Nov 12, 1998

Lining Up the Bones

Some years ago, I experienced a bodywork paradigm that changed the shape of my physical body and created an environment for deep shift in every other area of my life. The bodywork was the Sandlin Technique and its sole practitioner at that time was Virginia Sandlin. Virginia, a seventh generation Cherokee Mystic, was taught these techniques by her grandmother who was also a Mystic. I went on to became one of the first people outside of this lineage to be taught the Sandlin technique.

This bodywork was traditionally done to prepare people for long vision quests. It is the physical component to a philosophy of wholeness that is the gateway to a greater spiritual reality. When the body is in an organic state of alignment, the foundation is laid for expansion in every other area of our beingness.

It was frustration with my lung capacity that brought me to Virginia Sandlin. I'd heard from clients of hers that the first thing she'd done was lower and expand their rib cages. In my first session with Virginia, she took me through a painless process that I couldn't imagine would change the position of my ribs. About thirty minutes after she began, my rib cage was nearly two inches lower and an entirely different shape. I was amazed and my amazement grew throughout the day and evening as I experienced very different posture and physical control.

The next morning, I awoke to confusion at my sudden lack of lower back pain and stiffness. Over the next several days, I enjoyed many new sensations as I felt muscles moving and firming in my thighs that I had never even known were there.

After three sessions with Virginia, my ribs were about two and a half inches lower and a spinal misalignment, that I hadn't known was the source of my discomfort, was corrected. I think that, from a very young age, I had mimicked my mother's asthmatic breathing. Apparently, this caused my ribs to form incorrectly around the contracted breathing pattern. Because they were so high, my spine was pulled out of alignment and my sacrum had become very overextended. Hence, I'd had chronic lower back pain and no muscle tone from my waist to my knees.

Having these things corrected seemed like nothing short of a miracle to me. It was, in fact, the fulfillment of a vision I'd had in meditation two years earlier but did not understand. In this vision one of my guides was lining up bones on a wool blanket. The image had never left me. When I discovered Virginia Sandlin's bodywork, I discovered that my guide was being very literal. She was trying to tell me that my bones needed lining up.

The skeletal system is the foundation of the physical body. The first phase of the Sandlin Technique, the "postpartum session," addresses the skeletal shifts that occur in pregnancy and expedites postpartum recovery. In her years of working on the bodies of both men and women, Virginia learned that this skeletal adjustment is of tremendous help to many people because their own birth trauma left them with a misshapen skeleton.

The corrections the body takes in this bodywork are rapid, painless, and permanent. This is because the Sandlin Technique goes to the original cause and reframes the cellular memory for health.

It thrills me to be able to incorporate a bodywork, that once mystified me, into my practice. I have been more than gratified by the transformation I have witnessed in clients who have embraced this technique. Not only have I seen tremendous postural and breathing improvement in my clients, but also profound shifts in awareness and advancement in their life processes.

I am currently certified in all four phases of the Sandlin Technique and trained to teach Phase I, moving the bones.

Aug 5, 1998

The Goddess in Every Woman

To say that my life has been defined by a spiritual quest is an understatement. As a child growing up in Ohio, my options for expression were fairly limited. I was raised in the Episcopal Church, an institution I admire for its forward thinking to this day. However, its cool restraint did not satisfy a deeper urging. I experimented with a variety of studies, from the intellectual intrigue of Buddhism to the emotional charge of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity.

The latter gave way to reason during my college years when a curriculum heavily laden with rhetoric and logic studies forced my brain to recognize certain incongruencies. Through it all an indefinable longing went unsatisfied.

I was well into my college years, which were more numerous than the average, when a friend of mine invited me to an unusual theater experience. She had been enlisted to run the lights and said that though the production was odd, she thought I would really get something out of it. The production was indeed odd, even off-putting, and I was aware of a number of audience members nodding off to sleep or drifting towards the door. I, on the hand, was spellbound. The poor performance not withstanding, this show was manna from heaven. The topic: "The Mother Goddess Myth."

In all my years of religious study, I had never learned the fundamental truth -- that long before the establishment of the "world's great religions" it was not a male deity who was worshipped but a female one. All over the planet, people honored the great creatrix, the Mother Goddess. Even now, vestiges of the original religion remain in images of the Virgin Mary, references to Mother Nature (who made occasional appearances in margarine ads), and deep within our cellular memory.

I was a sheltered Midwestern girl, and only recently transplanted to Northeastern New Jersey with its overwhelming proximity to Manhattan. Every day was a new and illuminating experience, but nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude of this information. It was like waking up from a dream. I knew I had found the key that opened the door to my truest spiritual expression.

Suddenly, I was seeing things in an entirely new context that explained my fascination with symbols like spirals and stars and even clarified poetry I'd already written. This was not new information. It was the reawakening of ancient memory.

Like many college students, I shared an apartment which housed a constantly changing cast of characters. One of the most intriguing was an artist who, I can see in retrospect, knew all about the Goddess but kept the knowledge to herself. She had moved out by this point but had left a couple of unusual items which I'd coveted and now claimed for myself. There were heavy ceramic spirals that served no practical use and a dress form that served as a vase for dried pussy willows.

The meaning of these items was now clear to me and my fascination with them explained. Spirals, a symbol found in many paleolithic artifacts, symbolizes the void of creation and represents the womb on many Goddess statues. The dress form, to me, illustrated one-ness of women and earth.

As time went by, I found that any religious system that diminished the feminine principle felt limited and untruthful. A brief stint with a Buddhist practice was like an uncomfortable shoe. I dismantled the Buddhist altar and started to use the small table as a catch-all. The dress form found its way there, then assorted crystals and other shiny objects that caught my eye. One evening, after cleaning and reorganizing my small room, I noticed that without even realizing it, I had built a new altar -- an altar dedicated to the Goddess.

Until that moment it hadn't occurred to me that this ancient mythology could be an active living spiritual practice, but its truth was awakening in every cell of my body. I resolved to research the ancient practices and learn to formally worship the Goddess.

The very next day, I visited Samuel Weiser Books, which was then on 24th St. in New York. To my amazement there was an entire book case devoted to Goddess religions. My eye was immediately drawn to bright yellow book called White Goddess by Robert Graves. I felt something like an electric charge as I began to read the jacket copy. After perusing some heavy impenetrable prose, I decided it was a little over my head grabbed a practical looking book on ritual practice.

Standing in the checkout line, I felt an indescribable urging in my gut. It was like a magnet in my abdomen was pulling me back to the shelves and back to White Goddess. I exchanged the two books and hastily paid the clerk before I could think too much about my decision. Reading that book was an amazing experience. I didn't understand 75% of it and didn't care. I was captivated and digested the contents of the book on another level of awareness.

This was how I learned to shop with my womb. I discovered that a deep sensation in my belly told me when a book, tape, crystal, or piece of jewelry was the next crucial step in my journey. I learned to trust my "women's intuition" and to reclaim the gifts of healing and magick that had been driven underground during the burning times in Medieval Europe when the witches were persecuted and their ancient Earth religion all but drummed out of existence.

Today Earth religions are experiencing a renaissance. All over the world people are rediscovering ancient teachings in the form of shamanism, witchcraft, paganism and more. The Goddess in all her forms is reawakening and reclaiming a planet on what appears to be the brink of destruction.

I knew society had made a major leap forward when I discovered that an Episcopal church in my area offered a labyrinth walk once a month. Walking the labyrinth, like the spiral dance, has its roots in ancient pagan culture. It did my soul good to attend a discussion group at that church where a female priest told the story of our ancient Celtic and Greek ancestors who worshipped the Earth itself in the form of a Mother Goddess.

Jul 1, 1998

The Benefits and Hazards of Essential Oils

Aromatherapy is one of the fastest growing canons in the "new age" and "holistic" repertoire. Critics have lumped it in with other energy healing practices and laughed it off as magical thinking about fragrances and feelings. Where some formerly marginalized holistic approaches to health have started to gain more mainstream acceptance, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and massage, aromatherapy, while gaining in popularity, is only beginning to be understood by the American public.

In Europe, however, aromatherapy is a serious health practice. In England it is an increasing part of standard medical practice as it is in France, where its modern-day rediscovery occurred. The Eastern world has always embraced the medicinal value of aromatics. They are a staple in India's Ayurvedic medicine and in China, aromatics, like herbs, are listed with modern medicine in the pharmacopoeia.

As a schooled aromatherapist, I am both exhilarated by and nervous about aromatherapy's sudden proliferation in the marketplace. Because of its increasing popularity, many serious aromatherapists are going to great lengths to communicate that, while there are numerous upsides to the use of essential oils in a balanced health regimen, there are serious precautions associated with this highly concentrated form of herbal energy. Thus, I am self-publishing this article as a public service.

One myth that I would like to dispel is that aromatherapy is the use of fragrance for its mood altering effects. While scent is directly related to our emotional and physical state, not every fragrance in the world is aromatherapy. Many manufacturers of air fresheners, perfume oils, magical oils, and other fragrancing elements would like us to think so, but that is simply not the case. Unfortunately, the prodigious use of the term "aromatherapy" to market every scented product known to man is only adding to confusion about its true practice.

Aromatherapy can be defined as the responsible use of essential oils for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Essential oils are highly concentrated and volatile, meaning they evaporate quickly and are highly flammable, plant extracts. They are extracted from aromatic trees, resins, citrus fruits, flowers, plants, leaves, seeds, barks, and roots. True essential oils are extracted by steam distillation. In the case of citrus fruits, the essence is expressed from the rind in a process called scarification. Anything else you come across, no matter how lovely the scent, is not an essential oil.

Through the years I've encountered a number of "essential oils" out in the market-place. Some of my favorites are: apple blossom (sorry, doesn't exist), mango, peach, green apple, melon, strawberry (only extractable fruit essences are from citrus fruits), musk (true musk is from animal sex glands), ambergris (another animal product, from whales actually), amber, bayberry, and the genuinely laughable coconut rum. "Essential oils" such as these should be a red flag to the consumer that they are not dealing with a reputable, or, at the very least, knowledgeable, vendor.

Another guideline to selecting quality essential oils is price. Prices on different oils should vary greatly. This is because, different plant materials produce differing amounts of extractable essence. Some oils, like orange, grapefruit, eucalyptus, and peppermint, can realistically be in the neighborhood of $4.00 to $8.00 for a half ounce vial. Oils like melissa, neroli, and the ever-popular rose, should never be less than $40.00 to $50.00 for a tiny 2 ml. vial. They could be much more, but if they are much less than that, you can be rest assured they are synthetic.

Jasmine is another expensive oil and is not, in fact, an essential oil. Its fragile petals cannot withstand distillation and the essence can only be extracted by solvent extraction or a process called enfleurage. The resulting product is called an absolute or absolute of enfleurage. "Jasmine essential oil" is a misnomer and is another warning sign of fraud.

Another frequent mis-titling with potentially hazardous results is what often accounts for "rosewater" in the marketplace. Read the label. If it says it's rose oil and water, it's not. The price of real rose essential or rose otto has been discussed. There is an all-to-common practice of suspending synthetic rose oil in water and calling it rosewater. True rosewater, or hydrosol of rose is, in fact, the water byproduct of rose essential distillation. It is a glorious healing tool and an affordable substitute for rose otto when the scent of real rose is desired.

True aromatherapy uses essential oils because of their profound healing benefits, not because they smell good. Some of them do smell good, especially in synergistic blends. Other very effective oils, such as tea-tree, are not exactly perfumy.

Essential oils are the most concentrated form of herbal energy available. They are actually the hormone of the plant. They work on the body in two different, but related capacities. Not surprisingly, the first is scent. The second is application to the skin. The molecules of essential oils are so small that they can actually be absorbed through the skin and into the blood stream. They can also penetrate the olfactory epitheleum in the nose which filters out virtually all other substances and enter the bloodstream that way.

Our sense of smell of is 10,000 times more sensitive than any other sense. It is our first and most primal sense. We interpret smell in the limbic or old brain, also called the rhinencephalon. Our neo-cortex grew on top of the old brain out of a piece of olfactory tissue but smell is not interpreted there. Our sense of smell is one nerve synapse away from our limbic brain. All our other senses go through the neo-cortex first. That is why we have no adjectives that directly describe scent. Our reactions to scent are emotional, not intellectual. The limbic brain also regulates our autonomic systems, so scent also directly affects our physical responses. An example of this is sandalwood, which slows the breathing rate, and has been used for centuries as a meditation aid.

The benefits of dermal application of essential oils are many. Many oils aid in detoxification, lymphatic drainage, hormonal and mentstrual balance, respiration, immunity, cellular regeneration, and much more. There simply isn't room in this article to list the benefits associated with a vast array of essential oils. It seems that information about the constructive use of these oils abounds. I have decided instead, to focus here on some of the precautions as they are not as well publicized and they are important to the safe usage of this remarkable healing tool.

First and foremost, do not apply essential oils directly to the skin or "neat." Essential oils are very strong and should be diluted in some type of carrier. Vegetable oils, such as canola, almond, grapeseed, and jojoba work very nicely. For full body massage, essential oils should not comprise more than 2-3% of your blend. The highest concentration you would ever use would be in the form of perfume oil, which can be up to 50% percent of your blend, because you are only dabbing them onto pulse points. For baths I recommend blending oils in salt, milk or vegetable oil so that the essential oil doesn't float on the surface of the water where it can burn the skin.

Even when properly blended, some oils have toxic properties and should be avoided by people with certain health conditions, or, in some cases, all-together. I have encountered some well-meaning individuals who have suggested that "pure" or "organic" oils cannot be toxic. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the case of toxic oils, the greater the purity, the greater the concentration of toxic elements.

These oils should NEVER be used by anyone as they could cause organ damage, neurological damage, spontaneous abortion, and even death:

  • Dwarf Pine
  • Mugwort
  • Pennyroyal
  • Rue
  • Tansy
  • Thuja
  • Wormwood

These oils should be AVOIDED, and only used by knowledgeable aromatherapists as they have been associated with things like liver and neurological damage:

  • Aniseed
  • Camphor
  • Hyssop
  • Origanum
  • Parsley
  • Sage

These oils should not be used by EPILEPTICS as they can provoke seizures:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Fennel
  • Hyssop
  • Rosemary
  • Sage

These oils should be avoided during PREGNANCY. Many of them mentrual regulators and, while that's usually a good thing, they can cause miscarriage:

  • Angelica
  • Arnica
  • Basil
  • Bay
  • Camomile (first trimester)
  • Carrot Seed
  • Cassia
  • Cedarwood
  • Cinnamon leaf and bark
  • Clary Sage
  • Cypress
  • Fennel
  • Geranium
  • Jasmine
  • Juniper
  • Lavender (first trimester)
  • Lavender Spike
  • Melissa
  • Marjoram
  • Myrrh
  • Peppermint (also contra-indicated during nursing)
  • Rose (first trimester)
  • Rosemary
  • Spearmint
  • Thyme

These oils cause PHOTOSENSITIVITY and should not be applied to the skin before being in the sun:

  • Angelica
  • Bergamot
  • Cumin
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Orange
  • Verbena

I hope these lists help you to establish some guidelines. They do not, however, cover everything you need to know. I recommend that you look at a few good books before delving into "at home" aromatherapy. I'm a certified aromatherapist and I still need to consult my library often before making blends for my clients and myself. Using aromatherapy safely and to its fullest advantage requires a little dedication, but the benefits to health, skin care, hair care, and mental/emotional balance make it more than worth the effort.