Escape Winter With a Sensory Journey!

secret-garden-painting1One of the things I love most about my job is the luxury of working with beautiful plant based aromas.  The therapeutic effects from natural aromas are a great way to help clients recover from stress and return to a more calm and balanced state.  At Elan we begin each spa service with a an Aroma Sensory  Journey to allow our guest to choose an aroma they love. What better way to transport yourself to a beautiful escape on a cold winter day! The following is from the Aveda Professional website:


“Aromas can create new memories or bring back a moment in time with startling clarity. Unlike other senses, smell travels directly to the brain’s limbic system, which is home to memory, emotion and imagination. At Aveda, we use 100% naturally derived aromas that we call Pure-Fume™. We pioneered the development and use of “functional aromas” that go beyond scent and offer substance. Developed by our resident clinical aromaologist and noted Ayurvedic experts, every aroma and blend has a therapeutic effect.”

“The sense of smell works in two ways—psychologically and physiologically. The psychological aroma connection to memory and emotion is very powerful and happens in an instant. Physiologically, essential oils work through topical application and the lungs. We integrate aroma throughout the guest experience in many different product forms. Since each guest has different aroma memories and preferences, we ask guests to take an Aroma Sensory Journey to help determine their aroma preferences and create a customized, memorable experience.”

You can continue the experience at home by using essential oils, scented candles and skin and body care products.  For maximum effect,  make  sure  the aromas you use are naturally derived from plants and flowers.



Don’t Let The Holidays Stress You Out. Just Practice your ABT’s


This morning while perusing the ads in the Sunday  News I noticed a few inserts for children’s  toys and realized the holiday  season has begun.  For me, it’s way too soon to be thinking about Christmas shopping, but  for retailers, there  is so much competition for your holiday dollars that every year it seems as though they start a little earlier. How I long for the days when the Christmas season didn’t begin until after Thanksgiving. But it’s now commonplace to see Christmas displays well before Halloween. I suppose some people may see the extended holiday season  as extra time and opportunity to shop, but for many it can mean that much more opportunity for stress.  We like to think of the Holidays as a joyous season, a time to celebrate family, friends, our religious beliefs and a New Year. But with all the shopping, wrapping, baking, the  children’s Christmas concerts, parties, and entertaining, it can end up being more stressful than joyful.

Many of us already have activities we can turn to during these busy times  to help us recharge and restore balance to our lives.  Yoga, meditation, and massage are more popular then ever. Even activities as simple as  taking  a long walk or soaking in a hot bath can help. There are many wonderful ways to escape stress, but honestly during the busiest time of the year, how do you fit it it?  Plus when you’re standing in the longest checkout line you’ve ever seen, and your patience is wearing thin, you can’t duck out for a quick yoga class. So  what can you do to survive the season and keep calm and relaxed. Well, I have a few quick and easy ways to  make this holiday season a little brighter.  And you never have to lose your place in the checkout line.

Here’s a quick review of how stress works:                                                                                        In order to maintain balance within the body, there are two major parts of our nervous system that function in balance with each other. The parasympathetic nervous system which is our “rest and recovery mode” and the sympathetic nervous system, our “flight or fight mode” and one of these two states is always engaged. When we are in a stressful situation, whether it’s trying to meet a deadline (like all that baking for the cookie exchange) or simple impatience (standing in long lines) our bodies shift into sympathetic mode, which raises our blood pressure, and slows down our digestive and immune systems.  When the stress is chronic and never stops, we are more susceptible to disease and illness.  It’s no wonder we’re more likely to get the flu or a cold in the winter.  Our defenses have been compromised by constantly being sympathetic dominant.  So what do you do to flip that switch and engage your rest and recovery mode?  Read on, I have some answers!

QUICK AND EASY STRESS REDUCING TIPS:                                                                          I know it’s an oxymoron, to suggest a “quick fix” for stress  when one of the major contributors is our fast paced lives.  But  these tips are for use  “in the moment”  when you feel your blood pressure rise, your patience becomes exhausted, and you want to yell at the woman holding up the line at Target, searching through her purse for her credit card (because during the 20 minutes she was waiting in line she never realized she needed her card, so why would she bother looking for it until the last minute….grrrr!)

So what are the ABT’s? Aroma, Breath and Touch.  Three simple but powerful tools to help you cruise through the season with barely a blip.

  1. SMELL A FLOWER.  When we inhale an AROMA, we experience emotional changes that cause a measurable physical response. Aromas can relax, calm, uplift and invigorate, and most importantly, create hormonal changes that engage our parasympathetic nervous system and reduce stress.  But be sure you’re using plant based, not synthetic aromas. The molecular structure of an aroma is very complex and is almost impossible to completely recreate.  A synthetic replica of a plant may smell pleasing and our nose might not be able to tell the difference , but our brain and every cell in our body can.  Synthetic aromas do  not have the ability to impact us emotionally or physically the way a real plant can. Plus, often the synthetic aromas we breathe actually create more stress, because they are toxins that our bodies must work to remove.  Aromas should reduce stress, not create more.  Carry a bottle of your favorite aroma with you and when you feel tense, just pull it out and take a big deep breath. One of my favorites is Aveda’s Stress Fix, a blend of lavender, lavandin and clary sage clinically proven to relieve feelings of stress.  The roller ball is perfect for carrying in your purse or pocket.     stress fix
  2. BREATHE!  Breath is an important link in the mind-body relationship. When we feel stressed, our breathing rate and pattern change as part of the ‘fight-or-flight response and we  take short shallow breaths. But by taking just one full deep breath we can engage the parasympathetic nervous system,  calm our mind and begin to return to a more relaxed state.  It’s called diaphragmatic breathing and you may actually have to practice how to take a deep breath in order to do it properly:                                                                                                        Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. As you inhale slowly and fully (nose or mouth) the hand on your abdomen should rise first, and most with only a little movement of the hand on your chest.  Try to imagine that you’re filling your lungs from the bottom up. Then exhale, slowly and completely. It may seem difficult at first, but keep practicing, it’s well worth the effort.  Practice this technique anytime you’re feeling stressed, it really can make a difference.
  3. TOUCH. Another powerful tool for combating stress, touch has the ability to bring calming benefits even when we do self massage. I’m not saying it should replace your massage therapist who is well trained in muscle manipulation and can reach areas you can’t, but for a quick stress buster, it can really work.  Massage can relieve tension headaches, and stress, all too common during the hectic holiday season.  And you really can do this just about anywhere, just keep in mind that intention is important, you have to focus on bringing healing energy to your body and use firm touch. Try massaging the palm of one hand with the thumb of your other hand while waiting in the check out line at the grocery store. Or try  kneading  your forearms or shoulders  while sitting at a traffic light. And if you’re with a friend or loved one,  give each other a quick shoulder rub.  Others may stare, but probably because they’re jealous! Added bonus, massage benefits both the giver and the receiver (one of the many reasons I love my job).  If you would like some hands on tips for self massage, I am offering a limited number of free 15 minute consultations at Elan (717-392-2207) or check out this  article on self massage that can give you some excellent techniques:      .

By trying any one of these tips, you might actually enjoy the holidays more  then ever, and to really elevate your mood, try combining all three. Amazing!


How to Breathe Correctly

More on Stress

Stressed_3_tns          In a previous post, I addressed my concerns about the use of the word “pamper” to describe the relaxation one experiences during a facial. My argument was based on my belief that anything done to relieve stress and its accompanying ill effects should be viewed as wellness. And unlike pampering, which we feel we have to earn, wellness is a practice we should feel comfortable committing to on an ongoing basis to maintain good health. So after reading that post, I’m certain you are now committed to scheduling a facial with me once month, right?

Still need more convincing?

We all know stress is bad for us. We hear it all the time. But do you really know what that means, how it happens or what it does to our bodies? Maybe a closer look at how your body reacts to stress will help you make the decision to do something about it (and not feel guilty!).

Now I will admit I’m a nerd, but I am not a scientist and probably most of you aren’t either. So even though this is a highly scientific process, I’m not going to talk about the HPA Axis and how messenger molecules tell the hypothalamus to release hormones that tell the pituitary gland to tell the, adrenal glands to release more hormones, blah, blah, blah. Most of you are probably already nodding off, but for those of you who enjoy this much information, I will provide a link at the bottom of this post where you can go to find all those gory details.


In order to maintain balance within the body, there are two major parts of our nervous system that function in balance with each other. The parasympathetic nervous system which is our “rest and recovery mode” and the sympathetic nervous system, our “flight or fight mode” and one of these two states is always engaged. Our sympathetic nervous system was particularly useful to primitive man to prepare the body to escape an attacking animal, or fight a neighboring tribe. During times of stress, when the sympathetic nervous system is engaged, the body redirects blood flow from other organs to the brain to help make quick decisions, and more energy to the muscles to flee or attack. Once the danger had passed, the body returns to the parasympathetic state allowing for normal bodily functions.

Modern man is no longer plagued by the same dangers as our ancestors, but we still deal with stress every day, most of it psychological. The type of stress we experience may have changed, but the way our bodies react to it has not. And because for many people the stress is constant, the body has little or no time for recovery and repair. Our bodies are designed to experience stress, and it can help keep us alert and motivated, as well as keep us safe, but the sympathetic nervous system is designed to work on a short term basis, and when we are in a constant state of stress our bodies suffer.

Here’s what happens when the body perceives a stressful event:

  • All the senses go on alert.
  • Heart rate increases.
  • Blood pressure rises.
  • Blood vessels dilate.
  • The digestive system slows down.
  • The liver produces glucose.
  • The immune system slows down.
  • The bodies growth and repair functions stop.

All of these reactions occur because the body is rerouting blood and energy to our muscles and brain which leaves our other organs and systems in a more vulnerable state. If  the stress passes quickly, the body returns to the parasympathetic mode and we are able to continue normal bodily functions. No harm done.

Unfortunately, for many of us our lives are so busy and active and filled with stress, that we rarely give our bodies time to rest and recover. We are in a constant state of chronic stress, causing our energy reserves to be depleted and because our immune system is compromised, we are more susceptible to disease and disorder. There are very few diseases in which stress cannot play an aggravating role, but the following is a list of some of the more common effects of chronic stress:

  • ·Headaches
  •  High blood pressure
  • ·Heart problems
  •  Diabetes
  •  Asthma
  • Arthritis
  •  Depression
  •  Anxiety
  • Intestinal distress
  • Skin disorders

Since I am an Esthetician and this blog is focused on skin care, let’s look more closely at how the skin is affected by chronic stress.

  •  Rosacea can worsen due to the dilation of blood vessels.  Increased vasodilation can weaken the capillary walls increasing the likelihood of broken blood vessels and increased skin redness.
  •  Acne can be impacted by the release of hormones that cause increased activity of the oil glands.  The oil mixes with dead skin cells clogging the pores and trapping bacteria inside, resulting in more breakouts.  An increase in inflammation caused by stress can weaken the walls of the pores, causing them to break.  When this happens, the body responds with redness around the   broken pore, and an influx of pus.
  •  Dry skin, as a result of the depletion of bodily fluids. This can impair skin barrier function allowing more irritants, allergens and infectious agents to penetrate the skin.  The build up of dry skin can also give the skin a dull appearance.
  • Premature aging.  Decreased blood flow means the skin is not receiving the  necessary nutrients it needs and waste is not being removed, which can make  the skin appear older.  Plus dry skin makes lines and wrinkles more visible        and the increased glucose levels can damage collagen causing the skin to sag.
  • Psoriasis, eczema and rashes can all become worse during times of stress as a result of an increase in the amounts of inflammation producing  neuropeptides  in the skin.
  •  Excessive hair growth as a result of  fluctuating hormones.
  •  Autoimmune diseases  like vitiligo (depigmented white spots on the skin) and alopecia (hair loss) can become worse as a consequence of the immune system being compromised.
  • Cold sores can flare up due to a depressed immune system.

Since 43% of adults report experiencing adverse effects of stress and 75-90% of all doctors visits are for stress related ailments and complaints, it’s obvious we need to do something to stop the stress cycle. By taking steps to minimize stress, we can allow our bodies to move toward wellness to help reduce our chances for contracting serious disease with the added bonus of the improvement in the appearnce of the skin. Whether you practice yoga, meditate, take long walks or get a facial, I encourage you to find a path to recovery from stress. You’ll look better, feel better, and you may live a  longer healthier life.

In a future post I’ll offer some ideas for simple ways to incorporate stress reduction techniques into your daily routine.  Stay tuned!

For more information on stress go to:

In my Facial Room “Pamper” is a Dirty Word…..


Why?  Because when do we pamper ourselves?  When we feel like we’ve done something to deserve it, and want to reward ourselves.  Even clients who receive a facial as a gift will save it for a special occasion or until they feel they have a good excuse  to use it. I hear it all the time when I ask my new clients what brought them in for a facial.  They tell me things like they’re celebrating the kids going back to school after summer vacation, a promotion, or they just finished their thesis. The list goes on, but too often it sounds like they feel they must justify what they are doing.  Look up the word “pamper” in the dictionary and here’s what you’ll find:

  • From  to treat or gratify with extreme or excessive indulgence.
  • Merriam-Webster: To treat with extreme or excessive care and attention.
  • Coddle, overindulge, spoil.                                                                             

 You see where I’m going with this?  If you view getting a facial as excessive indulgence, you will feel guilty  every time you have one. You’ll think of it as a “guilty pleasure” that you must justify.  This belief could not be more wrong, and here’s why:

Most people know that a facial in a spa is an extremely relaxing experience.  We play soft music, dim the lights, use relaxing aromas and massage techniques that are soothing and nurturing.  To the uninformed, this might seem like “pampering” , but the fact is, all of these techniques are used in an effort to improve the skin by helping our guests escape and recover from stress.  We know stress damages every organ in the body, and the skin being the largest of the organs it suffers as well.  And because it’s on the outside of the body, the skin is often the last organ to receive the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.  

According to Dr. Ellen Marmur in her book “Simple Skin Beauty” a 2004 study found that the white blood cells of women under high psychological stress aged more rapidly than those in a control group who were not under stress (page46).  Stress can also exacerbate a number of skin conditions like rosacea, eczema, acne, psoriasis and alopecia. 

An article I recently read on webmd ( explores the theory that  the mind and skin are intimately intertwined and many skin disorder may be rooted in our psyche. There is even a new  field of study experts are calling “Psychodermatogy” that addresses the impact of an individual’s emotion as it relates to the skin, which combines traditional medicine with complimentary medicine and relaxation techniques.  The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami has conducted studies showing  that test subjects mood and activity levels improved, as did all measures of their skin condition including redness and itching, after receiving massage. 

The beauty of understanding the mind/body component of stress is that the effects of all the relaxation experienced during a facial helps improve the skin as well as all the organs of your body.  I don’t call that pampering, I call it wellness, and one should never feel guilty about scheduling a wellness appointment (at least once a month)….and please, no dirty words!!

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