Sensory Relaxation Techniques: Incense etc?
July 16, 2007 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a new kind of relaxation technique. I'm thinking something sensory, no drugs or tobacco. I thought first of incense. A) What's your experience with using incense to relax? B) Is there anything that provides a similar experience? More parameters inside.

A few more clarifying thoughts:
1) I generally do a lot of walking during the day, plugged into audio. I'm sure as a method of exercise that helps.
2) My podcast feeds keeps me with a healthy daily supply of audio to listen to and video to watch. I'm almost looking for a sensory experience to supplement that.
3) Alcohol, drugs and tobacco are all no-nos.
4) I'm a college student and so something cheap is preferred.
5) My first thought was incense. While dorm living is not kosher with incense, I might be willing to overlook that. For those of you who have used / used incense, what has your experience been like? What kinds of people take well to incense? Is there any way to use incense with minimal exposure to an open flame (I realize some of that is required)?
6) Are there any other experiences like using incense that might give the same kind of simple smell / taste experience I'm looking for?

I've read other threads. None really describe the experience of using incense for the unconverted. Thanks everybody.
posted by l33tpolicywonk to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
As far as what incense, Nag Champa is really relaxing and if you are in a college town or major metro area, somewhere has is. You can get the oil too if the stick is too overpowering for your neighbors.

As far as using it, to me using incense to relax is just a part of it. It helps create a space where you can do your zoning out, meditation, etc. Soon the smell will be a olfactory cue that this is unwind time.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 7:26 PM on July 16, 2007

Best answer: Strong mints or strong drinks are almost equivalent (for me) to incense. Smell and taste are very related anyway, just with this method you get the smell up the back of your throat instead of in your room (I agree that this is likely to tick off your room mate, and possibly everyone else in surrounding rooms). A good mug of cocoa can be made in a microwave and there are tons of syrups to mix in for whatever flavour you feel like. (You could also make your own.) Alternatively, mints are in the candy aisle usually, the blue kind are strongest.

Another thing might be a simple hot wash cloth over your nose/face. If you only have cold water in your room, you can put a small saucer of water in the microwave and then dip your wash cloth in it... Inhale the steam, it's a very soothing feeling but not smelly.
posted by anaelith at 7:36 PM on July 16, 2007

Response by poster: anaelith: I'm a big fan of the cocoa idea. Any recommendations for brands / flavors?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:43 PM on July 16, 2007

For plain cocoa mix, the Cadbury brand is lovely if you can find it in a store near you. Ghirardelli is also consistently good, and is easier to find in the US. The hazelnut flavour is really mild but distinctly hazelnutty--this is what I drink 90% of the time since I don't have to muck with other flavourings (and hey, I like mild). For both of those I don't add any sugar, just heat milk to a gentle steam and add 2 heaping spoons of mix per mug.

When I do add syrup I like to make my own. Orange is really good, as is mint. Sometimes if you're lazy you can just add fresh mint leaves while you're heating the milk, but ymmv depending on the leaves in question. Otherwise both of those are pretty easy to make into store-able syrups, if you've got a stove top you can work on (see previous link)... You'd need the zest (rind) from an orange or a handful of fresh mint leaves, plus sugar/non-cal sweetener and water.
posted by anaelith at 7:56 PM on July 16, 2007

Not related to incense, but you can download a lot of free yoga video-podcasts (such as Yogamazing, which I have tried and loved). It's a lot of fun and they have a bajillion different episodes, such as Yoga for Depression or Yoga for Athletes or Yoga for Weight Loss and of course: Yoga for Relaxation. You can spread a mat on the floor in your room and watch them from your computer. Free and fun!

PS: alternatives for mats include folded up blankets. not as comfortable, but good.
posted by limon at 7:57 PM on July 16, 2007

Here's an idea I just learned on a movie called 'Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap': squirt a teaspoon of Dr. Bronner's lavender liquid castile soap into a sink full of hot water. Soak a towel in it and wring it out. Put the towel over your face for a minute or so. Then rub your scalp with it. It will cool off so resoak it in the hot water once in a while. Rub down your whole body with it. Get into clean pj's and get ready for some serious relaxation.
posted by Soda-Da at 8:09 PM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Somewhat related to Soda-Da's suggestion, I often use a lavender pillow spray as an aid to relaxation. And if I'm trying to sleep during daylight hours I have a lavender-scented eye pillow that helps me to relax as well (it eases the subconscious furrowing that I do when I'm stressed).

You can buy a little bottle of lavender oil from most any health food store or alchemy shop and dab a little on whatever you fancy (although you should dilute it with almond, apricot, or olive oil if you want to use it on your body...full-strength essential oils can be irritating to skin).
posted by mezzanayne at 8:18 PM on July 16, 2007

I also totally forgot--you can just stick candy in your cocoa. Mints (the blue kind or the starlite kind). Candy canes in the seasons when they're available. Toffees and butterscotch in milder cocoas. This is essentially the same as the syrup (most of these are basically syrups that have been reduced -- a lot! -- and packaged) but they're easy to find and hey if you don't like them in your cocoa you can always just eat them.
posted by anaelith at 8:20 PM on July 16, 2007

Best answer: Consider an aromatherapy diffuser that plugs into the wall. You can play around with essential oils.

Lavender is great for relaxation- but there are plenty of other oils- go nuts!- experiment, mix 'n match.

It's more costly than incense, but you don't have the fire hazard/ash/smoke issue.
posted by solongxenon at 8:22 PM on July 16, 2007

Before I had access to my own bathtub (I find that warm, scented baths by candlelight are the most relaxing thing *ever*), I would often make a cup of herbal tea (chamomile or Sleepytime teas were my favorite), light a couple of scented candles, and just sort of meditate over the cup of tea, paying attention to the swirls of steam and the scent and the color.

You might also want to try laying on your bed or floor and consciously relaxing each part of your body, starting from your head, face muscles, neck, shoulders, down to your toes.
posted by tastybrains at 8:24 PM on July 16, 2007

Winter: cashmere sweater, no undershirt (dry clean only, so use sparingly);

Summer: swimming or eating chilled fruit
posted by amtho at 8:38 PM on July 16, 2007

Progressive muscle relaxation. Seriously.
posted by charmston at 9:28 PM on July 16, 2007

As far as incense, my favorite by far is Paine's Balsam Fir (you can find it online, for example here). Might not appeal to everyone, but I'm a northern girl living in southern California, so I like it especially when I'm feeling stressed or homesick.

I also like lighting a candle sometimes, usually before I go to sleep at night or while I'm writing. I know they are probably not allowed in a dorm room, but you might be able to get away with a novena candle like this. I use them because they're cheap (about $1!), last a really long time, and seem pretty safe. Plus, they're readily available, at least in southern California. If you can't find them, try checking a Mexican grocery store.

Herbal teas are always soothing, and I second the recommendation for chamomile and Sleepytime. Just don't drink too close to bedtime, if you know what I mean...

Finally, I've had good success with Iyengar yoga. I never want to go (the power of inertia!), and when I'm there I wonder how something so relaxing can be so demanding, but every time I finish a class, I feel very blissed out.
posted by splendid animal at 9:58 PM on July 16, 2007

Get some scented oils instead of incense. You can just dab a little under your nose and get that sort of peaceful hippie vibe that incense offers without the fire hazards, ashes, or pissed off roommates.

The hot cocoa idea is good, too, and I'm with anaelith--the Ghirardelli hazelnut is amazing.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:07 PM on July 16, 2007

Response by poster: My thanks to everybody - - ya'll are great help.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:29 PM on July 16, 2007

Relaxing environment
Control your breathing, no more than eight breaths per minute
Close your eyes
Open your mind
Concentrate on a word, "ah-reem" will work
Feel your body relax, your pulse drop, blood pressure drop, your breathing slow, you are almost hibernating
Let it flow
Relax some more

When you are in the flow here someone could pin a medal in your chest skin and you would barely notice. Practice, practice, practice, with the main theme being relax and let yourself go.
posted by caddis at 10:52 PM on July 16, 2007

This is surprisingly effective: 61 point relaxation technique (another description).
posted by mcguirk at 11:18 PM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you are a green thumb you might find gardening relaxing - plants can clean stuffy dorm room air up and nothing is more soothing then the smell of earth. I know that spider plants have awesome air-cleaning powers and are really tough to kill, so if you forget to water occasionally you will be fine.

If you are really craving the hippie feel, you can always grow Patchouli, though it may be more difficult to keep alive in a dorm enviornment (light, temperature, etc). That link will take you to a whole plethora of gardening tips, mostly tuned to the roof / apartment / dorm gardener, too.
posted by roygbv at 1:43 AM on July 17, 2007

One note--some people strongly associate the smell of insence (especially patchouli and nag champa) with pot smoking. Your neighbors may make certain assumptions about what's going on in your dorm room. You might not care, of course, but it's something to be aware of.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:51 AM on July 17, 2007

Follow up: Get some scented oils instead of incense. You can just dab a little under your nose

Bad idea, infinitywaltz. Essential oils should NEVER be used directly on the skin, especially near mucous membranes.

Lavender is considered to be the only oil that can be safely used directly on the skin, but I've found it to be irritating at times (but I have sensitive skin).

Check out some aromatherapy books/sites.
posted by solongxenon at 11:53 AM on July 17, 2007

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