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Letter From Editor: Back to Basics and Fighting Stress With The Power of Five Human Senses

Letter From Editor (Paulina Kajankova)

Main Image: Thich Nhat Hanh, master and father of mindfulness

Our world is going through a powerful shift. We can feel the stress radiating from our very souls. We see and feel it from health care workers, health institutions, our neighbors, our own homes, and radio or the news provides little to no escape. Thich Nhat Hanh said: “strong emotions are like a storm”. Let’s learn to calm them though mindfulness.

During this time of Covid-19 pandemic, self discipline and self-care has never been needed more. As a creative individual and depression sufferer, who was used to working from home long before the pandemic, I started to brainstorm new ways to cope and calm the stress. Since I live in New York City and have decided to stay put in the city that I love; my small apartment is my shelter. Many think New York City is a place for the rich. That is far from the truth. Many native New Yorkers make a medium income of 40,000, if that. We don’t all have the luxury to escape to our second home in the country, or have a large square footage where we can stretch out. A lot of New Yorkers live with roommates or family members. Some of them work in the hospital setting or as “essential workers”. The gap between the have and have nots is front and center. Let’s hope this is a wake up call for our leaders and even consumers. We see the helpers, and that is a marker by which I’ll shop in the future. As stress starts to pile up, more and more people will start to experience what it feels like to live with anxiety or have a panic attack. This is the reality. As a wellness and beauty editor, I decided it is my duty to focus on the positive. I have started a conversation around what it means to be human right now. This has helped me gather important tips on staying well during this difficult time. I hope our scary journey turns a corner, from darkness to light, and we can all live free again. No doubt, we will all be changed by the experience.

The relationship between the mind and body is an important one. Using the basic five human senses to fight stress is a simple way to calm down. The tangible part of our being has the power to shift the negative into a positive. The power of spa and nature therapy is always in the back of my mind. For me, stress can feel like an out of body experience. When stress becomes all consuming, it is hard to be mindful. Let’s journey back into the body with the power touch, sound, scent, taste and sight.

Power of Touch

The power of touch is one of the first and most important senses we acquire from birth. It is no wonder then that facial and body massage is what drives the spa industry today. Touch is important for our emotional wellbeing, but it is also an important sense that signals pain or pleasure. This is why self-care and grooming can become an important tool for keeping stress at bay, especially if you live alone. For help with the power of touch, we reached out to Amy Linville, Esthetician and Craniosacral Therapist. Craniosacral Therapy uses the power of light touch to support self-healing mechanisms in the body.

My training and experience as an RCST®, Registered Craniosacral Therapist, has brought a deeper understanding of the importance of slowing down to regulate our autonomic nervous system. Taking time, often, to just pause and notice what you notice in terms of sensation only.

“Our minds so quickly take us away from present sensations to thoughts and feelings rooted in the past and future. An easy way to access this kind of noticing is with gravity. Sitting, laying down or even standing you can turn your attention to what is making contact with the ground, a practice also referred to as “grounding”. Feel the support, slowly and always without judgement about doing it right or wrong, notice which body parts are making contact with what is below them and which are not. Tune in to what ever pleasant sensations you can find, coolness of a fabric, texture of a sock etc. Feel and trust the support of whatever is holding you, notice any shifts such as, downward movement of energy, slowing of heart rate, a deeper breath, a sigh or relaxation in the muscles. If a longer pause isn’t available to you, work with the time you have. If it feels safe, you can close your eyes, or you can move your gaze to something comforting, a photo of a loved one or a plant. Use your skills of noticing what is happening in your body to know what works best. We want to shift to noticing what feels good or at least to what doesn’t feel tight or restricted.

If you are fortunate enough to be serving your Stay at Home Order with another being, you can enlist them to help. A bonus being that if one of you is feeling more settled or regulated (in the zone of your nervous system where you are functioning well with normal fluctuations of ups and downs) and is nearby or ideally making contact with the other, you will begin to co-regulate, benefiting both bodies. The contact can be as simple as holding hands. I often sit on a bolster in front of my couch and ask my husband to sit on the couch behind me resting his hands on my shoulders. Just resting, not massaging or anything more. Silence is not a requirement either though soft voices and easy conversation are better here.

If alone, you can rest your head in your (covid clean) hands, with the help of a table or pillow under your arms, with your palms cradling your jaw and your fingers straddling your ears. You can try resting your middle fingers inside your ears, not in the canal but just outside of it.

Stay with it for several minutes until you notice any of the shifts mentioned in the grounding exercise above. This feels wonderful, in part because of the contact with the nearby vagus, or 10th cranial nerve, which travels next to the internal jugular vein, wiring into many parts of the body including the gut. This system conveys strong responses to threat so this contact is very nurturing and supportive to our nervous system. Another resource is to do one of trauma specialists, Dr. Peter Levine’s self holding positions. The doctor demonstrates them in this video. When we hold ourselves, or are held by others, we can have a direct experience with our bodies as our container. We can feel where we end, making sensations and feelings in the body easier to manage.”

Mileo New York luxurious face oils

The Power of Scent

One of our favorite Self-Care Insiders, Matthew Mileo, generously shares his take on the power of scent.

“There’s a countless amount of research that significantly links aromatherapy to mood and emotions — a large amount of that is lavender which is known for it’s soothing and relaxing properties.  The way in which our brain receives and processes odors and translates to that a mood is complex and still remains to be discovered, but numerous clinical trials dictate that is it more than abundant. 

When my happiness starts to feel infringed upon, and I feel my good mood is slipping, I reach for white florals like magnolia blossom, tuberose, and gardenia, to assist with positivity. These florals actually act on the neurotransmitter pathways in the brain to stimulate joy and pleasure.

In fact, I created a facial oil that contains all of these flowers not just for its uplifting personality, but these flowers also act as excellent skincare ingredients that nourishes, protects, and firms the skin.

If I’m feeling particularly sad or having trouble curbing a more depressed emotion, then I always reach for Osmanthus blossom. It’s honeyed floral apricot notes will immediately bring a sense of happiness. It’s like smelling little rays of sunshine that brings some light to where it’s needed most.

When I’m really looking to energize my spirits and lift my mood way into the stratosphere, I reach for pink pepper fruit to stimulate my senses.  I’ve never been a fan of mints, so as a captivating replacement, pink pepper paired with geranium and rose (especially rose de mai), makes the most alluring pick me up that invigorates my mood with volition.  

If you want a more calmer, more love devoting mood, use classic rose with soft, powdery florals with a violet note, like mimosa, violet leaf, and even lavender, which is especially conducive for bonding. (La Rose De Joell and Labyrinthe Vert both work here)

For introspection and reflection, I really love rosewood for it’s deep woody rose notes, but because it’s now impossible to obtain real rosewood (Brazil has banned all export of rosewood to help regrow the now sparse rosewood trees), I recommend davana flower, frankincense, and naricuss flower especially. These notes have a way of transporting you to a meditative place where your mind clears and you can see the truth of things. It’s especially powerful if you are pondering something and are in need of more clarity, and objectivity. Osmanthus blossom is one of the main ingredients in MILÈO Maroc D’Azur Elixir Oud. It’s also found in some teas and fine fragrances. The white florals mentioned above are found in MILÈO Collonges la Rouge and fine fragrances that are described as a “white floral” or “fruity floral”. 

If florals aren’t your thing, I recommend citrus infused products — my favorites are yellow mandarin, yuzu, sweet orange, and nova mandarin (similar to tangerine) – they always smell bright, fresh, and full of life.”

“I think good mood scented sleeping aids will become more popular as more people want to assist their sleep to be deeper and more productive, so they can feel rested and productive.”

The Power of Sound

Sound therapy has been a part of the spa industry for as long as anyone can remember. Music, vibrations and even singing, provide a sense of tranquility. Sound effects our mood, and while city dwellers love the busy energy of their environment, unwelcome noise can get to the best of us. For this reason (while in quarantine), let’s chose sounds that make us feel good, instead of making us feel low. One such case is the clapping and praising of health care workers. Every night, 7pm on the dot, you can hear New Yorkers cheer, honk, beat pots and pans, even play New York classics. It is a thank you to our heroes. That is an uplifting and welcomed sound that penetrates the soul.

If you are looking to take things further, Tibetan singing bowls can be an excellent way to use sound therapy at home. Their rich sound and vibrations allow for a sense of calm that is both healing and mindful. Whether you use a tool or not, music has the power to transport our souls into a different place. One that helps us forget about reality, even if just for a few minutes.

Not too long ago, I spoke with Kohler Water Spa’s director, Nikki Miller. One of their newest treatments at last year’s iSpa event featured sound therapy.

“We are research sponsors with Global Wellness and they recently released information about the benefits of sound and vibration. This resonated with us quickly as a great fit for the spa. It’s familiar territory because our Kohler Kitchen & Bath portfolio offers a nice range of bathing experiences, including a VirbrAcoustic hydrotherapy where you can hear and feel sound and music resonating throughout your body while you relax in the bath. We recognized there was an opportunity to enhance the traditional manicure/pedicure experience and introducing sound therapy is a great fit.”

Divya Alter’s cauliflower soup makes you feel hugged

Power of Taste

Taking comfort in immune boosting and healthy foods is not a new idea, but it is a timeless one. Food is medicine and no one I know takes this medicine more seriously than Divya Alter. The Ayurvedic and vegan chef gives us her take on the power of taste. For more on Divya Alter and her restaurant, Divya’s Kitchen, read our interview.

The tongue, the organ for the sense of taste is also the organ for speech. What we taste and what we say can directly have a calming or stressful effect on our whole body.

“Contrast tasting a velvety custard vs. a bulky kimchi, soothing creamy soup vs. a charging gazpacho, a calming hot milk vs. a shot of tequila. How does your body and mind react to each? Ayurveda speaks of the six tastes of food: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent. Of them, the most calming taste is sweet. It’s the “hmmm” taste of pleasure, relaxation, satisfaction. That’s why when we feel stressed out we tend to crave sweets. And you probably need something sweet, but you don’t have to grab the sugary stuff. Instead experience sweetness through a medjool date, a sweet potato, a juicy fruit, rice, soaked almonds, whole milk, and more.

We can evoke calm and comfort not only through taste but also through the texture of food that we also experience on our tongue—a warm creamy, smooth of sweet flavors, baby-food like would help us find peace within. Look for the foods that make you feel “hugged,” that give you love. And sweet words along with sweet-tasting foods can go a long way…”

The Power of Sight

We learned that the way we experience touch, use scent, benefit from sound, and use food to relieve stress transforms the mind and body from feeling stressed to feeling mindful. The power of sight does not have to be tangible.

When stressed, I like to transport myself to a field with tall grass and a forest near by. I am alone and a soothing breeze caresses my face. The place I think of is most likely in my home country, Slovakia. Where do you go to feel at ease?

Most of us are staying home to save lives, and our environment becomes an extension of how we feel. If these tips help even one person, I know I have done my job. Quarantine does not have to mean that you are stuck. It can mean that for once we are grounded and practicing much-needed slow living. Let us look at the positive. If you require to be more energetic and dislike the idea of slow living, try a practical activity: re-decorate, create a mediation nook, start a library, and make your home into a haven that you won’t mind staying in.

Elizabeth M. Donat, L.E. NY and Internationally Licensed Esthetician, graciously provided further thoughts for the power of sight.

“Though most of us are restricted to what we can see in our physical environment, we have other ways we can use the power of sight to enlighten our mood and elevate our spirit. Take some time to get comfortable, close your eyes and breathe while practicing visualization techniques. In your mind’s eye, see whatever landscapes, people, places or objects that bring you joy. Allow yourself the time to let your mind wander from one good feeling to the next. If visualizations are a challenge for you, don’t worry, it takes patience and practice to get there. In the meantime, be sure the images you view are positive and uplifting. We all have favorite movies or books that take us to beautiful cities or landscapes; watch and read those. Be aware of media and images on the news that could create tension or stress in the body. “

For more helpful tips, read Cultivating an At-Home Spa.

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