Saturday, October 20, 2012

The People's Spa: Reclaiming Relaxation and Cultivating Collective-Care!

When you hear the word 'Spa' what do you think?  Privileged people with tons of money wrapped in white towels, relaxing while throngs of people tend to their every wish and smear them with mud and honey?  That's what I used to think a spa was.  Til I went to one with a friend.  And then another.  I've been to two and we *worked it*!  $40 a day may seem pricey if you don't have loads of money kicking around, but if you go for 8 hours, that's only $5/hour!  And if you go with friends where everyone brings a homemade bodycare product or two for the group, gives each other shoulder massages, and brings food to share (I recommend finger food over soup and crumbly chocolate cake!), then you can get a full spa experience on the cheap.  

But you can only get to the spa so often.  And that's what we were brainstorming about, at the spa in deep winter when just being in a 70 degree space felt luxurious, even without the cucumber water and warm waterfall.  How can we take the spa out of the - well, spa, and put it (back) in the hands of the people?  So many folks we know that really should be there can't take the time off work or school, get childcare and transportation, spend the $40, etc.  And that's when the People's Spa was born.  We brainstormed a spa based on mutual support and respect.  Accessible and affordable - maybe even free?!  Where everyone serves and is served.  Where ingredients come from ethical sources, from the abundant plants growing in gardens and fields close to home, or from farms far away where the people and land are treated well. Where the relaxation practices are grounded and culturally respectful (rather than recklessly profiting off of the cultures and resources of communities of color near and far). Where all body shapes, sizes, colors, genders, and abilities are welcomed and honored.

I see the People's Spa, practiced collectively or in solitude, as an important aspect of encouraging a culture of self-care, collective-care, and community health.  I do understand when people say that we need to take care of ourselves in order to be able to take care of others.  That we need to put the oxygen mask on ourselves (to use the airplane analogy), before helping others with theirs.  But this message just seems to reinforce that some people are meant to be care-givers and endlessly put their own needs last.  I don't want to feel that I have to justify taking an evening for myself to unwind and give myself a foot bath, by saying it's so that I'll be able to work harder tomorrow.  I think it's important that we value self-care for self-care's sake.  Obviously I'm not going to just stay home forever and indulge in a 24-7 herbal spa. But I don't think the far-too-common flip side of this, of not knowing how to stop, of going non-stop and not taking time to celebrate our victories and accomplishments, of tending to everyone else's needs first, is healthy either.  Giving ourselves and each other the space and encouragement to take a rest every now and then, and having the self-awareness to know when we need a break, can help us to rejuvenate so that we can be in it for the long-haul.  Yes, it makes us better community organizers/ activists, herbalists/health care providers, parents/caregivers, etc.  And it also steps away from the capitalist, ableist, workaholic culture where time is money and there's never enough of either, we're forced to work far beyond our physical and emotional limits, and the meaning of life is to be productive every waking moment.  

Cultivating a culture of care extends beyond our personal good-feelings (being grounded, relaxed, inspired, etc), and builds stronger community organizations and neighborhoods, and allows us to be more present with each other and ourselves.  Nurturing an atmosphere that balances work and play, that values relationships and the process/journey (rather than just numbers) helps to prevent burn-out and sustains us for the long haul.

We don't need to pay loads of money to go to a fancy spa or take a trip far away at a resort in order to relax.  We don't have to wait til the revolution comes, or even til the next big event/ campaign is finished.  We can take a moment this evening, or maybe even right now.  Using supplies that we may already have access to, we can create a simple spa right in the space that we're at.

Here are some recipes for relaxation concoctions that you can make yourself, or get together with some friends/family and do it together!  (You can also purchase some of these products through my online DandelionessHerbals Etsy shop).  These recipes are intended to spark ideas, not be requirements for your at-home spa!  Feel free to keep it simple.  Water is healing, nothing more is needed for a relaxing footbath.  Open your cupboards and spice rack and experiment with what you have.  Get together with friends and family to make relaxing creations together, or come to a hands-on workshop tomorrow and bring some spa items home with you!

Along with the recipes, there is also a report back with photos from our first People's Spa held in Spring 2012 in Montpelier, Vermont (U.S.).

Spa Recipes (aka Spaaahhhhhh Recipes) :

-Bath Fizzies 
-Bath Salts and Salt Scrub
-Eye Soothers: cucmber slices, chamomile tea bags, and chilly spoons
-How to do a Foot Bath or Hand Soak

Bath Fizzies

1 cup Baking soda
½ cup Non-GMO Cornstarch
½ cup Citric acid (often available at coops.      and pharmacies)
4 tablespoons Coconut, Grapeseed, Almond,
   Olive, or another oil
2 tablespoon Distilled Water or Hydrosol  
   (flower water)
Essential oils, 10-20 drops
Dried herbs, optional
Flower essences, optional

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl, mix liquids, and then drizzle onto dry ingredients little by little, slowly while stirring together.  Fizzy!  If the texture is too crumbly to stay together, add more of the oil/water mixture, little by little, until it holds.  Shape into balls or press in oiled molds.  Let them sit on waxed paper for 2-3 hours, reshape if needed.  Let them harden 24-48 hours, depending on the weather.  Store in a closed container.  Use a fizzy in your bathtub or footbath.  I like to use coconut oil in this recipe, which in this climate, usually needs to be warmed to turn from solid into liquid.  The balls seem to harden faster than with other oils, and it leaves your skin feeling really silky.  If you'd like to use dried herbs, such as rose petals (in the photo above), I've found that it's easier to form balls if you moisten the dried herbs in the oil/water mixture and incorporate them when adding the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  (You may know Bath Fizzies as Bath Bombs.  Demilitarize our language!  Demilitarize the Border!  Demilitarize the Bathtub!)

Bath Salts and Body Scrubs
Love It Up! Rose Salt Scrub with Sea Salt,
Rose-petal infused Coconut oil, Jojoba oil
You can make your own bath salts with sea salt, Epsom salts, baking soda, and herbs, individually or in combination.  People have bathed in these minerals for many generations for their soothing, cleansing, and drawing properties.  It’s really nice to prepare bath salts and keep them in a jar near the tub, so that after a long day when you need to slip into a bath or unwind with a footbath, they are ready and waiting for you.  
Crush, grind up, or leave whole your favorite bathing herbs and add them to your salts.  Add two to four tablespoons of dried herbs per cup of salts.  If using fresh herbs and flowers, simply layer the plants and salts.  Chamomile, Calendula, and Roses soothe and soften the skin.  Ginger, Rosemary, and Peppermint relieve sore muscles and are potent, especially when dried, so start with less in your bath.  To use, simply add a handful or two of your herbal salts to your bathwater, and relax.  When you are finished with your bath, it’s best to bundle up and keep warm.  

(Do remember that everyone’s body is different, and these salts may be drying and the herbs may be powerful, so if you have sensitive skin, or a sensitive constitution in general, begin by using just a tablespoon or two of your herbal bath salts at first.  If the herbs are messy or you have sensitive drains, you can sift out the herbs from the salts (after they’ve infused for a few weeks) or put your bath salts into a pouch or sock.)

Relaxing Bathing Salts
4 parts Sea Salt
1 part Baking Soda
Lavender essential oil (10 drops per cup or so)
Fresh or dried whole Calendula flowers or Rose petals (optional)
Flower essences, optional

Put sea salt into a glass or ceramic bowl and add in the lavender essential oils.  Add in the baking soda and mix it all together, also stirring in the Calendula flowers or Rose petals.  If you’re using fresh blossoms, place them between layers of salt and let infuse for a few weeks before adding in the other ingredients.  Add a handful or two to your bath.   (Note: 4 parts Sea Salt can be 4 tablespoons, 4 handfuls, 4 cups, any amount.  This recipe is included to give you a starting point for proportions.  Feel free to experiment!)

Body Scrub
You can create a Body Scrub by placing sea salt (or sugar) into a jar, and pouring in olive, sesame, almond, and/or coconut oil.  Some like to add just enough oil to moisten the salt or sugar, some like to pour the oil to the top and have a really oil-rich scrub.  It's up to you.  Experiment and see what you like.  You can add herbal infused oils (see directions in the (Im)migration and Lip Balms for Social Justice?! post), dried herbs (such as rose petals or a bit of ginger powder), or keep it simple with just the sea or sugar and oil.  

Scrubs give us the opportunity to massage ourselves, make tick checks fun, and help us to reconnect with our bodies, especially when they’re buried beneath winter wool and long johns.  Scoop out a fingerful of the scrub and rub it all over your body, starting from your extremities and moving in towards your heart and back out again, avoiding the sensitive skin of your face and breasts.  Chests are okay to gently scrub.  Rinse off in the shower or slip into a bath.  The salt/sugar exfoliates your skin and is rinsed away by the water, and the oil moisturizes, especially with the shower’s heat.  

(Glass jars look nice, but if you’re concerned that it may break in the shower, use a plastic container.  Note that oil is difficult to contain, even when your jar is sealed closed.  If you’re traveling with or mailing body scrub, use less oil when making it or place the jar in a sealed plastic bag so that it doesn’t make a mess.  Using a blend of oils that is primarily coconut oil will give you a more solid, less spill-y oil base (unless you live somewhere where the temperature is consistently over 76°F, as this is coconut oil's melting point).  Whichever oil you choose, do make sure you use soap to wash the oil off the floor afterwards so that it isn’t slippery!)

Eye Soothers
To soothe tired, irritated, or overworked eyes, put a cooling Cucumber slice or a moist Chamomile tea bag on each eye.  You can also place four teaspoons into a mug of ice water.  Place a spoon over each eye, with the rounded part of the spoon facing out.  When these spoons warm up, replace them with the spoons in the ice water, and continue for up to 20 minutes.  

To the right are hand-made eye pillows - silky material filled with flax seeds/rice and dried lavender.  These eye pillows can be used at room temperature or put in a resealable plastic bag and kept in the freezer to cool hot, irritated eyes or to place over the forehead to ease a headache.

How to do a Foot Bath or Hand Soak
If submerging yourself in a full body bath is not possible or desirable, you can make yourself a foot bath or hand soak.  Pour hot or warm water into a container (metal pot, glass bowl, plastic bucket) that's big enough to fit your hands or feet.  No containers big enough?  You can use two smaller containers.  Add a handful of your bath salts.  Be sure not to burn your paws!  Have some cold water handy to add in case the bathwater’s too hot, and if you like long soaks, you can keep a full hot kettle handy for when the water cools down.  Hand soaks are especially relaxing for those who type on computers and work with their hands all day.  They are also a kind and comforting gift to those who are bedridden.  Calendula is soothing to dry, irritated, or cracked hands.  Peppermint both invigorates and soothes tired feet.  Lavender and/or Rosemary foot baths help relieve headaches, drawing your energy down.  Treat your hands or feet to a massage with oil or creme after their soak for deeper relaxation and more restful sleep.

Ideas for relaxation: unplug the phone/computer/television, have an electricity-free evening (if possible), light a candle, surround yourself with good smells (fresh plants, massage oil, scented candle, home-cookin'), massage: back of neck, hands, ears, jaw  - where do you hold tension?,  make a big batch of relaxing tea and then drink some and soak your feet/hands/whole body in some as well, smear some honey on your face and relax for 10-20 minutes before rinsing it off with warm water (honey is good for all skin types and promotes circulation).

Not sure where to track down certain ingredients?  Check out your local herb shop or food Coop (Central Vermont resource listing here), or mail-order through Mountain Rose Herbs

Putting it into Practice: 
The first ever People's Spa!

This spring a group of herbalists and other community healers/healthcare providers collaborated to create the first People's Spa in Central Vermont.  Our communities had recently faced very trying times, with tropical storm Irene in the autumn, and May floods before that, damaging homes and businesses.  Mobile home parks, often located in flood planes, were hit particularly hard.  Flood survivors and recovery workers had been working for many months not only save what was left of their homes, but also battling with public officials and insurance agencies for their basic rights and needs.  Through their community organizing, the Mobile Home Park Residents for Equality and Fairness was created, and with support from the VT Workers' Center, they achieved great victories.  Our group of herbalists and healers came together out of a desire to give back to our community members who'd been through so much, to show our support, and to share relaxation techniques and herbal remedies.  

Not victims, but SURVIVORS!  Press conference organized by
the Mobile Home Park Residents for Equality and Fairness
Many survivors and recovery workers had been experiencing respiratory and immune issues, trouble sleeping, and other negative effects of the storm and the stresses following it. From the beginning, our group was clear that we were coming together in solidarity, not charity (thank you for the phrase, Commonground Health Clinic of New Orleans, LA).  All the practitioners that were part of organizing the People's Spa watched the film Strength of the Storm, which documented the impact of hurricane Irene and the grassroots organizing by those most affected.  Here are our guidelines for those who wanted to be practitioners at the People's Spa:

1)    See the film “Strength of the Storm” which was made by the residents of the Weston Mobile Home Park and the Vermont Workers Center. The 2011 flood survivors are the inspiration for the first People’s Spa event. The community activism group that emerged last year, Mobile Home Residents for Fairness and Equality, operate from a social justice and community organizing framework.

2)    Health justice, body justice and “solidarity not charity” are central to the People’s Spa’s baseline mode of operation. What that looks like and exactly means we will create together, with intention. The second expectation of practitioners is to participate in the People’s Spa organizers meeting, where we will be planning the event and coming up with ground rules and The People’s Spa Manifesto.   

We created guidelines for our time together, so that the space could feel safe, inclusive, and relaxing for all participating, and posted it for the event:   

People arrived to a table filled with snacks.  We had an array of food - including hummus and chips/veggies for protein to prevent blood sugar crashes, as well as decadent chocolate-raspberry bark (thank you Suki!) and herbal adaptogen balls (thank you, Marie!) for the spirit.  (Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help the body adapt to change.)

We also provided herbal teas made with relaxing herbs that not only nourish and calm the nervous system, but that also support the immune and respiratory systems, such as Lemon balm and Tulsi (thank you, Joann!).  On the left, Tulsi-Chamomile-Lavender tea and to the right - People's Spa Tea: Tulsi (aka Holy Basil), Milky Oats, and Lemon Balm.

Folks then entered the main room, where we had placed comfortable chairs in a circle, with extra blankets and pillows accessible.  There was relaxing music as people settled in.  We went around with introductions and shared a bit about the medicinal plants we'd brought into the space that day, and the remedies that would be going around.  There were Evergreen branches and homegrown, hand-harvested Rose petals for the foot baths.  There was Lavender essential oil to add to the bath or simply breath in, for its relaxing and immune-supporting effect. Fragrant Peppermint, Rosemary, and Fir foot cream could be massaged in after the baths.  And there were sprays made with essential oils and flower essences.  (We kept the fragrances plant-based - no synthetics - and did check in with folks to see if anyone was sensitive to scents).  As people sat in their chairs, we brought tubs of warm water and various ingredients for the bath water - Sea salt, Epsom salt, Plants, and Essential oil.  We also brought trays of food, as well as cups of the herbal teas, for people to enjoy as they soaked.  We returned with rounds of more food and warm water (especially in cool weather, you want to be sure to keep the foot baths warm so that people don't catch a chill), and when they were finished with the bath, we came around with the foot cream to offer for self-massage, or to receive a massage from one of us.

In addition to the footbaths, which folks really enjoyed, there were art supplies out for all to use.  There were pastels, colored pencils, and images for collage.  People could create a protective symbol, an affirmation, or anything else they'd like to make and take home with them.

We also brought in some other show and tell items:   Herbal/health books.  Shown here: Dr. Jarvis' 'Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor's Guide to Good Health' which sings the praises of the people's folk remedies, namely apple cider vinegar, and Susun Weed's 'Healing Wise.'

We also introduced and passed around a few relaxing and grounding remedies.  Here with the books is Rescue Remedy - flower essence blend for anxiety and trauma, great for home and first aid use!  

To the left: Post-Trauma Stabilizer flower essence blend for trauma, grief, relief work.  Heart Elixir (with an alcohol-free version) to open, heal, and protect the heart. Ladies of the Mist (by Fearn and Genevieve) healing sprays for body and space - blends of essential oils and essences of flowers, trees, mushrooms and gems.  And last but not least, the powerful, gentle Lavender essential oil - to waft under our nose for relaxing aromatherapy, to add a couple drops to our foot baths, to massage a drop into each earlobe, the uses are endless! 

And we bagged up some bath salts for everyone to bring home with them so that they could do another foot bath, and share it with their partners, parents, kids, and others in the community.

Our hope is that relaxation spaces such as this will sprout up in other communities as well.  This first People's Spa was truly a labor of love and solidarity - volunteers coming together to support other community members in the spirit of mutual aid.  The event was free, thanks to the generosity of the organizers, as well as others who couldn't physically be with us for the event, but shared food, medicinal herbs, and more.

The Co-creatrixes/People's Spa Mavens are Sandra Lory of Mandala Botanicals,  Dana L Woodruff of Dandelioness Herbals, and Laura Macieira. Co-collaborators of the first People's Spa: Joann Darling of Garden of Seven Gables, and Christina Ducharme and Ellia Cohen of Starting Over Strong Vermont, Suki Kapinao Ciappara of Suki Healing Arts, and Fearn Lickfield of The Green Mountain Druid Order.

A special Thank you to Montpelier Community Acupuncture for generously donating their beautiful space to hold the first People's Spa!  Also, thank you to Marie Frohlich, Golden Flower Chinese Herbs, and Hunger Mountain Coop for their generous donations. 

Please feel free to be in touch by commenting below or sending an email to dandelion778 (at) yahoo (dot) com with additional ideas, recipes, thoughts, feedback, report-backs...  

Like to make herbal concoctions in community?!  Come to a hands-on workshop and bring some remedies home with you!

Happy spaaaaahhh~ing!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment