Five essential oils – an Introduction to Plant Derived Scents and their Role in Wellbeing. Part Four: Virginian Cedarwood

This post continues Jennifer Peace Rhind‘s exploration of five essential oils and their roles in wellbeing. Click through to read earlier posts on NeroliBenzoin and Cardamom.

Photo: Singing Dragon author Jennifer Peace Rhind

Author photo: Robert Taylor

Virginian cedarwood

Although it is commonly called cedar, Virginian cedarwood essential oil is in fact derived from a species of juniper – Juniperus virginiana. This tree and its wood, and the incense derived from its wood holds an important place in Northwest/Pacific Indian tradition. The Cherokee tell that cedar wood holds powerful protective spirits. Pieces of cedar wood are placed in medicine bags, and also above the doors of homes to ward off evil spirits. Cedar wood was also used to make totem poles and ceremonial drums. In ceremony and prayer, cedar is burned – and in common with other practices involving incense/smoke this is to carry the prayers to the Creator. In traditional and contemporary sweat lodges, cedar wood is used along with sage and other herbs such as sweetgrass, having a purifying function, and similarly cedar branches are used in house blessing ceremonies. It is interesting that the Pacific Northwest tribes say that not only does cedar drive away evil and negative energies but also brings in good energies.

Virginian cedarwood oil is distilled from the waste, powdered wood from sawmills, as the wood itself is an important commodity. The main use is in the manufacture of pencils, but it is also used in furniture manufacture, including the traditional ‘cedar chest’.

In aromatherapy, it is the essential oil from a true cedar – Atlas cedarwood – that is used in preference to that of Virginian cedarwood. This is possibly because of the mention in some texts that Virginian cedarwood is not recommended in pregnancy – although this is an unsupported caution. However, it is widely used in perfumery to impart woody notes in scented soaps and other toiletries. In artisan perfumery it is a useful top note, contributing soft, fresh, woody and faintly earthy characteristics, giving a very ‘natural’ sensation.

When you engage with the smell of Virginian cedarwood essential oil there are no real surprises – it really is reminiscent of the wood itself – with a gentle, fresh coniferous, slightly resinous, woody top, a more balsamic woody body and a dry, woody dryout. The scent will be ‘familiar’ to many of us, and is reminiscent of the forest environment too, so perhaps this is connected with its ability to promote a sense of resilience and inner strength. The scent can be likened to having an ‘inner anchor’, and can help in times of transformation, such as when redundant negative habits are being discarded and replaced with independence of mind and spirit.

Read tomorrow’s post to discover the properties of Bitter Orange.

© 2012 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.

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

This post continues Jennifer Peace Rhind‘s exploration of five essential oils and their roles in wellbeing. Click through to read earlier posts on Neroli and Benzoin.

Photo: Singing Dragon author Jennifer Peace Rhind

Author photo: Robert Taylor


Cardamom essential oil is derived from the seed capsules of Elettaria cardamomum – native to Southern India, and a member of the same botanical family as ginger. It was exported from India as early as Hellenistic times, and remains one of the world’s most expensive spices, second to saffron. Cardamom has been used for thousands of years; it is a very important spice in Arabic cultures and in Eastern traditional medicine. It is still added to Turkish coffee to counteract acidity. Like neroli, it is often considered to be an aphrodisiac – but not quite to the same extent, and usually in combination with other aromatics. However, according to Vedic texts, it had a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. Cardamom was used as a mediaeval love potion, and was known as ‘the fire of Venus’ (Venus being the Roman goddess of love and beauty). Cardamom features in incenses too, for example in Tibetan practice it is used medicinally for anxiety, and in Hindu ceremonies it forms part of a powdered incense formula called ‘Abir’. In ancient Egypt, cardamom was sometimes included as an ingredient of the incense known as kyphi, as an alternative to cinnamon. However, the Egyptian texts do not have a word that has been identified as meaning cardamom; it was the early writers such as Plutarch, Galen and Dioscorides that made these comments about the mysterious and celebrated kyphi.

Cardamom has been distilled to yield the essential oil since the 16th century, and is used in perfumery to give spicy, warm notes in floral fragrances. Its use in perfumery has perhaps been eclipsed by its medicinal attributes. An ancient Roman perfume called ‘Mendesium’ included cardamom, along with ben nut, myrrh and galbanum; this was valued not only as a perfume, but as a treatment for sore muscles – an early aromatherapy preparation? The essential oil should have a fresh spicy character; if there is a harsh or strong medicinal eucalyptus-like note, the quality may be questionable. This medicinal note is caused by the presence of a constituent that is also dominant in many eucalyptus essential oils, commonly known as eucalyptol, that gives the typical eucalyptus, or cineolic, odour. It can be present in cardamom essential oil at fairly high levels, but too much is detrimental to the fragrance. Eucalyptol, or 1,8-cineole has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain – hence the reputation of scents such as eucalyptus as stimulants to combat fatigue.

In aromatherapy, the main psychotherapeutic use of cardamom is for mental fatigue. Other uses are for the digestive system (echoing the traditional medicinal uses), the nervous system (traditional and contemporary evidence to support this) and as an expectorant (because, partly of the influence of the 1,8-cineole which has this property).

When smelling cardamom essential oil, look for a strong, penetrating, slightly cineolic note at the beginning that quickly gives way to the aromatic, sweet, spicy body before the balsamic nature of the dry out starts to be revealed. As you might expect, the eucalyptus-like top note can confer a feeling of alertness and clear sensations, so this scent can be very useful to help promote mental clarity, vitality and serenity.

Read tomorrow’s post to discover the properties of Virginian cedarwood

© 2012 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.

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

This post continues Jennifer Peace Rhind‘s exploration of five essential oils and their roles in wellbeing. Click here to go to the  first part in this series – Neroli.

Photo: Singing Dragon author Jennifer Peace Rhind

Author photo: Robert Taylor


Benzoin is an aromatic resin that exudes from the wounded bark of small shrubby trees that are native to tropical Asia. The botanical names for the sources are Styrax benzoin, Styrax paralleloneuris and Styrax tonkinensis. The second part of the name indicates the different species, but they are all members of a larger botanical group known as the genus Styrax – tall, rapidly-maturing, birch-like trees. Two types of product are obtained, depending on the geographical and botanical origins. Siam benzoin occurs in brittle, yellow-brown to white ‘tears’, while Sumatra benzoin is a milky resinous sap which hardens before it is scraped off the bark. Benzoin cannot yield an essential oil, because its odorous molecules are not sufficiently volatile to distil over. Instead, benzoin is solvent extracted to give the material used in perfumery and aromatherapy; this product is known as a resinoid, and it can be further treated – for example, it needs to be dissolved in alcohol to facilitate use in perfumery. Resinoids themselves are difficult to handle, as they are thick, sticky, usually brown coloured extracts.

Benzoin, sometimes called gum Benjamin, was well known in the ancient world, and it has a very long tradition of use as a fragrance. Benzoin resin was a valuable commodity in ancient Greece and Rome, where it was used as a fixative in perfumes. The Romans called it laserpitium, and it was valued not only for its own contribution to a perfume, but also because it helped prolong the odour profile of the perfume and increase its staying power.

Benzoin was introduced to Europe in the 17th century. Its popularity endured, with the result that Siam became a major producer and supplier. Although it had medicinal uses, in Hindu and Buddhist practices benzoin was one of the incenses used to drive away evil. It is interesting to note that one of the ancient practices was to burn the resin at the feet of the dead, so that their souls were lifted to heaven with the smoke.

Both types of benzoin resinoid have a soft, sweet, vanilla-like scent; both are still used as a fixatives and base notes in perfumery. Siam benzoin resinoid has a sweet, balsamic, chocolate-like scent, and Sumatra benzoin resinoid is warm, sweet and powdery. Balsamic scents are sweet and warm, with a soothing character. The term powdery is used to denote a note that is reminiscent dry powder. Benzoin resinoid has a low evaporation rate, and is classed as a base note. This means that its odour molecules are amongst the last to evaporate and thus it contributes more to the final phases of a perfume rather than the initial impact. However, the resinoid does have its own top and middle notes. In Siam benzoin, which is more commonly available, the top note has a floral character, and the body is sweet, balsamic and the vanilla notes begin to emerge; the vanilla character is the part that persists and really characterises this resinoid. The vanilla note is due to the presence of a constituent called vanillin – the synthetic version of this is widely used in modern perfumery.

As well as being a valuable perfume material, benzoin resinoid has many other uses, for example in pharmaceutical preparations for the gums and skin, and as a component of tinctures to aid the respiratory system such as ‘Friar’s Balsam’. In in aromatherapy, it is primarily used for its calming, comforting scent, for stress-related problems, for skin problems and respiratory problems. Benzoin does have a reputation as a sensitizer (causing an allergic type of skin reaction), and it is sticky to touch, so it does require care in skin preparations. However, sniffing and inhalation are completely safe activities.

The scent of oils from resins such as benzoin can be used to help impart a sense of inner peace and security, stability and equilibrium. The sweet nature of benzoin is also experienced as nurturing and comforting, grounding and calming.

Read tomorrow’s post to discover the properties of Cardamom

© 2012 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.


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

By Jennifer Peace Rhind, author of Essential Oils.

Photo: Singing Dragon author Jennifer Peace Rhind

Author Photo: Robert Taylor

Over the next five days, I would like to introduce five very different plant derived scents, and, as well as throwing some light on the traditional uses of these scents, show how current research supports their use in aromatherapy, and how they can be used to enhance wellbeing. Along the way, we will explore a variety of interesting olfactory experiences.


Neroli essential oil is obtained from the blossoms of the bitter orange tree. The botanical name of the tree, and source of neroli oil, is Citrus aurantium subspecies amara flos. (amara meaning bitter, and flos. indicating that the oil is derived from the flowers). This tree is the source of three very distinctive essential oils and one absolute (an absolute is obtained by solvent extraction rather than steam distillation, which yields essential oils). Apart from neroli essential oil and the orange blossom absolute from the wonderfully scented blossom, there is bitter orange oil from the peel of the small fruits, and petitgrain oil from its leaves and green twigs.

Neroli first become popular as a fragrance in the 16th century. The scent was named after a town called Neroli, near Rome, whose princess used the scent and thus made it popular. Other writers suggest that it was named after the Italian Duchess of Nerola, who scented her kid gloves with the fragrance. Whatever neroli’s original claim to fame, over the years, its use became widespread in Europe, from princesses to prostitutes. It is one of the most expensive natural materials in perfumery. The natural perfumer Mandy Aftel describes its fragrance as ‘cool, elegant and intense…. with suave strength and understated sexuality’. Interestingly, her words might indeed echo the characteristics that appealed to its earliest users! Many of the floral oils and absolutes, especially those derived from white flowers, such as jasmine and neroli, contain tiny amounts of indole, a compound that is also present in animal and human faeces. This might just have an erotic attraction for the animals involved in pollination, and is perhaps why many of the scents categorised as aphrodisiacs do contain traces of indole. However, it should be stressed that indole is not the main chemical that contributes to the characteristic, disgust-provoking odour of faeces – it is compounds that contain sulphur that are the culprits.

The essential oil is often referred to as neroli bigarade. The scent is a light, ethereal, although persistent floral, and some might detect a lily of the valley type of note. In the top and middle notes (that is, the first impression and a short while later, when the scent is developing on the smelling strip) you might detect a fresh green note, like crushed green leaves, and a faint impression of citrus, and even a slight bitter note, overlying the more typical, heady orange blossom fragrance that persists until the ‘dry out’ – the last notes that remain after the main phase of evaporation. A few noses might just get the very faint faecal impression, but this is unusual, and should certainly not deter you from experiencing this beautiful and complex scent.

Aromatherapists use neroli in many situations – it is regarded as ‘safe’ in most circumstances. It is often found in prescriptions for muscular aches and pains, especially the stress-related variety, and for skin problems such as sensitivity and acne. However, it is best known for its uplifting, anxiety-relieving and calming actions that are of value in both aiding sleep and counteracting fatigue. Both animal and human studies support these aromatherapeutic uses. Neroli is also said to induce a trance-like state if it is inhaled when warm. Several aromatherapists have reported experiencing this when conducting massage treatments. This emphasises the difference between sniffing to detect and appreciate an odour, and inhaling a larger quantity of the vapour. A therapist will actually inhale as much as, if not more than their client will inhale, as the therapist is much more active and taking more breaths!

In perfumery, neroli is an important ingredient in classic Eau de Cologne, and as a top note in many fragrances. Its solvent extracted counterpart, orange blossom absolute, plays more of a role in the middle notes of perfumes. Floral oils such as neroli, with their intense, sensual odours have become associated with aspects of creativity – and this includes having fun, feeling relaxed and in touch with the senses, and stimulating the imagination. Perhaps the main potential benefit of engaging with the scent of neroli is the dissipation of anxiety, and so the pleasure of being in the moment.

In tomorrow’s post, Jennifer will explore the properties of Benzoin

© 2012 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.

Arch Support, or Arch Enemy? Noah Karrasch on the importance of good foot awareness

By Noah Karrasch, CORE bodyworker and author of Meet Your Body and Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release.

I’ve long believed that crutches are a useful thing; I also believe that when on crutches, the goal should be to get rid of them and return to using one’s own body. This has got me thinking about feet and arch ‘supports’.

Many of us assume we can only feel comfortable while we have arch supports, either embedded into our shoes or through special orthotics developed specifically for our personal disorganized foot bed. After lots of thought, I disagree.

Granted, orthotics and other supports will take pressure off of aspects of the foot that hurt. But they’re not challenging the body to return to life. A personal disappointment: the physio/physical therapy model too often seems to suggest that a weakened muscle need not be identified and strengthened as much as it should be subdued and subordinated to muscles trained to strengthen themselves around it. This seems to me to be exactly what arch supports do.

On a recent vacation I walked attentively about four miles up the beach, then back, daily…barefoot and in sand. I really paid attention to tracking my feet straight ahead (my right loves to turn out), and remembering to land less heavily in my heels and push off more strongly through my toes and metatarsals. I found the walk to be effortless and my body to be extremely grateful for the overall workout/massage it was getting from the toe hinge action. As I’ve returned to the ‘real’ world, I’ve lost some but not all of that newly found awareness and ease.

This got me thinking about strengthening/conditioning the metatarsal hinges. So, I stood on a step, facing downstairs, with my toes all curled over the edge of the stair. As I pushed my toes into the step (vertical and back towards myself while their tips tugged down towards the floor), I immediately found unknown muscles in my foot. When I further tried to lift my metatarsal joint on one or the other big toe while maintaining the above directional pressures, my left foot complained dramatically. Any wonder the left side is also my ‘bad’ leg: the one that was most damaged in [a plane crash in] 1987. I’ve continued to work to reclaim that leg over the years, and believe that this simple discovery of the metatarsal joint’s weakness is moving me through a whole new layer of awareness, and allowing me to learn to operate that toe hinge in a way I long ago lost—if I ever had it!

For several years I’ve been thinking that many of us are dying physically from the feet up. If we don’t have juice in our legs, all of which is pumped by muscle action precipitated by use of the toe hinge, we’re not pumping old toxic blood up and out of our system. If we don’t use the muscles in our legs (and we don’t if we walk and stand heavily in our heels), we’re slowing down the energy throughout the body. Can we change that? I think so.

So, I’m not saying “Throw away those orthotics and arch supports!” I am saying, “Let’s think about whether reconditioning ankle, toe and arch hinges might make us stand, walk, and live more fully in happy feet.”

Singing Dragon author Noah KarraschNoah Karrasch lives in Springfield, Missouri, USA, where he has developed and still practices CORE Fascial Release Bodywork. He teaches intermittently in the US and Europe. In addition to certification by the Rolf Institute (1986) and advanced certification by the Guild for Structural Integration (1991), he has been certified as a provider of continuing education by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB) since 2000.

Reprinted with permission from Noah Karrasch’s Spring e-Newsletter, March 2012.

True Healing: Respecting science while honoring intuition and common sense – An Interview with Noah Karrasch

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 mid-west United States and also works with the Wren Clinic in East London, UK.

In 2009 Noah published Meet Your Body, a practical guide for anyone looking for effective ways to release bodymindcore trauma and improve their health and overall happiness.

In this interview Noah shares some insights from his new book for practitioners, Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release, and explains how his unique but simple approach reflects a paradigm shift towards “true healing”.

This is your second book for Singing Dragon – your first was essentially a self-help book, and this one is for practitioners, and has led away from the purely physical to the emotional plane. What was the impetus to make this transition?

The longer I work, the more convinced I am that the only dis-ease is the slowdown of energy. I’m more and more intrigued with the ‘why’ of that slowdown, and find that introducing the emotional aspect of bodymindcore into my physical work is producing good results. I want to challenge other practitioners to begin trusting both the presence of the emotional component of physical dysfunction and their own intuitive abilities to coax change in clients by honoring and inviting release of these old and often unaddressed emotional wounds.

You have drawn concepts from Indian and Chinese energetic medicine into the book. Could you say something about how you feel this adds to a practitioner’s understanding of their work?

I’m asking practitioners to make a paradigm shift from whatever their personal primary ‘healing’ tool or technique has been; to begin looking at a larger picture—a picture that includes the chakra system, the meridian system and the psychology of the body as well as the myofascial system. The commonality: all four systems represent a whole being, not just a stiff back, a sore hip or a frozen shoulder. I want to know what that shoulder is doing, and feeling, in relation to the meridians, the myofascial lines of stress, the neighboring chakras, and the emotions stored in the shoulder, and arm, and heart, and low back. I want practitioners to think outside their personal techniques box and begin to believe they can respect, understand, and chase energy movement through the bodymindcore, relying on a different set of old, established and proven tools given to us and used by other cultures successfully over the years.

You’ve also introduced a new and imaginative descriptive vocabulary in the book, words like “forwardupback” and “outlong” that make perfect sense when you say them. Can you say more about how you feel you are pushing the borders of language with this work as well as the borders of existing physical practice?

Pushing the borders? Well, maybe, and hopefully—that’s what a good practitioner does. All I really want to do is get therapists thinking that if clients participate, and learn to stretch in several directions at once while the therapist applies pressure (physical or emotional/psychological), energetic blocks are challenged and dissolved! My world has gotten so simple: If one can lift the head out of the heart, pull the groin out of the gut, and create space between all four of these major centers, energetic flow will increase and health will be enhanced. Health really can be as simple as remembering our elders telling us to ‘stand up straight’, and doing it! The more we can learn to think of creating space between disparate segments of the bodymindcore, the less energetic blocks can cause dis-ease and dis-order. The longer one thinks in this model, the more one is able to create their own movement cues that challenge longer, cleaner energy lines through the body.

As a practitioner, do you feel it is important to understand the techniques you practise from the point of view of your own body?

I spend a lot of time just living in and dialoguing with my body. I received a great compliment from my mentor Emmett Hutchins (lead tutor at the Guild For Structural Integration) recently. After reading Meet Your Body, he told me how impressed he was by my clear desire to self-reflect and learn as much as possible about bodies through my experience of my own body. This is tremendously important for a practitioner! Just as I don’t want to be treated by a deep tissue therapist who never allows others to touch him or her, I don’t want to be the therapist who tries techniques out on clients without first having some idea about how these techniques will serve, or inhibit, personal growth. I’ve got to serve as my own taster to see what’s healthy and what’s not.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Actually, currently time management is the biggest problem for me. It’s delightful to be wanted by others; it’s also important to learn to set realistic goals and boundaries of what I can and cannot accomplish. I’ve decided that time and money are commodities; I believe I have enough money, but I’m not sure how much time I have! I get busy and forget to take care of myself in my desire to help others. I can’t fill others from an empty cup.

In terms of bodywork, similarly, my greatest problem is trying to maintain the connections with clients in several states and countries, remembering where we are with each client’s healing process.

In terms of writing, I’m far too artistic! Any published book is merely what I thought at that particular time; several things in my new book, Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release, could probably have been explained more clearly, or have crystallized for me since I’ve written. The acquisition and understanding of knowledge is an ongoing thing. It’s hard to set anything in stone, when tomorrow a new piece may be revealed that sets on its ear everything I believed yesterday!

Having said that, I’m quite pleased with Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release which begins the dialog, gets practitioners thinking of energetic models, and creates more client accountability.

Do you feel this field is expanding into new areas, and if so, where do you think the interesting work is going to be done in the next few years?

Oh, my, yes! When I first read Ida Rolf’s book 28 years ago, and when I started doing bodywork 25 years ago, I was considered pretty ‘far out’. Today, Rolfing and bodywork have become mainstream. Most hospitals have added complementary and alternative medicine departments, because the public is demanding them.

There are those who try to quantify the work I suggest, and ask “What good is a massage or bodywork session if one can’t measure the results?” I’ve never been a fan of forcing results to be quantified, because my clients aren’t research subjects—they’re people! While there’s got to be some meeting of minds between science and spirit, I hope to give more practitioners of any discipline, permission to intuit how to best serve their clients, respecting science, but honoring intuition and common sense. I see this becoming more important to true healing, and where true healing is headed, regardless of technique.

My model is hopefully based on common sense. I encourage clients—and I see this change happening in various disciplines—to take charge of their own process and their own healing. I believe we’re coming to a juncture in our health care system where personal responsibility and gut level, honest self-reflection are the tools that will best allow us to find our way out of dis-ease, and back into the free flow of energy through the bodymindcore. I believe more practitioners are realizing this need for work to free the core of the person instead of trying to fix the external symptoms. It’s liberating even as it’s also harder work for the client. But I truly believe any common sense energy medicine model of the future will demand clients’ participation in their healing; not just their physical presence, but their emotional and energetic presence as well. It’s an exciting new world of healing we’re entering!

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

Compassionate care through touch – An interview with Niamh van Meines

Niamh van Meines is a nurse practitioner, currently self employed as a nurse consultant. She is also a licensed massage therapist, and a skilled clinical leader and educator in oncology, homecare, hospice and palliative care. Together with Barbara Goldschmidt, she has written the new book, Comforting Touch in Dementia and End of Life Care: Take My Hand.

Here, Niamh explains why touch is so essential to care.

Can you tell us a bit about the paths that led you to massage therapy, and to its applications in integrative health and palliative care?

I was a homecare nurse and wanted to offer therapy that would be comforting to my patients in ways that nursing did not routinely provide care. While massage therapy is within the scope of practice for nurses, I did not feel prepared to perform massage effectively, especially with patients who had chronic and terminal illness. I decided to go to the Swedish Institute of Massage Therapy and my interest in incorporating massage into nursing practice came from there. There are multiple studies that show the beneficial effect of massage therapy on the symptoms associated with disease, so I believe massage can be utilized as a symptom management technique. This is very useful in palliative and hospice care where multiple therapies, treatments and modalities are used to alleviate the distress that patients experience.

How did the new book come about, and what is it about, generally?

Barbara asked me to join her in writing this book as she had developed the hand massage protocol and implemented it in a nursing home. My expertise in hospice and palliative care and perspective on providing comfort for patients through multiple avenues resulted in a wonderful collaboration with this book. We both had an interest in providing ways for caregivers to help and to feel that their efforts are effective in providing comfort, so teaching hand massage to caregivers is a great opportunity to change not only the patient’s experience, but also the caregiver’s experience too.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about care?

I believe that caring for any person who is ill begins with compassion which can be delivered in many ways. Touch is one of the most fundamental ways to offer support and caring and is often underestimated or disregarded in healthcare settings. Touch is often mechanistic and task oriented, so teaching healthcare practitioners to incorporate hand massage redirects their actions to that of a caring activity, which also has an affect on their perspective on helping to “heal”. A hand massage is a wonderful, easy introduction to using touch. From a caregiver’s perspective, they often feel disconnected from the person who is ill or weary of touching them, so it’s a wonderful way to approach the ill person and provide care in a manner that is satisfying to the ill person and to the caregiver, and safe. The hands are the most logical place to start as it often is the first place that we touch when communicating with and meeting people for the first time.

What are the benefits of touch as a way of connecting with people, as opposed to other methods of communication?

Touch can convey so many things that other forms of communication do not. Touch can be directed in many ways. It can have a calming effect or a stimulating effect that can be tailored to the goals of the touch experience. The hands are one of the easiest ways to approach someone; merely by shaking hands, you can have a dramatic effect. Touch can be more powerful than other forms of communication especially when someone is sick. Touch directed in a caring way can have more meaning than words, which makes it a useful tool when teaching caregivers to express through touch what they cannot often express through words.

What are some common obstacles people encounter when trying to use hand massage?

Caregivers often feel inadequate or unprepared to do massage. They have fears of being awkward or ineffective. They are not sure if they are doing it right. The beauty though, is that any touch whether awkward or not, can positively influence the giver and receiver. People often have difficulty slowing down and paying attention to energetic influences. This also comes with practice, so people need encouragement to keep practicing and over time, how they feel about the massage will change.

How can the book help caregivers overcome this and other obstacles?

This book touches on many areas that most people do not think about, especially from an energetic perspective and from an eastern approach to touch. It teaches people about the simplicity of touch and how it can have a dramatic effect. We hope that the framework in the hand massage protocol allows people to take the first step towards incorporating massage into their everyday caregiving.

This book can be used as a guide to doing a hand massage protocol. We encourage caregivers to have the book with them when doing massage, so that they can reference the steps and view the illustrations. It can also be used as a teaching tool in a classroom setting.

What are some examples of best practice?

Best practices always put the receiver’s needs first. Safety and comfort are a priority, so the giver must ensure the receiver is not suffering or in distress before performing massage. We also encourage caregivers to discuss the use of massage with the healthcare team to obtain permission, but also to find out if there are cautions and contraindications to massage. Because the receivers often have significant illness, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and pay attention to the receivers reaction to massage. This is truly a client-centered approach. And lastly, don’t take it too seriously. Massage should be light-hearted and friendly, an experience to be enjoyed not just by the receiver, but by the giver too.

Next blog post: Encountering the Radiant Sea – An Article by Barbara Goldschmidt »

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Touch as a way to share the radiant energy of care

By Barbara Goldschmidt, teacher, researcher, licensed massage therapist, and co-author with Niamh van Meines of Comforting Touch in Dementia and End of Life Care: Take My Hand.

My passion for integrative health care began 30 years ago, when I travelled to California to recuperate from a car accident. I was a seeker, looking for solace and a new path. Southern California offered warmth, reasonable rents, and ways of living that seemed open to many possibilities. It was commonplace there to focus on fitness, and easy to find gyms, yoga teachers, health food stores, and book shops filled with Eastern philosophy and self-help. Then there was the Pacific Ocean, like a big glittering mirror, reflecting who you were and at the same time inviting you to look deeper.

This was all very different from life in New York City at the time, where a focus on fitness was not so commonplace. In fact, friends on the East Coast often looked down on some of these pursuits. They’d ask, ‘Why is California like a breakfast cereal?’ Answer: Because it’s full of fruits, flakes and nuts! Maybe they thought it was foolish, but I felt I was finally becoming sensible.

During my seven years in Los Angles I completed my bachelor’s degree at UCLA, but my most meaningful studies were outside of traditional academia. I explored ‘alternative’ therapies, as they were called back then, because they were not part of the mainstream. Fortunately, I found reliable teachers who were masters in their field. I practiced yoga every day in Bikram Choudhury’s classes. Thanks to Jack Gray, whose energy work was studied by Dr. Thelma Moss at UCLA’s Parapsychology Lab, I learned how to direct my thoughts to help the healing process and to use my hands to do what Mr. Gray called ‘transfer of energy’. Dr. Grace Brunler demonstrated how she had used color light in her medical practice with her husband Oscar Brunler. With Jon Hofferman, a grad student from the UCLA film department, we made a short documentary about her work.

It was an exciting time, because it felt like a real movement in personal well-being was taking place. It wasn’t being led by doctors, but by ordinary people who were looking for more than symptom relief. They wanted therapies that were natural and non-toxic, and a way to be involved in the healing process. That was a key—becoming an active participant in wellness and illness instead of being a passive recipient of care. The quest for ways to be involved in the healing process, and for tangible ways to share it, became the continuing thread of my studies, writing and teaching.

When I moved back to New York City I wondered if I would be able to maintain the gentle practices I’d learned. As it turned out, I discovered deeper and more specific ways of practicing. With Catherine Shainberg, director of the School of Images, I studied body-centered imagery for many years. Dr. Shainberg doesn’t give answers, but leads students to the answers within themselves. My sessions with her led me to study massage therapy at the Swedish Institute, a college of health sciences in Manhattan. This allowed me to go from just writing about this field to becoming a practitioner.

After working for a few years as a licensed massage therapist, a desire for a more effective ways to engage with the body led me to Jeffrey C. Yuen and the study of Chinese medicine. I began to understand that energy, or Qi, infuses all of life, and that it is fundamental. Qi is our energetic program; it creates the body and directs our growth, development and everyday processes, including healing.

While I appreciate that there exists some controversy around the idea of Qi—it has no standard definition, it’s not readily visible, and can’t be quantified—I embrace its usefulness as teachers and practitioners have done through the ages. Directing Qi through the use of meridian points became the foundation of my practice, which often included teaching people to move their Qi from within through imagery.

Today, ‘alternative’ therapies are not just for Californians and even in New York City there are plenty of gyms, as well as stores selling organic food. Yoga, massage, meditation and acupuncture are now part of an integrative approach to cancer care, palliative care or chronic conditions in medical institutions around the world.

Comforting Touch for Dementia and End of Life Care: Take My Hand, is an integrative approach that will hopefully inspire people to explore touch as a way to share the radiant energy of their care. I was fortunate to have as co-author Niamh van Meines, who brought in her expertise and passion as a massage therapist and nurse practitioner working in hospice and palliative care. In the book, we introduce people to the idea that their touch involves the physical aspects of skin, muscles and bone; the energies of warmth, electromagnetism and Qi; and the inner quality, or spirit, which they bring to it. All will have beneficial effects for both the giver as well as the receiver. And in the spirit of integrative care, we encourage caregivers to become part of a team—whether with a doctor, nurse, social worker, psychologist, massage therapist, acupuncturist or pastoral advisor—so they will not feel alone, inhibited by initial awkwardness, or unnecessarily fearful.

I was happy when our book proposal was accepted by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, because they are so dedicated to the healing arts and to books that people can use to help one another. When Lisa Clark, our sponsoring editor, told us we would be part of the Singing Dragon imprint, it seemed especially fitting, because the energy of nature and the Eastern philosophy that teaches ways to engage with it have been a big part of my life. I hope that this book will be useful for the many people caring for someone with dementia or at the end of life, and that it will provide a meaningful way to discover both a tenderness and a power that we all have in common.

Next blog post: Compassionate care through touch – An interview with Niamh van Meines »

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork for Autism Spectrum Disorders – An Interview with Singing Dragon author Dr. Virginia Cowen

Virginia S. Cowen, PhD is a massage therapist, exercise physiologist and yoga and Pilates instructor. She is Associate Professor of Massage Therapy at Queensborough Community College, The City University of New York, and also maintains a small private fitness and bodywork practice in New York City and Bergen County, New Jersey.

Here, Dr. Cowen answers some questions about her new book, Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers.

Tell us about your background in massage  – how did you start working with children on the autism spectrum?

I graduated from the Swedish Institute in New York City where I took courses in Swedish massage, medical massage, and Shiatsu. After graduation I studied Thai massage in the U.S. and in Chiang Mai, Thailand and took more continuing education in a variety of techniques. Including reflexology, trigger point therapy, myofascial release (to name a few.) I became interested in working on children with autism spectrum disorders after my nephew and a friend’s son were diagnosed with autism. The more parents I spoke with, the more I began to understand that they needed help understanding how touch was related to the child’s sensory issues.

How does massage therapy help with sensory issues, and what are some positive results?

A child who displays aversion to touch can be taught how to understand touch—essentially learning to differentiate between normal and painful sensations. I have found that a systematic approach to massage is very important for children with autism spectrum disorders. When they learn what to expect, they are better able to relax and receive massage. In practice the idea that massage helps people feel better is pretty consistent. General research on massage has consistently found that massage can help reduce stress and anxiety. The body of research on massage has included a variety of massage styles and techniques, but the findings are consistent. In children with autism spectrum disorders, massage research noted fewer displays of self-stimulating behaviors, better sleep patterns, improved receptivity to touch, and less aggressive behavior. As a practitioner, that helps me understand that massage can help a child become more self aware and relaxed.

Probably the most dramatic change I’ve witnessed was when a little boy with feeding issues consistently ate after his massage sessions. He even tried new foods. I suspect that his food aversions were somehow connected to texture and massage helped him better understand how to interpret or understand texture.

Trust is obviously important in massage therapy. What are some ways that you gain clients’ trust in your own practice?

I feel that honesty and patience helps build trust. My practice is small in relation to teaching and writing, so I am not in a position of having to convince people to become clients. My background in exercise science, massage, and yoga has given me a broad toolkit to use in practice and also use as a source of reference. Some parents lump massage into the “alternative” therapy field along with riskier therapies. This is unfortunate, so I try to educate parents about the many options in massage. Helping them understand touch and sensation has been very beneficial to help them make informed decisions.

What are some other considerations when practicing or seeking out the right kind of massage therapy, especially for children on the autism spectrum?

No single type of massage is “right” or “the best” for autism spectrum disorders. The many possible presentations of autism indicate many possible variations in treatment. Finding a massage therapist or practitioner who is adequately trained in massage is important. In places where massage is licensed, using a licensed practitioner is important. After all, most parents would not opt to receive services from an unlicensed teacher, doctor, or occupational therapist. Interview the practitioner about their approach. A massage therapist who is trained in multiple techniques is usually a good option because a change in the massage treatment will not mean introducing the child to another practitioner or new setting.

What do you think about the classification of massage as a CAM therapy? What are some misconceptions or common concerns about massage? How will your book contribute to a better understanding?

Massage is CAM because it falls outside the scope of conventional medical care. So does exercise. I am very interested in active and passive forms of movement. Both offer benefit to individuals on the autism spectrum. Massage does not usually take the place of conventional medical treatments, but it can be a useful addition.

Common misconceptions about massage are that it could be harmful or somehow counteract the effects of sensory and play therapy. There are several challenges in research on massage and specifically in analyzing the effects of massage. The standard model in research is a randomized controlled trial that uses a specific treatment protocol compared to some type of control group. It is difficult to create a true control group for massage because a person knows if he or she has received a massage. Specific treatment sequences can be developed, but actual touch cannot be duplicated unless the same massage practitioner delivers all of the treatments.

For individuals on the autism spectrum, a standard massage protocol cannot likely benefit everyone because of the different reactions to touch. But rubbing and pressure offer sensory benefits and general research supports that. Translating it into practice by using a flexible approach is probably the most consideration in treatment. I hope this book will successfully dispute that by helping parents understand the sense of touch, how massage can be helpful, and the myriad of options that are available.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.