In this time of self-love, self-care, and well-being, an increasing number of people are beginning to be more physically active, which is a wonderful and necessary pursuit for the mind, spirit, and body. One thing I have noticed though is that amidst all of this activity there is little emphasis placed on physical recuperation and its importance in any sport, including yoga. In this short article, I will share three different methods I use in addition to drinking water and eating well that help me to recover physically and maintain the physical system balanced so as to be fully present in every way. As always, if you experience a disorder that is persistent, speak with a medical or psychological professional (whether in the Western or Traditional systems) in order to assess and find a remedy for what ails you.
Go to bed!
I mention this first because it is the most important in our overstimulated urban environment. Now I am the first one to admit that I am a night crawler. As much as I make an effort to be in bed no later than midnight every evening - which is already quite late- I sometimes lose that battle because I really enjoy the quiet of my flat after a busy day of running through Paris. Nonetheless enough emphasis cannot be placed on the importance of getting a solid evenings slumber. According to Chris Gosier in his article about the mysteries of sleep, “While we slumber, the brain is tuning itself up to keep thoughts and memories flowing smoothly while also clearing out debris that could sow the seeds of disease. The brain tends to the rest of the body too, cueing a state of relaxation—shallow breathing, low blood pressure, slow heart rate—that helps restore us and prepare us for the day ahead.” When taken into account that sleep deprivation causes at the minimum grogginess, less presence of mind, and irritability as well as has links to serious conditions such as depression, anxiety, hypertension, obesity, and cancer, making the effort to turn off the screens (phone, television, computer) an hour before bed so that the body can go into a restful state seems like a small sacrifice. Of course there are other sleep inhibitors, start with basics first. Go to bed before you are passing out tired. Deep breathing is one way to signal your brain that it is time to relax and drop down into a sleep inducing state. An evening meditation can also help prepare the mind and body for a restful evening. Again, not always easy to do but the effort should be made. If you are amongst the growing number of people who experience insomnia or another more serious sleep disorder, do not hesitate to speak to a professional as these conditions can and eventually will take their toll on your overall well-being. As stated above, sleep deprivation is a very real issue with serious consequences. Do the necessary work to rest well in order to be at your best.
It was only recently that I realized that getting regular adjustments and body work is not a given to anyone but in particular yoga practitioners. Whenever I mention that I am going to see my physical therapist (kinésétherapeute) for prevention and not an injury, people are always surprised. As I have stated in previous posts, I come from the school of maintenance is better than repair. Maintenance may take time but it is a lot less time-consuming and taxing than having to repair a strained muscle, tendinitis, or a shoulder injury. Yoga practitioners especially forget that asana is a physical practice that solicits every part of your body in repetitive movements that, if not tended to on a regular basis, can go from being sweet spots to sore ones. This goes for Crossfit, dance, running and all other physically demanding disciplines. We are not symmetric beings and can create more imbalance when we do not regularly go in for “tune ups”. Why wait until you are uneasy in order to pay attention to the very thing we spend our time dropping down into? See your kiné, see your osteopath, go get that massage...do what you need in order for your physical body to remain in good working order. It’s just logical.
Warm Baths & Foot Soaks
In my last post about how I use essential oils in my yoga practice, I mentioned that I grew up in a household where we used primarily natural alternatives to keep our health optimal. One of the many methods that my grandmother would relax her muscles after a long day of working on her feet when she was a barber was to soak her feet in Epsom Salt on occasion. Epsom Salt is definitely not something well known here in France but very popular in England and North America. Makes sense as Epsom Salt comes from a town in England, Epsom, where it was discovered as a naturally occuring compound composed of magnesium-and-sulfate in the 17th or 18th century. It has been employed ever since for a myriad of uses from internal detoxification, soothing of arthritis and hemorrhoids, and most commonly muscle relaxation which is how I use it primarily thanks to my Grandma’s influence.
During my time living in Brooklyn, taking an Epsom Salt bath or at least soaking my feet every two weeks, once a week if I was particularly active, became a staple maintenance routine along with regular sauna and steam room visits. Soaking in a hot bath relaxes the muscles on its own, adding Epsom Salt just takes it over the top. In my personal experience, using this mineral after exertion helps me to have less muscle aches the next day and facilitates better recovery time. As of the last two years, I will oft-times use Epsom Salt along with either Pink Himalayan Salt or Dead Sea Salt to get a real kick.
Himalayan Salt has magnesium and sulfate plus 82 other minerals and trace elements, including sodium and chloride. Unlike Epsom Salt, Himalayan Salt is an actual salt that is found primarily in the Punjab region of Pakistan. Although there are no scientific studies proving the benefits of using Himalayan salt as table salt or as a soak, the thousands of years of its use and testimonials prove differently. Heck, maybe it is the placebo effect but it works for me.
Anecdotal evidence has found that Himalayan Salt helps to relax and provide relief to cramped muscles and muscle aches, due to the presence of calcium and other trace minerals. It can also help strengthen bones and soothes connective tissues that may contribute to body soreness by reducing inflammation. It acts as a useful therapy for eczema, acne and psoriasis sufferers, improves hydration and energy, and helps to stave germs and viruses as well as improve circulation and sleep. I have to say it does induce a deep sleep state for me...drooling and the whole bit!
As you may know already, Dead Sea Salt is sourced from a 15 million year-old lake bordered by Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. Although incredibly rich in 20 minerals, the abundant presence of magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium, and sulfates make this salt one that has been lauded since antiquity for its health benefits. Deeply hydrating, exfoliating, Dead Sea Salt cleanses, disinfects, and has been shown in studies to heal chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis treatment. For sports enthusiasts, it has been found to relieve muscle cramps, soreness, and connective tissue discomfort.
In addition to using my daughters homemade organic and natural sugar scrubs, I also use her Dead Sea Salt Scrub which she has just commercialized as it is was until recently still it’s home testing phase. Me being the sole tester because that’s what moms do. So if you see me with an extra arm one day, don’t worry. I’m probably just testing one of my child’s products!
Deep Blue, dōTERRA Essential Oil Blend
Of course this article would not be complete if I did not mention how I integrate oils into my maintenance routine. In my foot baths, I have a tendency to use dōTERRA Melaleuca (Tea Tree) and Peppermint. Tea Tree for the antifungal properties as I am oft barefoot and am not at all interested in catching any foot cooties, Peppermint for its fresh smell and the cooling and relaxation properties. In my baths and as a all over body rub, I regularly use Deep Blue which is a incredibly effective proprietary blend of Wintergreen, Camphor, Peppermint, Ylang Ylang, Helichrysum, Blue Tansy, German Chamomile, and Osmanthus essential oils mixed in fractionated coconut oil. Heaven in a bottle...just writing about it makes me want to go put some on!
Having previously used an essential oil based version of Tiger Balm to prepare the muscles prior to an intense practice or to recover from one, this blend goes further in that it has a really pleasant smell (I personally love the smell of camphor and wintergreen) and penetrates deep into the muscle and tissue to invigorate the muscles and help relieve the aches with its cooling effect. I will drop three to four drops in the tub or just mix some in a bottle with sweet almond oil to apply after the bath so I can float to sleep on my cloud of camphor and wintergreen.
On a serious note, as with most health products, misuse and overuse can lead to negative side effects. Please consult your physician if you have doubts about using any of these products and/or research if you may have any contraindications to their use, especially if you are using antibiotics/prescription medicine. Moderation is a good guide and a 20-30 minute soak once a week or once every two weeks is sufficient to have the benefits in general.
Be well and see you soon on the mat!
life, peace, and prosperity through movement.