Supporting Chemically Sensitive Yogis
by Judy Taylor, Spirit Rock Yogi
Like many of you, I benefit from going on retreat periodically. It's such a relief to drop my mundane cares and concerns for a spell and slow down enough to find some inner peace. I also appreciate being able to trade in my bland cooking for much tastier fare, having my mind fed with stimulating dharma talks, and silently communing with the darting lizards, unfettered turkeys, and docile deer. Fresh and vital insights occur to me more readily in this setting.
But being chemically sensitive, it is difficult to find a retreat venue that accommodates my issues. Spirit Rock seems to be the rare exception. Thus, I am extremely grateful to Spirit Rock for employing a fragrance-free policy. Yet, despite the well-stated and repeated fragrance-free requests at Spirit Rock, I still encounter some strong scents while on retreat.
When I am getting bombarded with scents, a dense fog will cloud my brain, preventing me from being able to focus on the breath. My mind will then ricochet all over the place, refusing to land anywhere. And the breath I wish to focus on becomes more constricted and shallow, bringing with it some agitation. My stomach also turns queasy and my joints will start to ache. Sudden drowsiness from the exposure to fragrance is another obstacle to harnessing my concentration.
Trusting that my fellow yogis want the retreat experience to be accessible to everyone, including those of us who are chemically sensitive, I believe the following information will help minimize the scent issues. Below are some guidelines for choosing the most appropriate body care products to bring and wear while on retreat.
What should you look for in a scent-free product? First of all, the label must state that it is fragrance-free or unscented. If the product does not specify this advantage, then the item most likely contains scents. Once you find one with an unscented claim, then scan the ingredient list. Make sure it does not include the words "perfume", "parfum", or "fragrance". Also, do not bank on product assertions like "hypoallergenic," "natural," "non-toxic," or even "organic." These words sound wonderful, but they have nothing to do with a product being free of fragrances. Additionally, please avoid products made with essential oils since, due to their strong aroma, they are problematic for both chemically sensitive and asthma prone individuals.
The main problem with product fragrances (and most essential oils) is that the scents are invariably chemically derived. Many of us are already aware of how deleterious such synthetic additives are to our health. Slathering our skin, washing our clothes, or cleaning our houses with these chemically-laden products exposes us to numerous harmful ingredients. Those of us who are chemically sensitive have bodies that are more vulnerable to the ill affects of these toxins.
So, when packing for a retreat, please keep these guidelines in mind. All the personal care products that you apply to your face, body, and hair should be screened in the manner described above. Additionally, please wash all the clothes you plan to bring with unscented laundry products (detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, stain removers, etc.) Fragrance-free alternatives for all commonly used products are available in most stores. Also, please allow freshly dry-cleaned clothes to be thoroughly aired out for a long time before bringing them. Or better yet, pack only washable items.
From our sister sangha, East Bay Meditation Center, here is a resource for fragrance-free products: http://www.eastbaymeditation.org/accessibility/fragrancefree.html
photo credit: Jenny Downing