Recuperating After the Holidays

The festive holiday season is over and many of us are breathing a big sigh of relief. Memories of over-shopping, over-eating, late nights, too much partying and over-taxation of inner resources have hopefully been put away with the Christmas ornaments. January is a time when we feel a deep need to settle into our proverbial winter caves and do the human version of hibernation. It is a time when we can recommit to taking care of ourselves by making better food choices, spending less on material goods and reclaiming our over-extended energies. It is a time to turn inward and bring the focus back to Self.

Often at the beginning of a new year, we make resolutions – the basic ones are to go on a diet, exercise more, seek a new romance, be more positive, etc. And we truly mean to accomplish these resolutions. But after a couple of weeks, the resolve weakens and we find that we are going back to old habit patterns. Why do the resolutions fail? Often it takes a lot of energy to make changes. And January is not a high-energy month. We are in the depth of yin time; that quiet, internal, dark space that invites meditation and inner reflection; not the active energy of change. It is a time to allow any seeds of desired change to rest in peace, to be awakened later in spring when the energy starts rising again. The innate go-get-it energy just isn’t as available, and any push towards change results in fatigue and lackluster performance. So why not give into the natural rhythms of life and go gentle into January with a resolution to be still and reflective. Essential oils that assist in bringing the energies in to a deeper sense of self are angelica, cedarwood, frankincense, jasmine, lavender, myrrh, neroli, rose sandalwood and ylang ylang.   Essential oils can be burned in an aroma lamp or bathed in. These oils not only create a sacred space for inner contemplation, but also raise the consciousness for clearer self-understanding.

Often in the winter, there seems to be an inner chill. When we expend energies being too busy “doing”, we aren’t able to keep our inner resources charged, which can lead to internal coldness. Warming essential oils can alleviate the feeling of depletion and cold. Some of these oils include *cinnamon, juniper, ginger, black pepper, peppermint, camphor, tea tree or rosemary*. These essential oils can be massaged on the body (in a carrier oil) or put in hot bath water (added to mineral/sea salt for diuretic effect). Bathing with essential oils in the winter is particularly effective for eliminating internal cold. It’s like warming the very bones!

Expending too much energy being externally oriented in January can make us feel tired and low. Not allowing our bodies to rebalance through rest and quietude can often encourage fatigue and depression. And this is where aromatherapy’s essential oils help! Essential oils, when inhaled, head straight for the limbic system, which because of its relationship to the endocrine system allows for balanced hormone production and release. When we stimulate the hypothalamus part of the limbic system, we return it to “set point” much like a thermostat adjusting hot and cold. Among other things, the hypothalamus regulates hunger, thirst and response to pleasure and pain, which are key factors in depression. Essential oils that can assist in relieving general depression are basil, bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, geranium, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, patchouli, rose, sandalwood, and ylang ylang.

Another aspect of January is the length of darkness. Long winter nights can set up a special sort of depression – seasonal affected disorder or SAD. Many people find the low amount of sunlight and the lack of natural vitamin D can create a “Winter Blues” syndrome. Studies have shown that other possible causes of SAD could be related to a decrease of serotonin and an increase of melatonin, which affect our circadian/sleep rhythms. We talked about the hypothalamus above – it also affects, through the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, one’s blood pressure, heart rate, the sleep/awake response and sexual arousal. If we have an increase of melatonin, then we may suffer from feelings of fatigue, anxiety, lethargy, loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, irritability, loss of libido, oversleep and social withdrawal – all symptoms of the SAD /melatonin link. Essential oils that can rebalance us and ease SAD are rosemary, peppermint, lemon, basil, ginger, tea tree and cypress. For anxiety, irritability and fitful sleep patterns chamomile, lavender, marjoram, clary sage and linden berry, celery seed and rose can help calm and reduce stress.

So this new year’s eve, instead of making grandiose resolutions that are counter-intuitive to our natural rhythms, why not honor the yin cycle’s desire for nurturing rest and inward reflection. Save the active resolutions for spring, which the natural energies of the Earth are supportive and pushing for change.