Last night I got out my big guns.
After a Dancemeditation practice, I took an herbal bath. Oh happy day. Of everything I've tried, this was the most fabulously successful method of making me relax. I went in with a feeling of contraction. Life is a razor's edge we have to navigate. I came out feeling expanded. Laughingly I thought to myself, 'Love kicks fear's ass.'
As an herbalist, I often tell clients about the healing power of herbal baths. They work because our skin easily absorbs the water soluble properties in the plants, and they work because they're a conscious way for us to take care of ourselves. Its hard to be very distracted in the bath. This time I chose two plants that are excellent for both the skin and the nervous system: oatstraw and linden flower.
I eased myself into the experience. First I simply sat in the bath, sans herbal infusion, reading a bit of Pema Chodron's extremely comforting When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
When I felt calm enough--- meaning, ready to be with myself without any distraction--, I put down the book, poured in the herbal infusion, lit a candle, and turned out the light. I soaked in the water for over half an hour.
I felt an almost instant surge of happiness as the linden and oatstraw infused water slid like velvet over my body. Linden's bright yellow, honey bee attracting flowers help us to get in touch with our laughing, childhood selves. Really. Its amazing stuff. Oatstraw is like a gorgeous, Meryl Streap type older woman who knows exactly what to say to make us feel better.
I let my thoughts wander for some time, while gently reminding myself to stay in the present, and found that the longer I soaked the easier this became. Eventually I was able to focus on my breath entirely.
Now of course you may think that my mood shift happened by simply being in the bath with a candle, and having some meditation experience. Just plain old water may have done the trick. But plain old, wonderful water and conscious breathing, combined with the heart strengthening delight and sense of well being that linden engenders, and the cooling, soothing calm that oatstraw evokes felt nothing short of miraculous.
How I do it: About 4-8 hours before I want to take the bath, I get out a half gallon mason jar. (If I only had 1 hour, I'd do it the same way. It will still be good. It would also work in a pot with a tight fitting lid, or a large french press, though a mason jar works best.)
I put about 3/4ths cup of each herb in the bottom of the jar.
Then I fill the jar with boiling water, letting the water absorb into the herbs for a minute or two.
Then I seal the jar, and let it stand on the counter ideally for 4-8 hours, and at least 1 hour.
Just before the bath I carefully strain and squeeze the herbs by hand over a pot with a strainer.
Then I rinse out the jar, and pour the strained liquid back in. This is your herbal infusion, (If you are going to leave it for any length of time, put the lid back on, too. The strained herbal material can't be used again, but it makes great compost. ) The 'work' to make an infusion from start to finish is about 10 minutes. 5 minutes on each end.
I get the bath to the exact perfect temperature, and then I pour the herbal infusion into it. As last night I wanted to take a hot, detoxifying bath, I brought a pitcher of water and a glass with me, and because I love linden and oatstraw tea so much, I also reserved a cup of it to drink.
Linden and oatstraw are both moisturizing and incredibly nourishing to the skin. Today my previously dry winter skin and hair feel soft and supple, and my heart is once again open to all of the beauty and terror that life has to offer. I feel strengthened, nourished, and blessed.
You may be able to find linden and oatstraw in your friendly neighborhood herb shop. In Manhattan they can always be found at Flower Power Herbs and Roots on East 9th St., or you can find them at a large selection of online resources. You can find sources I recommend here.
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