Japanese Holistic Face Massage – More than a facial, by Rosemary Patten

Patten, RosemaryThe face reflects who we are, reflects our personality, state of health and our spiritual balance. We pick up a lot of information about a person just by looking at their face. To the ancient Japanese and Chinese, a beautiful face was the ultimate prize as it was a reflection of optimum health and of course with good health comes a long life. Longevity achieved through preventing ill health was, and still is, the aim of traditional Chinese medicine.

Japanese face massage became popular in the Far East during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially among the Geisha, for its health-giving benefits and its ability to reflect inner calm on their porcelain-like faces. Not much was known of this unique massage in the West until after the Second World War but today it is practised all over the world.

Many facial routines focus on cleansing and may include a basic massage designed to relax the recipient. The Japanese face massage is much more than a massage or facial. From the very beginning of the routine, the recipient experiences a glorious sense of release within the first two movements as the flowing but firm touch sets the scene for an experience of peaceful tranquillity and healing. There is a feeling of liberation as the neck and shoulders are massaged, lifting tension and allowing calm to descend. These opening movements pave the way for the deep healing experience you get from the Japanese face massage.

Unlike basic facial routines, the techniques in Japanese face massage focus deeper to achieve more than a cleanse, tone and moisturise. Acupressure points around the face and head are gently manipulated and the meridians are traced to access the body’s bio-energetic flow to bring balance.

Patten_Japanese-Holist_978-1-84819-122-8_colourjpg-webThe massage pushes oxygenated blood and nutrients to penetrate the deep layers of the skin to nourish and renew cells. The gentle flowing effleurage movements are not only relaxing but also encourage the release of cellular matter and the removal of de-oxygenated blood via the lymphatic system. The effect is instantly visible as circulation to the face is improved, bringing a lustre to the skin which manifests as an inner glow of calm and vitality. Fine lines are diminished and the contours of the face become more defined, especially noticeable around the eye area.

All bio-energy pathways or meridians either start or finish in the face. As the acupressure points are accessed there is a deep sense of comfort and nurturing. Additionally, the sequence of the movements and the tracing of the pathways or meridians encourages Ki (universal life force energy) to flow where it is most needed. Ki energy is responsible for correctly functioning bodily fluids and the smooth running of body organs such as the kidneys and the liver.

There has been a myriad of research on the effects of stimulating the acupressure points over the past fifty years as Western scientists slowly realise what Eastern medicine has known for over 4,000 years. Acupressure points on the face react instantly to touch, releasing endorphins and bypassing the central nervous system due to the close proximity to the brain. There is a prevailing sense of well-being when the hormones are stimulated. The autonomic nervous system is calmed and peace descends as healing on all levels takes place. The Japanese face massage is truly holistic as it not only improves the appearance of the face but also helps the body function better. A truly wonderful combination of benefits that leaves the recipient feeling mentally and emotionally revived.


Rosemary Patten is a naturally gifted holistic therapist with over 23 years’ experience in helping people feel better. She began her professional career within the NHS, in hospital settings, where her extensive contact with those in rehabilitation gave her an invaluable grounding in understanding the nature of disease. A master Reiki practitioner, aromatherapist, reflexologist, qualified beautician and in many other holistic therapies, Rosemary founded Rose Health and Well Being Natural Health Centre, which has now evolved into Equinox Rose. This is a combined holistic services consultancy delivering various natural therapy workshops, consultations on business development for therapists and a clinic specialising in energetic healing. Japanese Holistic Face Massage is among the range of therapies Rosemary uses to help her many clients make a breakthrough physically or emotionally. Rosemary believes passionately in a holistic approach to diagnosing root causes of illness, especially the impact of stagnant energetic flow within and around the body. She lives in Kent, UK.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved


Relieve tension headaches with these facial massage techniques – extract from Vital Face by Leena Kiviluoma

Kiviluoma_Vital-Face-Faci_978-1-84819-166-2_colourjpg-webTaken from Vital Face, this selection of quick and easy exercises designed for the forehead will enable you to remove stiffness, eliminate tension headaches, and smooth out facial lines.

Click here to read the extract.

Feel the difference? Read the book for more exercises to relax and rejuvenate the whole face, head and neck.

‘Leena Kiviluoma has done trailblazing work in developing her ingenious, easy-to-use facial muscle care technique. I use her book when I teach anatomy, physiology and skin care to trainee beauty care professionals. With the help of this book clients of beauty therapists can also practice effective self-applied beauty routines at home which will help to maintain a youthful appearance.’

 -Anna-Liisa Halsas-Lehto, Master of Health Science, Vocational Teacher, Beauty Therapist

‘I tried this programme developed by Leena Kiviluoma. Both the relaxedness and the capacity of my jaw increased noticeably.’

-Fitness and Health Magazine, Finnish edition

Leena Kiviluoma is a physiotherapist working as a teacher and consultant in the fitness, beauty, health and rehabilitation industries. Her clients have included the Finnish National Opera, the Finnish National Theatre, The Parliament of Finland and many other companies, and she has contributed to numerous articles on fitness and beauty in magazines and newspapers. She began to develop her medical-based, facial muscle care technique and therapy in 1990 and her two books on the subject have been translated into many languages. She lives in Helsinki, Finland.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

Core Strength, or Core Resilience? An article by Noah Karrasch

Picture of Noah KarraschIda Rolf, founder of Structural Integration work, and the grandmother to many of us in bodywork fields, is reputed to have said ‘Strength isn’t strength; flexibility is strength.’ I find this to be a profound and simple truth, and one I’ve tried to follow in my nearly 30 year bodywork career. I believe this thought holds true across disciplines, models, and techniques. It makes sense to me that any time we focus on shortening, tightening, and strengthening, we’re also creating a tension and brittleness. In other words, when we focus on creating strength and its attendant tensions, we’re actually creating a tighter system that’s more prone to injury.

Recent research has shown that static stretches actually produce more injuries than they prevent; most athletes have realized that gentle moving stretches are more effective. Yogis have known this truth for years. Yet many Pilates instructors, for example, still toss around the term ‘core strength’, and many people have strength as their goal when stretching and training. They believe the ultimate goal is to create a tension and strength at the core line, when actually, a softness and resilience suggests a body that’s more ready to move in any direction, quickly and enthusiastically. I believe it was Alan Watts who coined the term ‘dynamic instability’. I like that term, which suggests to me that each of us has the ability to operate from a resilient core that can quickly move into any direction we’d like, more quickly and more happily.  I’d like to invite everyone to revisit their goals and work to achieve ‘core resiliency’ instead of this core strength.

Let me get on my personal bandwagon for a moment also, to further challenge us all:  many of us have got into our ‘helping’ professions because the specific technique we practice has helped us tremendously in our own bodies and with our own problems. This makes perfect sense; why shouldn’t we decide to share with others what works well for us? However, I’ve seen plenty of yoga instructors with chronic conditions they can’t seem to work through; I’ve seen Pilates instructors who have strong cores, no flexibility, and lots of pain, and I’ve seen deep tissue bodyworkers who clearly don’t know how to accept deep touch. If you are going to share expertise with others, please, please spend time working to create a greater awareness in your own body, and remember to let your journey be an exploration instead of an achievement. Turning a task into an achievement sets one up for being a failure or a success instead of an individual on a journey; turning a task into an exploration ensures that one can take what one is given without a need for turning up the pressure on self to achieve more. Be satisfied with your progress and your process, instead of believing that you must always do and be more! When we are satisfied with our own progress, we don’t have to push our clients as hard to achieve.

Karrasch_Freeing-Emotion_978-1-84819-085-6_colourjpg-webCurrently I’m quite interested in the polyvagal theory, coming to us from PhD Stephen Porges from Illinois, USA.  His theory is that the vagus nerve, which initiates in the brain stem and travels deeply through the front of the body, is both a controller of relaxation response in most of us, but also is part of the governing mechanism for the adrenal system of the body.  His polyvagal term comes from the idea that most of us accept the concept of ‘fight-or-flight’ response from the adrenals, and that the vagus controls this response.  He postulates, however, that there is a second, older system in the vagus nerve that is what he calls the ‘play dead’ mechanism. We might also call this the ‘freeze’ response. In other words, like many other, more primitive animals, we may have a secondary, older vagal system that encourages us to numb out, play dead, freeze or in some way dissociate from our bodymindcores when things aren’t going our way.

John Pierrakos, founder of CORE Energetics, gives us another interesting model when he suggests we are three layered beings. His CORE is the ‘center of right energy’. The second layer of the bodymindcore in CORE Energetics is the body, and the third layer is the environment. It’s Pierrakos’ contention that too many of us are using our bodies to protect our cores from our environment. Take a moment to consider this model—can you see how the softening and resilience of the core created by softening the body can bring any body to a place of greater peace, flexibility, and joy in living?

I believe I witness Porges’ ‘play dead’ response more and more, now that I’m looking for it—either in someone who chatters incessantly on the therapy couch, who stops breathing, who tolerates unbelievable amounts of pain, or even who falls asleep.  I believe far too many bodyworkers (and physios, and psychotherapists!) are operating from a slightly frozen place in themselves. How can they help clients to find and resolve core issues, when in actuality, they’re still interested in tightening and strengthening cores? How can one find and resolve the core issues if one is defended at the sleeve and trying to create strength at the core? We must fearlessly, yet enthusiastically, look to soften the blocks that begin at the sleeve, access and soften the core, and learn to be new animals coming from a new outlook of dynamic instability.

And that which we want for our clients, we must first challenge ourselves to find. The language gets in the way: we don’t have to achieve anything. We don’t have to strengthen anything. We don’t even have to change anything, except our attitudes.

Noah Karrasch trained as a rolfer in 1986 and has over the years developed his own style of work, called CORE® Fascial Release Bodywork.  Located primarily in Springfield, Missouri, he also visits the UK twice yearly to teach and work.  His two books are Meet Your Body geared toward helping clients find this core resilience, and Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release which is primarily meant to share his theories of health and well-being with practitioners.  Find him on the web at www.noahkarrasch.com.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved



We’re not the healer – by Noah Karrasch

Picture of Noah KarraschI’ve long been troubled by the use of the word ‘healer’… it seems too many practitioners want to claim this title for themselves. First, I believe there’s a higher power, call it what you will, that truly does the healing. Second, I believe it’s got to be a decision from the client or wounded or ill person to be healed. Hopefully the practitioner will help that wounded or ill person to find healing, whatever it looks like for them. But to deliver healing and believe it’s coming from within one’s own ‘power’ or ‘knowledge’ seems incredibly egoic to me.

Emmett Hutchins told us long ago that Ida Rolf always marked her occupation as “Posture Teacher” in her IRS forms. She also made us realize that we are not the therapists as Rolfers; gravity was/is the therapist and we are the educator, invoker, or facilitator that hopefully helps the client find that gravitational line and adhere more closely to it and express more fully from it. The basis of Rolfing as she taught it was the idea that we didn’t fix symptoms on clients; we helped get them right in gravity and hopefully the symptoms fixed themselves. While I allow myself to look at and try to assuage symptoms in my work, I’m still more interested in helping that client become even more of themself; that’s the healing I’m able to offer.

Recent studies coming from Harvard Medical School are beginning to examine not only the role of placebo, but the effect of telling the client/patient that the treatment being given is placebo. Interestingly, even people who are told their treatment is a sham are getting better. What’s that about?

I believe it’s because the first step to ‘healing’ anyone is to help them realize that they are worthy of happiness. If we can sit with a client in a non-judgmental fashion and let them see that we acknowledge their pain, they feel the strength of that offered hand… it’s just easier to be in pain when someone is there and lets you know they feel your pain. And if the pain is acknowledged, it’s easier to let it go… what we resist, persists.

So, even more importantly, have we as facilitators of health taken the time to look deeply and fearlessly at our own pains? Or are we the kind of therapist who busily ‘fixes’ others without ever looking at our own situations, our own fears, our own weaknesses? To me a true ‘healer’ is someone who has committed to doing their own work first so that they can non-judgmentally sit with the client/patient, truly listen and create space for that person to express the pain, grief, shame, and guilt and get through it and on with their life. That’s healing, and that’s what I hope to achieve when I endeavor to help others ‘heal’ themselves.

Noah Karrasch is a certified Rolfer and licensed massage therapist, and holds a teaching degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia. He teaches core bodywork skills throughout the midwest and also works with the Wren Clinic in East London. Noah lives and works in Springfield, Missouri. For more on his work please visit his website:  http://noahkarrasch.com/

First steps in promoting hair regrowth, for anyone affected by Alopecia and other hair-loss problems – with Vera Peiffer

Vera PeifferWhen your hair is falling out, you are not just having a problem with your hair, but also something else in your body, no matter whether you have other symptoms or not. As I’m explaining in my book Regrowing Hair Naturally, there is a reason why your hair is falling out. This reason is some form of toxicity.


Water and hair loss

Toxicity in your body makes your body too acidic. While some acidity is very important for body processes to function correctly, over-acidity is a problem and can lead to hair loss. If you then also don’t drink any water during the day, the acidity stays in the body undiluted and this is where damage occurs.

If you are worried about your hair at the moment, it would obviously be important to find out which toxins are causing acidity in your body, but even if you don’t want to do this, at the very least start drinking good quality water. Increase your water intake every few days from 1 glass a day to 8 large glasses a day (approximately 2 litres a day). This helps dilute the acid in your body, no matter what has been causing the acid in the first place.
Drinking water is the first phase of detoxing. The second phase would be to take particular supplements (these are different for each person) which bind with the toxins and then take them safely out of the body. A hair sample test can establish exactly which supplements your body needs to carry out this conjugation phase of detox.

When you drink water, make sure the water is good quality. Filter it with a charcoal filter (Brita or similar) or have a water filter installed under your sink. If your water supply is fluoridised, I would suggest to drink bottled water as fluoride is not a great substance to have in your body. Don’t drink unfiltered tap water, no matter what your water company tells you. Chlorine in water needs to be filtered out, and your charcoal filter will do that for you.

Wheat and hair loss

Over 80% of my clients who have my hair/nail sample tests done have a problem with wheat. Some of them have a problem with all grains (rye, barley, oats etc).

Have a think about what you are eating for a typical breakfast, lunch and dinner. If your diet consists of muesli, sandwiches, pizza and pasta, this will have a major negative impact on your hair, even if you don’t have a wheat intolerance. What you need to eat is a little meat, plenty of vegetables and some carbs such as rice or potatoes. I know that this is inconvenient, especially for breakfast, but you are actually better off with bacon and eggs or an omlette for breakfast than with a muesli if you want to help your hair.

Foods you need to avoid are bread, pasta, pizza, biscuits, cakes, pasties and anything else that is made from wheat or gluten-free wheat. It is not enough if you change to gluten-free wheat as many people are not just intolerant to the gluten in the wheat but also to the rest of the grain.

Frequently Asked Questions: 


Can’t I have juice instead of water?

Juice has a lot of sugar in it which makes the body acidic, and too much acidity is bad for your hair. Drinking juice also dehydrates you. There is really no replacement for water.

I find it hard to drink water. If I do, I have to run to the loo too often

Start with drinking sips of water throughout the day. If you need to pee a lot it means that you are completely dehydrated and / or that you are drinking too much too quickly.


I find it very hard not to eat pasta, bread and cakes. Do I really have to give them up for my hair to grow better?

I know it’s hard to give up wheat. Wheat is actually quite addictive, but if you want your hair back, you will need to at least drastically reduce your wheat intake. Wheat and other grains can actually stop the body from detoxing because they produce mucus in the body.

Is it OK to have glutenfree bread instead of normal bread?

Yes, gluten free is much better, but even that type of bread does not contain the nutrients your hair needs to grow, so make sure you have proteins and vegetables most of the time.

 For more tips on hair regrowth, visit Vera Peiffer’s website: http://www.hairgrowthuk.co.uk/blog/ and read Regrowing Hair Naturally

More from Vera Peiffer

Principles of Hypnotherapy
What it is, how it works, and what it can do for you 

Vera Peiffer

This is an authoritative introduction to hypnotherapy explaining what it is, how it works, what its origins are, what to expect when being treated and how to find a reputable hypnotherapist. It also clarifies how hypnotherapy can help with mental and emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, phobias, confidence problems and unwanted habits.

Click here to buy the book

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.

Request a copy of the UK Singing Dragon Complete Catalogue

Cover of the Singing Dragon UK Complete CatalogueMake sure not to miss Singing Dragon’s latest UK Complete Catalogue. If you have not yet received a copy, please sign up for our mailing list and we’ll send a free one out to you ASAP.

Readers in the UK and Europe who request a copy of the catalogue before February 15th, 2013 will also receive a voucher for a 15% discount on the entire Singing Dragon list of books, with free postage and packing.

Take advantage of this opportunity to find new, forthcoming and classic books on Chinese Medicine, Holistic Health, Taiji, Qigong, Herbal Medicine, Yoga, Spirituality and more. Also, sample health-promoting recipes with The Functional Nutrition Cookbook, and Make Yourself Better with Philip Weeks’ books. Delve into the history of Ayurvedic Medicine and the Mudras of India, and discover the Five Levels of Taijiquan, Daoist Nei Gong and Chinese Medical Qigong.

To request your copy of our Complete Catalogue, please click here. To receive your 15% discount voucher, please be sure to click the checkbox for “Singing Dragon” under area of interest or else mention this offer in the “any further comments” section.

If you have previously received a copy of the catalogue, and would like to take advantage of the 15% discount, please feel free to request a voucher via email at post@intl.singingdragon.com.

A Real Pain in the Neck! By Noah Karrasch, author, bodyworker and educator

Picture of Noah KarraschOne of my mentors developed some quite interesting ideas. Much as I’d like to share them specifically and credit him, he and his wife long ago decided that to keep his message pure, they didn’t want him quoted or credited, because they feared his work and ideas would be misrepresented. So, sort of like the reverence with which I hold MY interpretation of John Pierrakos’ work in CORE Energetics, I’d like to share a bit of MY interpretation of a different take on neck pain, fuzzy headedness, and poor health in general. I’ve sprung forth from the wisdom of the unnamed mentor.

We’ve all heard the term “Get your head on straight,” and most of us can see or feel how our heads live too far forward, in front of the rest of our bodies. Many of us use bodywork, postural work, or other awareness therapies to help us hold our heads high and keep them there. It’s not easy! Between driving, sitting in cars and recliners, pursuing intense close detail and breath-holding work (as a hobby or professionally), or for any of a hundred more reasons, we tend to sit and stand with our heads in front of our trunks and hearts, instead of allowing the heart to arrive first and the head to ride on top.

an image of the Atlas wedge in bad alignment

Bad alignment of the Atlas wedge

Image of the Atlas wedge in good alignment

Good alignment of the Atlas wedge

Let’s examine the bones involved here, namely the cranial bones including the occipital bone right at the back base of the skull. Just below it we find the seven cervical vertebrae or spinal bones. Imagine these seven have fingers on each side of the main body, and a little tail at the back of each, with muscle tissue running in every direction to/from all of them. Any one of these bones can get jammed/shortened/twisted in a way that nerve impulses leaving the spinal column above or below that bone get slowed down. It’s hard to send the full message through a clogged channel. As these cervical bones gets out of line, not only the neck, but the head, shoulders, and even arms and wrists can suffer. So, how do we keep the head on straight?

This mentor believed that demons and entities attached themselves to us, right at that place on the back of the neck where skull and neck meet. He claimed the physical sensation generated by these psychic attacks caused the first cervical or atlas bone to move forward, further jamming the spinal column, with the occiput and the axis bone immediately below the atlas pinching this atlas forward and tight.

I never particularly liked the language of demons and entities and for years I simply thought of these ‘energies’ as negative thought forms. After all, if they’re shortening and tightening your neck in a way that deprives your brain of energy, aren’t they negative? In the last couple of years I’ve been reassessing that term and now call these energies ‘unresolved’ thought forms. To me, I’ve therefore assumed responsibility for that which is occupying my space; even if it was directed at me (positively or negatively) by someone else. I believe in trying to take the ‘negative’ out of the situation and working instead at resolving the thought form in the mental and spiritual realms before tackling the physical body.

To that end, ask a client to sit, stand, or lie straighter or longer with chin down, back, and into the chest while the back of the neck pushes straight back; then to breathe. While they breathe I encourage them to allow angers and anxieties to leave even before I apply gentle neck traction. Then, with all these pieces in place, I believe we do the work of helping clients find their true north, their ‘up’. As they physically allow opening, some of the unresolved thought forms can move themselves. Or, as they work to release unresolved thought forms, won’t the neck feel looser? Won’t blood and nerve supply nourish the brain and suddenly make thoughts clearer?

It’s simple; it’s not easy!


© 2012 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.

Using Shiatsu to Support Infant Development, Step by Step: An Interview with Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke

‘An important part of what we do is trying to put parents and baby in a different connection, where the parents are more aware about the needs of the baby – and also aware of their own needs.’

In this interview, author and Shiatsu practitioner Karin Kalbantner Wernicke recounts the travels through Japan that helped her to compile the techniques that form Baby Shiatsu, describing the very real benefits that these techniques can bring to parents and to babies from both Eastern and Western medical practice.

Picture of Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke

What is Baby Shiatsu and why is it so important for young children?

Baby Shiatsu is a special form of Shiatsu which really looks into the development of the baby from both a Western and Eastern viewpoint. It follows what we know about infant development from Western medicine, but we also use the Eastern viewpoint to look at how the meridians develop. When you use both approaches together, they give a more complete understanding of a child’s development, and of the interaction between parents and children.

It is also really important, in our opinion, that Baby Shiatsu supports the child at the stage they are at in the present, without any preconceived ideas of what the child should be doing either now or later on in life. When doing Baby Shiatsu, we are just thinking about what is necessary for the child now, and what a parent can do now to help their child take their next step in their own time.

Baby Shiatsu also offers so much support for the little daily problems – when babies are teething, when they can’t sleep, if they have gas. There are so many simple techniques from Shiatsu that parents can use to support their child.

How did you develop this approach?

That’s a long story! Many years ago I studied Shiatsu and I lived in Japan. While I was there, I was of course influenced by their approaches to health. After coming back to Germany I met my husband who had previously worked as a doctor in the Philippines. As he was also interested in Oriental Medicine we went together to Japan where he studied Shonishin (special acupuncture for children). I’m also a physical therapist, and my husband is a doctor, and we both specialise in working with children and babies.

When we were in Japan, we wanted to understand how all of these different therapies help children and babies – where they differ and what they have in common. So we travelled around Japan, we made a film, and we analysed what different therapists were doing and the impacts that these different techniques had. We also met families who used techniques passed from mother to mother to mother, through the generations. During this time, we discovered many techniques and views, and we put them together with what we already knew from theory and practice. You see, in Japan one thing that we saw was that sometimes, even though the techniques worked wonderfully well, the therapists themselves couldn’t explain why they worked. We, with our education in oriental medicine, modern physiotherapy and western development could really see how these varied approaches support one another, and how they work together. This is what Baby Shiatsu is based on, but it is growing year by year. New studies and observations continue to bring out new ideas and techniques, and we take this all in, as well as feedback that we get from parents and colleagues.

What are the changes that you see when you work with children?

You can see many changes – for example, when you do Baby Shiatsu in the hand and arm with a baby, suddenly the baby can develop a real consciousness of their hand – you see them realise ‘this is my hand!’

But what is really important for us is to teach parents to see what their baby or young child needs – when it’s time for a break, when it’s time to cuddle, when it’s just time to do nothing. When this baby becomes conscious of their hand, he or she needs time to lay there, to look at their hand, to touch their hand, whereas most of the time the parent just wants to go on. It’s difficult to understand when to slow down. Nowadays, parents want so much for their baby. An important part of what we do is trying to put parents and baby in a different connection, where the parents are more aware about the needs of the baby – and also aware of their own needs.

In your book you show that Baby Shiatsu can also be used to help parents support themselves – can you tell us about that?

There is a Japanese saying: ‘If you want to strengthen the baby, strengthen first the mother or father.’ When we are doing mother-baby shiatsu classes it’s very important to always work on the same developmental theme, or Qi flow, with both baby and mother. Nowadays, more and more fathers and mothers are coming together to sessions with baby and that’s great – it really supports the whole family and many of these techniques get great feedback from the parents. Parents can even use the techniques that we teach them on each other if they have any problems.

Baby Shiatsu is so simple to use, and because we don’t use oil and the baby remains clothed you can do it everywhere – if you have a few minutes to spare you can do it with the hands, or with the feet. It’s really very practical.

© 2012 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.

A Meditation on Scent

By Jennifer Peace Rhind, author of Essential Oils 

Photo: Singing Dragon author Jennifer Peace Rhind

Author photo: Robert Taylor

The ultimate goal of meditative practice is to reach the state of pure awareness that is known as Nirvana, enlightenment or truth. However, it is the secondary benefits of meditation that are regarded as more achievable, and these are improvements in physical, mental and emotional health. Meditation allows us to detach ourselves from the transient realm of the mind and emotions, and enter a mode of awareness and allowing, or receptivity. There are two main approaches – concentration (associated with Yoga) and mindfulness (or insight, a Buddhist practice).

Scents, in the form of oils, candles or incense, are often used to enhance meditation. An appropriate fragrance can encourage a meditative state. Indeed, the preparation of the scent, such as lighting the candle or joss stick might even form part of a personal ritual that precedes meditation. However, despite this close association, scent is usually an adjunct, not the focus of the meditation. The focus might be concentrating on a flame, a mantra, or the breath, or, in the case of mindfulness meditation, allowing an unbroken, detached attentiveness to any thoughts and sensations that arise.

So, how has scent become linked with meditation? The use of aromatic substances to elicit particular responses via the sense of smell was integral to many cultures and life practices. These early uses included sacred and ritualistic practices such as anointing with fragrant oils and offering rites to gods; embalming and medicinal practices; as cosmetics, fumigants and mood-altering substances; as spiritual and philosophical healing systems; and for ritual stimulation of dreams and visions. Therefore aromatic substances were from the earliest times used as a means to alter mental states as well as for pleasure. It is now well established that scent can alter moods, perhaps by imparting a sense of calm, or clarity, or vitality. Some fragrances can even bringing about altered states of consciousness. For example, many shamanistic practices involve burning aromatic plants to alter consciousness and allow communication with the animal, plant and spirit worlds. It was priests and shamans who were the first healers of the psyche…

Meditation often begins by focussing the mind and attention on a sensory stimulus –usually a visual or auditory one. From there, you progress to the point of being alert and receptive, and eventually the division between the self and the focus of the meditation becomes blurred and disappears. As the mode of consciousness changes, different perceptions come and go.

Therefore scent too can become the initial focus of a meditation. We can focus on the scent, becoming aware of the different layers, as the top notes fade while the middle and base notes emerge. Analysis is not needed, and this removes us from the ‘problem solving’ state of mind and aids the shift to receptiveness – so we become centred in awareness rather than our mind. The interesting thing about scent meditation is that it seems to encourage creative awareness.

The following scent meditation can be used with the fragrances of essential oils, and you might like to start with the oils that we have highlighted. It is best to dispense a couple of drops on a smelling strip or blotting paper to allow an even and unhindered evaporation; this allows the true fragrance to evolve. The meditation was originally designed by the artisan perfumer and psychotherapist, Mandy Aftel, and has been adapted from her original script.

A meditation on scent

Prepare your chosen essential oil, and sit in a comfortable position, in a place away from other smells and distractions. You might like to close your eyes and count backwards from 30 to help to still your thoughts, or take a few unforced, deep, slow breaths. Then, hold the scent to your nose; sniff a few times to gain an initial impression. Then, focus your attention on your sense of smell, and continue to sniff, as needed, for a few moments. Notice the different notes that emerge, and then let them go. The scent will keep changing, sometimes obviously, sometimes this will be subtle. Discard any mental distractions that arise and keep returning to the scent. Then, holding the scent to your nose again, inhale deeply three times. You might like to open your eyes while you imagine your consciousness dissolving outward to the scent, feel as though you can touch it, merge with it, flow into it. When you feel you have reached the point of saturation, close your eyes again, and detach yourself from all senses but smell.

Descend deeply inside, bearing the essence of the scent you have chosen, and touch it with your vision of the scent. Build an inner picture of the essence – the essence of the essence. Imagine it as an object, or something abstract, a sound, a colour or shape, a plant, an animal, a scene, a place – anything that seems to you to be conjured by the deep impression of the scent. Turn outward again, and consciously smell the scent again. Repeat the outer phase and inner phase until you feel that the experience has reached a natural conclusion.

You will find that each scent you meditate upon creates a different internal image and meditative experience.

Meditation adapted from Aftel, M. (2001) Essence and Alchemy: a book of perfume London: Bloomsbury

© 2012 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.

Five essential oils – an Introduction to Plant Derived Scents and their Role in Wellbeing. Part Five: Bitter Orange

This is the final post in Jennifer Peace Rhind‘s exploration of five essential oils and their roles in wellbeing. Click through to read earlier posts on NeroliBenzoinCardamom and Virginian Cedarwood.

Photo: Singing Dragon author Jennifer Peace Rhind

Author photo: Robert Taylor

Bitter orange

The bitter orange tree, Citrus aurantium subspecies amara, has been cultivated for its fragrance products for many years – as we have already learned how its blossoms yield neroli, the leaves and twigs yield petitgrain (meaning ‘little seed; look for the suffix ‘fol.’ to indicate that it is derived from leaves), also an important constituent of colognes, and the small fruits (suffix ‘fruct.’) yield bitter orange oil from their peel.

These fruits have a long history of culinary and medicinal uses. The liqueur, Curacao, is flavoured with the unripe fruits. The tree is native to Asia; and so its flowers and fruits form part of Oriental medicine – mainly as remedies for the myriad of disorders of the digestive system, as a cardiac tonic and for anxiety.

So, unlike the other aromatics in this short series, we turn exclusively to perfumery to discover bitter orange’s tradition of use. The citrus oils are some of the most volatile of raw materials of perfumery – they form the top notes – the ones that reach the nose first. Bitter orange oil has indeed a citrus odour, but in contrast with its close relation sweet orange, it is subtle, fresh, with a fairly tenacious floral undertone, and is considered by artisan perfumers to be more interesting. In perfumery, bitter orange is used in eaux de cologne (like its close botanical relatives neroli and petitgrain), but it is also is important in many other categories of fragrance. It gives a light, green-floral citrus freshness to the top notes of a composition; however like all of the citrus oils, this is short-lived and rapidly disappears as the fragrance heart develops. The tenacity and persistence of the citrus oils is poor in contrast to most of the other natural aroma materials.

However, in aromatherapy this tenacity issue is much less of a problem. The carrier oil used for massage will help slow down the rapid evaporation of the citrus oil in the prescription, and the scent is strong enough to be noticeable when first presented to a client. There have been several studies investigating the impact of citrus scents on mood, and it could be reasonably assumed that some of the mood benefits identified would apply to bitter orange. Citrus peel oils can decrease autonomic nervous system arousal (characteristic of stress) and promote feelings of cheerfulness and vigour, so the use of citrus oils to alleviate depression and stress is now a well-established aromatherapy practice.

The only caution regarding bitter orange, and some other citrus oils, is that they are phototoxic. This means that they should not be applied to skin that will be exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, because burning can result. Phototoxic compounds in citrus peel oils are present because they are obtained by an expression process (literally squeezing the volatile oil out of the peel) rather than distillation. These molecules are quite large in comparison to the small ones found in essential oils, and they are not volatile (that is, they don’t evaporate) so they cannot be distilled. The phototoxic molecules can also be absorbed in to the top layer of the skin, and stay there for a few hours. If the skin is then exposed to sunlight, the molecules can absorb the UV light and store it before releasing it into the skin in a quick burst. The IFRA (International Fragrance Research Association) issue safety guidelines regarding the levels of such oils in products; the maximum limit for bitter orange oil in fragrance is 1.4%, at time of writing.

When you smell bitter orange, the top notes will appear fast and fleeting – citrus zest first, then the green notes, the floral notes will appear, and the heart is sweeter and slightly fruity. It is difficult not to smile and feel more at ease when bitter orange starts to make its impact, frustration and anger can diminish, making space for clarity of thought and the energy for creativity and innovation, or simply leaving the negative behind and making a fresh start.

© 2012 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.