Ruby Phoenix

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1984 was a big year for me. I was 12 and read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which got me obsessing with every little thing happening in my body, and I got my period.  Then came Forever and soon after boys had my puberty hormones all a flutter and a whole other awareness of my body took over. However during the last few decades I became gradually disconnected from my physical body.  It’s been unconscious and unintentional but unless I was sick, looking to lose a few pounds, or tracking my cycle to gauge my fertility, I never really considered how integral my body was to my wellbeing. It sounds crazy typing it out now, as of course I’m aware I exist in a body, but I saw it as a vehicle of existence, if you know what I mean: fundamental sure, but in a functional capacity.

Then in the last few years, as I entered the peri-menopausal phase of my life, there’s been a significant shift in my consciousness.  Maybe it was the essential oils, maybe it’s just what age does (acknowledging our mortality sure as hell makes you think about things differently!) but my health has become a major priority and with that, an awareness of my body. Not just as a means of existence, but paramount to my existence. It’s been a domino effect really, with one thing leading synchronistically onto another, to where I find myself now: an aromatherapist and wellness advocate with an insatiable thirst for, and continually growing, understanding of how deeply interconnected our mind, body and spirituality is, and the importance of those relationships.

The journey to menopause takes us through a liminal phase and, from the moment we enter peri-menopause (usually around 40 onwards for most women), we stand at a threshold with the opportunity to reflect on our past experiences and the stories we tell ourselves.  We are offered the chance to let go of ideas that no longer serve us and transform our struggles into personal wisdom.  This is not something we merely think about, but can be visceral experiences that occurs as hot flushes and migraines, or cause insomnia and feelings of intense emotions; a (not always welcomed) gift from our bodies to commune with our inner self. This is a portal to transform what we have allowed to define us into a deeper wisdom and understanding of life, of our life.

I’m currently studying Aromatherapy and Medicine of the Soul with Cathy Skipper and Florian Birkmayer which is based around the Jungian concept of alchemy where fire (calcinatio) is traditionally considered the first of seven stages of alchemy. It seems apt then that one of the most common physical symptoms experienced by women during the menopause is what is known as hot flushes.

The calcinatio represents being burned up or consumed by the fires of one’s unmet desires, blocked instincts, passions and rages, in other words, one’s own personal hell. If this intense effect can be endured, it can have a refining and consolidating effect, for it is also associated with the flames of the funeral pyre, which signify transformation.  Once the process of calcinatio has finished, there is a feeling of something having been burnt off, the tension has been released.
— Sharon Martion, The Alchemy of Anger

In addition to hot flushes, the calcination stage can also be experienced on an emotional level through intense rage and anger: “fiery” emotions that need to be released in order to be transformed.  In fact one of the first signs of peri-menopause could be increased irritability, a little signal that the heat is being turned up.  It’s important to acknowledge these signals, to claim the anger and release the experiences that have rendered us feeling powerless and and allow the fire of transformation to burn. 

We often hear how the menopausal journey is one that takes women by surprise, however alongside the physical discomforts, it’s the psychological breakdown that seems to be the hardest to accept.  After all, it’s scary when the way we’ve lived and experienced the world is suddenly no longer working, and the urge to make things “normal” again by trying to ignore and push the difficult emotions away is fierce; but if we allow ourselves to cultivate an awareness of the emotions we are feeling and let them become our teacher, we can grow through them.  

That is how the name Ruby Phoenix came to be, for it’s how I envision the journey through menopause: first we must surrender; to our body, to our mind and to ourselves. We must admit and release our yearnings, our grief, our truth, and face ourselves with naked and raw honesty. We must allow our old ways of thinking and being, burn. Then, when we no longer bleed, we can transform into a ruby red phoenix and rise anew.

5 Essential Oils on the Journey to Menopause

A woman’s ability to adjust emotionally during the climacteric can be greatly influenced by how much of her life is lived in alignment with her inner values and her identification of self.  So, although there is no denying the hormonal changes that take place within a woman’s body, how she copes with the menopause physically will be largely determined by the strength of her emotional well-being.

Knowing that some of the key psychological symptoms experienced during the climacteric are depression and anxiety, which are often fuelled and aggravated by stress and insomnia, I wanted to share with you some of the essential oils that could support women to work through these symptoms.   It's important to bear in mind there are many essential oils that can be considered and I would encourage women to initially work with an aromatherapist who can create a unique and individualised programme suited specifically to their needs. However in lieu of that, here are my top 5 essential oils that can best support women through the climacteric. 

1. Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia)

Anxiety is a common symptom listed by women during the climacteric and ester-rich oils are known to have significant rebalancing action on the sympathetic nervous system.  The main constituents of Lavender are linalyl acetate and linalool, which are important components in the calming and soothing quality of Lavender and have been rapidly detected in plasma after a topical application, reaching peak levels within 19 minutes. In addition, several studies have been conducted on the effects of aromatherapy in sleep-related disorders showing that inhalation of Lavender during bedtime can improve sleep quality. With insomnia being another common symptom of menopause leading to increased irritability and mood-swings, and with additional studies showing Lavender’s ability to help with mood changes and instability during this time (Holmes, 2016), Lavender could provide extra support to women during the climacteric who are suffering from insomnia. 

2. Neroli (Citrus aurantium var: amara)

Dominated by linalool, Neroli is known for its “uplifting, anxiety-relieving and calming actions that are of value in both aiding sleep and counteracting fatigue” (Rhind, 2014) making it useful for the climacteric woman.  In fact, a specific study on menopausal women investigating the effects of inhaling Neroli essential oil concluded that it improved their quality of life in relation to their symptoms. Gabriel Mojay describes Neroli as being particularly good for ‘hot, agitated conditions’ and can help ‘ease mental and emotional tension, nervous depression, and both chronic and acute anxiety.’  He also talks about how Neroli can assist in the release of repressed emotions through the energetic reconnection of our conscious and subconscious worlds (Mojay, 1994).  

In her book, ‘The Wisdom of Menopause’, Christiane Northrup says, “if emotional issues in their lives are not attended to, if their midlife losses are not fully grieved and released…they may end up with full-blown depression”, so using Neroli essential oil to support working through any blocked emotions could be helpful during this time. 

3. Rose (Rosa damascena)

Called “the Queen of flowers” by Greek poet, Sappho, the effect of Rose on our Central Nervous System (CNS) is extensive.  A study by Hongratatanaworakit (2009) showed that Rose produced a state of relaxation and calmness through transdermal absorption, supporting its use in aromatherapy for the alleviation of stress, depression, anxiety, mood-swings and irritability (Rhind, 2014). A clinical test on the effects of aromatherapy for anxiety and depression in postpartum women who were treated with rose and lavender essential oils twice weekly for a month found that their postnatal depression was lessened with significant improvements. Another study looking at the effects of olfactory stimulation on prefrontal cortex activity found that Rose can induce physiological and psychological states of relaxation.

4. Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)

An essential oil known to reduce premenstrual tension and ease menstrual pain, Clary Sage is also effective for calming the mind and easing tension, with an antipressant-like effect.  According to Peter Holmes in Aromatica (2016), on an energetic and emotional level, Clary Sage ‘excels in those whose irritability, scatteredness, emotional confusion and stagnant, distressed feelings arise from weakness and a lack of centre.’ It is said to ‘bring awareness within, allowing one to come from one’s deeper emotional and energetic core’ by ‘uncannily stirring up long-lost feelings and half-buried dreams.’

5. Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum)

In Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit (1997), Gabriel Mojay describes the emotional and energetic quality of Geranium as one that ‘helps to reconnect us to our feeling-life – to our emotional sensitivity, relaxed spontaneity, and healthy thirst for pleasure and enjoyment.’  For women in the throes of the climacteric who might argue there is too much emotional sensitivity, Christiane Northrup suggests, “if we strive to work in active partnership with that organic energy, trusting it to help us…we will find that we have access to everything we need to…move joyfully into the second half of our lives.”

Geranium essential oil has also been shown to reduce anxiety, and a clinical trial comparing the efficacy of massage and aromatherapy massage with Geranium on depression in postmenopausal women found that the aromatherapy massage was more beneficial.

What Are Essential Oils?

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The Power of Plants.

Essential oils are the aromatic compounds sourced from various parts of certain plants. They come from the smallest of flowers to the largest of trees and are all wholly unique in their chemical make up and complexity.

Far from being a new fad, essential oils have played an integral part in our lives for thousands of years with aromatic plants and oils used as incense and perfumes as much as for their medical properties. From the Ayurvedic system of medicine in India to well documented use in China, some of the earliest written records date back to more than 2000 BC.  There are over 600 references to essential oils in one form or another in the Bible, and over the years there have been many discoveries at archaeological sites evidencing their widespread and popular use.

Medical chemistry as we know it today, didn’t really come into play until the early 1800’s when a German apothecary’s assistant, Friedrich Serturner, discovered the raw chemical compound of opium from the poppy. With the scientific revolution of the early nineteenth century, chemists began to identify the various constituents of essential oils and over the years we have seen the shift from these natural derivatives towards synthetic copies. Nowadays the medicine we use often has very little to do with its natural origins.

There is no dispute that modern medicine has made huge advances and life-saving discoveries, but somewhere along the way we lost our intuitive sense and responsibility for our own general health and well-being.

 

When you enter the fragrant pharmacy a whole World of possibility is waiting for you.
— Valerie Ann Worwood