The Positive Side

Winter 2008 

Positively Pampered

Cover girl and CATIE staffer Darien Taylor divulges her tips for transforming your bath into a sanctuary of peace and healing (do-it-yourself recipes included!)

IT'S BEEN ONE OF THOSE EXHAUSTING, living-with-HIV kind of days. You know the kind. Maybe you just spent hours at your local AIDS service organization in a meeting where you could have cut the tension with a knife. Or you’re anxiously waiting to find out if your last viral load test was just a blip or whether it shows that your meds are starting to fail. Or you’re feeling weak and depleted by the various gastrointestinal side effects from your new drug combination.

We all have these days, and they call for some tender, loving self-care. With a little effort and next to no cost, you can create a spa-like oasis of calm and tranquility in your very own bathroom.

For centuries, people have turned to the restorative powers of the bath to soothe body and soul. Ancient Roman bathhouses featured communal steam baths, stimulating cold baths and relaxing warm baths. Islamic societies value the hammam for hygienic and religious purposes. Scandinavians and Russians are renowned for their saunas, which they finish off with a dip in icy water or snow. Canadians have the thermal waters of Banff Springs as part of our national heritage.

Bath-time self-care doesn’t depend on pricey lotions and potions. There are many options available straight from your garden or cupboard — with the added bonus that they won’t damage the environment. Bypass the products that cost a small fortune. Many of us are living on a fixed income and have little spare change for such luxuries. Besides, some bath products, especially some bubble baths, can be harsh on the skin or even aggravate yeast infections.

A simple bath recipe is to mix Epsom salts (which cost a few dollars for a big bag and can be found at any pharmacy or grocery store) with a few drops of your favourite essential oil. Epsom salts are rich in magnesium; simply soaking in a bath with them can boost our levels of this element, which eliminates toxins and helps with muscle, nerve and enzyme function.

The key to using your bath as a therapeutic tool is to be mindful and intentional in nurturing your body and soul. Enter the water with the intention to be cleansed, purified and relieved of your pains and stresses — be they emotional, physical or spiritual.

A banquet for the body

Make your bath a feast for your senses. Put on some relaxing background music, dim the lights and burn some beeswax candles or incense. Treat yourself with something special to eat (maybe some berries or chocolate) or drink (a glass of wine, mineral water or a soothing herbal tea). A warm bath is very calming, and an inflatable neck pillow or rolled towel behind your head will help you truly relax. It’s also a good time for a facial mask or hot oil treatment for your hair. And just in case you get a little too relaxed and start to drift off, set a timer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Simplicity Itself Face Mask

1 tbsp natural yogurt, room temperature (not low fat or non-fat)
1 tsp runny honey (if necessary, put it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften)

Combine mixture and apply to your face. Let it sit for 15 minutes, and then wash your face with a steaming washcloth. For dry skin, use an extra teaspoon of honey. For oily skin, add a few drops of fresh lime juice.

Hot Oil Hair Treatment

3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp honey or 5 drops of your favourite essential oil (both optional)

Combine mixture in a microwaveable bowl. Heat in microwave until warm. Remove and let set for a few minutes. Place some of the oily mixture on your hands and start applying it to your hair, starting at the ends and working up to the scalp. Wrap your hair in a warm towel or plastic shower cap and leave on for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse and shampoo.

Rise like a phoenix

Use your bath as a time to regenerate. While relaxing in the tub, breathe deeply and mindfully, paying attention to your breathing as you inhale and exhale — the extra oxygen will nourish your cells. Try to visualize your body as a temple of health and healing. Or visualize yourself being successful at your goals: being loved and appreciated, triumphing over adversity, laughing.

If you want to do a little exfoliation while you’re at it, bring along your loofah, pumice stone or scrubbie. Exfoliation can help stimulate the blood’s circulation. But be gentle with your skin — it’s very delicate and easily damaged! Our recipes for body scrubs are made from natural ingredients that are literally good enough to eat.

Sea Salt Scrub

1 cup fine-grained sea salt
1/2 cup natural carrier oil (olive, sesame, sweet almond or grape seed)
10 to 15 drops essential oil
clean jar for storage

Use 10 to 15 drops of your favourite essential oil for each cup of finely ground sea salt. Blend your essential oil with the carrier oil, add to the salt and stir well. Store in a clean, sealed jar.

For use, apply the salt scrub to damp, clean skin. Massage your body, focusing on rough spots like elbows and knees and avoiding the face. Rinse off in a warm bath.

Sugar and Spice Body Polish

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white granulated sugar
3/4 cup natural carrier oil (such as sweet almond oil)
2 tsp cinnamon, powdered
2 tsp ginger, powdered
2 tsp nutmeg, powdered
10 drops cardamom essential oil
clean jar for storage

Combine all ingredients except the essential oil. Using a whisk, blend thoroughly, making sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar or spice. Add the essential oil drop by drop, blending after each addition. Spoon into a jar with a tight-fitting lid.

For use, massage approximately ¼ to ½ cup of scrub onto damp skin using circular motions. Rinse in a warm bath. The stimulating aroma of the spices lingers long after the sugar has been rinsed away and is wonderful for both women and men. After your bath, apply a moisturizer. Cocoa butter smells marvellous, nourishes the skin and is cheap.

D-I-Y therapeutic baths

Therapeutic baths make such good use of natural ingredients to promote health that you are bound to feel lighter, happier and more in touch with your environment afterwards. Here are some hints to help these good feelings last. If you share the bathroom with others, be conscious of their needs. Nothing is more guaranteed to wake you out of your reveries than a sharp knock on the door from a roommate or family member who needs the bathroom for a more practical purpose. And remember that water is a precious resource — use only what you need. Finally, lay back … exhale … enjoy! You deserve it.

Drift off on a cloud: a bath to help you sleep

Many people who are living with HIV have trouble sleeping due to stress, night sweats or side effects. A warm bath before bed can do wonders in terms of preparing you for a good night’s sleep.

  • Add some dried chamomile flowers (often available in health food or bulk food stores). Using this herb in your bath calms your body and mind, dispels restlessness and promotes a relaxing sleep. To prevent the chamomile from plugging your drain, create a bath bag by placing a handful of chamomile in the centre of a square of cheesecloth (approximately 20 cm by 20 cm) and tie securely with string. Hang the bag around the faucet while running a warm bath. You can dry and reuse the bag (and its contents) again for another two or three baths.
  • Be a flower child. Wrap equal parts lavender flowers, rose petals and chamomile in a cheesecloth bag, according to the method above, and scent your bath water with this sedative bouquet.
  • Sip sleepy-time tea. Make a cup of sleepy-time tea from 1 teaspoon of linden blossoms and 1 teaspoon of lemon balm steeped for five minutes in boiling water and strained.
  • Prepare for bed. Before your bath, make up your bed with clean sheets so that after the bath you can slip into a nice fresh bed, ready for a restful night of sweet dreams. Put your pyjamas, bathrobe and some fluffy towels by the bath so you can dry yourself and put on something warm and cozy.

Rev your engine: a bath to give you energy

Fatigue is a common symptom of HIV and a side effect of some of the medications. Visit the spice cupboard or garden for the ingredients to make a sensuous, energizing bath experience. Any mixture of basil, bay leaves, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savoury, thyme, mint, pine needles, geranium or lemon verbena can be combined in a cheesecloth bag and immersed in the tub for a stimulating bath. Or tie together sprigs of lemon, basil, rosemary and lavender, and then hang them over the faucet while you fill your bath. You’ll emerge renewed and invigorated.

Say Hasta luego to HSV: a bath to soothe a herpes outbreak

In addition to promoting relaxation, lemon balm also inhibits some viruses. When applied to herpes sores, it has been shown to speed healing, prevent spreading and decrease pain and swelling. Added to the bath in a bath bag, lemon balm can reduce muscle tension and soothe the irritation of a herpes outbreak.

Calm that itch: baths for skin problems

For many people with HIV, dry skin, eczema, shingles or rashes are common health issues. Treat your skin by pouring a cup or so of quick or instant oats into a cheesecloth bath bag and immersing it in the tub. As you relax for about 20 minutes in this silky bath, lightly rub the bag over your skin to make the most of the soothing colloidal properties of the oatmeal. Powdered milk added to the bath will soften your skin, as will honey.

Breathe deeply: baths for colds, flu and respiratory problems

The warmth and steam of a bath can ease breathing and help with respiratory problems. Herbs or essential oils that are effective to use in the bath when you have a cold or flu include eucalyptus, thyme, lemon and rosemary.

Darien Taylor is Director of Program Delivery at CATIE and a woman living with HIV. Given the laziness of her virus, which (thankfully! thankfully!) has accomplished little in the way of immune system destruction over the 20 years she has been infected, she suspects that her virus spends much of its day dozing in a warm bath or between the sheets.

Photograph: John Phillips

Illustrations: Béatrice Favereau