Christmas. Next week. Gifts. Parties. Cards. Stress. Relaxation: You could use some right now, and we're betting the people on your gift list would love some, too. Sit down; take a few deep breaths and think. Who on your gift list has been really uptight lately and might enjoy a luxurious massage? Probably several names come to mind. Simple: Buy gift certificates to solve your problem and theirs at once. If you already have a favorite massage therapist, or the name of a highly recommended one, start there.
Most therapists offer a selection of treatments ranging from traditional Swedish massage and variations such as deep tissue, sports and neuromuscular massages, to more exotic types such as craniosacral therapy, which focuses on the skull and spinal column, and shiatsu, which uses acupressure to release tension. The good news is you don't have to pick one. All your recipient has to do is show up and prepare to relax. The therapist will tailor treatment to fit his or her needs, often combining several techniques in a single session. A one-hour massage will cost about $60 to $70 in Jackson, and it is time and money well spent.
Maybe you haven't ventured into the magic of touch therapy yourself, and you don't have time to come up with recommendations. Consider one of the spas around town. Two that we checked, Earle & Joseph and Aqua The Day Spa, offer both one-hour and half-hour sessions and will mix and match massage therapy with other spa treatments on one gift certificate. How simple can it get? Be sure to make an appointment for yourself while you are at it—and, maybe one for your mother-in-law, too. Big brownie points there.
For the folks on your list who aren't comfortable with touch therapy, think smell therapy—that is, aromatherapy. With some imagination and little money, you can create gift packages by combining essential oils (concentrated, natural aromatic oils expressed from plants) with bath products or aromatherapy accessories.
Start with a visit to your favorite health food store. Most of them carry a wide assortment of essential oils, but lavender oil is one of the most versatile. Used for thousands of years and known for promoting relaxation, lavender can be added to bath water, bath salts, massage oils or unscented lotions. It is safe enough to use directly on the skin where it promotes healing of minor cuts and burns, and helps the itch of insect bites. Or, you can simply add it to diffusers for a permeating, relaxing fragrance. Price varies by brand, usually around $20 for 4 ounces, but it also comes in 1-ounce bottles. It only takes a few drops.
One word of caution: While essential oils are far less likely to cause reactions than some over-the-counter products, a skin test for first-time users is recommended. In general, oils other than lavender should be diluted in vegetable or olive oil before applying them to skin. These other essential oils also have a calming effect: anise, chamomile, clary sage, mandarin, orange, sandalwood and ylang-ylang, among others. Try them alone or in combination. And several good books, including Valerie Ann Worwood's "The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy" (New World Library, 1991, still in print), make great how-to gifts alongside the oils.
For the insomniac in your life, consider an aromatic eye pillow. Filled with small seeds that have been scented with calming essential oil, these small rectangular pillows conform to the shape of your eyes and send fragrance wafting past your nose. They are wonderfully relaxing. Another variation of the seed-filled pillow is a larger rectangular pillow, used as a neck wrap. Pop it into the microwave for tight neck muscles, or put it in the freezer for a tension headache. The muscles respond to the temperature, and the brain responds to the aroma. Very soothing. We found eye pillows at The Body Shop in the Northpark mall for about $14. The Rose Tree (1625 E. County Line Rd.) has Neck Warmers with Linen Spray (lavender or vanilla) for $21.95. And Rainbow Co-op (2807 Old Canton Rd., 366-1602) has a good selection of aromatherapy accoutrements.
If you're into arts and crafts (and you really didn't want to go to those two parties anyway), you can make eye pillows and neck wraps yourself using rice, a few drops of essential oils, a pinch or two of herbs, and some nice fabric. It's better to use a tightly woven fabric for the pillow and then cover it with something soft and attractive.
Another gifting option might be a selection of incense and a unique holder. Fragrances and prices vary, but you can get a package for under $3 most places. Seven*, a poetry café at 206 W. Capitol St., has a wonderful and affordable selection of incense. (Call 355-0577 for hours; open only on certain nights.)
In these hectic times, many of us find it impossible to rationalize stopping to pamper ourselves. Here's your chance to make sure your gift recipients actually do it. One-hour massage: $65. Essential oil: $20. Relaxation: priceless.
Deborah Noel is the wellness columnist for the Jackson Free Press.