Starlit Swans: [Lush Cosmetics Bath Cocktail]

Intro:

The inspiration behind this Lush Cosmetics bath cocktail was two-fold. On one side, there was my depressed emotional state in need of distraction and some TLC. Whilst on the other side, inspiration came from the book ‘Vassa in the Night’[1]; a book I enjoyed so much that I could not stop thinking about it.

Consequently, as a devoted Lushie, I could not think of a better way to pay homage to a beautifully written, emotionally captivating book than to create and dedicate a Lush cocktail to it. Whilst simultaneously practicing some ‘self-soothe’[2] and opposite to emotion action’,[3] to try and look after myself emotionally and physically.[4] The two-fold inspiration amalgamated naturally to create a multidimensional bath that provided a symbolic, relaxing and emotionally healing experience. The experience was stirred by the breath-taking visual imagery, gentle sadness and courage that ‘Vassa in the Night’ offers. As was inspired and represented by the bath products used.

The emotionally healing aspect of ‘Starlit Swans’ was especially prevalent due to the product’s moon symbolism. This is because I am a night hawk and as such, I feel strongly connected to and healed by the Earth at night-time. If I am ill or in pain, I sometimes wander into my garden shoeless and lie on the grass; allowing my pain to be absorbed by the earth below me. Being drawn to the Earth under the night sky is both a strange and highly soothing experience. I feel at one with the earth and for the time I am laying on the grass, I can feel my emotional and physical wounds lessening. I appreciate the soothingly still and fresh air that night-time brings. This side of me is element as to why I enjoyed the book so much.

I do not discuss ‘Vassa in the Night’ beyond the context in which this piece is written (discussed above). As such, I discuss the book insofar as its elements inspired this Lush Cocktail and its contribution to this therapeutic cocktail. The crux of the therapeutic aspect is mindful separation from stressors and general everyday life by metaphorically stepping into a soulfully deep sky. That is, a never-ending landscape of intoxicating blue with purple hues; soft aromas and stars (glitter in reality, although stars would be awesome). The official synopsis for ‘Vassa in the Night’ is provided at the end of this piece, for those who are interested in learning more about the book’s plot line.

The products used to create this Lush cocktail were: Twilight shower gel; Moon on a Stick and Twilight bath bombs. These products are discussed below.

NB: As with all my Lush and therapy posts, at the end of this piece I amalgamate the Lush cocktail discussions with mindfulness skills to create ‘Mindfulness Recipes’.  Additionally, these posts are structured to allow for skim-reading for anyone wishing to try out the cocktail minus mindfulness – or my babble.

The Products:

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The first product added to the bath for this cocktail was Twilight shower gel. Ordinarily, I would not use two products of the same scent in the one bath cocktail. However, as one of the key storylines presented throughout ‘Vassa in the Night’ featured swans and their friendship with and loyalty to Vassa,[5] I had to include and represent them in some way. Thus, Twilight shower gel was used to create a visual representation of them.

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I attempted to create a shower gel swan. Unfortunately, my artistic attempt was foiled by the fact that there was a small pool of water in the tub. The water subsequently caused the shower gel to water-down and become runnier than it already was. The flower shaped image was supposed to be a magic wand to represent the spell that had been placed on the swans. Not my best handy work, ha-ha!

The secondary objective of using Twilight shower gel was to ensure the representation of the swans remained throughout the bathing experience in the form of crisp white bubbles. Once the running tap water started to hit and blend together with the shower gel, mounds of fluffy white bubbles started to form. The best way to get the most out bubbles out of a shower gel used in the above context, is to vigorously swoosh it with your hand whilst the bath water is filling the tub.

The rationale behind the inclusion of the Twilight range as a whole within this particular cocktail is discussed later.

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Moon on a stick was the second product which contributed to the formation of ‘Starlit Swans’.

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As the central plot of ‘Vassa in the Night’ revolves around Night itself,[6] Night had to be the key element of visual representation present by the products used. On so many levels Moon on a Stick was the perfect product to represent Night. Its name, brilliant white outer casing and multi-layered glittery blue innards and its consequent appearance in the water all visually epitomised Night. As all these elements made the water dark blue in appearance and shimmery enough to resemble the night sky. These are characteristics of Night that can be observed in the ‘real world’ and as it is personified in the book. Moon on a Stick as a product is discussed more in-depth below.

Moon on a Stick provides an absolutely stunning display in the water. As such, I recommend adding this bath bomb to the tub prior to immediate entry because it provides a display not to be missed. The pure white outer casing with its crater groves entombs a multi-layered blue centre, which ranges from sky blue to a deep, yet vibrant blue with purple slews throughout. Magnificent!

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Moon on a Stick’s combination of Ylang Ylang Oil and Jasmine Absolute gives it a sweet, almost exotic floral aroma. The use of Neroli Oil in the bath bomb adds a light and earthy undertone. Thankfully, (from my perspective) neither the earthy nor the floral aromas are too overpowering. Instead the light use of these ingredients means they blend together beautifully to create a softer version of Lush’s Frozen bath bomb.

Scent analysis aside, I made specific reference to both the Ylang Ylang Oil and Jasmine Absolute due to their depression and anxiety lifting properties.[7] Among its various health boosting properties, Jasmine Absolute is known for its mild sedative effect and serotonin activating properties.[8] The former effect can help speed anxiety reduction, whilst the serotonin boost acts as a mild antidepressant.  Similarly, Ylang Ylang Oil can reduce depression and prevent negative emotions from growing arms and legs. As its sedative effect can relax the body’s nervous system.

As I have stated in previous posts, I have had a very long standing battle with depression and anxiety.[9] As such, the subterranean reason I selected Moon on a Stick for this particular cocktail was due to its mental health boosting ingredients. I had spent the previous week(s) in a deep depression (I will not go into further detail for fear of the content acting as a trigger) and in an attempt to relieve my distress I conducted ‘opposite to emotion action’.[10] I searched through my Lush collection for products whose ingredients could not only increase mental well-being, but would also compliment the mindfulness exercises to be used during this bath. The context of this paragraph is discussed later under the ‘Mindfulness Recipe’ umbrella.

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Finally, Twilight bath bomb was added to the cocktail. Unfortunately, the second the bomb touched the water it instantly turned to mush in my hand. I would suggest that the mush happened because it was an old one from my Lush stash, but it had only been purchased around a month earlier. I am assuming it came from a bad batch. Anyways, the relevance of the Twilight range in relation to ‘Vassa in the Night’ is discussed below. This discussion amalgamates the Twilight bath bomb and corresponding shower gel for its analysis, as they both share the same core ingredients, sensory relaxing properties and product characteristics that conceptualise Night.

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The name and aromatic qualities of the range encapsulate the soft, calm, stillness associated with night time. The sweetly soft scent provided by the use of Tonka absolute and lavender in the Twilight range, resonates the way one might expect night to smell (if it had a scent). This is especially so due to the fact that night-time is a time for rest/sleep/relaxation.  All of these Night based characteristics were beautifully portrayed by Porter’s personification of Night.  Therefore, the Twilight range seemed the perfect addition to this Lush cocktail.

In terms of visual representation of the Night sky, the addition of Twilight bath bomb turned the water from a vibrant navy blue to a shimmery midnight blue. The water resembled a winter’s night sky so clear the stars become animated illuminations.

Mindfulness: Personal Overview

Mindfulness can be used as a means of distraction during times of anxiety, intrusive thoughts, high emotional distress and for relaxation. As such, all mindfulness exercises discussed throughout this post and blog can be practiced exclusively for relaxation purposes; to enjoy some much needed ‘me time’ away from day-to-day routines and commitments.

In this post, I have included a summary of the skills used and how they were practiced during the difficult time that prompted the cocktail’s creation. I have done so in the hope that they will be of use to others, by providing a mindfulness ‘recipe’ combined with personal experience(s). As discussed in my previous posts, Lush Cosmetics has been a firm part of my therapy and an important means for me to practice mindfulness. Hence, Lush products are the main ingredient of the mindfulness cocktails. Finally, I find the sensory skills practiced during difficult times far more effective than exercises such as a ‘body scan’.[11] Therefore, sensory style exercises are featured within each recipe, opposed to body scan category of exercises.

To learn more about mindfulness and its core concept please see this sticky.

Mindfulness Recipe:

Three mindfulness exercises form this recipe. The first two exercises follow a similar pattern to ‘Times Three’, as they involve one-mindfully observing sights and aromas one sense at a time.

NB: Most of the mindfulness exercise names/phrases discussed in each of my ‘Mindfulness Recipes’ I coined myself. Therefore, it is acknowledged that the exercises discussed are most likely well-known by their generic titles. I, personally, find the titles/phrases I have coined to be more explanatory and consequently their selection for use more tailorable to individual needs. As they are easy to skim through and choose what exercises you feel your inner self may be in need of for recovery.

  1. Visual Breathing:

‘Visual breathing’ is a good exercise to start with, as the bath water offers such a variety of visually striking and aesthetically pleasing colours it is difficult not to notice them first. The most prominent colour at first glance is navy blue. However, as the exercise commences and continues in duration: silver lustre, purple hues and lighter shades of blue become more apparent.

How to practice ‘Visual breathing’:

Once you are in the tub, take a few moments to get yourself into a comfortable position. Once you are physically comfortable, close your eyes and take two to three very deep breaths. Allowing yourself to sink into a natural position of further comfort and ease. The breaths also help you to become more grounded and centred within your bath tub environment. The core purpose of this and all mindfulness exercises within this recipe is to aid maximum mental and physical relaxation.

When you feel centred and comfortable, open your eyes to commence the next step of this exercise. After your eyes are open, take a few seconds or minutes to control and centre your breathing to a comfortable and steady pace. Once you have done this, take a glance at the water and bubbles, allowing your eyes to naturally fix themselves in a comfortable position.

From there, non-judgmentally look at and observe the water’s aesthetics whist retaining the pace of your centred breathing. Examples of mindful observations include:

  1. Observing how the silver lustre glides and swirls in the water. Its shimmering vibrancy against the dark backdrop. Keep your mindful breathing slow and calm.
  2. Noticing how the midnight blue water deviates to offer purple hues and light blue patches. Just observe them, do not judge or place cognitive commentary upon your observations.

The key throughout this exercise is to breathe and observe one-mindfully.[12]

When you are ready to move on to another exercise, close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths to conclude ‘Visual breathing’. Doing so helps the brain to prepare for the next stage of relaxation, by mentally closing one mindful chapter in preparation for another. However, if you are finding this exercise beneficial, stay with it and when you are ready to complete it, follow the steps within the last paragraph of the exercise ‘Breathing Mindfully’ (No.3, below).

  1. Scents and Mindful Breathing:

This exercise follows the ‘Visual breathing’ discussed above, by amalgamating mindful breathing with noticing aromas through those breaths.

How to practice ‘Scents and Mindful Breathing’:

Remaining in your Lush bath, follow the Visual Breathing instructions above. This time closing your eyes from the offset. With each breath, allow yourself to inhale, absorb and notice the sweet, floral and calming aromas of the product combination. Try to keep your breathing at a steady pace. I find slow, prolonged deep breaths work best.

Should any intrusive thoughts or passing mental comments about the products enter your mind, let them pass. Do not analyse them or offer any extended commentary to the initial thought. For example, product thoughts could include: ‘I like the smell of lavender’; ‘I do not like the floral notes’ and so on. Such thoughts, no matter how small constitute a judgement and therefore, not ‘living in the moment’. Letting such thoughts pass whilst not criticising yourself for having them is to practice the exercise one-mindfully. My personal perspective on this Lush cocktail and the exercise is provided below.

Personal Perspective on changing between mindful exercises:

Due to conditions such as Bipolar, I have poor concentration a lot of the time. Thus, if I were to continue with a single exercise I would become either disconnected with it very quickly or become frustrated through boredom and lack of focus. Both of which would mean the exercise was futile. As such, I moved to noticing the variety of scents which came from the combination of bath products used.

I closed my eyes, taking deep breaths to inhale the rich and soothing aromas. When I noticed intruding thoughts or judgments I reminded myself to return to the task at hand. I had to do this repeatedly,[13] but by the end of it I had turned it almost into a mindfulness game. Whereby, after a time I was able to notice the more complex notes which derived from the aforementioned bath bomb/bubble bar combination.

  1. Breathing Mindfully:

This exercise focusses solely on relaxed, steady breathing. The objective of which is to cognitively separate yourself from the outside world. As well as any troubles or other life stressors which may be having a negative impact on your mental and physical well-being.

How to practice the breathing exercise:

In your Lush bath, close your eyes and inhale/exhale deeply two to three times. The purpose of this step is to centre yourself and become more physically comfortable. Once you are in a comfortable position, turn your focus to your torso and notice the physical sensations deriving from each breath. Such noticing could be the way your abdomen rises and falls. Just notice the movements and sensations without attaching labels or commentary to what is occurring in that very moment. Repeat this for as long as is comfortable to do so. This is known as breathing one-mindfully.

Continuing your mindful breathing, move from the torso to notice sensations you experience from the hot bath water either throughout your whole body or areas you feel comfortable with. The following are examples of physical sensations you could practice noticing during the breathing exercise: Does the water feel soft? Is your skin tingling from the heat? Can you feel any muscles untangling? The main element to remember when practicing this exercise is to notice these things one-mindfully and non-judgmentally, by feeling/noticing any sensations or movements without allowing mental commentary to be occur.

If you notice any thoughts arriving such as, ‘oaft, this is hot’, bring your focus back to your breathing. Focussing on your breathing and not allowing thoughts that enter the brain to stick, by continuously bringing the focus back to your breath is to participate in the exercise one-mindfully. This practice allows us to live in the present moment, noticing what is happening internally and externally without judgment or feeling the need to change it. As this exercise focusses heavily on breathing, the best way to end it is to take a few deep breaths and slowly bring your focus back to the external environment by slowly opening your eyes whilst breathing.

NB: There is no time scale for this exercise, when you feel it is time to end, do so. Additionally, one thing you will most likely become aware of is how fickle and easily distracted the mind can be. If you become distracted, do not worry because it is normal for this to happen. With practice and over time you may find that distracting thoughts occur less often, as they become easier to unstick.

Personal Perspective on this mindfulness exercise:

Lying the water, I conducted a breathing focussed version of body scan, as I have never been able to bear putting into practice the exercises body scan involves. For a multitude of reasons, it is too personal and physical for me, one example is due to my ED as my body disgusts me. But I digress. With the visual and aromatic mindfulness exercises complete, breathing mindfully is the perfect exercise to round off and complete the relaxation and emotion regulation processes.[14]

Conclusion:

As stated in my previous post, mindfulness is not about completely eradicating troubling thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is about acknowledging and accepting them for what they are. This acceptance derives from separation of the events and thought, in combination with reconnection with one’s body. By doing so, our mental and physical well-being can improve. Where a situation proves to be emotionally taxing, the increase in well-being can allow for clearer thinking towards a difficult/problematic situation and consequently, the discovery of a healthier solution to it.

There was a dual rationale behind this Lush cocktail. The rationales were:  My desire to pay homage to an excellent book that tugged on a variety of my emotions and I was in desperate need of some distress tolerance through a self-soothe activity. In the latter context, even with the use of Lush products a regular bath would have been insufficient, as I needed a mysterious and ‘other worldly’ bathing experience.

Starlit Swans, most definitely met its objectives. Whilst I continued to struggle with my emotions, they were somewhat reduced. The reduction came from the time spent in the tub practicing mindfulness, as the exercises offered moments of cognitive distraction from my stresses. This cocktail is officially a firm favourite of mine. I just need to get my mitts on more Moon on a Stick bath bombs.

Finally, I recommend this Lush cocktail for those in need of an evening relaxation session, distressing emotions reduction and those who are looking for some ‘me time’ through enchanted escapism. This recommendation is predominantly based on that fact that the combination of products provide soft, multi-layered aromas; the ingredients of which have mood-lifting and calming properties. In a visual recommendation context, what can be better than relaxing alongside the Night sky?

Have you read or intend to read ‘Vassa in the Night’? What did you make of it?

Have you tried this cocktail, the mindfulness recipe or both? I would love to hear your thoughts/opinions on this cocktail and whether it is an adequate tribute to the ‘Vassa in the Night’ tale.

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‘Vassa in the Night’: Official Synopsis

‘In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighbourhood. In Vassa’s neighbourhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So, when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission. But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighbourhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…’

[1] Author: Sarah Porter

[2] Is a DBT term which encapsulates activities to practice as a means of distress tolerance. In the distress tolerance context, it is designed to help individuals deal with situations/emotions that feel too overwhelming to deal with. In a generalised context, the self-soothe umbrella includes participating in activities that will help improve our physical and mental well-being, by allowing ourselves to take time to focus solely on our own needs. This is what I refer to as ‘me time’.

[3] ‘Every emotion has an action’ and vice-versa. Thus, by taking action that contrasts (is opposite to) with the current emotion being experienced (and its corresponding, automatic action/reaction) ‘we’ can change one emotion to another.

[4] Something I had failed to do for the previous few weeks.

[5] Vassa is the main character and heroine of the book. The swans were also a favourite feature which tugged on my emotions both in terms of sadness and admiration.

[6] Porter personifies Night, consequently making it a central character with its own plot and role throughout the book.

[7] I am not and do not endorse natural therapy as a sole alternative to pharmaceutical medications/conventional therapy. Nor am I offering medical advice. Instead I discuss the natural properties as a means of ‘helping you help yourself’. For example, as a therapeutic addition which compliments conventional therapy/medication; a means of relaxation after a stressful experience (including where no mental health issue is present) or to boost the enjoyment of some much needed ‘me time’.

[8] Research conducted produced a vast amount of resources advocating the same beneficial properties of the aforementioned ingredients. As such, the assertions within these discussions are supported by the documentation patterns discovered. Some of these sources include: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/essential-oils/health-benefits-of-jasmine-essential-oil.html; https://draxe.com/essential-oils-for-depression/

[9] Alongside other mental health problems, including: Anorexia Nervosa and Bipolar.

[10] In this context, I took on a ‘fuck it and get up’ approach, opposed to searching for motivation. Motivation which at that time would not have appeared.

[11] See sticky for details of body scan exercise or for more about body scan and how to do it, see http://mindfulnessforstudents.co.uk/resources/the-body-scan/

[12] To focus only on the task at hand. Do not concentrate too hard on reaching the objective as this defeats the purpose. Instead if you are having difficulty practicing this exercise, move onto another.

[13] Partially due to poor concentration and a mind that struggles to shut off

[14] If you are still struggling emotionally, as I was, do not judge yourself negatively. It is okay for the exercises to not eradicate any distress completely, or at all. Take encouragement and pat yourself on the back for the fact that you tried. And if possible, where there was any slight elevation from troubling thoughts/emotion, try to mentally hold onto it. As this separation and distraction, no matter how short in duration, has potential to and has been known to help increase mental well-being in the long run.

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