such power over us?

As a strain of major depressive disorders, the treatments for SAD tend to imitate those of other mental illnesses, including cognitive behaviour therapy via counselling, and antidepressants, as well as Vitamin D and light therapy. If you recognise a recurring seasonal pattern of depression, it is recommended that you flag the issues with mental healthcare professionals and, in addition, explore a range of self-care methods including complementary therapies like massage therapy and acupuncture.

Massage therapy has been used to treat a multitude of ailments for 3000 years but has paved its way into scientific studies over the past few decades as a drugless-wonder in the alleviation of depression symptoms. This is primarily thanks to its affects on reducing cortisol levels, the ‘stress hormone’, and promoting the production of dopamine and seretonin.

Massage therapy has been noted to significantly alter the biochemistry of humans both immediately following massage sessions and over the course of massage therapy treatment periods - T. Field et al.

The best part is that feeling of instant gratification that you get from a massage which many clients attest to as they emerge from the treatment room, totally blissed out, but it lasts long after.

As you settle onto the heated massage table and relax into your therapist’s touch, you’ll discover that there’s nothing more luxurious than a remedial massage in the dead of winter. Oil is heated to a comfortable temperature before being applied to the skin in long, sweeping strokes called effleurage. The pressure will increase as the muscles are kneaded and manipulated, stimulating the flow of blood and lymph vessels, in turn improving circulation and keeping those extremities warm. Massage’s ability to nurture both the body and mind is what distinguishes it as the ideal complementary therapy in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Winter is a season that needs to be approached with a little extra self-care and sensitivity for a lot of people, so know that you are not alone. Seek assistance from your healthcare professional if you need help managing, and remember to be kind to yourself. On the upside…only three months to go!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A taboo... but let's talk of massage and cancer.

We love to think of massage as something akin to pampering, not really essential but good to have every now and then, for relaxation or after a hard session at gym.

You'd expect the blog of a massage clinic to challenge this view, claim that regular massage helps you live a better life in so many ways... And that's true, of course. But today I want to mention a different group of people - those for whom massage, because of a medical condition, is a necessity rather than a choice.

Cancer is one such medical conditions.

Image of a distressed woman
Often it's referred to in hushed tones, as the word itself is too evocative to use. It does conjure up images of protracted suffering, of therapies laden with massive side effects. An insidious illness eating away at the body it's in. And - it's widespread. We all know someone who's been affected, directly or indirectly. Some of us have it – and of those, the lucky ones beat it and pray it won't come back.

Massage is not a cure, of course. As a 'complementary therapy', it can help manage ill side effects of cancer therapies such as radiation, chemo or surgery, and enable sufferers to better cope with the experience for their own comfort and psychological well-being. The Cancer Council lists massage among several complementary therapies that, while not aiming at curing the cancer,  are useful to help control symptoms such as pain and fatigue. 

[There's an important distinction between complementary and alternative therapies. Alternative therapies propose to cure cancer with methods not scientifically proved, which in some cases have been demonstrated to foster cancer growth or reduce the effect of conventional therapies. Complementary therapies – such as massage – have been proved to help in mitigating the side effects of conventional therapies and improve quality of life].

A main concern of cancer sufferers is that massage can help spread it to healthy cells.

The Cancer Council devotes a full page of information to cancer and massage, and deals with this common and justifiable (although not justified, as it turns out) concern. It says that “light, relaxing massage can safely be given to people at all stages of cancer.” It adds that tumour areas should be avoided, and suggests that sufferers should seek doctor advice if they have any specific concerns.  Those who look for more detailed information will find it here

The benefits of oncology massage can be extensive. They'll vary depending on the type and stage of cancer. During all stages, however, the sensation of human touch can be vitally important to a person whose main source of physical contact is the medical treatment that causes them such discomfort. 

Many studies – mostly American - have documented the positive effects that massage can have on relieving the symptoms of anxiety and depression which is particularly important for patients in the lead up to, and throughout, surgery and other treatments. Humans are biologically designed to respond to touch, and it is this stimulation that triggers the brain to shift into a calmer state. The gentle, consolatory nature of  massage encourages deep relaxation and assists in increasing mental clarity and alertness, giving patients some respite during what often is the most trying time of their lives. 

After a session with a professional massage therapist, many  cancer sufferers have reported to having more restful sleep, eased constipation, improved self-body image and increased energy, which they find extremely beneficial during all stages of their condition. Massage is also useful in the days or weeks proceeding other treatments, whether it be surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy; the most notable benefit is reduced pain and nausea but also a reduction in the swelling often associated with chemotherapy.