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Category Archives: ask a therapist

Have a burning question for our therapists? Send us an email! Our holistic team consists of a Shiatsu Therapist, Doctor of Chinese Medicine, Acupuncturist, Naturopathic Doctor, Registered Massage Therapists, Craniosacral Therapist, Therapeutic Yoga Practitioners, Certified Holistic Nutritionists, Career Counsellor and an Osteopath.

In the depths of Winter and cold and flu season – how can you stay healthy?

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_MG_5903As January sinks it’s icy fingers deeper into us, we might find ourselves struggling to ward off the season’s cold and flu bugs. Lack of sunshine, the added stress of frigid weather (getting chilled can lead to getting a cold), being forced to spend much of our days indoors breathing stale, contaminated air, and being surrounded by family or coworkers who have already caught the ‘bug’ – these all contribute to compromising our own health and immune system.

While we can’t wear a gas mask in the office or check into a hotel when someone at home catches a cold, we can take preventive measures that reduce our susceptibility to infectious agents and increases our immune response to the same. Healthy lifestyle choices,  like good nutrition combined with homeopathic treatment, is a sure fire way to achieve this goal.

Homeopathy is a holistic system of vibrational medicine that uses highly diluted natural substances to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanism (of which the immune system is one part). Developed over 200 years ago by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy understands illness as an imbalance in the life force of an organism. Restoring balance restores order and health in the body, mind and spirit. A strong, balanced life force is less susceptible to external contagions and is more able to effectively fight unwanted agents in the case the organism has been compromised.

Homeopathy can be used both preventively as well as acutely. Preventive homeopathic flu protocols have been successfully used all over the world for many decades. Numerous surveys have placed the efficacy of the flu prevention protocols at ~90%. Acute treatment can, if started early enough, nip the bug or if that is too late, reduce the severity and duration of flu/cold symptoms naturally and holistically. All benefits come from a properly functioning life force – there is no masking of symptoms. Homeopathic remedies have no side-effects and no counter indications with other medicines and/or treatments, holistic or allopathic. This makes homeopathy a great choice for all, especially babies, seniors, pregnant women and sensitive, immune compromised individuals.

The same Homeopathic principles that apply to treating colds and flus apply to treating other acute illnesses (UTI, dental issues, stomach upset, trauma, injuries, etc.) as well as chronic illnesses (PMS, menopause, sleep issues ,allergies, thyroid conditions, gastric conditions, anxiety, depression, etc.). Come in to the OG clinic or book a free 20min consultation with clinic homeopath, Kanan Patel, to discuss how this incredible system of medicine can help you and your family.

Kanan Patel has a passion to help people (and pets!) regain their health and Vitality. Owner of Vital Life Homeopathy, Kanan has been using her back ground in science (PhD Astrophysics) and education and training in Homeopathy (DCHM) to bring her clients the best in holistic, natural and individualized health care.

Let Your Backbone Slide.

The spine has always been a mysterious yet fascinating part of the body to me. It makes me think of dinosaur bones and our connection to all of the creatures and beings that have become before us, as well the ones that surround us now. I see my connection to history—both my familial history, but the larger, global family. And, one of my most favorite cues I use when I teach (and love to hear when I practice) is to bones of the spine, one vertebrae a time.

What a responsibility and what attention and care—not to mention breath—one must bring to the bones of the spine, whether your bringing them down to touch ground, or standing and stacking as you unroll the body to standing.

I spent a morning recently in a workshop with Stacey Hauserman and Heather Cracower about the spine; together, they brought this magnificent structure to life. It was a wonderful refresher on the spine, it’s construction and it’s function—and how it connects to the rest of the body. What was even more amazing to me, as a teacher, and well, as a human, really, was witnessing the new awareness that my fellow classmate began to tap into, in their spines.

Understanding movement in the spine, it’s challenges and what they could do, as practitioners of yoga, to protect their spines from harm. Here are a few things that Heather and Stacey shared with me, to share with you:

1. The instructions given in a led class are not be appropriate for every body and a good understanding of your habitual postural pattern will empower you to modify poses when necessary, to ensure safe alignment and prevent injury.

2. We speak a lot about the concept of a neutral spine and there are many reasons for that: this position allows your muscles to be in their resting position (less strain), there is decreased pressure on your discs, increased joint congruency (improved joint health and motion) and it ensures that weight bearing is through the vertebral bodies and facet joints as intended. Again and again, we need to find a neutral spine alignment.

3. Learning to effectively use our core muscles will help to decrease abnormal motion at the joints, decrease overuse of back and hip muscles which can lead to strain and pain and help to support and stabilize your lower back and sacroiliac joints.

4. The combination of muscular imbalance and repetitive movements (like chaturanga performed during each vinyasa without the shoulder joints being effectively stabilized) can lead to injury.

5. Remember that the spine has natural curves (i.e. kyphosis in the thoracic spine and lordosis in the cervical and lumbar spines) and this is our home base. Work/sport related stresses can create an increase or decrease in these curves, and our goal is to re-establish an alignment that more closely resembles this home base, not eliminating these curves, but making our way back towards ‘home,’ towards neutral.

*Your practice should never cause pain in your body, and if you find you are experiencing any pain or discomfort in the spine, or any part of your body, please talk to one of our teachers or therapists at the studio. We are always happy to help you revise your practice and offer variations that work for you. We want you to practice yoga for life!

~ Written by Bryonie Wise

Ask the OG Team…

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You asked: How do I take care of my yoga mat?

We asked the current Yoga Teacher Trainees in our Effective Teaching: 300 hour Advanced Teacher Training course and they came up with some great suggestions.

Spray Bottle Method: Mix 10 drops of Tea tree oil into a spray bottle of water. If your mat is lightly soiled or needs a freshen up, spray the mat or a damp cloth and wipe it down.  Dry with a clean terry cloth towel. Tea Tree oil has natural disinfecting properties that work wonders. You can add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil if you don’t like the smell of Tea Tree. (At  Octopus Garden we use the Tea Tree Oil solution in our studio spray bottles.)

Bath Tub Method: For mats that require a deeper clean, wash your mat in a tub of cool water with a mild, biodegradable detergent, like laundry soap or dish soap.  Use only a small amount of soap because any residue may cause your mat to become slippery when it gets wet from perspiration. A good trick is to roll your mat up tight with a towel and step on the roll to soak up water or soap residue. Then hang it outside to dry on a sunny day.

Laundry Machine Method: Wash your mat with a load of towels or a couple other mats, in a front loader machine only, as your mat will knock a top loader machine out of balance. You can then put your mat in the dryer on low heat but remember to watch it so it doesn’t melt. A cool cycle works best to get out the initial moisture and then hang dry to finish. It is important to note that not all mats can be washed in this way. Please consult the manufacture’s instructions before you proceed!

What do I do with a new mat that seems slippery?: It is not uncommon to unwrap your new mat and find it a bit slippery. You can try to soften it by washing it or spraying it after every use with the Tea Tree solution. The best way to get past this is to practice as much as you can on it, 10 to 15 times to help reduce the initial slipperiness. Practice…Practice.

Thanks Teacher Trainees for this great advice. And whenever it seems as if your mat needs some freshening up take it home and give it a clean. Your mat will thank you for it!


Ask the OG Team…

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You asked: I experience muscle cramps, can a shift in my diet help? 

We asked OG’s Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Kate Leinweber.

Make sure you are drinking enough water. Dehydration can show up physically as pain and tightness in the calves. If you are drinking reverse osmosis filtered water add a few grains of Himalayan salt to re-mineralize. Minerals are required to properly digest, absorb, and assimilate the water.

Minerals are key in the contraction and relaxation of our muscles. Magnesium in particular is related to the act of relaxing the muscles. Muscle cramps, twitches, and poor sleep can be signs of a magnesium deficiency. Foods high in magnesium include buckwheat, oats, whole wheat, artichokes, almonds, and cooked spinach. Cooking with homemade soup stock is a natural way to supplement the full spectrum of minerals.  Good quality magnesium comes in a supplement as well a tea called Natural Calm found at any health food store.


You asked: Why do I crave sweets when I am stressed or tired? What can I do to lessen these cravings? 

Carbohydrates are the fastest form of energy we can provide our body. When we are stressed we burn more calories and can crave sweets, and when we are tired we crave sweets for a quick burst of energy. These situations often arise when our blood sugar is low, but just in taking sugary snacks is not the answer. Simple carbohydrates which include: refined sugar, white flour and white rice, cause a spike in our blood sugar and then a rapid crash afterwards. This fluctuation causes a lot of stress on our pancreas and can lead to a pre-diabetic condition (hypoglycemia).  The adrenal glands also attempt to regulate blood sugar, but over time can result in general fatigue and exhaustion.  If you have been diagnosed with hypoglycemia there are specific eating patterns that can greatly reduce your symptoms.

A diet which includes whole grains as well as a healthy source of fat can contribute to long-term energy sources and help our bodies deal with stress in daily life. Fat provides endurance and long-term energy. A variety of fats are required for balanced energy including unsaturated fats: flax, hemp, olive oil, or avocado, and of equal importance saturated fats found in meat, dairy, or coconut oil.

There are other imbalances in the body that can cause sugar cravings ranging from an imbalance in macronutrient intake to candida overgrowth.  Meeting with a qualified Nutritionist can help you design a simple daily meal plan that specifically helps your body stay in balance.

Thanks Kate.

Kate’s holistic model empowers each client with knowledge of how whole foods can sustain a healthy and whole body.

Ask the OG Team…

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You asked: Should I have a shiatsu treatment before or after yoga?

We asked Carol Culhane, Shiatsu Therapist at Octopus Garden Holistic Yoga Centre.  Carol has over 10 years of experience in both practising and teaching shiatsu.

Often in our busy lives as we try to fit in self-care, family and friends, meditation, working overtime, our yoga practice, cooking healthy food, and the many other things that simply must get done we can do them in an order that is not beneficial.

The simple answer to this question is it is best to have a shiatsu treatment after yoga.  To understand why this is the case, it’s helpful to understand what is happening during a shiatsu treatment.

Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage based on the same principles as acupuncture.  The basic concept is that energy or Qi flows in certain pathways of the body.  The Qi can be accessed at acupoints and they have particular actions on the body.  For instance, to help with a headache a shiatsu therapist can use points on the hand or the inside of the calf.

Qi can sometimes get stuck.  Shoulder and upper back tension is a common example of this phenomenon.  When Qi is unblocked in stuck areas flexibility is increased and pain and tension in the body are lessened.

Qi can also be lacking in some areas such as in the case of a low back ache.  In the course of a shiatsu treatment the therapist reinforces or tonifies the Qi in areas where it is lacking.  This decreases aching sensations and improves circulation and healing in these areas.

This rebalancing is achieved in shiatsu by using appropriate points and meridians (lines of Qi), differing levels of pressure, stretches and using holding techniques to rebalance the Qi.

Interesting, but how does that feel? 

The most common reaction to a shiatsu treatment is a feeling of deep relaxation, a slight ‘spaciness’, and a desire to rest.  This is because the Qi flow has been changed and the body is working to adjust to this change.  After some rest, food, and water the benefits of a shiatsu treatment can be solidified and integrated in the body.

A vigorous yoga practice directly after a shiatsu treatment places a bit too much strain on the Qi system when it is trying to integrate these changes.  A return to vigorous practice the day after a treatment or, where appropriate, with several hours of rest is very beneficial.  The timing is dependent on the individual and the reaction to the treatment

That said it may be appropriate for an individual to take a restorative class after shiatsu or do some gentle asanas that feel appropriate for your body.  Gentle yoga practice can compliment this change in Qi flow while at the same time being restful.  It is very important to honour how we feel and listen deeply to what the body has to say.

The best case scenario is to schedule your shiatsu treatment after your yoga class.  In this way you can increase the positive health benefits of both shiatsu and yoga.

Carol Culhane has been practising shiatsu for over 10 years.  She has taught both introductory and professional therapist level shiatsu and is a Board member of the Shiatsu Society of Ontario.  Carol is grateful and excited that through her practice she is able to deeply connect with her clients and assist their healing.

Carol’s other talents include juggling, strumming her guitar Lucy and following her Mother’s tradition of cooking while never quite following the recipe.

Thanks Carol!

Ask the OG Team…

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You asked: Can Thai Massage help me to deepen my yoga practice?

We asked Elizabeth Ewanchuk, Thai Massage and Craniosacral Therapist at Octopus Garden.

Thai Massage is an excellent way to deepen and strengthen your practice. Here are two ways it does this:

1. Under the guidance of a mindful practitioner, Thai Massage encourages you to soften into a place of compassion and acceptance, allowing you to move beyond your perceived limitations.
2. By opening up the energy channels (sen lines) in your body, physical restrictions are eased and your body will become more open and flexible.
To help understand how this is possible, it’s useful to know a bit about the origins of this holistic healing system. Thai Massage is derived in large part from Ayurvedic medicine, so it’s a cousin to yoga. Like yoga, it goes beyond being merely a physical practice and embraces you in your entirety – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. And like yoga, it helps you to fully occupy the present moment, to relate to things as they truly are.

Originally practiced in Buddhist temples, Thai Massage was revered as a sacred practice, with the physical body being the entry point for accessing the subtle energy body. The Four Divine States of Consciousness of Buddhism continue to influence and shape the approach of practitioners today:
Metta: The desire to make others happy and the ability to show loving kindness. Karuna: Compassion for all who suffer and a desire to ease their sufferings. Mudita: Rejoicing with those who have good fortune and never feeling envy. Upekkha: Regarding one’s fellows without prejudice or preference.

So let’s say that your iliotibial (IT) bands are tight. You notice the tightness particularly in asanas such as revolved half-moon, revolved hand‐to‐big toe pose, spinal twist, and revolved triangle. As your practitioner, I’m going to focus on balancing your entire body, with specific emphasis on opening restrictions in the sen line that corresponds to the IT band: Sen Kalathari.

As you can see from the picture, this sen criss‐crosses your whole body, so not only will I ease tension in your IT band, but by facilitating the free flow of your prana, I can also address issues relating to digestive disorders, sleep trouble, back pain, headaches, chest pain, high blood pressure, sinusitis, fatigued arms and legs, and emotional troubles. And you thought I was only going to get your IT bands to relax!

During your treatment, I work from a meditative place and plug into your body’s energy. Doing so allows me to determine intuitively where your body is holding tension and the best ways to open these restrictions. Your only job is to keep your mind and body as soft as you can and to breathe fully as I guide you through a series of flowing stretches and compressions. When we encounter a particularly stuck or painful spot, we both focus gentle, loving breath into the area while you keep your body as passive as possible. I deepen my meditation and employ various techniques to encourage your body to let go of the restriction. I may use my thumbs, elbows, forearms, knees, or feet to work more deeply or I may choose simply to hold you in the stretch, thus allowing your body to unwind on its own.

When we’re doing deep energetic work, at times you may find that your mind becomes a bit agitated. That’s likely because you’ve come up against one of your “walls,” your preconceived notions about your body and yourself. When this happens, it’s really important to remain in the present moment by connecting to your breath and to let go, to surrender to what really is. This will help you gain a more accurate picture of what your limitations are. It’s also a wonderful way to increase compassion towards yourself. And to boot, by letting go, your physical body will be more open and flexible.

Therapist Bio: Elizabeth Ewanchuck has the best job in the world! She has the privilege of supporting people as they create rich, vibrant, balanced lives for themselves. Plus, she gets to wear yoga gear and go bare-footed all day; it doesn’t get any better than this.
When not bending and stretching folks, Elizabeth can be found curled up with a good book and a cat, creating mischief in Kensington Market, or indulging her love of heights as a climbing enthusiast.
Contact Elizabeth for more details on Thai Massage and Craniosacral Therapy at Octopus Garden Holistic Yoga Centre or call her directly at 416.992.2440.

Thank you Elizabeth!

Ask the OG Team…

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You asked: What the Fermentation?!
We asked OG’s Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Kate Leinweber.

Did you know that 80% of our immune system is in our gut and primarily depends on the bacteria that live there? Did you know that there are more bacterial cells than human cells in our body??? Traditional fermented foods are a great way to improve the flora of our intestines and maintain health.
Fermentation is an ancient process used in all traditional forms of cuisine around the world. Originally used as a mode of food preservation whether it be to keep dairy products before the time of refrigeration or to keep vegetables through winter…now ferments are returning to modern kitchens for their health benefits.

Scientifically the process of fermentation breaks down food in a pre-digestion that increases the amounts of vitamins (especially B vitamins including B12 & C), minerals, and protein and improves absorbability of nutrient. The enzyme inhibitor Oxalic acid found in green leafy vegetables is inhibited releasing important minerals like Calcium. The bacteria that conduct the fermentation contribute probiotics to the intestines reducing digestive discomfort and boosting the immune system.

In our winter climate fermented vegetables allow us to consume the necessary vitamins and minerals normally obtained from a diet of fresh foods during the spring and summer. A novel, yet traditional idea that provides us with an alternative to importing vegetables from the other side of the world.

Community Supported Fermentation – Interested in regularly consuming the benefits of fermented foods? Contact Kate about her donation based program.

Check out Kate’s next Fermentation workshop at the Good Egg. Monday April 18th 6:30-9pm.

Kate’s holistic model empowers each client with knowledge of how whole foods can sustain a healthy and whole body.