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Some Thoughts About Physical Stress

I’ve received many messages from well-wishers (including great research on shingles)  as well as much help from friends and neighbors. Nothing like a little debility to let one see the web of connection that binds us to our community, and a great opportunity for gratitude for what we do have in our lives. However, a few folks have bravely asked why I think I “got” shingles…as if herbalists and those who take ridiculous amounts of supplements and really pay attention to diet were somehow immune to the ills “lesser” mortals are prey to. We are not “greater” and we are not immune. But all of this did get me thinking, especially when so many well-intentioned blithely talk about “stress” and how I must have been under a lot, etc., you get the picture.

If I were to ask all of you reading this if you are under a lot of “stress”, I bet most would say yes. The economy, dealing with illness and death, years of war, personal problems, Congress doing more harm than good, working too hard and too long, social inequality, anxiety…the list seems endless. Mostly though, it seems that when we think of stress we think emotions, thoughts: worry, doubt, fear, anger, frustration.

Not all stress is lodged in the heart and mind; much is in the gut. And certainly stress can be and often is a mixture of thoughts and feelings that twirl about stealing our rest and our peace of mind. That’s why so-called stress relieving practises, like meditation, mild to moderate physical exercise, visualization, etc., are so helpful: they really do calm the heart and mind and relieve stress. However,  I did a little research from the Chinese perspective, as well as one of my Western medical (both allopathic and alternative) databases, and came up with an interesting piece of information: some stress is actually physical in origin, and it can lower immunity (and according to the Chinese way of seeing the world), is one of the major cause of a shingles outbreak.

Physical stress–which includes lack of sleep (or sleep interruptions), changes in diet (especially from a good diet to one that is less healthy for the individual), changes in climate (e.g., from hot to cold, dry to damp), recreational drug use, strenuous exercise, exposure to environmental toxins (e.g., chemical, electromagnetic, radiation), allergens, etc.–is just as pernicious as the emotional and mental stress that we more commonly think about as “causing” dis-ease. And no one thing “causes” dis-ease: the terrain of the cells is just as (if not more) important than any particular “germ entity.”

So all this rumination is a gentle way of saying to my self and friends that the whole person is a mysterious miracle. We can try to mitigate stress of all kinds; we can be happy and fulfilled in our work and/or our emotional life; we can monitor our thoughts and meditate and be filled with joy… and we still may become ill. My shingles were “probably” the result of physical stress on my vacation (that was added to some emotional stress around work, and a genetic predisposition to shingles). Take home message: how can we each lead a less stress-full life on all levels…and still be authentically ourselves?

PS Next week I’ll look at statin drugs and their natural alternatives. Then some thoughts on cholesterol. What else?

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Addressing the Emotional Aspect of Detox with Essential Oils

Anytime we change our habits, add or subtract food groups, look at how and when we eat, and/or start a detoxification process (however modest) emotional issues are going to arise. Our emotions (which some folks call feelings with a story) are inextricably linked to our thoughts and to bodily sensations (both “positive” and “negative”…what we often call “symptoms”).  Although much of our culture treats our minds as “ourselves” and our bodies as the “mules” which haul “us” around, we are really whole and indivisible beings. Those of us reading this know that intellectually (myself included), but doing any kind of detox will bring home this truth, as old “stuff” gets liberated during the release of toxins, and we get to “deal with” whatever we’ve back-burnered, or let slide into our subconscious.
Essential oils, which are very concentrated plant distillations (yes, they do come in other forms, but the vast majority are steam distilled), offer us a unique melding of the physical, emotional and “spiritual” (unseen dimensional/non-specific to any religion) aspects of herbs. They contain chemicals that are biologically “recognizable to our bodies (and some of these can be toxic or toxic at high doses) and which, if used properly, interact with our own bodily chemistry in beneficial ways. Because essential oils usually have agreeable (or at least “interesting”) scents, we tend to inhale them, and the same chemicals interact with our brain chemistry which can affect our mood, almost always in a positive manner (the main caveat here is you must like the scent, or at least not find it offensive). As we begin to “feel” an effect from inhalation, our souls are engaged….leading to an enhanced ability to both face our shadow aspects, as well as to let in more joy.
So here begins a journey into the physical and energetic effects of approx. 20 essential oils that are useful in assisting us with detoxification (and which are affordable and safe). I’ll start with 5 oils in this blog and the blog entries after I get back from my journey east…the next two blogs will be guest–edited by Lisa Goodstein , DOM.
Bergamot is a cold-pressed oil from a citrus tree, and is the magical ingredient of Earl Grey tea. It is very helpful in releasing tension, irritability, frustration and repressed emotion, especially unexpressed anger. A gentle, calmative, Bergamot is uplifting to the spirit and emotions. {anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic, digestive and nervine tonic}.

Atlas Cedar
Atlas Cedar

is a distilled oil from the true Cedars (unlike what we call  Cedars, which are actually Junipers!) With a lovely deep scent this oil imparts strength and determination while dealing with difficult situations. { lymphatic decongestant, anti-microbial and general tonic}.
Roman Chamomile helps relieve nervous stress especially in the solar plexus region. Much like its herbal tea counterpart (though much stronger in both effect and aroma) Chamomile brings calm acceptance of our limitations. {analgesic, anti-inflammatory, gentle sedative, anti-spasmodic and digestive}.
Clary Sage brings inspiration and restores clarity of purpose. Its uplifting scent is gently euphoric, helping to restore balance when over-stimulated and experiencing mental and emotional fatigue. {anti-microbial, antispasmodic, digestive and uterine tonic}.


is excellent for general detoxification on the physical level, while supporting change on the emotional level. Its clean scent imparts strength to relinquish what needs to be let go, while lending stability and optimism for renewal. {anti-microbial, astringent,antispasmodic, and decongesting to the lungs, lymphatic system and prostate}.
Using these essential oils in the bath is an easy way to introduce aromatherapy into your self-care routine. You only need to use 4 to 10 drops of essential oil (mixed into a teaspoon of vegetable oil, or vodka, or dish soap) and add to a tub of warm (not hot) water. Relax, and let the scent and the energy of the oil relax or invigorate you. To read more about these and other essential oils, go to Iris Herbal Essential Oil Info Portal. To purchase these or any other essential oil, you can visit the Iris Herbal website or call Cathy on the phone toll-free @ 877-286-2970 (useful if you are just ordering one or two essential oils and would rather pay less shipping). For those who would like their bath oils already mixed in vegetable oil (or emulsified in a coconut base so that the blend completely disperses into the water) please go HERE. Enjoy!