Alternative, Sure, But Effective
THE LIFE STYLIST
A few outside-the-mainstream treatments to help fight off that cold or even the seasonal affective disorder that always seems to lay you out right about now.
By David J. Witchell
It was like clockwork. Every year, as soon as it turned dark and frigid, I caught a debilitating cold that seemed to stay with me until the spring. I’ve always been a workaholic, and I was even more of one in my early twenties, so I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to my wellbeing. Once I made the connection, the colds lessened in severity then disappeared almost entirely. The basic preventative measures I started adhering to religiously all those years ago sparked a deep passion for holistic treatments. Today, I credit them with keeping me above the fray when everyone else is struggling to stay upright.
Some stuff I do year-round, others are seasonal. The one ritual in my arsenal that I consider to be the most critical is nasal irrigation with a Neti Pot. I’ve been doing it almost daily for the last 20 years, and it’s significantly reduced or even eliminated nosebleeds, nasal congestion, headaches and sore throats.
I go back and forth between the traditional pot and saline solution and the more convenient spray. Both are equally effective. I use a pot and a spray by NeilMed, but the spray can be a bit harsh for first-timers. Arm & Hammer Simply Saline Nasal Relief is milder. Still, the sensation will take some getting used to.
If you think tipping a pot of warm saline up your nose sounds awkward, ear candling is going to blow your mind. Laying there, the first time, with a burning candle sticking out of my ear, the skepticism I felt was far outweighed by the fear that something seriously bad was about to happen. When it didn’t, I slowly relaxed and actually started to enjoy it.
Ear candling’s credited with everything from safely cleaning up the ear canal to sharpening the senses. I tried it because I was suffering from mild vertigo and non-sinus head congestion. The candle was lit—I could hear it crackling—but I didn’t hear or feel much after that. When it was done, I felt calm and lighter. These days, the moment I feel lightheaded, dizzy or congested, I arrange a session.
Essential oils comprise another part of my year-round regimen. Whenever I begin to feel rundown, I’ll draw a hot bath and add five to eight drops each of thyme, rosemary, tea tree, lemon, eucalyptus and lavender essential oils. Their essence can stay with you for a few days, and it’s not just a physical effect. I’ve worked alongside master aromatherapists whose blends have pulled me to a different place and time. Aside from adding them to a bath, the oils can be diffused or applied directly to the skin.
When I don’t act fast enough at the onset of an illness, my go-to remedy blend is called Thieves. It’s a mixture of clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus and rosemary. I’ll add four of five drops to a basin of boiling water, cover my head with a towel, lean in and inhale the steam. The blend was developed in the 15th century to treat the plague. It’s antiviral, antiseptic and antibacterial. I also use it as a sore-throat spray, and I’ll add a few drops to a warm, damp washcloth to help with head and chest congestion.
Essential oils are my magic bullet. But be sure to use them according to the proper dilutions, and pay close attention to contraindications with certain conditions.
Shirodhara is an Ayurveda practice that’s believed to stimulate the third-eye chakra. A thin, steady stream of warm liquid—it can be an herbal oil blend, milk or buttermilk—spills onto the forehead for about 25 minutes, but it can feel like much longer.
Afterward, I find that my concentration is sharper, my anxiety is diminished and my conscience expands to profound dimensions. The only sensation I can equate it to is the endorphin rush following an epic achievement, like finishing a marathon.
I learned of shirodhara 21 years ago during a week spent training with some of the icons of holistic medicine, Deepak Chopra, Bernie S. Siegel and Ram Dass. The version we offer at the spa features herbal oils, and it’s incorporated into a massage.
I’m 48 now, and it becomes more apparent to me with every birthday that my health—physical, mental and emotional—hinges on staying proactive with my care. I’m not discounting the merits of eating unprocessed foods and exercising consistently, but, in my experience, there’s more to it than that. And these treatments, however far outside the mainstream some of them may seem, fill that void in me.
Photos by David J. Witchell / Model: Catie Whalen