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Expanding and contracting

What an expansive and contractive year.

Like the rising and the falling of gasoline prices (a major element of all areas of my life, and many others’ lives as well), 2006 proved to be a year of traveling far and staying home, of spending money and cutting expenses, of reaching out to others and turning introspective, of turning 50 and sculpting my body to perhaps the best shape of my life.

Expanding my therapeutic skills via workshops brought me to Portsmouth, N.H., during a cold and snowy week in February; and then to Hartford, Conn., in September. Renewing the friendship of kindergarten classmate Mary Lou Kenny brought me to San Diego in April for her wedding to Greg Battista, and sharing in the 60th wedding anniversary of Marie and George Licht, parents of my high school classmate Jean Licht Wright, brought me and my mother to a joyous celebration at Mario’s Restaurant in Clifton in September. Sharing in the high school graduation of my niece Anne brought me to the Orlando area in May, with a side trip to a Disney water park that had me exhilaratingly take the plunge down some high-rise rides. And seeking reading and relaxation brought me and my housemate Frank to his sister’s lake house in northwest Georgia, with side trips to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., and a hike in the South Carolina upcountry.

Yet, enticing and liberating as jetting here and yon can be, so are financial freedom and fiscal responsibility. So 2007 will keep me closer to home with a closer attention to budgeting funds in hand and a determined effort to scale back debt. With that in mind, my 2001 Honda Civic (216,000 miles and still rolling along) will continue to receive the care it needs to bring me to my copy-editing job in Middletown, N.Y., and back (26 1/2 years and counting). My weight-training sessions with Russ Teitsma will continue to bring me personal satisfaction. And the local trails that I hike more in my mind than in actuality will continue to call to me — only in 2007 I’ll get out there in person in one-step-in-front-of-the-other mindful meditation, breathing in the serenity of nature amid this Northeast megalopolis.

Staying close to home allows me to concentrate on serving my massage clients even as I reach out to Internet friends in Hawaii and Massachusetts and Tennessee and California and around the world. It means running in nearby Brookdale Park to revitalize my long-dormant running career, jump-started in 2006 by two-mile races in Montclair (12:53) and on the Clifton Stadium track (13:17).

Additionally, it means playing Scrabble with my mom, who now enjoys assisted-living residence in Randolph, N.J. And it means leisurely weekend dinners with Frank and our parrots Romeo, Rambo and Zephyr and watching the latest programming on Home and Garden Television and the Food Network, Frank’s current favorite channels.

As I know what I plan for 2007, I also open myself to possibilities unplanned, to opportunities aborning, to dreams incubating, to desires unexpressed. May you similarly be open, and we enjoy each other’s company, in whatever form that might take, in the year that awaits.

Spotlight on techniques

One benefit of having graduated from massage school in January 1998 and continuing to take one-, two-, three-, four- or five-day courses a few times a year is that my “typical” massage session has evolved over the years. In fact, the “typical” session can vary with each client.

For those who like to start a session on their stomachs, I can dive right into muscle-melting pressure on the back. For those more open to a lighter, more gradual beginning, I start them on their backs and do some reflexology on their feet.

Those seeking a soothing light-touch session receive a massage primarily of long gliding strokes, kneading, fingertip circles and light percussion and stretching. Those looking for attention to individual muscles merit joint capsule work, neuromuscular therapy, and deep pressure by elbows and hands with soothing long strokes to finish off an area before I move on.

Whatever the combination of techniques, the result aims to be the same: the “ahhhh” factor, the soulful satisfaction that keeps a client coming back for more.

Stretch of the month:

Medial ankle

Stand with feet shoulder length apart and hands resting on a chair in front of you. As you breathe out, invert feet so that knees almost knock together. Hold for a count of two (one one-thousand, two one-thousand), then breathe in as you bring feet back to resting. Repeat 20 times.

Got your back

New high-quality research trials show that massage gives some relief from back pain that has continued for many weeks or months — and the benefit may continue at least a year after the source of massage is over. So states a 2006 article in The Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews as reported in the fall 2006 issue of Massage Therapy Journal.

In the same MTJ feature, titled “Bouncing Back,” Jeremy Miller, LMT, reported firsthand how massage helps patients. “One of the neatest things about the (hospital massage) job I do is when we go into a patient’s room where they’re hooked up to different monitors. I actually watch their physiology change as I give them a massage — their oxygen saturation goes up, their blood pressure comes down, and their heart rate comes down. Not every massage therapist has the satisfaction of watching in real time the effect massage has on his client.”

Soothing songs

In a massage room, as in other settings, music does more than set a mood. It can provide sedative qualities, both for chronic pain sufferers as well as for surgery patients.

In a study reported in Anesthesia & Analgesia and later written up in the September/October 2006 issue of Venture Inward, those undergoing surgery were given one of three sound environments: headphones playing their favorite music, headphones playing white noise, or no headphones and exposure to the various operating room noises. Those listening to music required significantly less sedation during their operations than did the patients in the other two groups.

In a study reported in the Journal of Advance Nursing, those suffering chronic pain for more than six years from osteoarthritis, dis problems or rheumatoid arthritis were divided into two groups. One listened to music for one hour a day on headsets. The other did not listen to music. According to the results, music effected a 21 percent reduction in pain levels and a 25 percent reduction in depression linked to pain. Those taking part reported music therapy made the pain less disabling, giving them an increased sense of power over their condition.

Recipe of the month

This simple fruit sauce dresses up and adds flavor to any cake instead of icing. On its own, it’s a quick and easy pudding.

In a food processor, add the contents of any 8-ounce bag of frozen fruit (blueberries, strawberries, peaches or mixed fruit) and four peeled and chopped ripe bananas. Process till smooth, holding the top down in place as the frozen fruit is processed. Spoon over each slice of cake, or spoon into small fruit cups or dishes, and serve.

Hike of the month


I picked this hike because it’s near the assisted living facility where my mom now lives.

Where: Hedden County Park (Randolph, N.J.)

Features: This “lollipop”-loop hike runs along a cascading stream, passes by Indian Falls, and climbs to a wooded ridge in a less-used area of the park.

Length: 3.2 miles.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Dogs: Permitted on leash

Time: About two hours

How to get there: Take Interstate Route 80 west to Exit 43A (I-287 South) and proceed south on Interstate Route 287 to Exit 39B (N.J. Route 10 West). Proceed west on N.J. Route 10 for about 9 miles and turn right onto Dover-Chester Road (County Route 513). At a T-intersection, reached in 0.4 mile, turn left onto Randolph Avenue. In 0.6 mile, after passing a sign “Entering Township of Mine Hill” and crossing a bridge over a stream, park in a small dirt parking area on the right side of the road at a small sign for “Hedden Park.” (NOTE: Along the way, you will notice various directional signs indicating the route to Hedden County Park. These signs lead you to other park entrances and should not be followed.)

Map: Morris County Park Commission map (available online at

Description: A component of the Morris County Park System, the 380-acre Hedden Park is best known for its developed recreational facilities, including a six-acre lake that offers fishing and boating. But it also features a network of over three miles of hiking trails. This hike follows the attractive Jackson Brook for over a mile, passes the interesting Indian Falls, and traverses remote portions of the park. The hike is not exceptionally difficult, but it involves a total elevation gain of over 400 feet, with several rather steep sections.

From the parking area, descend to the brook, where a triple-yellow blaze marks the start of the Jackson Brook Trail. Follow this attractive trail north along the cascading brook, descending very gradually.

In about half a mile, you’ll reach paved Indian Falls Road. Here, the trail turns right along the road and crosses a bridge over the brook. At the end of the guardrail beyond the bridge, follow the yellow blazes as they turn left and re-enter the woods, with the brook now on your left. The trail soon moves away from the brook and ends at a T-intersection with the white-blazed Hedden Circular Trail.

Turn left and follow the Hedden Circular Trail, which at first runs above the brook, then descends to the brook. You can see private homes on the opposite side of the brook, but this stretch of trail is very pleasant, with the cascading brook to your left. After passing a private footbridge across the brook, you’ll reach a junction with the red-blazed Mountain Trail, which leaves to the right. Continue ahead on the white trail.

In another 400 feet, you’ll reach a junction where the white trail bears right and begins to climb. Leave the white trail here and proceed straight ahead on the light-green-blazed Indian Falls Trail, which continues to run along the brook. In another 500 feet, you’ll notice a small waterfall to the left. This marks the beginning of Indian Falls — a series of minor waterfalls. The most fascinating section — where the brook divides into two falls, separated by a huge boulder — cannot be seen clearly from the trail, which descends rather steeply to reach the brook just beyond base of the falls. When you reach the bottom of the descent, you might want to walk back along the brook to get a better view of this attractive waterfall.

After exploring this fascinating feature, continue ahead on the green Indian Falls Trail, which continues to parallel the brook. You’ll notice a parking area on the opposite side of the brook. With a bridge over the brook visible ahead to your left, you’ll pass a triple-green blaze on a tree, marking the end of the Indian Falls Trail. Just ahead, turn right on the paved road, passing a playground on the left, bear right at the next fork, and continue along the paved road, which proceeds uphill.

Just before reaching a bridge over a stream, you’ll notice a sign on the right “To Hiking Trails.” Turn right and follow a blue-blazed trail that leads uphill to a junction with the white-blazed Hedden Circular Trail. Turn left onto the white trail, which heads uphill on a woods road. You’ll be following this trail for a little over a mile.

Soon, the white blazes turn left, leaving the woods road, and descend through the woods on a footpath. At the base of the descent, a blue-blazed trail proceeds ahead (it leads to another parking area), but you should bear right to continue along the white-blazed Hedden Circular Trail.

The white trail now begins a rather steep climb, ascending a vertical distance of 200 feet in the next 0.2 mile. On the way, you’ll cross the woods road that you previously followed. Upon reaching the crest of the ridge, the trail bears right and continues along the shoulder of the ridge, following a rocky treadway. This is the most difficult section of the trail, but it traverses a quiet, secluded area of the park.

After passing a circle of stones to the right, the trail descends to cross a stream on rocks. Once across the stream, the treadway becomes much smoother. The trail now again begins another steady climb. The green-blazed Indian Falls Trail leaves to the right, but you should continue ahead on the white-blazed Hedden Circular Trail.

Near the crest of the ridge, with a stone wall visible ahead, the trail bears right and reaches a dirt road at the end of the stone wall. Turn right onto the road, following the white blazes. Just beyond, the red-blazed Mountain Trail departs to the right, but you should continue along the white trail, passing a softball field to the left.

At a curve in the road, the white trail bears right, leaving the road, and begins to descend. Continue to follow the white blazes, which soon turn right onto a woods road, descending steadily.

In another 0.2 mile, you’ll reach a fork where the white trail bears right and the yellow-blazed Indian Falls Trail begins to the left. Turn left and follow the yellow trail back to the parking area on Randolph Avenue where the hike began.

Until next time … stay in healthful touch.

Dennis Sprick
The Heartful Touch
Massage and CranioSacral Therapy