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One of the perks of being a touch therapist is the ability to connect with longtime friends in different, deeper ways.

And so it was with two people from my childhood.

Ariel*, who also lives in Montclair, has been coming to me for massage and CranioSacral Therapy once or twice a year since I began my practice in 1998. The massage soothes her, and the CranioSacral Therapy drops her deep into her body and soul for float-away relaxation.

On June 11, Ariel not only came for a session, but she also brought her mother, Veronique*, and what a pleasure it was to see Veronique after 25 years or so. I grew up playing with Veronique’s late son, Craig*, coming over to their house, climbing the back stairs to their second-floor apartment, scampering up to the attic.

I always viewed the lithe, long-limbed Veronique as quite the glamorous young mother, and the years have not dimmed that vitality, particularly when she told me that she takes tai chi classes and dances in a chorus line in another class. Some of her vitality can also be attributed to the fact that massage has been a part of her life as long as she can remember. She recalled getting treatments during her formative years in her native Paterson, something she has continued all through her adult life.

After I massaged Veronique, she readily took to a CranioSacral session, a new kind of therapy for her. As I began the session, I instructed her to breathe deep, to drift off into reverie if that’s where her consciousness took her, and to express whatever came into her mind either during the session or at its conclusion.

The session continued in silent serenity until I brought it to a close. Thats when Veronique confided that what came to mind was her arrival home from work one afternoon to find Craig, me and one or two other grammar school classmates gathered in Craig’s living room, a budding rock band in the making. “And Dennis is going to be the singer,” Craig told his mother.

Now that band never got off the ground, and my rock singing back then was mostly screeching. But Veronique’s sharing of that moment with me was lovely, as lovely as the song “Neverland” that I sang to Veronique to bring this unexpected and most welcome reunion to a close.

*Name changed to assure the anonymity of the client

I did it!

Two years after the inaugural event got me thinking about it, and one year after the second annual event got me training and paining before I decided I needed strengthening first, I finally ran in the third annual Clifton High School Alumni Track Meet.

This came 12 years after arthroscopic knee surgery led me to end my 24-year running career — years of developing a second career as a massage therapist, years of increasingly hit-and-miss workouts of swimming/walking/hiking/stretching, and one year of slowly increasing physical conditioning and confidence under the tutelage of personal trainer Russ Teitsma.

Still, when I began to run again in January on the Brookdale Park track, I huffed and puffed and knew I had a long way to go as I struggled to run two miles. Could I get in decent enough shape to feel comfortable running to finish the race, no matter the time, by the beginning of June — particularly since I was limiting my running to Saturdays and Sundays?

I could, and I did. My breakthroughs were small but satisfying. When there were soccer games on the infield of the track, I could time myself by the scoreboard, and my two-minute quarter-miles began dropping to 1:40 quarter miles as my breathing became easier, less labored. In May, I upped the distance to 2 1/2 miles and then three miles and made the Sunday workout a speed workout — eight straightawways one week, six 220s another week, 4 quarters a third week.

By the time the Montclair 2-mile race rolled around June 4, I was confident I could finish, and I had my goals: If I ran 14 minutes, I’d be happy. If I neared 13 minutes, I’d be ecstatic. And so I was more than that when I crossed the finish line in fifth in 12:54. I had gone out too fast, felt weak the second mile, and had no kick when someone passed me at the finish line. But I did 6:28 a mile, and that was a terrific start.

The track meet six days later on June 10 was a different experience. I drove to the meet from a seven-hour class in Parsippany knowing I would have little time to warm up. What I found when I got to the Clifton Stadium was my race, the 3200 meters, about ready to go, the runners on the starting line held up by the assistant coach who awaited my arrival. A quick run to the men’s room, and I was on the line, too, amid two young male runners and two young female runners.

Again, I went out too fast, was passed on the windy backstretch by the eventual winner and then, on the fourth of eight laps, by the second-place finisher. My first-mile time of 6:18 slowed considerably in the second mile, as the winner lapped me on my sixth (his seventh) lap on my way to a third-place 13:15. Again, I had no stamina, ran just to finish and managed no kick on the track where my strength and speed had carried me to a fair number of first-place finishes in 1972 and 1973.

But, two years after the event first inspired me, I had accomplished my immediate goals — to compete in a short race, to run pain-free and, aided by my twice-weekly strength training sessions, to feel good about running again.

I have no plans to run marathons again, to train 60-90 miles, to fashion my life around running. I have upped my weekend runs to 4-5 miles a session, and I plan on doing some local 5Ks if they fit into my schedule. And that is fine for now. I took a hiatus from running in my 40s. I’ll see how running suits me, and how I stack up against others in my age group, in my 50s.

Technique of the month

(from “Advanced Orthopedic Massage Manual” by James Waslaski, LMT, www.orthomassage.net):

The psoas major attach to the transverse processes of lumbar vertegrae 1-5 and the intervertebral disks above each of these vertebrae. The iliacus attach to the iliac fossa. Both insert on the lesser trochanter of the femur. Together they are called the iliopsoas, and they are strong hip flexors and low back stabilizers. Restricted, dense connnective tissue where the iliacus and psoas major join on the inside rim of the iliac crest can be a major cause of pain in the lower back.

Ilacus release: The client is face up with the hip flexed 90 degrees. Because it is a sensitive area, the client is asked if it is OK to work this area.

The client’s bent leg is placed over the therapist’s leg so client’s muscles are shortened and relaxed. The therapist palpates the ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine). As the client takes a deep breath, on the exhale the therapist goes in slowly on the ASIS (inside hip bone) at a slight angle. The therapist pins the fascia directly onto the inside of the ilium and lifts and lengthens the fascia upward toward the same shoulder. The therapist places his other hand under the client’s knee and helps the client drop that heel onto the table and drag it toward the far end of the table. This is repeated several time, all the while the therapist checking in with the client and his comfort level.

Psoas release: The client and therapist are in the same position as the iliacus release. As the client exhales, the therapist sinks his finger pads slowly into the client at the ASIS at a 45-degree angle toward the spine. The therapist gently pins down the psoas and gives it a gentle stretch by moving and rocking the client’s knee on the therapist’s knee toward extension. Then the therapist drops the client’s knee onto the table as the client’s leg slides straightens out toward the far end of the table. The therapist gently bends the client’s extended foot into dorsiflexion toward the client’s head.

Stretch of the month:


(from “Advanced Orthopedic Massage Manual” by James Waslaski, LMT, www.orthomassage.net):

The soleus is deep to the gastrocnemius (the calf muscles) and can be an underlying reason for calf pain.

For the stretch, the client is seated with one knee bent 90 degrees and with his hands on the ball of that foot. With the palm of his hand against the back of his toes and his fingers against the ball of his foot, he plantarflexes his foot (brings toes and ball of foot away from his body), pushing for 10 seconds at a force of about 20 percent of his strength against the resistance of his hand. He relaxes, inhales and then on his exhale actively dorsiflexes (brings foot toward his body) while gently assisting with his hands for two seconds. At this new position, he relaxes, takes a breath and on the exhale repeat the stretch several times. Also do the stretch on the other foot.

Running route of the month:

Brookdale Park

Straddling Montclair and Bloomfield, Brookdale Park has been one of my favorite places to run since 1971, when my late high school cross country teammate Jeff Miller brought the team here from neighboring Clifton. I raced there in the rain in 1971, I romped in the snow in 1973, I made it the halfway point in a 10-mile course from my boyhood Clifton home and I’ve done innumerable 1.77-mile loops past its archery area and tennis courts, through its rose garden, into its woods and along its eastern and northern perimeters.

Although it crosses an inner-park roadway three times, that 1.77-mile (2.9-kilometer) loop is a popular place to run, with markings every quarter mile to help runners keep track of their distance. To reach the starting line of the loop, drivers turn off Watchung Avenue in Bloomfield a block west of Broad Street into the park and go north for a half-mile before turning left into a parking area just below the running track. The starting line of the loop is east across the street from the parking area.

The initial quarter mile featuring the first of the road crossings is relatively flat. Then it’s uphill for the second quarter mile bordering the archery area and toward the tennis courts. A couple of quick uphills interrupted by the second road crossing brings the runner to the rose garden and a sharp, sweet downhill into the woods to the 3/4-mile mark. A slight uphill curve goes left around to the mile mark (pay attention to the arrows to follow the correct path) and some welcome downhill through the 1 1/4 mark across the road once more and to the 1 1/2 mile mark. The last quarter mile is again relatively flat as the loop returns the runner to where he started. Additional loops allow the runner to get that long hill out of the way early, making a workout that’s both tough and woodland enjoyable.

Recipe of the month

Banana-Peach Cake with Blueberry-Banana Topping

1 8 oz. bag organic unsweetened peaches, thawed
2 large bananas
1/2 cup organic virgin olive oil
3/4 cup water, and more to moisten if necessary
2 cups millet flour
1 teaspoon arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup organic virgin olive oil
1 cup water, and more to moisten if necessary

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray square cake pan with Pam.

Place peaches, bananas, oil and water in a food processor. Blend until smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, arrowroot powder and baking soda together. Pour in fruit/oil/water mix and mix until all blended. Add more water if necessary to make it smooth but not runny. Pour into the cake pan.

Bake for 45 minutes or until middle of cake is firm to the touch. Remove and let cool.

For the topping:

1 8 oz. bag of organic unsweetened blueberries
2 large bananas

Blend in food processor until smooth. Spoon one or two dollops onto each slice of cake. Serve and enjoy.

Until next time … be well.

Dennis Sprick
The Heartful Touch
Massage and CranioSacral Therapy