Summer Wellness Series: Summer Soaks + Soothers

Essential Oils and Self-care practices for summer

This article is fourth in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: the energetics of the fifth season: Late Summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

20180810_133928_0001.png

What is self-care? It’s a popular buzzword these days - #selfcare - but what does it mean? I think of self-care practices as not just things we can do for ourselves that promote health, but as loving time we take for ourselves. ‘Self-care’ can’t solve all our problems, but it can be an important part of our mental and physical well-being. Whether it’s dry-brushing, face masks, self-massage or herbal steaming - it’s as much about spending loving, soothing time with your body as any specific outcome. Take the opportunity of giving yourself a ‘beauty treatment’ to give yourself a love treatment - slow down, use natural and non-toxic ingredients, and send yourself some messages of love and care.

Summer Scents and Soothers: 3 essential oils and 5 self-care practices to try this summer

What are the best essential oils to enjoy in the summertime? The answer is endless, but here’s three of my faves to help you keep cool and balanced in summertime

Ylang ylang: this sweet, floral oil has an instant cooling and refreshing effect. It has a sedative quality that calms fire-type symptoms like agitation, insomnia and anxiety, and lowers blood pressure.

Lime: Lime is also a cooling oil and has an affinity with the digestive system - great if summer heat is making our digestion sluggish or our appetite is weak. Lime has an uplifting, anti-depressant effect that gives a sense of being ‘refreshed’. Like other citrus oils, lime causes photosensitivity where you can burn your skin with just a small amount of sun exposure. Don’t use lime oil containing products on exposed skin, use in appropriate dilution, and look for steam-distilled lime, which doesn’t contain the photosensitizing compounds. I like to use steam-distilled lime for topical application, and cold-pressed for inhaling, as the cold-pressed lime has a fresher, cooler scent.

Peppermint: Peppermint is VERY cooling. It’s menthol compounds are what put the ‘ice’ in icy-hot style rubs like Warming and Ginger Menthol. It benefits acute ‘wind-heat’ conditions with sore throat, headache, stuffy nose, and red, itchy eyes. It can make us feel energized by moving Liver Qi and releasing frustrated, pent-up energy. Peppermint and lavender is a great combination.

You can use these oils in some of the best body-caring practices to try in summer:

Foot soaks

Ending the day with a cool or lukewarm bath can help swollen, tired feet, as well as helping you sleep (use a warmer bath for extra help falling asleep after a hectic summer day.

Try an epsom + essential oil combo. Mix together 2 cups of epsom salts with 5 drops of essential oil blended in a tablespoon of carrier oil - try ylang ylang and lime with coconut oil, or peppermint in sunflower oil. Fill a foot tub with warm water and dissolve in the epsom salts. Chill out in the soak for 10-15 minutes (no more than 20) and dry your feet off.

Try finishing up with a soothing foot massage - I like to use Swimming Dragon oil, or Legs N All from By Nieves. Coconut or avocado oil works great too.

If sandals and hot asphalt have your feet calloused and dry, try a foot scrub during your bath - mix melted coconut oil with an equal amount of granulated sugar. Add a few herbs like lavender blossoms, mint leaves or rosepetals for added scent. Store in a glass jar and use a spoonful to scrub your feet before you take them out of the bath.

Self-massage: This is a truly luxurious way to spend quality time with yourself! I like to follow the guidelines of abhyanga from Ayurvedic medicine, which uses warmed oil and gentle strokes towards your heart to stimulate circulation, benefit the lymphatic system and cleanse and moisturize the skin. After the massage, jump in a warm shower and rinse off the oil - it’s the oil cleansing method for your body! , Here’s an in-depth how-to from Banyan Botanicals (including when to avoid abhyanga).

I hope you enjoy incorporating some of these healing and loving self-care practices into your summer!


 

Subscribe to have new blogposts delivered to your email!

* indicates required

Getting sleep when you're worried and stressed

Trouble sleeping? This post from last year is still relevant! Check out the TCMTalk video   (at the end of the article too) for more, and if you'd like to try the WOOD element anointing oil blends mentioned (or any of the other elemental blends) they're on all sale for spring!

I've collected some ways of understanding insomnia and solutions that most folks can do themselves. Chronic insomnia that doesn't resolve with these kinds of approaches or is severely affecting your ability to function needs attention. Please find a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine or holistic medicine in your area for treatment and further support - email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area. Visit TCMTalk on Pinterest for more resources and links

Do this first: BASIC SLEEP HYGIENE PRACTICES

  1. Keep your bedroom clean and uncluttered. Change sheets regularly and purify air with filters and/or plants
  2. Use your bed for sleeping, relaxation and sex - not work
  3. Go screen free or at least be sure to use a light modulator
  4. Make your bedroom as dark as possible
  5. Develop sleep rituals - having a bath, journalling, meditating, (here's some ideas)
  6. Keep your bedroom cool

Top tips for “Wood Element” insomnia:

The 5 Elements through the day  (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The 5 Elements through the day (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The Wood Element is the dominant element in the Spring time. It is associated with the Chinese medicine organ systems of the Liver and Gallbladder, and related to self-expression, the free flow of energy, and the expression of anger and self-assertion (learn more in Denise's TCMTalk on the Wood Element) Dysfunction and imbalance in the Wood element shows itself when your sleep is disrupted by anger, stress, frustration and overwork. You might find yourself waking in the middle of the night (during the 'Wood Element' time of day) and tossing and turning, with your mind going over the day’s events or the causes of your frustrations

The prescription for this kind of sleep trouble is to relieve and release the congested energy and emotions which are backing up and disrupting your sleep with mind-body-spirit practices that benefit the Wood Element and the Liver-Gallbladder system.

Yoga + qi gong for the liver/gallbladder/wood element - to help in discharging energy from those systems with stretching  and gentle movement - we’ve shared a few videos on our pinterest board, and I especially love the Qi Gong videos of Mimi Kuo-Deemer, like this one for the Wood Element

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

Massage especially for foot and leg massage, or the sides of the head - use an aromatherapy blend like Move Wood, Swimming Dragon oil, or make your own with the essential oils that harmonize and move stagnation in the Wood Element - Denise has a great infographic sharing some of our faves and how to use them.

Herbs + foods: herbs that help move and benefit the Liver/Gallbladder and can relax you into a good night’s sleep include mint, lemon balm, cardamom, chamomile, and bupleurum or chai hu, (especially combined with peony root or bai shao) cumin, fennel and ginger. These aren't designed to knock you out, but rather help balance out your energy through the day - try drinking a spicy or minty blend in the afternoon.

I like to add mimosa blossom or he huan hua, to my Swimming Dragon tea blend to relax and release the liver and promote sleep. Water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is a good morning beverage for folks suffering with liver congestion and stagnation. Try mixing equal parts (about a tablespoon each) of honey and apple cider vinegar into a big glass of water for a balancing sweet and sour health beverage to begin the day. Eating lots of veggies, whole foods and getting enough fiber also helps keep everything, including your stagnant energy, moving!

Worry Journal - this is a way to help manage stress and worry: you write down everything that’s weighing on your mind so you can release it before sleep. It goes well with bedtime rituals and keeping screens and work out of the bedroom. You leave the day in the journal and enter into a different space/time for sleep and restoration.

Meditation practice - meditation is something we recommend for every condition and stage of life! For when you’re feeling very pent up, try walking meditation. You can even do it if you awake in the night and can’t get back to sleep - get out of bed and do walking meditation for 10 or 15 minutes and then try to sleep again.

The Wood Element and the Liver-Gall Bladder system are working hard in these times to cope with the onslaught of external stressors, environmental toxins and daily frustrations that we are all living with, especially those of us in oppressed and marginalized communities. Denise and I hope these ideas and strategies and everything we share through TCMTalk can support your wonderful body in harmony with the energies of the Universe and help you as  you do your work in the world.

Subscribe to have new blogposts delivered to your email!

* indicates required

Sandalwood - scent for skin and soul

tibet-762430_1920.jpg

Sandalwood is an ancient scent that has been used in beauty and spiritual rituals for millenia. It's a key ingredient in Angelica & Peony's newly formulated Regenerating Serum, both for its rich, deeply comforting scent, and its traditional uses for skin radiance.

Sandalwood essential oil can be derived from a few species. Tisserand profiles East African (Osyris lanceolata), East Indian or White Sandalwood (Santalum album), New Caledonian (Santalum austrocaledonicum) and Western Australian (Santalum cygnorum).  (Essential Oil Safety, Tisserand) Deforestation and overharvesting have led the slow growing Santalum Album to be placed on the threatened species list, although cultivation attempts are underway. New Caledonian sandalwood has an almost identical chemical and scent profile and can be sourced from sustainable plantations and wildcrafting. This is the variety I use at Angelica & Peony.

Chemically, sandalwood is high in sesquiterpenols - these are large complex alcohol molecules that contribute to the characteristic scent of sandalwood. The large molecular size slows their absorption into the skin, and may be why sandalwood is so rarely irritating, even on sensitive skin (Aromadermatology, Bensouilah and Buck)

In acupuncture school, I remember being taught the crossover action of acupuncture points on the heart channel, usually associated with calming the spirit, for use in skin conditions, especially itching. Our teacher, Dr. Yue Ying Li, a noted TCM dermatologist, told us that itching always has a psychological component. Skin disruptions and disorders are frequently connected to and exacerbated by spiritual and emotional distress. Sandalwood has been traditionally used as a sedative and spirit-soothing scent, and this application has been held up by modern research. In research studies, skin healed measurably faster from trauma when sedative essential oils like sandalwood were inhaled (Aromadermatology, Bensouilah and Buck)

The pheromone androsterone smells like sandalwood, and the oil has long been held to have an aphrodisiac effect. Sandalwood opens us up to erotic and sensual feelings because of its grounding, calming nature that encourages self-acceptance and a sense of safety.

Feeling sexy and calm is a prescription for gorgeous skin! With specific skin healing, regenerating and anti-scarring and anti-viral powers, sandalwood is a pleasurable and powerful addition to skin care. But it's deeper medicine of calming, grounding and releasing fear are what makes it a truly magical addition to your self-care routine

Calming and Grounding Massage Oil (may have aphrodisiac effect!):

2 ounces organic sesame or sunflower oil

20 drops sandalwood oil

15 drops sweet orange oil

blend well and keep in a cool dark place. Can be warmed before use by immersing the bottle in warm water.

Subscribe to have new blogposts delivered to your email!

* indicates required

Getting sleep when you're worried and stressed

I talk about these issues and ideas in the most recent episode of TCMTalk! Check out the video on our Youtube Channel, or scroll to the end of the article. Subscribe to the TCMTalk channel to get our seasonal health and wellness videos as soon as they're released!

I've collected some ways of understanding insomnia and solutions that most folks can do themselves. Chronic insomnia that doesn't resolve with these kinds of approaches or is severely affecting your ability to function needs attention. Please find a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine or holistic medicine in your area for treatment and further support - email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area. Visit TCMTalk on Pinterest for more resources and links

Do this first: BASIC SLEEP HYGIENE PRACTICES

  1. Keep your bedroom clean and uncluttered. Change sheets regularly and purify air with filters and/or plants
  2. Use your bed for sleeping, relaxation and sex - not work
  3. Go screen free or at least be sure to use a light modulator
  4. Make your bedroom as dark as possible
  5. Develop sleep rituals - having a bath, journalling, meditating, (here's some ideas)
  6. Keep your bedroom cool

Top tips for “Wood Element” insomnia:

The 5 Elements through the day  (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The 5 Elements through the day (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The Wood Element is the dominant element in the Spring time. It is associated with the Chinese medicine organ systems of the Liver and Gallbladder, and related to self-expression, the free flow of energy, and the expression of anger and self-assertion (learn more in Denise's TCMTalk on the Wood Element) Dysfunction and imbalance in the Wood element shows itself when your sleep is disrupted by anger, stress, frustration and overwork. You might find yourself waking in the middle of the night (during the 'Wood Element' time of day) and tossing and turning, with your mind going over the day’s events or the causes of your frustrations

The prescription for this kind of sleep trouble is to relieve and release the congested energy and emotions which are backing up and disrupting your sleep with mind-body-spirit practices that benefit the Wood Element and the Liver-Gallbladder system.

Yoga + qi gong for the liver/gallbladder/wood element - to help in discharging energy from those systems with stretching  and gentle movement - we’ve shared a few videos on our pinterest board, and I especially love the Qi Gong videos of Mimi Kuo-Deemer, like this one for the Wood Element

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

Massage especially for foot and leg massage, or the sides of the head - use an aromatherapy blend like Move Wood, Swimming Dragon oil, or make your own with the essential oils that harmonize and move stagnation in the Wood Element - Denise has a great infographic sharing some of our faves and how to use them.

Herbs + foods: herbs that help move and benefit the Liver/Gallbladder and can relax you into a good night’s sleep include mint, lemon balm, cardamom, chamomile, and bupleurum or chai hu, (especially combined with peony root or bai shao) cumin, fennel and ginger. These aren't designed to knock you out, but rather help balance out your energy through the day - try drinking a spicy or minty blend in the afternoon.

I like to add mimosa blossom or he huan hua, to my Swimming Dragon tea blend to relax and release the liver and promote sleep. Water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is a good morning beverage for folks suffering with liver congestion and stagnation. Try mixing equal parts (about a tablespoon each) of honey and apple cider vinegar into a big glass of water for a balancing sweet and sour health beverage to begin the day. Eating lots of veggies, whole foods and getting enough fiber also helps keep everything, including your stagnant energy, moving!

Worry Journal - this is a way to help manage stress and worry: you write down everything that’s weighing on your mind so you can release it before sleep. It goes well with bedtime rituals and keeping screens and work out of the bedroom. You leave the day in the journal and enter into a different space/time for sleep and restoration.

Meditation practice - meditation is something we recommend for every condition and stage of life! For when you’re feeling very pent up, try walking meditation. You can even do it if you awake in the night and can’t get back to sleep - get out of bed and do walking meditation for 10 or 15 minutes and then try to sleep again.

The Wood Element and the Liver-Gall Bladder system are working hard in these times to cope with the onslaught of external stressors, environmental toxins and daily frustrations that we are all living with, especially those of us in oppressed and marginalized communities. Denise and I hope these ideas and strategies and everything we share through TCMTalk can support your wonderful body in harmony with the energies of the Universe and help you as  you do your work in the world.

Subscribe to have new blogposts delivered to your email!

* indicates required

Plants with Benefits Part II: Essential oils for a satisfying sex life

plantswithbenefits2.png

Herbal medicine and acupuncture offer a lot of support for those experiencing any kind of sexual problem, physical or emotional. This article is intended to introduce you to some plant allies and offer some simple home and traditional applications for gentle support. For effective treatment of ongoing or serious issues, consult a qualified herbalist (email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area).

Warning: radically-inclusive, sex-positive, body-positive language spoken here

(I cribbed this tongue in cheek warning from Denise's most recent article about Acupressure for Good Sex. Learn more about sex-positivity)

Perfumes have always been used for their aphrodisiac qualities! You can harness these powers yourself using essential oils as perfumes, room sprays or in bath or massage oils. Essential oils are the 'spirit' of the plant - and they can have a powerful effect on our spirits. Many of the traditional aphrodisiac oils work by addressing emotional issues that are so often at the root of sexual dissatisfaction. (Wondering how to find quality essential oils? Check out my earlier article for guidance)

Spicing it up

In Part I of Plants with Benefits, I talked about Yang tonics - herbs and foods that stoke the energetic fire that governs sexual desire. Some essential oils have the ability to tonify Yang and are suitable for low libido with sensations of coldness, low back ache, knee problems and low energy. These spicy essential oils can be irritating to the skin. Never use them undiluted, and you can DIY gentle versions by simmering the spices together on the stove or in a potpourri diffuser. 

Basil: this essential oil is a potent Yang tonic, addressing infertility, impotence, and low self-esteem and confidence

Cinnamon, Clove, Black Pepper and Cardamom: cinnamon and clove (in the form of pumpkin pie) were famously found to increase penile blood flow more than any other scents (Source) All are very powerful stimulants, and can lead to exhaustion if overused, and definitely cause skin irritation - use them in very small proportion in a blend, or as whole herbs rather than essential oils for a more balanced effect.

Calm, heart centering oils

Other essential oils work as aphrodisiacs by helping reduce stress and anxiety and encouraging us to feel relaxed and unguarded - necessary for good sex! All these oils make fantastic massage or bath oils, or can be added to a diffuser or room spray. Hydrosols of these oils are much more affordable than essential oils and spritzing them over the sheets will add their aphrodisiac gifts to your bedroom. 

Rose: the Queen of Flowers, she has been used to enhance sexual connection for millenia. Her lush, accepting fragrance is especially beneficial where sexual life feels blocked by lack of confidence or a sense of inadequacy.

Neroli: from the flowers of the bitter orange, neroli is a powerful anti-anxiety oil, and physically is an anti-spasmodic, relaxing both emotional and physical stress and spasm.

Patchouli: Patchouli can be a love it or hate it scent, but if you haven't smelled real, quality patchouli essential oil, you should give it a chance. As a herb, patchouli is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to 'transform dampness' and relieve symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Emotionally, the oil serves to transform and release pent up emotions, which is the source of its aphrodisiac power. Perhaps that is why folks tend to react so strongly to it!

Ylang ylang: the sweet, heady floral scent of ylang ylang is a sedative, and is used by medical aromatherapists to lower blood pressure and heart rate. It serves to break the cycle of sexual anxiety and soothe anger, frustration and jealousy. Best used in combination with other oils lest you find yourself so relaxed you fall asleep!

Bringing the Balance

These final two oils may have a hormone balancing action in Western terms, and energetically serve to harmonize and bring balance to our physical and emotional states - centering us in our own truth so we can reach for another from a place of solidity.

Jasmine: precious Jasmine essential oil is most accessible as part of a blend from a quality manufacturer. Her gifts in the physical realm are powerful, she is traditionally used during childbirth to promote relaxation and opening, to encourage milk production, and to help heal the after effects of a traumatic birthing. According to Peter Holmes,  "emotional vulnerability from any cause and emotional disconnection (or dryness) from repression or trauma are its key indication." Those with trouble opening up, expressing needs and desires will benefit from jasmine's healing touch.

Sandalwood: a powerful, complex scent, sandalwood has been used in temples and monasteries to enhance meditation and prayer practices. It's aphrodisiac qualities help us stay grounded, in the moment and present with our partner, letting go of past experiences, insecurities and fear of inadequacy.

Lovers' Blend:

  • 8 drops sandalwood or patchouli
  • 4 drops ylang ylang
  • 2 drops sweet orange or tangerine

For massage or bath oil, add the oils to 1 oz of carrier oil such as apricot kernel, jojoba, coconut or sesame. For bath salts, toss with 1 cup of epsom salts. Don't use essential oils undiluted on the skin. For inspiration on where to massage, check out Acupressure For Good Sex by Denise Cicuto L.Ac! And tune in tomorrow at 4 pm PST to TCMTalk on Periscope for more holistic sex talk!

Here's to good sex!

 

Subscribe to have new blogposts delivered to your email!

* indicates required