Create an At-Home Spa: 4 Simple Spa Recipes

You’re in serious need of a pampering day at the spa, but you’re short on time and money. The solution? Transform your own bathroom into a sanctuary. At the Lake Austin Spa Resort, I teach classes on how to turn common kitchen and garden ingredients into luxurious skin scrubs, bath salts and more.

The key is using herbs and flowers. Certain aromas have a powerful effect on the nervous system, leaving you feeling relaxed or energized. I recommend using the following ingredients for their scents:

  • Lavender
    This soothing, antimicrobial herb has been shown to help you relax and get a good night’s sleep. Wesleyan University conducted a 31-person study and found that when people sniffed lavender before bedtime, they got more slow-wave (or deep) sleep and reported feeling more energetic in the morning.
  • Eucalyptus
  • Developing research suggests this woodsy scent may help break up mucus and stop coughs, according to the National Institutes of Health. And a study published in the journal Respiratory Medicine shows that eucalyptol, the active ingredient, has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Mint
  • Perfect for hot days, spearmint and peppermint are cooling and refreshing. And a recent study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy also found that applying menthol to the skin increases blood flow.
  • Ginger
  • When grated and added to a bath, the spicy root provides an invigorating sensory energy-boost. It can be mixed with coconut oil for a mildly exfoliating scrub.
  • Rosemary
  • This herb has a refreshing, stimulating effect.
  • Rose Petals
    Pluck them from your own garden to add a sweet fragrance to any bath or body treatment.

Once you’ve chosen your herb, mix them up with one of the following recipes. With a few household ingredients, you can go from stressed and tired to relaxed and glowing:

Basic Bath Infusion

  • 4 cups fresh herbs (or 2 cups dried)
  • 4 cups water
  • Boil water in a large pot; add herbs. Stir, cover and remove from heat. Steep for 10 minutes, strain and pour into a hot bath.

Soothing Bath Bag

  • 1/4 cup powdered milk
  • 1/4 cup Epsom salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup dried herbs
  • 10 drops of essential oil

Stir together all ingredients and place in a muslin bag (or several layers of cheesecloth); secure with a rubber band. Add to hot bath and steep for several minutes. Open the bag and use the softened herbs as an exfoliating body scrub. You can also seal unused bags in a glass jar for several months.

Energizing Coffee Body Scrub

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 4-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup coffee beans, finely ground
  • 2 tablespoons bentonite clay (found in health food stores)
  • 3 tablespoons oil, such as olive, grapeseed, coconut or avocado
  • 3 drops each of rosemary oil and grapefruit or peppermint oil

Combine sugar and rosemary in a spice grinder and process until finely ground. Pour into a medium-sized bowl and mix with the remaining ingredients. Use the scrub on skin; shower off. Moisturize with additional body oil.

Skin-softening Bath Blend

  • 1/4 cup rolled or instant oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup milk powder
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup herbs of choice
  • 10 to 15 drops of essential oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons body oil

In a food processor, combine oatmeal, milk powder, sugar and herbs until coarsely ground. Pour in bowl and combine with essential oil, honey and body oil. Place in muslin bag and steep in a hot bath for a few minutes. Use cold tea bags (green tea or chamomile) over your eyes as you enjoy your bath.

 

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

Immune-boosting Foods You'll Love

You've heard it before: The best offense is good defense.

During cold and flu season, nutrition plays a major role in how well your immune system can fight off sniffles and coughs. The better you eat, the stronger your immune power. On the other hand, the more nutrient deficiencies you have, the more vulnerable you are to getting sick.

To keep your immune system working at its best, increase your intake of these foods during cold and flu season. You'll be glad you did. 

1. Mangoes
Mangoes include a broad spectrum of antioxidants, including vitamin A and zinc. Vitamin A enhances immunity by revving up the function of white blood cells, which fight infection. Zinc is one of the most important nutrients for maintaining an overall healthy immune system.

How to get it: Whip up some mango salsa or a mango smoothie, or top yogurt with fresh mango slices. Strive to consume about 1 cup a day for the best benefit.

2. Garlic
Sometimes referred to as the"poor man's antibiotic," garlic has been eaten for centuries for its broad spectrum of therapeutic benefits. It is believed to stimulate the immune system by increasing the number of lymphocytes (white blood cells). Even more, two compounds found in garlic, inulin and allicin, are thought to be responsible for effectively killing bacteria as well as intestinal parasites.

How to get it: Add fresh garlic to sauces and dressings. Try to eat at least a clove every day during flu season.

3. Mushrooms
Chinese medicine and Eastern cultures have relied on mushrooms for their health benefits and immune-boosting properties for centuries. Beta-glucans, a type of sugar found in both raw and cooked mushrooms, is believed to be responsible for the immune-stimulating properties.

In addition, mushrooms are the only vegetable that naturally contains vitamin D, and decreased blood levels of vitamin D have been correlated with an increased risk of catching the influenza virus.

How to get it: Add mushrooms to salads, sauces and omelets. Eat about 1 cup of white button, crimini, shitake, maitake, reishi or portobello mushrooms every day.

4. Salmon
During the winter months when the air is dry, mucous membranes dry out and crack, providing the perfect opportunity for viruses and other nasty bugs to enter the body. Eating more fish that are rich in omega-3 fats can help maintain healthy cell membranes. Salmon (and other seafood) is also a source of selenium, which has been shown to reduce the severity of a virus once a person is exposed.

How to get it: Broil a salmon fillet or salmon steak and serve with fresh mango salsa. Eat salmon twice a week.

5. Green Tea
Drinking plenty of fluids during flu season is especially important for hydration as it helps the body maintain a strong defense against bad bugs. Green tea also contains epigallocatechin gallate, which has been shown to stop the common cold from spreading.

How to get it: Drink 2 to 3 cups of green tea each day to get immune-boosting benefits and stay hydrated.

6. Yogurt
Aside from being an excellent source of calcium, dairy products like yogurt provide immune-boosting vitamin D and probiotics (also referred to as"live active cultures"). Vitamin D's production of antimicrobial substances is believed to stop viruses from spreading in the body. Probiotics found in yogurt can help the body fight infections and boost immunity by fortifying the healthy bacteria found in the digestive tract.

How to get it: Yogurt parfaits are the perfect breakfast or dessert. Make tangy salad dressings with plain yogurt or add to smoothies for an extra nutritional boost. Consume two servings of yogurt daily.

7. Almonds
Almonds contain vitamin E, which may help prevent colds and ward off upper respiratory infections. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that works in combination with other nutrients found in almonds, including selenium and magnesium.

How to get it: Make your own granola with toasted almonds, rolled oats and cinnamon. Or use almond butter instead of peanut butter. Eat about 22 almonds (or its equivalent) a day.

8. Spinach
Spinach is a nutrition powerhouse offering several key nutrients that help to boost immune function and health. It is a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, folate, iron, vitamin B-2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B-6, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. With all these vitamins in one food, it's no wonder everyone should be consuming more of this leafy green.

How to get it: Sautee spinach with garlic and onions. Or make a spinach salad with pomegranate dressing, topped with toasted almonds.

Photo by Avinash Kumar on Unsplash

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5 Ways to Make Indoor Winter Air Healthy

It's no secret: Winter air wages war on your health. That's because cold air holds less moisture, and indoor heating cooks it dry.

And if you're like most people, you've carefully sealed your home against potential drafts and air leaks. Such contained air will turn stale and increase the spread of germs due to the lack of circulation in the home, says Laureen Burton, a chemist and toxicologist with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Indoor Environments Division.

As a result, indoor air quality plummets, and you -- and your family -- suffer from such seasonal ailments as flaky and itchy skin, chapped lips, sinus infections, sore throats, colds, flu and other respiratory diseases.

But you can fight back by getting control of indoor pollutants, improving your home's overall ventilation, maintaining its heating system and controlling the relative humidity indoors. Here are some easy ways to keep indoor air clean and healthy this winter:

1. Vacuum with a HEPA filter.
Dust or pet dander assault your home's indoor air on a daily basis but can be particularly problematic for your health when you're cooped up inside all winter. Frequent cleaning is your best defense against these insidious pollutants. Vacuum floors and upholstered furniture often (at least once a week and more if you have pets) using a machine equipped with a HEPA filter, which helps trap the tiny dust, pet dander and dust mite particles.

2. Clean surfaces and wash linens.
Wipe down other furnishings (tabletops, picture frames, etc.) at least twice a week. Wash all bedding, including blankets and duvets, weekly with a quality detergent. Encase mattresses and box springs in hypoallergenic covers, which are typically made of wool, sheepskin or cotton and are designed to minimize the possibility of an allergic response.

3. Vent properly.
Use bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans when you're showering or cooking. And invite fresh air in. Crack windows. Or install a relatively inexpensive in-window air exchange system (about $70), which pulls in filtered outside air without letting heated air escape.

Another option is a heat recovery ventilator, a whole-home solution that uses the heat in the outgoing stagnant air to warm the incoming fresh air. It's pricier (about $2,500 installed) but less obtrusive since it's usually installed in the basement.

4. Service home heating appliances.
All heating systems and devices need to be installed, serviced and operated according to the manufacturer's specifications," explains Burton. This includes whole-home heating systems, space heaters, furnaces, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces.

You can do some of the maintenance yourself, like changing air filters. More intricate inspections, such as monitoring pipes and duct work or cleaning out the chimney, should be left to the pros.

 5. Control humidity.
Once the air is clean, moving and warm, it's often still dry. Most people think a humidifier is the answer, but too much moisture in the air can lead to condensation, mold and rot.

For optimal indoor comfort and health, a relative humidity of 45 percent is ideal, but anywhere between 30 and 60 is the target. Get a quality hygrometer (available at hardware stores at a wide range of prices) to monitor your in-house humidity level. And use a humidifier only when conditions require it, only when the heater is on and only in rooms with open doors so excess moisture buildup doesn't occur.

Photo by Simone Hutsch on Unsplash

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6 New Fun Exercise Trends to Try Now

When it comes to getting fit, there are two things I believe in: taking classes and trying new things. This was exactly the approach I took to get -- and stay -- in white-dress shape for my wedding. In the six months leading up to my big day, I tried as many different classes as I could. I had a ton of fun, and it kept me incredibly active.

What about you? Need a time out from the treadmill? Are you tired of that spin bike? Introducing a new type of exercise to your usual routine can kick-start your resolve. Consider the following classes, which are taking studios and gyms by storm, and prepare to get excited to sweat again!

1. If you like ... competition
Try … CrossFit


What it is: In a word: Intense! CrossFit workouts are fast-paced --you continuously move from one high-intensity exercise to the next. The exercises mostly involve fundamental actions, like running (more like sprinting!), throwing, jumping, squatting, pushing, pulling and swinging. There’s a variety of equipment, including barbells, kettlebells and sandbags. The goal is to complete a certain number of reps of each exercise within a given amount of time. In many classes, participants compete against one another. Because of its high intensity, you’re sure to torch a ton of calories!

One warning: Because of the explosive nature of many CrossFit exercises, it’s crucial to have good form before ramping up the intensity, to avoid injury. If you’re just starting to get in shape, jumping right in may not be your best option. Consider working with a personal trainer to learn the basics first.

Check it out: Watch these videos for demos of CrossFit exercises and click here to find CrossFit facilities in your area.

2. If you like … bodyweight exercises
Try … TRX

What it is: This suspension-training system contains two long straps that attach to a stable surface, like a door frame, weight rack or tree. Using your own body weight and gravity as resistance, you can do hundreds of different exercises by holding the handles or placing your feet in the foot cradles.

Instead of isolating a specific area, these exercises work your entire body. It’s great for building strength (particularly the core), and improving balance and flexibility.

Check it out: Find a trainer or a facility in your area that offers TRX training. You can also purchase your own suspension training system to use at home.

3. If you like … dance parties
Try … Zumba

What it is: The Zumba brand calls itself "a calorie-burning dance-fitness party." I’d say that’s about right. This high-energy workout incorporates dance moves and fun music. In addition to the standard Zumba fitness classes, several other courses are available, including Zumba Toning, which incorporates resistance training using special toning sticks, and Aqua Zumba (a pool party workout!).

Check it out: Click here to find a class near you or consider buying a workout DVD to do at home.

4. If you like … ballet
Try … The Bar Method

What it is:
This non-impact workout is dance conditioning with a variety of exercises -- some done with free weights, some at the bar and some on a mat -- to tighten and tone your entire body.

It also involves lots of stretching to help elongate muscles and improve posture. Many of the exercises are isometric, which involves holding a position and making small range-of-motion movements (say, pulsing up and down in a squat). 

Check it out: Find a studio location near you, see examples of exercises or check out these DVDs you can do at home. Pure Barre and Fluidity are different but similar brands of ballet-inspired fitness you could also check out.

5. If you like … high-intensity classes
Try … boot camp

What it is: Boot camp workouts aren’t brand-new type of exercise, but their growing popularity has led to more options and offerings. Inspired by military workouts, these high-intensity classes involve both cardio and strength training. They often move quickly, without a lot of rest, and incorporate interval training and explosive plyometric moves (like burpees).

Check it out: Depending on the season, you may be able to find outdoor classes offered in your area. (I think the fresh-air ramps up those endorphins even more!) You can also check out local gyms for boot-camp-style classes. Barry’s Bootcamp is a popular chain that has facilities in select cities and DVDs you can do at home.

6. If you like … yoga
Try … aerial yoga


What it is: Want to kick your yoga up a notch? In an aerial yoga class, you do many traditional poses ... in a special fabric hammock that hangs a few feet off of the floor. Depending on the pose, the hammock supports some or all of your weight. This may help you achieve more advanced poses and deepen your stretches. Just make sure to listen to your body during your first class. Most of us aren’t used to being upside down very often (or for any length of time), so you may need to take more breaks. I know I did!

How to check it out: Unnata Aerial Yoga has studio locations around the country but not in all states. You may also be able to find a class in your area at a facility that offers acrobatics classes.

Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

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5 Healthy Daytime Habits to Ensure Better Sleep

Getting enough sleep can do more than lift our spirits. Research shows that skimping on shut-eye can wear down our immune systems, making us more susceptible to colds and even raising our risk for obesity and heart disease. And 2 in 3 women say they have trouble snoozing, reports a survey from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). That’s because we may be our own worst enemies: Many of our daily habits -- from when we shower to what we snack on -- can sabotage our slumber.

Make the following tweaks to your routine, and soon you’ll be having sweet dreams.

  • Clean Your Room Mom was right: Not only does making your bed keep your bedroom tidy, but it can also help you rest easy. According to recent research from the NSF, people who made their bed daily were 19 percent more likely to get a good night’s sleep. A messy atmosphere can be distracting, causing you to toss and turn, explains Dr. Gila Hertz, director of the Huntington Medical Group Sleep Disorders Center in Huntington Station, N.Y. To create your own sanctuary, straighten your bedroom each morning and invest in comfortable linens.
     
  • Lay off the Caffeine That grande latte can come back to haunt you -- even if you drank it in the afternoon. People metabolize caffeine at difference rates and, for some, the compound can linger in their systems for up to eight hours, says Dr. Judith Leech, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa and a member of the Canadian Sleep Society. “The brain needs to be completely relaxed to drift into sleep, so any stimulating substances can interfere with the process,” says Hertz. He advises steering clear of caffeine at least five hours before bedtime. For a buzz-free afternoon pick-me-up, brew a mug of herbal tea and lemon.
     
  • Snack Wisely Want a nighttime nosh? Steer clear of spicy or greasy fare. “These foods can give you heartburn in the middle of the night,” says Leech. The best bedtime snack: a small amount of complex carbohydrates, such as a handful of whole-wheat crackers or whole-grain cereal. It regulates your blood sugar throughout the evening, explains Leech.
  • Dim the Lights Your bedside lamp can keep you from nodding off. Harvard researchers found that exposure to bright lights a few hours before bedtime can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. “Light signals that it’s dawn and it’s time to wake up,” says Leech. Swap your regular bulbs for those with softer wattage, and remove any light source, like the glow from your alarm clock or cell phone. “Turning the clock around so it’s not facing you can be beneficial,” says Leech.
  • Shower in the Morning A steamy bath before bed seems relaxing, but it can actually have the opposite effect. As you nod off, your body heat dips, says Hertz. “But a hot shower can raise your core temperature, delaying sleep onset,” he says. Change up your routine so you bathe in the a.m., or wash up a few hours before bedtime -- so you can snooze peacefully.

Photo by Milan Gaziev on Unsplash

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