Ah, October … Between the rush of back-to-school season and the imminent holidays, it's as close as we'll get to a lull. Take advantage by giving yourself a day (or at the very least, an afternoon or evening) of tender loving care. Your senses, your spirit—even your family—will blossom with gratitude.
- Soothe yourself. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a great relaxation aid—it tames an anxious mind and relieves stress. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to your bathwater, or rub lavender-scented massage oil into your temples, neck, and shoulders.
- Erase the aches. Rub castor oil on your chronically tight spots, then lay a hot water bottle—or gently microwaved buckwheat-filled pillow, or even a knotted sock filled with rice—on the problem area and relax for 15 minutes. "Castor oil works wonders on aches and strains," says Stephanie Tourles, licensed aesthetician and author of Naturally Healthy Skin (Storey, 1999). "It draws lactic acid out of the muscles."
- Easy eye care. Chamomile calms upset stomachs; it also rejuvenates tired eyes. Soak two chamomile tea bags (already steeped is fine) in ice cold, whole milk. Then lie down, place the tea bags on your closed eyelids, and rest for ten minutes. "The cold temperature does a lot on its own to soothe tired eyes," Tourles says. "The fat molecules in the milk will also moisturize the surrounding area and help plump up the eye tissue."
- Get off to a good start. Whip up a breakfast smoothie with raspberries, bananas, orange juice, and nonfat yogurt to boost magnesium. Why focus on this mineral? "Stress causes increased loss of magnesium from the body, which in turn causes an even higher stress response," says Elisabeth Somer, RD, author of Food & Mood (Henry Holt, 1999).
- Go for the good germ Sprinkle wheat germ on something you eat today. This powerful supplement is a good source of magnesium as well as B vitamins—vital nutrients that are susceptible to depletion by stress.
- Skip the sugar. Although it gives a short-term lift, refined sugar only fuels the body's stress response. When you're experiencing stress, the body releases the hormone cortisol, which lowers levels of serotonin. Your body will then crave carbohydrates, which boost serotonin. Because the lift is short-lived when you eat refined carbs, you'll have a blood sugar crash and wind up feeling even worse.
- Turn off the phone, light candles, and take a bath.
- Read a book while lying on a blanket under a tree.
- Do some moderate-intensity exercise to bring down cortisol levels, reduce fatigue and tension, and improve mood. Try walking or swimming; just get your heart pumping for at least 20 minutes.
- Treat your feet.To re-energize your body, focus on your feet. Get two large tubs, fill one with ice cold water and the other with the hottest water you can stand, and place them at the foot of a chair. Sit down and plunge your feet into the cold water for as long as tolerable, then switch to hot. Repeat for five minutes. "This treatment alternately dilates and constricts the blood vessels in your feet," Tourles says. It also stimulates your heart and increases blood flow throughout your body. "You will be so full of energy and relaxed," she says. "It's better than coffee."
- Rest your head. Sitting tall in a chair, allow your head to drop forward so that your chin moves toward your chest. Bring the thumb and index finger of your right hand to the middle of your eyebrows and release the weight of your head into your hand. Focus on the physical sensation of your fingers on your brows as you breathe ten slow, deep breaths. This is like a mini-vacation for your mind.
- Breakfast of champions. To boost energy all day, "start with a breakfast that is composed mainly of whole grains, includes two servings of fruit, and has a little bit of protein to keep you feeling full," Somer says. For example: seven-grain toast with peanut butter, an apple, and a glass of orange juice; or a bowl of oatmeal with your favorite berries and a healthy splash of cow or soy milk and a glass of grapefruit juice.
- Snack on blueberries. A bag of frozen (organic if possible) blueberries not only makes for fun snacking; it offers an antioxidant megadose. "Antioxidants are your body's first line of defense in protecting against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, premature aging—everything," says Somer.
- Drink up. Dehydration is a real energy-zapper. To replenish your stores, increase your water intake by sipping cool water throughout the day.
- Lie backside down on the floor with one pillow under your shoulder blades and another underneath your head. This restorative yoga pose opens your heart, deepens your breathing, and gently stretches your abdomen.
- Walk in the park to get the clarity only nature can provide.
- Watch a funny movie; laughing releases endorphins.
- Sea salt soak. Mineral-rich sea salt both nourishes and helps draw toxins from the body. Reap these benefits by sprinkling a handful of sea salt (found in your natural grocer's bulk section) into a warm bath. For aromatherapeutic benefits, add a few drops of a revitalizing essential oil, such as peppermint, rosemary, or spearmint.
- Deep-cleaning facial mask. Grind a handful of whole oats in a blender. Transfer oats to a small bowl and add just enough tepid water (or whole milk for dry skin) to make a paste. Apply to your face and allow it to dry before rinsing with warm water. "Oatmeal increases circulation, draws out toxins," Tourles says.
- Start with water. The ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda advocates drinking warm water with lemon in the morning. "Water works like a broom in sweeping toxins out of the body. And warm water speeds up the process," says Shubhra Krishan, author of Essential Ayurveda (New World Library, 2003). "Lemon, being acidic, also promotes salivation, which is the first step in digestion."
- Fuel up with fruits. Eat only raw fruit until noon to fuel your body without distracting it from the morning elimination processes.
- Stimulate digestion. "Clear soups and lightly spiced lentils—yellow mung beans prepared with a hint of ghee (clarified butter) and turmeric—encourage a gentle detox," Krishan says. Lassi, a traditional Indian beverage, also aids digestion. "In a blender, combine one part room-temperature water with three parts cold plain yogurt," Krishan says. Depending on your personal taste, season with sugar and cardamom or a little rock salt and ground cumin.
- Lie on your back with your arms outstretched in a T along the floor. Bend your knees, bring them into your chest, and let them drop to the floor on your right while you turn your head to look over your left hand. After several deep breaths, repeat on the other side. This gentle twist wrings out the spine, stimulates the digestive organs, and encourages elimination.
- Spend time in a sauna or steam room to encourage your body to sweat out toxins. Or sit in a tub of hot water with a towel draped over your head and body. The towel will trap the heat.
- Dry-brush yourself—another Ayurvedic trick that invigorates, exfoliates, and increases circulation. Using a natural fiber brush, start with the soles of your feet and work all the way up to your scalp. "Use long up-and-down strokes along your limbs," Krishan says, "and circular strokes on your joints and abdomen."
Kate Hanley is a writer and a yoga teacher who lives in Brooklyn.