It’s no secret that human touch is powerful. Babies need touch in order to live, and touch is reassuring, energizing, and—many believe—healing.
Michele Herling, a licensed massage therapist (LMT) for twenty-three years, is still amazed by the power of touch. During a recent trip to Bosnia, Herling was able to bring smiles to the faces of children being terrorized by war. She regards human touch as a “seed of humanity.” Through her private practice, Compassionate Touch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Herling focuses primarily on affecting the lives of people and children through the experience of “conscious, safe touch.”
“As a society we have a fear of hostile and sexual touch, so we have decided not to touch at all. By teaching gentle, safe touch, we can reconnect as human beings,” she says.
Psychologically, massage relaxes the mind along with the body. This mind-body connection can be further strengthened by the addition of herbal remedies. Many massage therapists use oils scented with plant essences. Others use herbs in traditionally medicinal ways, including teas, infused oils, and plasters. Ettia, a LMT and registered nurse with training in Asian medicine, feels that the various disciplines of massage need to be used in conjunction with internal and topically applied herbal remedies to suit the needs of each individual.
“Based on the dysfunction each person has, I perform an energy and diagnostic massage to correct the imbalance throughout the body,” says Ettia, who founded a massage clinic in New York City. “I act as a facilitator to clear the body of problems throughout. This method has effects that last for weeks because it involves treating the entire person. It is more in-depth than just Swedish or surface stimulation.”
Here are some herb and essential oil recipes to try at home. Share them with your massage therapist or use them to massage yourself or a loved one at home.
White willow bark contains a compound chemically related to aspirin and may mildly relieve pain. A strong cup of the tea will do wonders for inflammation and joint pain, according to Sari Harrar in her book, The Women’s Book of Healing Herbs (Rodale, 1999). To make the tea, steep 1 teaspoon of bark per cup of boiling water. Boil in a covered pot for 20 minutes, strain out the bark and drink.
Burdock and dandelion support the liver. According to herbal folklore, improving liver function helps with stiffness and arthritic conditions. For tea, boil 1 teaspoon each of dandelion root and dried burdock root per 3 cups of water. Boil for only 5 minutes then strain. Sip throughout the day.
Black cohosh leaves were traditionally used by Native Americans to treat rheumatism. The American colonists also used a poultice of cohosh roots to relieve back pain.
St. John’s wort can also be used externally for aches and pains.
To make 2 cups of infused oil from either herb, use 2 cups of dried herbs and 4 cups of olive oil. Fill the bottom half of a double boiler about 3/4 of the way with water. Place the herbs and the oil in the top pan, then cover with a lid. Set over very low heat until the oil simmers. Allow the oil to simmer for 3 hours, then strain and bottle. Store away from light.
The infused black cohosh or St. John’s wort oil may be added to your favorite massage lotion or oil. Use 1/2 tablespoon per 4 oz. of base cream or oil. Two tablespoons of either oil may also be added to your bath.
Salts have been used for centuries to ease pain, swelling, and discomfort. The most popular types for this purpose are Dead Sea salts from Israel and Epsom salts.
For quick relief, use 1/4 cup of either salt in a bath. Combine with the above infused oils or with 8 drops of one of the following essential oils.
Here are several classic essential oils for massage. To be safe, dilute all of these oils in a carrier oil (see “Making massage oil” on 61) and use them externally only.
Clary sage is known as a cell regenerator for aged skin. It’s thought to regulate seborrhea to relieve dryness. It also reputedly stimulates hair growth, soothes inflamed skin, and imparts a feeling of euphoria.
Cypress stimulates circulation and is great for all kinds of massage.
Eucalyptus is thought to stimulate the mind and spirit when inhaled and also clears the head. It’s recognized as a decongestant and an analgesic for muscular aches.
Geranium has a fresh, sweet, slightly floral note and blends well with all citrus oils and basil. It’s an antiseptic and astringent, so it’s thought to be good for acne and aged skin. It’s also used for relieving PMS and menopausal tension and acts as a stimulant and antidepressant.
Lavender has been used for thousands of years to restore unbalanced states of mind and body. It’s also antiseptic and can help dermatitis, acne, eczema, oily skin, and possibly psoriasis. It’s very calming for insomnia and fluctuating moods.
Peppermint is stimulating and uplifting. It’s thought to be a memory enhancer and to stimulate creative thinking. Avoid it in the evenings, unless you want to stay awake. It’s excellent for foot massage.
Wintergreen is purported to be a good treatment for warts. It’s also good for sore muscles and aching joints.
Wormwood is used in perfume blends and can help relieve muscular aches and pains.
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