March 1, 2010

Aroma Therapy Steam Bathing

Moving into the worst phase of a heavy winter cold, I must turn away from perfume and go to essential oils as substances that are materially healing as well as aesthetically pleasing. There are many essential oils that are antiseptic and anti-viral, and so boost the immune system. Rosemary, peppermint, lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, cinnamon and pine are all easily available and beneficial candidates. Inhaling the steam of my homemade concoction of peppermint, lemon and lavender essential oils in hot water for five minutes helped me breathe normally again, which will help keep my throat from getting too sore. Once the water cools it's very good as a face rinse too, and the lingering scent is pleasing while it smoothes the skin (keeping it very light on the peppermint, of course). Having a pot of strong mint tea, allowed to cool a little so you can drink it freely, is aromatically intense while it works therapeutically to cool a fever. Drinking the juice of a whole lemon mixed with honey in hot water is also a moist fragrance that comforts. Interesting how these fragrances seem to have a healing effect while other perfumes can be irritating while having a respiratory infection.

All this miniature personal steaming makes me wish for the classical full body Turkish/ Hammam steam bath. This ritualistic bathing custom is moving into the West. The high concentration of North African people in the environs of Paris have lead to the opening of a number of fashionable Hammam steam baths there. They perform traditional treat-ments such as deep massage with rose petals and argan oil, which sounds good to me. There is also a tradition of very thorough exfoliation with a strong rub down using a special dense black soap, after which the custom is to rest and sip a glass of strong mint tea to recover. It sounds similar to the much smaller scale routine I am now using as a cold treatment.

I love this painting by Ingres -- his fantasy of a Turkish bath of the old school, where the women from a luxurious harem went together to spend time beautifying themselves.

Ingres was inspired by the letters of an English lady traveler (Lady Montague) who described her visit to the Turkish baths in 1716 in this way:

"I believe there were two hundred women there in all. Beautiful naked women in various poses... some conversing, others at their work, others drinking coffee or tasting a sorbet, and many stretched out nonchalantly, whilst their slaves (generally ravishing girls of 17 or 18 years) plaited their hair in fantastical shapes."

I agree that Ingres' representation of various imperfect but beautiful female bodies in this painting is visually arresting, and ultimately as comforting as the clean and aromatic steam that eases the aches of a winter cold. On a practical note, I recall that Red Flower offers a Hammam line made of organic traditional ingredients for home steam and bathing rituals that detoxify and beautify the skin.


chayaruchama said...

Oh, darling !
How distressing..
You are worn out.
In need of sisterly ministrations....

Ingres, YES !
Imperfect ?

To quote a great observer :
"There is no true beauty without a strangeness in proportion "...

And CHARM ? :

"It's a sort of bloom on a woman. If you have it, you don't need to have anything else; and if you don't have it, it doesn't much matter what else you have." ~James Matthew Barrie, What Every Woman Knows

You, mais bien sur-
possess both.
And a stuffy head, alas.

Lucy said...

Thank you for the kind words, dear C/I, a little empathy goes such a long way with me especially when I have a cold!