In the quest for emotional space, nothing beats the sanctuary of a carefully crafted beauty routine says writer Katy Young
‘Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty,’ Albert Einstein once wrote. Expanding our minds and finding sanctuary in the great outdoors is a familiar concept for all of us. But in 2020, with our front doors now closed and wild space shut off to so many of us, we suddenly had to look for new ways to find inner peace which had to start, well, within.
Thank goodness then that the biggest space of all is of course that which we can create in our minds, as extolled by Buddha and his meditative teachings. ‘If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is key,’ he taught us. What bliss then to have the ability to find a comfy cushion, close our eyes and calm our minds, just like that. Not so much however for those, like me, for whom the sheer thought of considered rumination, let alone sitting cross-legged for more than five minutes, is enough to send our mood into a tailspin. For people like us, space doth not the meditation make.
For people like us, there is the beauty ritual. Ahhhhhh, the sweet spot between doing absolutely nothing and something, where the sanctuary of a spa bed with its plump pillows, a bath filled with mood altering essential oils, or a massage by candlelight, trips us into that restful state, where suddenly without any effort, we find the same clarity of thought – a kind meditation if you will. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted; ‘Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.’
But it is not just about the big slow down that a beauty treatment brings, which of course it does, moreover it is the state of healing triggered by the power of touch. Experts refer to this as the parasympathetic phase, whereby the nervous system switches into its curative and relaxation role just as it does during experienced meditation – one easily recognise as that deeply cosseting stage just before we nod off. (And don’t worry if you do by the way, a good therapist takes that as the highest form of flattery, as she or he has skilfully entered your body into a deep therapeutic state, which has far less to do with lack of sleep and far more to do with your biological needs).
As woo woo as it sounds, there is science behind this theory; touch has been shown to release the hormone oxytocin, aka ‘The Love Drug’, as well as dopamine and serotonin, also responsible for dialling up our happy. Conversely, massage also reduces cortisol, our stress hormone. In a touch-deprived modern society like ours, where many scientists suspect we are suffering from the damaging psychological effects of ‘skin hunger’, is there any better excuse to book in for beauty?
Depending where you are on the Richter scale of holistic treatment enthusiasm, something a little more alternative might expand your mind further. The most stoic amongst us often find it far easier to let go, or god forbid ‘shed a tear’, when in the safe confines of a Chakra shifting, energy-clearing treatment. I have a good friend who books in for Chakra treatment to empty her otherwise locked up tear ducts regularly, so that she is left feeling much lighter and contented.
For the cynics amongst us who don’t think twice about booking in for a deep-tissue massage to release tight shoulders caused by tension and tiredness, ask yourself why this is any different? Because it isn’t; our body holds on all kinds of emotion beyond stress in our upper back, our muscles and surrounding tissue often shunting and freezing into a fixed state following shock, trauma, sadness and horror – which, thanks to muscle memory, we can’t easily let go of. It can later take a skilled therapist, those ones with ‘magic hands’, to tap into the deep tissue with an acupuncture needle, or perhaps some acupressure, to release that trauma for us, tears n’ all. (To save yourself an awkward phone call oh cynical one, what you want to look for is a therapist well practiced in ‘soma emotional release’ or SER as it is commonly known in the industry – ‘emotional detoxing’ to you and I.)
If you can’t find space in your diary, let alone your mind, for such deep cleansing, there are rituals we can practice at home for starters. Perhaps a little ‘third eye’ acupressure massage neatly mixed with your daily double cleanse? Using your middle fingers, press firmly between your brows just where your nose meets your forehead, holding for ten seconds and releasing. Repeat several times for feelings of calm – and when you get the hang of it, any signs of nervousness.
More simple still is the ‘practice’ of breathing. A friend refers to her weekly practice as her ‘appointment’ with herself, as if it were something essential that must be put in the diary, for the health of her mind and body. Often easier to get your whirring head round than meditation, thanks to a definite focus, breath work will also help shift old, stagnant energy which is stuck, while creating new mental space. Start with a daily five minute ‘box breathing’ exercise, gently inhaling in through your nose and down to your throat, lungs and belly to a count of four, holding for four and out through the mouth for four, perhaps repeating a mantra or word you like to distract you. Work up to 20 minutes a day as you begin to find peace in the practice.
Still to soon? Make it simpler still by running yourself a bath and lying back for ten minutes, preferably adding six drops of frankincense oil to promote a sense of grounding, peace and connectedness (in fact so multifaceted is this oil, aromatherapists famously say; ‘When in doubt get Frankie out’). While you might think you are simply washing, according to the studies you will also be lowering your blood pressure and signs of depression, whilst you will also be practicing the art of stillness, which unless we schedule it in, won’t happen.
In fact, even when the world does open itself up to us again, it is important to understand that wellbeing starts with conscious effort from within, often by giving our own body a little more time, and a lot more nurturing. As Buddha reminds us; ‘Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.’