Oh boy, you hit close to home with this one. I, too, have kept China-Gel, as well as Tiger Balm in my medicine cabinet throughout the years. They’re both popular analgesics/pain relievers for muscle and joint strain, arthritis, sports injuries, and the like. Indeed, there are several ingredients in China-Gel that raise red flags at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database and are deemed unacceptable by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. And although Tiger Balm is relatively non-toxic as ingredients go, they’re in a base derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. So if you want to make the more eco and/or organic choice, there are many to choose from.
Naturally, there are other organic therapies for assuaging muscle/joint strain, but note: I’m not speaking of more serious repetitive stress or sports injuries requiring R.I.C.E., M.E.A.T., and/or a medical professional’s treatment. I recommend the following therapies to help alleviate muscle aches.
1. You can massage, or your massage therapist can guide you in gently massaging your muscle soreness and/or joint aches with an organic plant oil to which essential oils with analgesic or anti-inflammatory qualities have been added, like eucalyptus, peppermint, ginger root, rosemary, lavender, and nutmeg, to name a few. Mix 8-12 drops of your favorite essential oil(s) into one ounce of organic plant oil, and massage specific areas that need your loving attention. Be fully present during this process, sending yourself healing energy.
2. During massage, or anytime really, consider applying moderate, sustained pressure to the web area between the index finger and thumb, a powerful acupressure point (the hoku point) for alleviating pain and fatigue.
3. Let’s not forget hydrotherapy. Consider using your favorite essential oils, bath salts (especially good old Epsom salts, which provide muscle-enhancing, pain and cramp-reducing magnesium), or a mustard bath.
4. A full-body massage not only keeps your muscles supple, but can be one of the most healing practices for overall well-being. Stroking your skin releases a pharmacy of natural feel-good chemicals into the blood stream: natural growth hormones, anti-depressants, tranquilizers, and pain relievers (those endorphins or joy juice as I like to call them!), as well as immunity boosters and circulation promoters.
5. Be fully present in whatever activity you’re involved in. The more you relax while moving, the more positive the experience and the more efficiently you build muscle and burn fat. When you’re tense, you tighten muscles that should stay slack, and your movements become wooden, tiring you faster.
6. Breath awareness and use of a mantra are simple ways to relax and be present during physical activity. Silently repeat a favorite word, use Ujjayi (yoga’s victory breath) breath, and focus intently on your bodily movements and posture. Your workout will benefit tremendously from these extra measures. Naturally, movement activities such as yoga and tai chi are very much about the mind-body connection and being present during practice, but we can bring this awareness into all of our physical fitness activities.
7. I might chant the Bija mantras as I’m doing my yoga practice, and I’m also known to have a dialogue with myself as I go for my morning jog, reminding myself to breathe smoothly and rhythmically, and to relax and release any held tension in my body (and mind!): “Breathe deeply, belly out on the inhale, in on the exhale. Roll your shoulders back and down away from ears. Be loose. Be soft. Smile, don’t grimace. Let your arms be free, swinging from side to side.”
8. I might also hold my hands in a mudra, or hand yoga position, most often chin mudra, which is a well-known and comforting position where the pads of the thumb and index finger join together. Chin mudra expresses our desire to realize our divinity and become one with cosmic consciousness. (There are 25 mudras in Hatha yoga, including sacred body postures, eye positions, breathing techniques, and hand gestures, that are well worth further study.)
9. Realize that “no pain, no gain” doesn’t have a place in today’s “mindfulness in motion” approach to physical activity. Many injuries are due to repetitive stress on a given part of the body. Give yourself the required amount of time between exercise/training sessions, so as not to create these types of assaults on the body.
10. Make certain that your regimen includes the three requirements for a well-balanced fitness approach: cardiovascular, weight-bearing (strengthening), and flexibility activities. I wrote about this at length in the “Mindfulness in Motion” chapter of my newest book Pleasure Healing, however there are plenty of resources for you to determine the best balance of these activities for your unique mind-body physiology.
Indeed, our bodies are an incredible gift endowed with limitless potential. You’re honoring the sacredness of your body and mind when you become a true physical activist imbuing every moment possible with mindful, playful, vitalizing movement.
My Favorite Products for Sore Muscles
Whether you run, pedal, golf, dance, play ball or tennis, practice yoga, ski, surf, skate, kick, climb, or generally just keep moving, whether for work or for leisure, know that there are many wonderful natural and/or organic muscle sprays, gels, and balms that will be your friend as needed.
- J.R. Watkins’ Naturals Deep Muscle Warming Balm, www.jrwatkins.com
- Blessed Maine Herb Farms’ Anti-inflammatory Pain Easing Salve, www.blessedmaineherbs.com
- Ramedica Herbal Wonder Balm Pain Relieving Gel, www.ramedicausa.com
- Dr Singha’s Mustard Rub (also Bath!), www.drsingha.com
- Old Goat’s Feel GR8 Pain Relief spray and roll-on products are quite fun, www.loveoldgoat.com
- One of my fave raves is award-winning organic Herbal Cool from the folks over at Elemental Herbs. This sore muscle spray goes on cool and warms up fast. www.elementalherbs.com
Mary Beth Janssen is a highly respected beauty and wellness educator, certified mind-body-health educator for the Chopra Center for Well-Being, and the author of five books. To send her your questions, write to Marybeth@organicspamagazine.com.