Nikkis Nature

A Place For Sharing Holistic and Healing Insights


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The Truth About Barefoot Shoes

Just recently I was wearing my five toe Vibram shoes while attending a workshop where we were doing a bit of hiking around in the woods.  A very nice woman who also in my group saw my shoes and said “Hey, there is a whole class action settlement going on for people who have used these shoes-  I can get you the information if you want to try to get in on it.”  My instant response was “Oh, no thanks-  I love my shoes!  I wouldn’t accept money for damages because these shoes have been the opposite for me-  really amazing.”  I went on to explain my experience with barefoot shoes as well as my take on the whole controversy.  So here is the deal:  Five-toed and barefoot shoes began to become very popular with all the claims that they were wonderful for runners, for joint health and for preventing injuries.  Many people began switching to using this type of shoe, maintaining their regular running or exercise routines and simply switching out their previous running shoes for a pair of barefoots.   You can’t just do that, and that is where the main problem occurred, in my opinion.

Yes, barefoot running and hiking is wonderful for you-  it is true that you have better agility, that you strengthen and mobilize all of the small joints and ligamentous articulations of the feet and ankle that normally are blunted and rendered unused when using shoes with cushioning in the soles.  However, you can’t just switch from one mode to the other safely.  Barefoot activities require a gradual buildup of strength and tolerance.  When first using the shoes, one should start by taking short outdoor walks in them.  You’ll notice mild joint soreness as you would when starting any new or different form of exercise.  As you increase your distances this will diminish.  Try to stick to trails, grass or dirt/track walkways, and avoid pavement.  A big part of the issue with barefoot shoes is that you absolutely need to run on the balls of your feet if you will be on pavement.  Not many people run this way at all… so imagine the runner who switched to barefoot shoes.  This person kept their normal route along paved roads, pounding step after step into their heels, suddenly with no cushioning.  The bottom line is that even the act of switching from heel first running to ball of the foot running requires training and a period of time to allow for gradual build up of strength and acclimation to the activity.  The injuries reported from switching to barefoot running shoes were likely caused by lack of preparedness to use them in the proper way.  Now, the claims about their use probably should have been accompanied by this detailed information, but marketing is what it is, and people that engage in strenuous fitness activities do need to take responsibility for making sure their choices are safe and reasonable.

So here is the bottom line:  Use barefoot shoes in moderation, easing in to running and trying to stick to routes that are on trails or softer ground.  Alternate every 1/8 to 1/4 mile using a heel-toe and then a toe-heel sequence.  Over time you will be able to run multiple miles and rugged terrain without any issue, and you will feel strong and great.  Your old sneakers will begin to feel like evil, restrictive clunkers.  I feel incredibly agile and natural in my barefoot shoes and I wear them while hiking, gardening, running, walking, you name it.  I have hiked up and down mountains in them and also completed two twelve mile Tough Mudders in them.  I have not ever been (knock on wood) sore or injured in any way related to my shoes.  As a physical therapist I can tell you for sure that the health of all of the joints in your body is definitely affected from the ground up-  in other words, the slight differences in how your ankle and metatarsal joints angle themselves and adapt to motions and altered terrains is felt all the way up the chain to the final interaction between your highest vertebra and your skull.  When these ground level joints are adaptable and strong, the effect trickles up the chain.  Of course you still need excellent core training for optimal fitness and injury prevention, but I love the part my five toe shoes play in my own fitness.  If you have questions about this or want to continue the conversation here, please feel free to do so.  I have been using these shoes for a number of years now, and have lots of experience with them personally and as a physical therapist.  Have a wonderful, naturally healthy day!


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Discovering Holistic Physical Therapy

As I set out to build a practice of physical therapy clients in my private office, I realize that I have not really explained to many people what I mean when I say that I practice “holistic physical therapy”.  In fact, as I ponder how to explain it, I wonder if that phrase is an oxymoron in and of itself.  The reason I say this is that the whole point is for this not to be only physical.  My aim in providing holistic physical therapy treatments is to provide physical therapy for a problem that a person would go to any physical therapist for, but to also help them further by incorporating stress management therapies, guided imagery, energy healing, and the teaching of skills that will support the smooth function of the whole being in addition to the painful area in question.  A typical session  includes hands-on work to the area of treatment including some or all of massage, stretching, joint mobilizations, myofascial release, craniosacral work, or positional release to name a few.  Then the client receives a period of energy healing work with guided visualizations for deep relaxation.  This serves to remind and teach the client how to get themselves back into a less stressful physical and mental state to promote their healing process.  The end of the session would be spent advising the client on how to proceed at home with exercises, stretches and life practices that will help them progress.  This may include consultation on diet, natural remedies, stress management approaches, even spiritual work if desired.

The following are the ways in which this type of PT session varies greatly from a session at a typical clinic.  You are the only client in the room.  The therapist does not bounce around between patients, so all of your time at Nikki’s Nature is either hands-on or educational, geared only to you.  You will not do a host of exercises during your session-  you will have hands-on work during your session, and then be given your exercises to do at home.  I would prefer the session be spent on pain management, stress reduction and client education.  If you feel that you need to have the therapist make you go through all of your exercises and you know you won’t do them at home, then you don’t really need PT, because you are not actually in a mindset to allow yourself to heal.  Unless you are going to therapy many times a week, you need to be ready to follow through with recommendations at home on your own if you want actual results.  I will never assess your problem and then say that you should come two times a week for six weeks.  My hope is to make a difference in your pain level during the first session.  If you go home and work on some of the approaches agreed upon, you may need nothing further.  If you go home and do the recommended exercises and approaches and then still feel stuck in the healing process, then we can think about scheduling something to address the shift in challenges.

In the state of Connecticut you do not need a doctor’s prescription to visit a physical therapist.  You will need one if you plan to submit a bill to your insurance company, but you don’t need one to have the visit.  This means that if you would just like to have a good, personalized consultation and treatment session to address your pain, you can skip a step and just go right to the therapist.  Nikki’s Nature does not take insurance due to the unconventional treatment approach and the holistic modalities offered, but payment options and other options such as lowering session time to lower cost are available as well.  To find out more about holistic PT sessions at Nikki’s Nature, or other sessions available there such as hypnosis for weight loss or pain management, visit www.nikkisnature.com.  I am committed to creating a healthy and peaceful approach to client care in the Collinsville area.    Thanks for considering a fresh approach to health-

Sincerely, Nikki Sleath MA, PT, RMT, Cht


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Craniosacral Therapy Course Review

So about a month ago I took a continuing education seminar on Craniosacral Therapy.  I went in not knowing much about it except that it involves subtle bodily manipulations to effect the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.  My feelings at the end of the seminar were mixed.  I do think that this is a great therapeutic tool for certain cases, and I think that from a holistic standpoint it might be a nice option to try for those who are dealing with pain that is going unresolved with traditional treatments.  I suppose I did walk away a little disappointed because I couldn’t just jump in and start doing this clients right away.   When you train in Reiki you can start treating instantly without second guessing yourself, but craniosacral work requires a very practiced clinician.

The idea behind this work is that you begin by placing your hands at a number of different “listening stations” along the body starting at the feet and moving up to the head.  You place your hands very lightly and if the person has no restriction in fluid rhythm at that spot you will feel a certain ebb and flow beneath your hands.  The problem is that this is VERY difficult to feel right off the bat.  Once you determine where any potential restrictions in fluid flow might exist, you treat at those areas with a technique very similar to myofascial release-  one in which you start by very gently moving the surface tissues until they resist you, and then gradually increase your holding pressure for as long as it takes until you feel a release occur.  I really do like the idea of being able to treat a person’s restricted fluid flow, but I think I need a lot more practice until I become skilled and confident in the diagnostic portion.  The instructor was very experienced and has amazing stories about creating dramatic results in patients with pain and with improved function in children with autism and other syndromes.  This occurred because he actually relieved pressure along certain brain sutures or other structures that don’t normally receive any sort of medical attention but can actually be causing a problem with brain activity.  Some of it sounded so amazing that it was actually hard to believe… but I do believe that he was being honest.  I also liked that craniosacral therapists tend to incorporate energy work into their sessions so that when they relieve a restriction they are also providing enhanced energetic movement at the site.  As a Reiki Master, I can’t argue with that tactic!

When I left the course I did decide to buy an instructional video to help me practice at home to hone my skills and increase my confidence.  I haven’t gotten to work with it yet, but after I get some time to practice on my husband look for the sequel to this article and I’ll tell you how it went!  Taking this course highlighted a need for me to become more sensitive to my palpation and tissue mobilization skills, but it is also making me want to take a myofascial release course as well.  If you have experienced a therapy session that incorporated any of these techniques, please comment, as I’d love to hear what you thought.  So stay tuned, and have a wonderful and healthy weekend!


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Time To Talk About The E Word

As much as I love talking about energy work, herbalism and healing, I am originally a physical therapist by trade and I’ve been thinking about sharing my latest views on exercise.  Over the years my own exercise habits have varied and evolved greatly and when you combine my education, experience and holistic views there may be some unique ideas in there that are worth a listen.  I also want to reiterate that I would love this to become more of an educational forum-  I am happy to have personal questions put forth here where advice may be needed, with respect to both injuries and regular exercise regimes.  Anyway-  things have already started to get really busy for me with the holiday season approaching, and I am anticipating being faced with lots of sweets and less time to exercise.  I’m sure you all will encounter the same situation, so let’s bring exercise to the forefront and let it happen!

Over the past two years I have had great results from using the P90X exercise videos at home in my own house.  I haven’t belonged to a gym in a long time, but I am in much better shape than I was when I did have a membership… so that says a lot.  You won’t necessarily see results just because you set aside time to go to the gym and work out-  it really is important to find a combination of activities that provides the right challenge for your body.  I have a naturally muscular build, so for years, despite my education as a PT, I avoided any real strenuous weight training because I felt like I would instantly start to bulk up, and I wanted to be skinny, not bulky.  I realize now, though, that I should not have feared that.  The theory behind P90X is that of muscle confusion-  constantly changing the exercises you do so that your body never falls into a comfortable routine, and this has worked great for me.  I have never seen results from going to the gym 3-5 times a week to use cardio machines.  I don’t care if it’s the treadmill, bike or eliptical that you are using-  if this is your mode of operation chances are that you will see some results when you first start sticking to a routine, and then you will plateau.   I think to avoid the plateau you HAVE to throw some weight training into the mix.  I also think that doing a few random abs and weight machines after your cardio workout isn’t enough.  I think this because I have done that… and it didn’t work.   With the muscle confusion idea you might do a cardio workout once or twice in the week, but the other days you do weight training where you focus on one or two muscle groups and just bust those out.  I have done this, pushing my weight training to a very challenging point, and it has not made me look bulky-  in fact, I feel thinner and clothes fit more nicely than when I was in college.  Here is an example of how the week might look:  Monday-shoulders and arms, Tuesday-  legs and back, Wednesday-  cardio karate, Thursday-  chest and triceps, Friday- core, Saturday-  yoga, Sunday-  rest and stretch.  So now you are saying, “Okay, that workout routine looks great, but who has time for that?”.  Valid concern!  The sad part of the discussion of how to make exercise effective is that you can’t get around the fact that consistency is crucial.  I need to work out six days a week for an hour in order to stay thin and maintain the muscle tone I like to have.  The good news is that once you start doing this you become addicted to it and it gets easier to stick with it.  In finding the time, that’s where the gym didn’t work for me.  You have to get ready, drive there and back, and then when you get there you didn’t prepare what you were going to do so you end up just jumping onto a cardio machine.  I work out at home so that hour can be thrown in whenever I happen to grab the chance-  doesn’t matter what I’m wearing or if the school bus is coming soon, and I don’t have to worry about child care because I’m home.  Now, my husband and I both work out at home so it helps that we motivate each other, and it also helps that over the years we have accumulated a lot of nice weights, videos, chin-up bars and such.  But even if you have no equipment at home, you can do pushups and power yoga on certain days to get muscle work in instead of doing only cardio.  I’m not dissing cardio-  it’s needed as part of the routine, and I try to walk outdoors whenever I can.  This keeps me in good cardiovascular health, but I don’t count it as my workout for the day.

So I’ve talked about the pure mechanics of thinking about a routine that will keep you challenged and help get results… but you know me-  I need to get a little holistic with it, too.  One interesting thing I have found is that I have warded off many colds with exercise.  When I feel myself getting rundown I try to make sure that I still exercise-  I don’t skip it unless I am truly severely ill.  I feel that the exertion and sweating helps run toxins through the body more quickly, and I don’t believe that you need to rest because you feel a little tired.  Also, if you like to walk, don’t stop just because the weather gets bad.  Being out in the rain or cold is not bad for your health-  as long as you bundle up and keep moving, it is beneficial for your health.  You get that fresh air and the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings, which is very healing.  It is only when you are already quite sick that the body can’t handle being out in the cold because it is working to fight the invading organism and doesn’t want to have to work to keep the body temperature up.  In this case keeping the body warm becomes the first priority so it has to do that, and doesn’t work as effectively on fighting the virus.  Then later, you feel the results of that in your cold.  I also mentioned previously that if you stick to a routine you can become addicted-  and this is because of the well-known endorphin phenomenon.  I’m obviously not the first one to talk about this, but I’m just reiterating that from a mind-body-spirit point of view, exercise provides greater mental and emotional health, not to mention the strength to ward off the likelihood of random physical injuries.  This is another benefit of the focused strength training routines-  you become much less susceptible to injury, whereas with repetitive cardio regimes I feel you are often more susceptible to overuse injuries, development of muscular asymmetries and cases of tendinitis.

So, to keep yourself motivated this season, mix it up!  Get a mix of real challenge and real zen with your exercise.  Do an hour of sit-ups and push-ups one day and then an hour of yoga or tai chi the next.  All the points I have discussed are pretty common sense, but it still helps to talk about it, especially if it results in helping you to grab that exercise opportunity and make it into a good habit.  If your routine isn’t working for you or if something hurts or is preventing you from exercising let me know!  You might need to see the doctor or you might need to change what you are doing… but it can’t hurt to talk about it.  Thanks for putting up with me through this sometimes less than pleasant topic, and no matter what… move!  🙂


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Reflexology and Book Review

My constant drive to continue to learn and amass new healing skills and proficiencies is continually too ambitious, but my most recent quest is in the area of reflexology.  Here is a healing tool that is accessible and really makes sense.  The art and practice of reflexology is based on the fact that the distribution of sensory nerve endings in our feet and hands is huge, and that if you map it out, the connections there are like little road maps of the rest of the body.  Our feet are our connection and our primary mode of transportation around this earth, and are hands are our best tools and means of its exploration.  They gather information about every stimulus they come across and relay it to the body and mind.  In reflexology the treatment sites are chosen depending on what part of the body you want to affect, and the grip, motion and amount of pressure is chosen depending on whether you want a stimulating or a relaxing response. It can be used to treat anything from pain to organ syndromes and diseases, and best of all, it can simply be used for overall stress-reduction and the release of tension blocks in the body.  I am a firm believer that pain, illness and dysfunction in the body are caused by both physical and energetic blockages that prevent the natural flow of our systems.  Even if you have no medical diagnosis but you experience stress, anxiety or sleeplessness to name a few, it’s a good idea to treat those issues before they decide to lodge somewhere in the body and manifest as a palpable dis-ease.  Relaxation is something that not enough of us get, and even those of us that do have outlets for tension release can still use more, and benefit from doing so at deeper levels.  I have found also that when you work on improving your body’s energy flow, you not only see improvements in physical health, but you see a natural evolution of your emotional and spiritual self as well.  A lot of folks think that modalities that are considered holistic are treatments with no guarantee of working, but I think that treatments that are holistic are called so because they work on many levels, some of which aren’t noticeable to the untrained eye.

I’ll step back down off of my holistic soapbox and say that I have just recently read “Hand and Foot Reflexology:  A Self-Help Guide” by Kevin and Barbara Kunz.  They described pressure applications in this way:  alternating pressures are stimulating and trigger our fight or flight response, the way we would run and experience quick alternating pressures on the soles of the feet in flight of a dangerous situation.  On the other hand, deep sustained pressure in one area is relaxing, as the body does not need to increase its tension when the body is still and supported.  The authors of this book do a good job of providing a basic summary of their theory and making it quickly understandable, and I liked that.  This book is meant to be used for self-treatment, but its short-comings are in the inadequate description of certain motions to be used, and in the poor quality of the illustrations that show you what to do.   I was able to look through the charts of techniques and corresponding zones and try some out on myself.  My left knee has been bothering me due to intermittent issues with my meniscus, so I chose a hand and foot technique related to that.  The results were a big “yay!” for reflexology-  my knee definitely felt more relaxed after the constant applied pressure to the exact areas described.  Also with regards to the spot I used on my hands, it was noticeably sore right at that site when I pressed on it, which I thought was more than a funny coincidence.  I would never have noticed it otherwise, because it was a deepish spot between two metacarpals (hand bones), but I then poked around and didn’t find that soreness between any other two.

I was definitely impressed with how great if felt to localize these pressure points and I am feeling really inspired to dive further into my study and use of reflexology.  I don’t find this particular book useful enough to serve as my guide, however.  It was good enough to get a quick overview and some preliminary ideas, but now I know what type of manual I want for my personal use-  one with detailed descriptions of treatment movements and color photographs.  It’s a good thing that I borrowed the Kunz book from the library and didn’t buy it!  I would appreciate any sharing of information here if you feel it’s relevant such as having had a professional reflexology session and what you thought of it, or any experience of having tried it yourself.  This healing art has been around for a long time and I can see why!  I’m really looking forward to learning this incredibly relaxing and rejuvenating treatment tool and sharing with others.