Growing wellness. Healing with HeART.

Growing Wellness. Healing with HeART.
Exploring Aromatherapy, Earth Medicine, and the creative process of Art Journaling as paths to healing and wholeness.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Embracing Winter Stillness

As the wheel of the year turns towards the Winter season for us here in the Northern Hemisphere, many may consider how to best stay positive and energized through this season of short days. This is particularly true where I live in the shadow of a temperate rainforest, as the Autumn and Winter seasons here are characterized by months of dark cloudy skies and rain. 

For many, the Winter season is a difficult one to manage emotionally.  Many who are prone to depression suffer more through this season, and for these souls it is important to seek professional medical or psychological support. What I would like to share here is not a replacement for medical treatment, but rather an alternative way to approach this season of stillness. 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Our predecessors on this Earth lived with the cycles of Nature and marked the change in seasons in a number of ways. In Earth Medicine we follow the teachings of Indigenous and Earth-based cultures. In my studies, we learned of the Medicine Wheel which is a way of living for many cultures. On the wheel that I learned, Winter sits in the direction of the North and its themes are those of stillness, wisdom, introspection, and renewal. It is a time of quiet solitude where we have the opportunity to go inward and  replenish our 'inner soil" in preparation for the light and growth of Spring. The North is held by Buffalo and Elk, and by the element of Earth.  It is the place on the Wheel where we feel most connected with our Ancestors. 

Ancient Celtic traditions speak of the Wheel of the Year, with similar connections to natural cycles and elements.  This Wheel is marked by 8 celebrations throughout the year as the Wheel turns and the seasons shift, including the Sabbat (main festival) of the Winter Solstice or Yule. In the Northern hemisphere this is the darkest time of the year, and for ancient people it was challenging not only to stay warm and fed, but also to remain faithful to the belief that the light would return. This was held as a time to create closure of the past year and to mark the shift into the new. Traditionally, this Winter Solstice marked the beginning of the Yuletide and the origin of the 12 Nights of Christmas (originally connected to Yule, not Christmas).  These sacred nights were considered time to have deeper awareness of our intuition and as such, these nights were known for dreams, visions, and other insights of the coming year.  

What a change from the celebratory state of our present society! Is it any wonder many feel unsettled during this time?  In losing our connection to our traditional and natural connection to the seasonal shift, we have created a state of imbalance.  

So how can we create a new sense of balance that may better serve us through the busy holiday season of our modern times? For me, this is a matter of allowing myself some time to slow down, time to breathe, and time to celebrate "being" rather than "doing".  And yes, this takes some planning.  While it seems contradictory with so many tasks and commitments, my meditation and journal practice have become more vital this season.  Even 20 minutes spent in stillness and/or journaling can have a profound effect on my days and ultimately increase productivity! The other important piece for me has been getting outside and breathing fresh air. Stepping into my garden to breathe under the trees, even if only for a few minutes as I gather garden herbs, serves to connect me with something greater than myself and has an immediate grounding and calming effect.  

Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

This season, I invite you to create some space for yourself to explore this ancient wisdom of seasonal living.  Some ideas for creating moments of stillness include: 
  • being present as you wait for baking to finish- breathe in the aroma, observe the transformation from uncooked to golden goodness
  • pausing between tasks to re-centre; go outside for a breath of air if you can
  • creating a ritual to mark the Solstice - make time to take inventory of the past year, focussing on those things that you would like to leave behind (closing the old year) and those you'd like to carry forward (welcoming the new year)
  • connecting to your soul by connecting to Nature.
After the holidays have passed and the New Year is upon us, I invite you to continue this practice of creating stillness in your day. Winter is naturally a dormant time in Nature; the trees are bare and the ground is resting waiting for the return of the sun. While much restoration is happening in the darkness within the trees and the soil, most of it remains unseen by us. Rather than fighting the natural season by trying to stay busy and energized, work with this seasonal energy to slow down in order to renew yourself. In honouring this season of stillness by going within ourselves, it serves to restore our own vital energy and create a strong foundation for the coming months. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Essential Oils for lung support

My province of British Columbia is currently in a state of emergency with thousands of hectares of forest burning across the province.  While this in itself is devastating to people and wildlife, the fires have also resulted in very poor air quality across the province, even in the normally clear Lower Mainland.  

Photo from NASA showing the smoke over BC

In an effort to help family members ease their breathing through this smoky air, I created a blend to support lung health.  It occurred to me that it would be helpful to share some general information on how essential oils can help to support our lungs and alleviate the damage that the smoke can cause to our bodies.  

We can see the smoke in the air and even feel it in our eyes, and we may not be aware of the damage that this air can have on our respiratory tract.  Inhaling smoke can damage the tissues of the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs.  Some of the components of the smoke could even be toxic to these tissues.  This damage is in addition to the smoke decreasing the efficiency of our respiratory system in bringing oxygen into the body. 

There are a number of essential oils that help to both clear and soothe our lungs, and provide support to the respiratory system. Combining a few of these into a personal inhaler to breathe in throughout the day is a great way to keep your lungs healthy and to help counteract any damage that inhaling smoke might do. 

In choosing essential oils for this, we want to look at those with anti-inflammatory (reduces swelling), antispasmodic (calms coughing spasms), decongestant (helps to open breathing passages), expectorant (aids in removing phlegm), mucolytic (thins mucus), and balsamic (heals and soothes, and loosens phlegm) properties, and we are fortunate to have many beautiful essential oils to choose from! 
Some to consider would include:
  • Eucalyptus - anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties
  • Helichrysum - anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, expectorant, mucolytic properties
  • Roman Chamomile - anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, calming properties
  • Cypress - antispasmodic, decongestant, mucolytic properties
  • Myrtle - decongestant, balsamic, expectorant properties
  • Cedarwood - expectorant and mucolytic properties
  • Frankincense - anti-inflammatory, expectorant properties; soothing and helps to deepen breathing
  • Myrrh - anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties; soothing
  • Lavender - antispasmodic properties; calming and soothing; helps ease stress  

As always, it is important to consider the contraindications of any and all essential oils used, taking into consideration allergies as well as any underlying medical conditions (particularly asthma in this case).  If you are uncertain which oils are safe for you to use, please consult with a professional aromatherapist (you can contact me here).

We are seeing a close to record-breaking level of devastation this fire season, and I am thinking of those directly affected and am grateful to those who are committed to fighting these massive wildfires. 

*With thanks to my instructor Bev Hawkins at West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy whose writing and teaching informed and supported my inspiration in writing this.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Enriching life through Ritual

Ritual is defined as "a set of actions or words performed in a certain way" by the Cambridge Dictionary, but I see it as more than that.  I see ritual as a way to make an ordinary day extra-ordinary; a way to bring a spiritual and sacred intention into everyday activities; and a way to surrender oneself to the magic of the Divine.
Ritual can be simple or complex, and can be personalized in many ways; all it takes is desire, intention, and regular practice.  
I have been working with ritual more regularly, and have found that these three practices in particular have brought me a sense of increased passion and productivity:

Begin and end the day with stillness
How often do you reach for your phone as soon as you wake up?  Is this necessary, or more of an automatic habit?  What if you could create a mindful habit and set your intention for how you would like to progress through your day?  Simply begin your day with stillness.  For me this means sitting with my morning tea, lighting a candle, focussing on my breathing, and journaling.  You may choose any of these or include mediation and/or yoga; any activity that brings you into an awareness of your body.  I have found that doing this every morning creates a sacred space where I can acknowledge how I am feeling and any thoughts that may be emerging, and also helps me to consciously set my intention for my day. 
The end of day is similar; I end with quiet time which includes a 'bullet-style' journal of gratitude and joy experienced and celebrated in the day, as well as a spray of one of my Aromatherapy blends. You could even set the intention of having a restful and restorative sleep at this time!

Connect with Nature

I believe that Nature is a powerful healer, and that when we take even a few minutes to go outside and be in her presence, we are connecting to a strong and infinite source of energy.  We all have our favourite places in Nature that fill us with peace, wonder, and joy; for some it is by the ocean, for some in the mountains; for me it is in trees. So often we say that we are too busy, but it is precisely those times that we can most benefit from breathing and finding our centre in Nature.  Try this the next time you are feeling stressed or uncertain...take a few minutes and go outside.  Breathe deeply, push down and feel your feet in contact with the Earth, look around and see what is all around you, smell, listen...engage your senses.  I bet you will find that you feel a renewed sense of calm and energy within you when you return to your activities.  Taking time each day to mindfully connect with Nature can greatly improve your mood and your day. 

Create a Sacred Space for working
While you may not have control over every aspect of your workspace, being intentional about how you want to feel while you are working, and arranging your space to support that, can make a big difference to your day and your productivity. 
I once fell into the trap of having a nice space for playing and creating, but a cluttered and disorganized work space which  did not support me with my work and was actually sabotaging my desire to move forward with my business.  I realized that while I regularly create a sacred container and set an intention for my creative processes, doing this for my business tasks was just as important!  What if I could set an intention for working through my bookkeeping with ease or even joy?  What if by something as simple as lighting a candle (of course keeping it away from my papers!), I could create a feeling of sacredness and magic that would make me more likely to do this task (one that I really dislike) and complete it in a timely way?  Who would have known that even bookkeeping could become a sacred ritual for me!

Of course, there are days when life happens and when I don't manage to practice these rituals, and while not ideal, it is okay.  I have learned that it is important to give myself the grace to know that I did enough and that tomorrow is a new day.  
Will inviting ritual into your day enrich your life as it has done mine?  I invite you to try it and see, and let me know how ritual changes your life!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Being Brave

I recently returned from a gathering called the Brave Girl Symposium in Boise, Idaho. This was a loved-filled inspiration-growing spirit-fest of over 500 beautiful souls. 
Brave Girls Club is an organization dear to my heart as the work that I've done through them has literally saved my life.  When I thanked Melody Ross and Kathy Wilkins, the sisters who founded the organization, and told them that they and their work saved my life, they both said, " *You* saved your life"...just an indication of the love and grace that goes into everything about Brave Girls. 

So, how does an introverted, intuitive empath manage to leave her house to travel alone across an International border and two states to gather in a room with 500 women?  It wasn't an easy decision.  I was filled with doubt and anxiety and thoughts of everything that could go wrong, and when my first flight was delayed and there was a chance that I might miss my connection, I nearly gave up.  But, the Universe had my back. I made my connection and arrived in Boise on time and at the same time as a flight from Portland, so I met a group of fellow Brave Girls at the airport.  Funny how the Universe conspires when we are on the right path! 

What ensued was an incredibly powerful and life-changing experience.  I sat with complete strangers and we had the most beautiful and deep discussions about life and love and what it means to be a woman in our crazy world. We sang, we danced, we hugged, we laughed, and we cried -  together - surrounded and supported by our love-bubble.  Amazingly a number of us found each other in the crowd, repeatedly.  We formed friendships that are bound by a mutual love of life and learning and wanting to be true to ourselves, in spite of the pressures of the world.  We have found a sisterhood and a tribe to carry us forward in this work and support us in sharing all that we are with our worlds.  

There is an army coming, and we are Brave Love-Warriors! 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Fresh-smelling compost

If you are like us and have a little container for organic waste in your kitchen, then you may be troubled by some odour from that compost. We use a stainless steel bucket and a biodegradable bag, but we still find that some food waste causes odour. I was playing around with some ideas for trying to neutralize the odours and came up with these cute little baking soda and essential oil pucks.  

I used inexpensive ice cube trays from the dollar store (since I am not using these for food, I am not as concerned about the quality of the plastic).  If you can find silicone trays, I think they would be ideal as it would be easy to remove the pucks, but the ones I have are solid on the sides and have silicone on the bottom and they worked just fine. I will now keep these exclusively for cleaning products and will not use them for food!

Baking Soda Fresh-Pucks 

*Safety notes* 

  • Be sure to wear rubber, latex, or vinyl gloves to avoid getting concentrated essential oils on your skin.  This is especially important if you are using citrus oils.
  • When making cleaning preparations with baking soda and essential oils I prefer to use glass or ceramic bowls to avoid reactivity with metal, and plastic or wooden spoons (craft or popsicle sticks work).  Plastic bowls can absorb the essential oils, making them unsuitable for food use afterwards!

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1 tsp essential oil (about 100 drops) - I used 60 drops Lavender and 40 drops Lemon
  • 1/3 cup distilled water
  • Combine the baking soda and essential oils and stir until they are well mixed and no big clumps remain.
  • Gradually add the water, mixing as you add.  Stir until the mixture forms lumps that stay together.  If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit more water.  It is important that the clumps are not falling apart at this stage or your finished pucks will not stay together. 
  •  Scoop out the mixture and press into ice cube tray.  Allow to dry for 24-48 hours.
  • Once dry, pop the pucks out of the tray and store in an airtight container.  
  • Place one puck in the bottom of your organic waste bucket, under the biodegradable bag, and replace when you change the bag and empty the bucket.
  • Once used in the bucket, the puck can be put into the sink garbage disposal to freshen it!
  • These would also be suitable for putting in your kitchen garbage pail, either taped to the lid, or in the bottom under the bag.
  • Other essential oils to try: Tea Tree, Palmarosa, Orange, Eucalyptus, or Lemongrass.
I hope that you have fun making these and enjoy fresh-smelling compost buckets!

Monday, 25 April 2016

Aromatherapy: What's right for you?

It is easy to find information online regarding aromatherapy and  essential oils, but unfortunately not all of it is good, and some of it is downright dangerous! I have seen numerous posts and memes with clearly uneducated directions for use ranging from applying undiluted essential oils to young children to using essential oils that are just not safe in untrained hands.  We all want to use more natural remedies to improve our health, and the suggestions look impressively easy and healthy, so how do you know what is safe and what is not?

To begin with, consider the source of the information you see online: is it from a trained professional aromatherapist, or is it from a sales representative of a company mainly concerned with selling?  This is a vital distinction.  A professional aromatherapist has a minimum of 200 hours of training (many accredited schools offer 400+ hour programs), and will have a professional designation indicating their training.  Designations vary by country, but checking a professional aromatherapy organization such as the NAHA, AIA, BCAPA, or CFA can help you find a trained and licensed aromatherapist in your area. In the US, there are professional designations which include "Certified Aromatherapist" and "Clinical Aromatherapist".  In Canada, we carry the designation of "Registered Aromatherapist and Essential Oil Therapist" (abbreviated RA, EOT). In addition to the minimum level of training, we are required to maintain ethical standards of conduct, carry professional liability insurance, as well as have ongoing professional development education.  The primary concern for a Professional Aromatherapist is the wellbeing of his/her clients; sales are secondary. 
The next thing to do when seeing information online is to ask questions.  A professional aromatherapist will usually answer questions about information seen online.  While they are not able to provide help with individual issues without a full and private consultation, they are usually happy to provide general information as to whether something seen online is in fact true (particularly if it is something they themselves have written). 

So, what does a professional Aromatherapist do?  There are numerous applications of aromatherapy education, ranging from retail and spa environments to private practice. Generally, an Aromatherapist who has a private practice will create essential oil blends specifically for the client.  These blends are created after a private consultation where complete medical history, issues, and goals are discussed.  Being a holistic health practice, Aromatherapy takes into consideration all aspects of an individual's life and seeks the underlying cause of health issues rather than trying to 'fix' the symptoms. Holistic healing is based on the premise that bringing the body into balance will lead to wellness, and that given natural support the body has the ability to find its balanced state of wellness. A full consultation gives us the opportunity to really understand the issues and lifestyle of the client and is the key to providing safe and effective support. An aromatherapist will take the information from the consultation and create a personalized essential oil blend and application plan for the client to follow.  Some Aromatherapists provide massage or other healing modalities, while some provide the blend for the client to use at home, along with ongoing support. 

The question now is why would you consult an Aromatherapist when you can go into a store and buy essential oils off the shelf?   While it is true that you can walk into a health food store or specialty shop and buy essential oils, do you really know what to do with them?  Do you know which essential oils to choose?  Do you know which are safe for you, and for your family?  Do you know how to apply them? How to dilute them? Any contraindications or precautions that apply to these essential oils?  Chances are that the sales associates in the stores don't either!  You might be thinking that "essential oils are natural, so they are safe", but natural products have the potential to do harm just as easily as chemical products.  Think of Opium - a natural product, but one we know is not something that we should use without great care! 

While it is tempting to follow that nice-looking and perhaps well-meaning online advice, our health is vital and must be protected. Investing the time and money in consulting a professional is a wise investment in yourself and your health, and one that will pay dividends for a lifetime.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Storing Essential Oils

As the cool weather surrounds us, we seem to turn more towards using essential oils in our homes, and questions often arise as to how to store these precious (and often expensive) oils.  

In order to maximize the life of your essential oils, they need to be stored much like wine; away from light and heat. When you buy essential oils they should be in dark glass bottles to protect their chemical constituents and we want to keep them in these bottles.  Store your oils in a dark place, out of direct sunlight, and not in the bathroom where the heat of the shower could affect your oil's quality.  A cupboard or a shelf in your bedroom closet is ideal.  

Most essential oils that are stored properly can last a year or two, depending on how often they are opened and how much air is in the bottle. If you have a large but half-full bottle of essential oil, it would be wise to pour the oil into smaller bottles to minimize the air content in the bottle; less contact with air helps the oil to last longer.  

Essential oils rich in monoterpenes, such as citrus and evergreen oils, can oxidize quickly and are best stored in the refrigerator to maximize their longevity.  They should be used within a year, so it is best to buy these oils in small quantities. Interestingly, some of the heavier essential oils like patchouli and sandalwood actually improve with age!  

You can tell that your essential oil is past its best if the colour or scent changes, or if the oil thickens. If you notice a change in your essential oil and think it had gone bad, it is still useful for cleaning purposes. For example, Pine and Lemon essential oils are not advised to be used on the skin once they have oxidized, but they still retain their germ-fighting properties and smell fresh enough to use for cleaning!  (Remember that when cleaning you should always wear gloves, even if using natural products like essential oils.)

The best way to keep your essential oils fresh is to use them!  Using your oils and keeping them stored appropriately will maximize both your investment, and your enjoyment!