The Saturday oil bath, my weekly ashtanga ritual.

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Saturday is the traditional day off from asana for ashtanga yoga. In it’s place falls the oil bath. When I first heard the term, I envisioned a tub filled with steaming hot water and a cup of oil poured in, soaking away your aches and stresses…sounds nice. But alas, that is not the ritual! Though I have found it, over time, to be immensely relaxing and rejuvenating. The first time I did it, I really felt it was a sick joke of figuring out how to make a huge mess, with me oily and sticky and wondering if I would ever get all the oil out of my hair again. Now, I have come to enjoy it so much, I regret a week I’m not able to partake.

Castor oil is thick, really thick and sticky.  Using it properly most definitely involved a learning curve for me. I thought that by giving a step by step instruction,  including a clean up might be helpful!

Materials:
Music! Completely optional, however, tunes are not only soothing, but a good way to gauge the time.
Dry brush
Castor oil, about 2 ounces, give or take
Coconut oil for your hair
Wash cloths
Scrub mitts or puff
Essential oils added to the castor oil if you find the smell un appealing, I sometimes use lavender or vanilla, again, an optional choice, but smells better.
Dawn dish soap
Castile soap, Trader Joes citrus body wash or tea tree wash or Lush RubRubRub( these all work well to get it off, pick your poison!)
Your choice of shampoo. My personal favorite is Lush Big.

1. Start by heating up your castor oil. I usually just put the bottle in the sink with super hot water. By making it heated slightly it goes on with more fluidity and ease as well as feeling nice.

2. While waiting for it to heat up, I dry brush or use scrub gloves on my body to lift off any surface dry skin.

3. Brush out your hair. Take a nice amount of coconut oil and coat your hair with it. Trust me on this one..coconut oil is much easier to get out of your hair, a great conditioner, and allows for the castor oil to be massaged into your scalp better…best tip I ever got.

4. Get your castor oil, and get in your tub or shower, take an old washcloth to sit on to avoid slipping. Pour some castor oil in your hands getting it on your finger tips and start massaging it into your scalp. Keep adding more oil as needed. Get your ears, face and neck. Be gentle but firm massaging the oil in as you go. Shoulders and upper back next, then both arms. I rub the oil in a circular motion on the joints and use long strokes on long bones and surface areas. Your chest and abdomen come after, I find circles best for application again, and work around to my mid and low back. Hips and glutes in circles, don’t skimp! Legs in long strokes except for knees and ankles in circles, then finally feet! Get it between your toes!

5. When you think your all finished give yourself a good massaging once over with your hands to ensure you are oiled up everywhere! Now lay down, use the washcloth as a head rest if you need it. Try to relax and chill out, literally for as long as you can. At first I lasted a few songs, now I can easily sit for up to a hour if I have the time. Don’t over do it when first getting started! It can wipe you out.

6. Getting clean…yes this is the hardest part! If your shower is part of your tub, I highly suggest standing on a washcloth for slippage control. Using hot water, as warm as you can take it comfortably and just let the water stream down you for a minute or so as you rub the oil in one last time with the heat of the water. I like scrubby gloves, so I put them on, but a washcloth works too especially for your face or a puff if you like and slather! First, I clean my hair, with Big,  really working it in my scalp. I leave it on while I start using the washcloth or gloves covered in suds and more added as needed from my soap of choice and work my way down my body. My favorite is Lush Rub…Ahhh, rinsing as I think wow my hair is still goopy..sigh, a repeat with shampoo or castille again and then a rinse. ( Big really works with one try! ) Feel your body for spots feeling too oily and repeat washing as needed. Don’t go too crazy, there is no need to be squeaky clean, but just not sticky or slimy.

7. Next comes the Dawn…I turn off the shower and take some dawn in the washcloth and clean off the floor and wherever else I’ve touched with oil. Hot water to rinse it away! I figure if Dawn could be used for the Exxon Valdez clean up, it can break up castor oil too…I’ve been doing it about 3 years now, and so far so good on the pipes in my house and septic system!

8. Dry off! Smile! Toner if use use one. Moisturizer if you feel you need it. Brush out your hair, sigh over the one spot you still feel a bit oily and know it will come out in the next shower;-)

9. Take it easy. Now that doesn’t mean to just chill out and do nothing, but avoid the sprint and go for the walk instead. Oil baths benefits include soothing your muscles and joints, removing excess heat, and releasing toxins. When you first get started, it can feel exhausting! I was honestly really tired after the first few times…but now feel refreshed. Enjoy!

Just breathe

Yesterday morning, after led primary, the woman next to me asked, “Where did you learn to breath like that?!” I smiled, and thought of my teacher, and told her it’s taken hard work. Someone once said to me breathing is the most intimate relationship we have throughout our lives. The very first thing we do in this body, as well, the very last, is take a breath. Coming to terms with and surrendering to our breath, or fighting it, is a daily battle for many of us. You would think, as something we usually take for granted and in most parts of our days, the breathing process is just automatic and therefore we are experts. Throw activity, irritants, heat, cold, anxiety, fear, pain, laughter, hiccups, sickness, deviated septums, and choking among others I’m most certainly forgetting right now, into the mix and breathing can go haywire. However learning to control your breath can completely change your life, bringing relaxation, calm, mindfulness, and serenity.

I admit, I wasn’t very good at it. Health issues, fear and just my basic constitution had all inhibited my ability to breath right. I’m still no expert..everyday brings it’s own new struggles and moments to learn from.

Ashtanga yoga is all about the breath. When I first started ashtanga, I could barely keep my mouth closed, that was enough of a struggle, and yet I was also trying to control my breath count as well, in led classes I would even feel as if I was just holding my breath, and never could get enough back inside. It was an immensely masochistic activity. So much intensity and effort went into to each and every inhale and exhale. I shudder at the memory, yet I kept coming back to the mat. I had moments where all went well for a nanosecond but backbending and the traditional pachimottanasa afterwards were a combo one two punch for all the good work I had done leading up to it. My past impressions of fear of suffocation would seize my brain making me hyperventilate..I cringe feeling sorry for whomever was practicing nearby me in those moments.

I had teachers always working with me on it. To me, I felt It was the weakest link of my asana practice. No prana no true asana. Sometimes if I let myself get too quickly paced, which I’m naturally inclined to do, I still can lose it in parts of practice, but I’m usually able to reset back down a notch or two. A favorite thought is imagining my breath as calm but powerful waves on the ocean, ebbing and flowing. Melting in an asana and staying until there is equilibrium between inhale and exhale helps, but the key for me is exhaling fully, enjoying the natural pause, then inhaling, ideally, as deeply.

Getting there has been a physical as well as mental part of practice. Aristotle so wisely said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Stop believing the false impressions. Surrender, faith, letting go, and ultimately relaxing in the knowledge that the worst case scenario is that I’d pass out so my autonomic function could reset, in a computer like reboot..I’m quite happy that has never actually happened! But all learned from practice, from guidance of a highly skilled teacher. I was taught to practice sutra neti as well. (Don’t mock it till you try it!) The intimacy of breath and vulnerability of the fear that losing your breath can bring forth are intense aspects of the practice, at least for me. I can say now, I’m immensely grateful for all those assists, by every teacher, past and present, more so than for help in any asana. The power of breath, and learning to control it versus being controlled by it, is central to practice. Yoga Sutra 1.34 prachchhardana vidharanabhyam va pranayama. The mind is (also) calmed by regulating the breath, particularly attending to exhalation and the natural stilling of breath that comes from such practice. I’m grateful for the meditative state and calm it brings to me everyday, especially when it works!