“Take a pause,” says my mother when I complain about some specific problem or just the general stress that wears me down. She means inhaling deeply, tuning out all of the worries and giving myself a break. It’s a simple concept, and I like the image of the whole world around me freezing in mid-movement as I readjust myself and regain balance. Scents often make my breaks more satisfying, even if they are nothing more than a pellet of aromatic resin or a few drops of floral water.
Sandalwood and Cashmere
If you want your garments to smell of roses and cream, tuck a few sandalwood chips in your closet; wool and other natural fabrics absorb the scents readily, and the fact that sandalwood repels moths is a bonus point. Picking up a sweater and inhaling its perfume jolts me out of my sleepy state in the morning as I select my outfit and it instantly puts me in a better mood. Since I’m cranky before my first cup of tea, anything that makes me more socially adjusted in the morning is worth its weight in gold. Catching a delicate whiff of sandalwood throughout the day is such a comfort.
Sandalwood is used in many Hindu rituals, so you can find chips at Indian grocery stores. Online shops like Mountain Rose Herbs also carry a variety of sandalwoods, including the sustainable Australian variety. Another favorite wood for scenting my wardrobe is cedarwood. It has a sharp, bright scent, and it feels very uplifting.
Orange Blossom Scented Dreams
I’m a night owl and I’m much more productive after sundown. But if I keep too many late nights, sooner or later the fatigue shows up on my face and in my mood (hence, the cranky morning persona). To help myself relax, I follow the old Provencal custom of sprinkling the bed sheets with orange blossom water. It’s like falling asleep on a heap of white petals, and it usually does the trick.
If I want to relax and feel in a romantic mood, then I swap orange blossom for jasmine. To make my own jasmine water, I mix 3 drops of jasmine essence (absolute) in 2 Tablespoons of perfumer’s alcohol (vodka will do in a pinch) and then dilute this tincture with half a cup of distilled water. You can increase the proportion of oil, depending on how strong you want your water to smell. But do keep in mind that jasmine essence can stain light fabrics.
My incense box is a little treasure trove of scented gums, sticks and pellets. Different types of incense suit my different moods, but I use pure frankincense in my quests for serenity. Raw frankincense tears–as the droplets of resin are called–smell like ground black pepper and lemon peels, but when you burn them, they turn darker, heavier, spicier. The tears will smolder gently and produce fragrant arabesques of smoke.
I blame my love for body oils on French magazines. Just about every issue has a feature on how sensual it feels to apply oil and how good they are for your skin. Now I have a battery of different natural oils that have joined Nuxe’s Huile Prodigieuse in my bathroom cabinet. Coconut oil makes hair smooth and shiny, argan oil gently removes eye makeup, while jojoba soothes and moisturizes skin.
The most versatile oil in my beauty kit is almond. It has a mild nutty scent and light texture. I usually just rub it into my skin after an evening shower, but it can also be mixed with rosewater for a body lotion or with sugar for a scrub. I also steep a piece of vanilla bean in almond oil to give it a creamy, sweet nuance.
Another tip for using almond oil comes from a makeup artist friend who swears by it as a natural-looking highlighter. You need barely a drop of oil for this. Tap the oil on lightly with your fingertips on top of cheekbones and then dust with loose powder to achieve a lit from within glow.
The Pillow Book
You can almost smell incense, iris petals and damp silks when reading Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book. Beautiful prose is the best way to tune out the routine and step into another universe. Sei Shonagon lived in Japan in the 11th century, and she left behind a compilation of observations, anecdotes and famous lists in the form of The Pillow Book. As I mentioned in my post about her, Things That Makes One’s Heart Beat Faster, she is a delight:
“It’s the middle of a fiercely hot day, and you’re finding it impossible to stay cool — your fan only moves the warm air about, and you keep dipping your hands in ice water and moaning about the heat. And then someone brings you a message written on brilliant red thin paper, attached to a flowering Chinese carnation, also bright crimson — and you sense how hot he must have felt as he wrote it, and how much you must mean to him, and find yourself unconsciously laying down the fan (that was anyway proving so useless even when plied while the other hand soaked in ice water), your complaints suddenly forgotten” (translation by Meredith Mckinney).
What are your tips to take a break and relax?
Photography by Bois de Jasmin