Ahhhh-romatherapy!

When you discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” — Jean Shinoda Bolen

IMG_0349Whether you’re caring for a young child or an elderly parent, it’s hard enough to schedule time for your own dental appointments — not to mention a facial or a therapeutic massage.

Like most women I know, I feel a bit guilty when I schedule beauty and spa treatments on my calendar. Luckily, my husband likes to surprise me — on birthdays and holidays — with gift certificates for local pampering. That’s how I ended up cocooned in a terrycloth bathrobe in a spa treatment room at the Douglas J Aveda Institute in Royal Oak earlier this week.

The modern Asian ambiance of Douglas J could easily hold a candle to some of the pricier professional spas I’ve visited on vacations in northern Michigan.  Better yet, this escape is less than a 10-minute drive from my house.

The facility is actually a cosmetology school offering a full menu of beauty and spa services, from hair styling to body waxing. For my visit, I chose the Elemental Nature facial and Perfecting Plant Peel, both of which employ heady doses of aromatherapy.

Haley, the student assigned to apply my two treatments, invited me to take a seat in one of the treatment rooms while she filled a metal bowl with warm water for my feet. (A foot soak and massage are always included with Aveda facials.) While my feet soaked, Haley asked a few questions about the health of my skin and what I expected from my facial. We also selected the scented oils to be used in my treatments.

A scented candle flickered on a nearby table stacked with thick white towels. Meanwhile, the obligatory spa music – Native American flute and new-age piano – wafted through the hallway beyond my curtained treatment room.

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My facial also included a hand massage as well as special attention to my neck and chest. And while Haley performed all of the spa services by herself – and was totally professional – her support instructors periodically stopped by to check her progress. This is standard procedure at all Douglas J Institutes, which are part of the statewide Academy of Cosmetology founded by Douglas and Sharon Weaver in 1986. (The Academy partnered with Aveda in 1993.)

All of Aveda’s spa treatments combine physiological and psychological benefits – and nothing synthetic is used in the products. It’s all about “high touch versus high tech,” with an emphasis on helping each client relax and re-balance.

It’s very affordable, too. My 90-minute Elemental Nature facial/massage was $49, plus $15 with the added Perfecting Plant Peel. (Gratuities are not accepted.) I ended up with a fresher complexion, new skincare tips, and a much brighter outlook on life.

Best of all, for two blissful hours, I hadn’t given a thought to my caregiving duties, or anything else on my to-do list. I enjoyed the experience so much, in fact, that I booked another facial for January — knowing I’ll need a remedy for post-holiday burnout. As author and therapist Brene Brown advises: “We can’t practice compassion with others if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.”  Copy that in your day planner.

HOLIDAY TIP: Most Aveda Institutes offer gift certificates for spa services, hair styling, manicures, and pedicures. You might want to mention this to Santa.

Can you smell relief?

The body cannot be cured without full regard for the soul.” – Socrates

Charmed by the very idea of aromatherapy, I’ve always stored a few essential oils in my medicine cabinet. I sprinkle a few drops of lavender oil in my laundry, for instance, and rub eucalyptus oil on the walls of my shower when I’m congested. And when I have a rare moment to spoil myself, I book an aromatherapy massage at a nearby Aveda salon.

Until recently, though, I wasn’t all that serious about studying the art and science of essential oils. Now, I’m becoming a convert.

Last week I endured my first root canal, which was quickly followed by another emergency trip to Beaumont Hospital for my ailing mother. Just when I thought the medical gods couldn’t load another crisis on my plate of care-giving responsibilities … Well, let’s just say I’ve been feeling more exhausted than usual and more than a little sorry for myself.

Of course, the endodontist prescribed an arsenal of antibiotics and pain meds to get me through a week of dental “discomfort.” But there wasn’t a pill to resupply the energy that my chronically ill mother has been draining from me.

That said, I try to avoid most prescription drugs for the long term. Over the years I’ve learned that a healthy lifestyle is the best revenge — and if there’s a natural remedy for what ails me, I’ll reach for that first.

After returning home from my root canal procedure, I opened the medicine cabinet and assembled a few essential oils on the counter. Almost instinctively, I went for the bergamot, lavender, rosemary, and eucalyptus oils.

I sprinkled a few drops of each into the sink, which I’d filled with warm water. Then I dipped a facecloth into the mix, and gently pressed it to my nose and cheeks, taking deep breaths to inhale the heady mix of scents. The tension and tenderness in my sore cheek began to ease. Most important of all, I felt an undeniable shift in my gloomy mood. The scent of bergamot, reminiscent of an Italian orange grove, worked its healing magic. I felt uplifted.

Doing some research online, I learned that bergamot is often used for relief from stress and depression. And I was surprised to read that lavender, which I typically use to scent laundry, is also beneficial for inflammation, wounds, headaches, and nervous tension.

“Some of the healing that has taken place under their influence would be called miraculous if we didn’t have the scientific basis for explaining how essential oils work,” notes Valerie Ann Worwood in The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy.  Worwood’s reference book comes highly recommended by most aromatherapy practitioners, and is a good place to start if you’re interested in the topic.

If the time comes when I absolutely need a prescription medication for a life-threatening disease or illness, I certainly won’t refuse it. But I’m glad there are some gentle and lovely alternatives which, if nothing else, delight our senses and lift our spirits. No harm in that. — Cindy La Ferle

— Original artwork and photos by Cindy La Ferle. Shown are details from an altered medical textbook (originally published in the late 1800s). The piece was featured in a juried art show at Anton Art Center. Click on each image for a larger view. —