A guide to pregnancy and childbirth

Chapter 2

Womb Ecology

Oh mighty one, the ancient inscrutable, without name or form,

Disguised as Brahman, Abraham, the Primordial One,

You come to us as the gift of a child.

Salutations, salutations to you a million times,

For manifesting Yourself in every grain of creation.

—DEEPAK CHOPRA

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There is an expression in Ayurveda that says, “What you see you become.” In the West we have the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Although these sayings come from different cultures, they are, in essence, both saying the same thing. Our experiences shape us. Whether you are hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting, or smelling, your experiences in each moment mold who you are. Your body and mind are created from your accumulated experiences.

Ayurveda suggests that if you want to understand your past, examine your body now. We can carry that further. If you wish to predict what your body will be like in the future, consider your experiences now. Each impulse of experience is being metabolized into the molecules of your body. Although it may be obvious that the food you eat becomes the matter of your body, it is equally true that the sounds you hear, the sensations you feel, the sights you see, and the aromas you smell are transformed into the physical molecules that make up your body. Your body is a field of living information and intelligence.

In recent years neurobiologists have provided us scientific explanations for this process. Through advanced technology, including brain-mapping studies and positron-emission tomography (PET) scans, we now know that every sensory perception and its associated emotional reaction leads to changes in the electricity and chemistry of your physiology. Your sensory experiences have either life-supporting or life-damaging effects on your mind and body. Even imaginary experiences can have potent physiological effects. Try this simple exercise:

Imagine hearing a shrieking ambulance go by.

Imagine listening to a Bach violin concerto.

Imagine being stung by a bee.

Imagine holding a baby in your arms.

Imagine witnessing an automobile accident.

Imagine watching a dramatic sunset.

Imagine tasting a bitter medicine.

Imagine biting into a juicy, sweet mango.

Imagine the smell of a skunk.

Imagine the aroma of a Hawaiian flower.

Each of these sensations, pleasurable or uncomfortable, imaginary or real, changes your body. When sensory stimulation is soothing, your body releases health-promoting chemicals. When it is toxic or negative, stress hormones are released. These various chemicals have the ability to nourish or deplete your body. Your nervous system plays a key role in this process. It is an amazing apparatus that identifies, filters, interprets, and responds to the energy and information you receive through your senses. When you hear the howl of a newborn baby, your brain processes the raw sensory data, labels it as a cry, interprets it as a statement of distress, and activates a response. These neurophysiological changes affect every cell of your being. Your interpretations, emotions, and feelings are encoded into chemical messengers that filter through your body.

Your thoughts and words are literally made into flesh. When you feel stressed, you release chemicals coded for stress, and every cell in your body receives the message. When you feel joyful, your body produces natural pleasure chemicals called endorphins and encephalins. When you are peaceful and relaxed, you release chemicals similar to prescription tranquilizers. Your body is an expression of your experiences.

Throughout pregnancy your unborn baby’s cells are also being informed of your experiences and your sensations. As we discussed in the last chapter, the environment in your womb is rich with sounds and sensations, and your impressions of the world continually filter through to your baby. Your unborn child is a resilient and adaptable little being, more aware, responsive, and interactive with her environment than scientists previously imagined. In the absence of too much stress from your body, your baby’s nervous system works smoothly. When you’re calm and centered, your baby is able to grow peacefully, in tune with her own biological rhythms.

Adrenaline, noradrenaline, oxytocin, serotonin, and most other messenger molecules are transported across the placenta and influence your unborn baby. These chemicals generate a cascade of responses in your body, and in the body of your unborn child.

Studies using ultrasound monitoring have shown that within moments after a pregnant woman experiences a stressful event that generates anxiety, her unborn baby responds by accelerating her heart rate or kicking strongly.

Awareness is the key factor in helping you create a nurturing environment for your baby. Rather than running on automatic pilot, use the opportunity provided by your pregnancy to become mindful of your environment and the effects it has on you and your baby. Learn to nurture yourself by seeking out experiences that are nourishing and avoiding those that are toxic. You can do so by consciously promoting balance in your body through each of your five senses.

Exercise

Stop for a moment and focus on the sights around you. Notice the colors, the size, and the shapes of objects within your environment. Observe the textures of each object you perceive. Close your eyes and become aware of the sounds surrounding you right now. Listen deeply to each one. Become aware of the sensations of touch that are stimulating your skin at this moment. Feel the clothing on your body and the pressure of your feet against the ground. Gently stroke your arm and notice the sensations that your touch creates in your body. Take a deep breath and smell the aromas in the air. Lick your lips and taste the flavors and sensations in your mouth. Notice how by paying attention you have enlivened each of your five senses.

Awakening Your Inner Pharmacy Through the Five Windows to Your Soul

In ancient India a senior class of Ayurvedic medical students was given a final assignment to find things that had no therapeutic value. Only one student, Jivaka, returned empty-handed, saying that anything he put his attention on influenced his mind and body. The sounds of birds singing, the sensations of the breeze on his face, watching the sunset, tasting an herb, smelling a fragrant flower—each of these experiences had a therapeutic effect on him and, therefore, could be considered a form of medicine. Jivaka was declared valedictorian of his class and went on to become the personal physician to the Buddha.

Nourish Your Baby and Yourself Through Sound

The sounds that surround you play an important role in balancing your biological rhythms. Nourishing sounds are as important to your health as nourishing food. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger said, “Thinking is a subtle form of hearing.” We hear the thoughts we think, and when they are powerful enough, we feel them as well. Thoughts that we feel are called emotions. Think of the word mother.First you hear the thought as a sound. Then, almost immediately, you’ll find that you can feel the emotion that the word mother generates inside you. Now if you close your eyes and imagine the wordmother again, you will be able to conjure up an image associated with the word mother in your mind. Sounds have the ability to bring forth sensations from all five of your senses. Think of the word lemon.As you conjure up the sour fruit in your awareness, you may begin to salivate as the word evokes the object it names. Thought becomes form, the word is made flesh.

Make a commitment to provide your unborn baby with a healthy dose of nourishing sounds on a regular basis. Take time to listen to music that inspires you. Although the significance of the “Mozart effect,” which suggests that listening to classical music would make your baby more intelligent, is debatable, there is plenty of information that supports the view that music can soothe your body, mind, and soul. Studies have shown that listening to pleasing sounds can lower blood pressure, enhance immunity, and reduce anxiety.

Create your own cache of musical remedies. According to Ayurveda, there are three primary ways you can lose balance. First, excessive turbulence in your mind can lead to anxiety and insomnia. This is known as a Vata, or Wind, imbalance. Second, you can become overheated with feelings of irritation, frustration, and anger. This is referred to as a Pitta, or Fire, imbalance. Finally, you can become sluggish and stagnant, resulting in lethargy and fatigue, known in Ayurveda as a Kapha, or Earth, imbalance. You can use music to balance any of these situations. If you are feeling anxious or having trouble sleeping at night due to a turbulent mind, listen to music that is gentle and calming. If you are feeling irritable and ill-tempered, introduce music that is soothing and cooling. If you are feeling congested and listless, try listening to music that is invigorating and revitalizing. Play these sounds when you’re relaxing, taking a bath, or getting massaged. Listening to your favorite selections at other times will trigger the memory of these relaxing experiences, which will be of benefit to you throughout your pregnancy and during labor. Some of our favorite musical selections are suggested below.

The sounds of nature also have a balancing effect on your mind and body and can help reconnect you to your essential state of peacefulness. Go for walks where you are exposed to those sounds that remind you of the timeless intelligence that underlies all of creation, including the creation of your unborn child. Pay attention to the breezes rustling the leaves, the ocean waves lapping up against the shore, the rushing of water in a stream, a waterfall cascading in the woods, and the songs of birds warbling on a warm summer day. Take time to listen to the natural vibrations that surround you.

Play an active role in your unborn child’s acoustic experience, making a conscious commitment to choose nurturing auditory stimuli for you and your fetus. Ask your husband or partner to participate in the process. Have him read poetry or tell stories to you and your baby-to-be. Studies have shown that newborn babies, whose fathers spoke to them while in the womb, respond to their dad’s soothing voice within the first few hours after birth.

The unborn baby begins to show behavioral responses to outside sound at about sixteen weeks and appears to be listening much of the day by twenty-four weeks, when the structures of the ear are fully formed.

Create a nickname or term of endearment for your unborn child and speak to her often. Recite love poems, read inspiring stories, and sing lullabies to your baby. Try listening to sounds that traditionally have been used to rejoice in spirit, such as Gregorian, Vedic, Hebrew, Native American, Celtic, or Hawaiian chants.

Remind yourself on a daily basis to stop and listen to the sounds in your environment and notice how you feel. Your unborn baby is also interacting, both directly and indirectly, with the sounds around you. When you generate coherence and comfort in your body through sound, you create a loving and nurturing environment for your unborn baby.

Suggested Music During Pregnancy

VATA

CALMING, RELAXING

Magic of Healing — Vata

Bruce & Brian Becvar

Angel Love

Aeoliah

Collaborations into the Moment

Steven Halpren & Master Charles

Om Mani Padme Hum

Master Charles

PITTA

SOOTHING, COOLING

Magic of Healing — Pitta

Bruce & Brian Becvar

Inner Flute

Flute for the Spirit

Bamboo Waterfall

Wind Chimes and Bells

Waterworks

Enya

KAPHA

INVIGORATING, ENERGIZING

Magic of Healing — Kapha

Bruce & Brian Becvar

The Essence

Deva Premal

Live on Earth

Krishna Das

The Rising

Bruce Springsteen

The soothing sound of your voice can have a profoundly nourishing influence on her. She loves to listen to the voice of your partner as well. At birth your baby will recognize both your voices.

Nurture Your Baby and Yourself Through Touch

The skin is your largest sense organ and it is rich with health-promoting potential. Its surface contains thousands of nerve receptors that transmit healing impulses to your body and mind. Through the sensations of touch you can use your skin to access this healing benefit for you and your unborn baby. Touch releases chemicals that have relaxing and health-promoting effects. When you are gently stroked or therapeutically touched, your stress level declines, your circulation improves, and your body’s natural pleasure-enhancing molecules are enlivened. These health-promoting chemicals travel through both the maternal and fetal circulations. Massage also improves immune function, reducing Mother’s susceptibility to colds and flu. A massage feels wonderful whether or not you are pregnant. When you are feeling comfortable and relaxed, your unborn child also benefits. As you relax, you may find that your baby enjoys the feeling so much that she begins to move and kick playfully, while at other times you may feel her contentedly resting.

Studies have shown that pregnant women who receive massage sleep better and have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Massaged mothers experience fewer complications during labor and have a lower incidence of premature deliveries. There is also evidence that infants born of mothers who have received massages regularly during pregnancy have fewer problems during the first few weeks after birth.

Exercise

Several times during the day, tenderly place your hands on your belly. Imagine yourself holding your baby as she sleeps or kicks inside your womb. Gently massage your belly while speaking softly to her. Connect with your baby through the sense of touch, even before she is in your arms.

Nurturing Through Touch

Seek out nurturing touch throughout your pregnancy, from your husband or partner, from your family members and friends. Find a professional massage therapist who has experience with pregnant women. You can also gain many of the healing and soothing benefits of touch by performing an oil massage on yourself each day. According to Ayurveda, a daily self-massage is one of the most balancing components of a health-promoting daily routine. Try the following procedure before or after your daily bath or shower. If you are having trouble sleeping, perform the oil massage before bed, followed by a warm aromatherapy bath. Be sure to perform the massage over a towel or mat so that you do not slip and always remove the oil from your feet before moving around.

The subtle effects of different massage oils can be used to balance your mind and body. Oils that are considered warmer and heavier, such as sesame, walnut, and almond, are helpful in pacifying mental turbulence due to a Vata imbalance. Cooler oils, such as coconut, olive, and avocado, are helpful in soothing irritability related to a Pitta imbalance. Lighter oils, including sunflower, safflower, and mustard seed, help improve circulation and relieve the congestion associated with a Kapha imbalance. All-natural vegetable, nut, or seed oils nourish and soothe the tissues.

The style and intensity of the massage strokes also influence the effects of the massage. If you are feeling anxious or having trouble sleeping, use a firm, grounding massage stroke. If you are feeling overheated or irritable, use a gentler stroke. If you are feeling congested or bloated, try a deeper, more vigorous stroke. Listen to the needs of your body, and stay present in the process.

SELF-MASSAGE (USUALLY PERFORMED OVER FIVE TO TEN MINUTES)

Begin by warming the oil under hot water. Pour a small amount of oil in your hands and use it to massage your scalp vigorously. Cover your entire scalp with small, circular strokes as if you were shampooing your hair. As your fingers caress your scalp, close your eyes and enjoy the sensations.

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Next move to your face and ears. Gently massage the backs of your ears. According to both Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, your ears have many sensitive nerve endings that connect to all areas of your body, so massaging them is especially calming. Apply a little more oil to your hands and with circular motions, stroke your temples, forehead, eyebrows, nose, cheeks, jaw, mouth, and chin. Massage the front, back, and sides of your neck.

Next massage your arms. The process for both your upper and lower limbs is to use a circular motion over the joints and a back-and-forth motion over the long bones. Apply the oil in a circular motion to your shoulders, back and forth on your upper arms, circular at the elbows, back and forth over the forearms, circular at the wrists, and then massage each finger from the base of your palm to the fingertip.

Be very gentle over your trunk. Use large circular motions over your breasts, belly, and lower abdomen. As you massage your belly and pass your hands over your womb, send love and tenderness to your growing baby. Apply a little more oil and reach around to massage your back as best as you can. Ask your partner to massage any areas you can’t reach on your own.

Finish with your legs and feet. Massage your legs as you did your arms, using circular motions at your hips, back-and-forth motions over your thighs, circular over the knees, and long back-and-forth strokes on your lower legs. Very gently apply circular motions over the ankles, and then vigorously massage your feet with a back-and-forth motion and then stroke and pull each toe.

If possible, allow the oil to soak into your body. Leaving on a thin layer of oil will protect and nourish your skin and help keep your muscles warm throughout the day. If you take a shower after the massage, wash with mild soap.

MINIMASSAGE (ONE TO TWO MINUTES)

If you don’t have time for a full-body massage, a short one is better than none at all. Your head and feet are the most important parts of your body to cover, and this can be accomplished in a very short time.

Rub some warm oil into your scalp, using the small, circular motions described above. Use your palm to massage your forehead from side to side.

Gently massage your temples, using circular motions. Then gently rub the outside of your ears. Spend a few moments massaging the back and front of your neck. With a little more oil, massage both feet with the flat of your hand. Work the oil around your toes with your fingertips, and then vigorously massage the soles of your feet with brisk back-and-forth motions of your palms. Sit quietly for a few seconds to relax and let the oil soak in, and then bathe as usual.

MASSAGING THE PERINEUM

The perineum refers to the structures around the floor of the pelvis, covering the area from the pubic bone in front to the coccyx bone at the tip of your spine. Although the soft tissues around the perineum become elastic and stretchy during birth, we recommend you begin tenderly massaging your perineal area with oil about four to six weeks before your due date to help prepare for delivery. This may help reduce the likelihood of tearing or injury and can facilitate the healing of tissues after birth. It will also help to familiarize you with the feeling of your perineum stretching.

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Nourish Your Baby and Yourself Through Sight

You are your baby’s window to the world. Everything that you see influences your body and your unborn child. When you gaze lovingly into the eyes of your partner and become filled with comforting feelings, you communicate your sensations to your baby. When you laugh joyfully at children playing or witness a dazzling sunset, something shifts inside you. Studies have shown that visual experiences evoke chemical responses throughout the body that can uplift or depress us. When medical students were shown videos with violent scenes, they experienced suppression of their immune system, whereas when they watched images of compassionate acts, their immune function was enhanced. You can change your body’s chemistry by paying attention to what you see. To the extent possible, limit your exposure to visual experiences that upset you, such as scary or violent movies and disturbing television shows. Seek out visual experiences that delight you.

Upon awakening in the morning, become aware of the first things you see when you look around. Notice whether or not your day’s first sights are pleasing to your eyes. Throughout the day remain conscious of the images you see. Become aware of how they affect you. Before going to bed, gaze into the sky, taking in the experience of the stars, the moon, and the whole galaxy. Tune into the sensations that are created in your body as you take in these sights. Close your eyes and notice how you feel. Breathe into the feelings.

By the time the fetus is thirteen weeks old, her eyes are well developed. Her eyelids will now close until the seventh month of life when the eyelids unseal again.

Search for visual experiences that uplift you. Walk through gardens and spend time at the beach. Make a point of get-ting outside each day. As you move through nature, enjoy the sights of the luxuriant plants and magnificent trees in your environment, absorbing the oxygen they are releasing to you. Observe the colors, textures, and shapes of everything you see. People, things, and events “out there” all become a part of who we are “in here.”

Human beings are visual creatures, and our interpretation of what we see strongly influences our sense of comfort or discomfort. Although while in the womb your baby’s experiences are limited, there is evidence that shortly after birth, a newborn is able to recognize and process visual information.

A fascinating study dating back to the 1970s by researcher T. G. R. Bower showed that even at a few hours old, newborns preferred looking at their mother’s face over another woman’s. To perform this study, pairs of female faces were flashed on a video screen in front of infants, who were given pacifiers to suck. If a newborn baby sucked one way, an unfamiliar woman would appear. If she sucked another way, her mother would appear. After a period of watching and sucking, the newborns tended more often to suck in the way that brought their own mother’s face onto the screen. One wonders if a baby begins to imagine her mother’s face based upon the sounds and sensations he hears in the womb, in the same way that you as an adult might imagine what a person looks like when you are speaking to them on the telephone, or when you hear someone on the radio. We create pictures from the sounds we hear, and your unborn baby may be doing the same. For many reasons, when you have a choice, choose to see things that you would want your baby to see, and reduce your exposure to visual images from which you would want to protect your baby. This will add to your well-being as well as to your baby’s.

Nourish Your Baby and Yourself Through Taste

We have a natural tendency to sample the world by putting things into our mouths. Infant children experience this inclination when they go through the oral phase. During this stage, parents quickly learn to clear their homes of objects that can be placed into the mouths of their young ones, because there is this intrinsic impulse to taste things. Over millions of years of evolutionary time, human beings have used this tendency to identify food sources that sustain and nourish us.

The sense of taste assesses the nourishing potential of everything that passes through your mouth. Taste provides clues as to whether or not a food will add to or detract from feelings of well-being. If a potential food source has a palatable flavor, this indicates to the brain that taking more of it is beneficial. If it has an offensive taste, the message is to leave it alone. In this way, people in every culture around the world have identified nurturing foods that became essential components of their diet.

Aside from breathing, eating is our most important bodily function. Your taste buds have exquisitely sensitive receptors that take part in your body’s ability to convert food into energy.

People often overthink their nutrition. They try to balance their diets according to the latest recommendations by nutritional experts who advocate varying proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. From the standpoint of Ayurveda, nutrition need not be complicated; nature has encoded the intelligence of food into packets that provide the energy and information required to create and maintain a healthy body. This area is a vitally important part of a healthy pregnancy, so we will devote the entire next chapter to nourishing you and your baby.

Nourish Your Baby and Yourself Through Smell

Smell is one of your most primal senses and is intimately associated with memory and emotion. The aroma of cookies baking in the oven or the scent of lilac bushes in a park may evoke images, memories, and emotions from your past. Although you might not always be aware of it, your brain is very sensitive to the fragrance-carrying molecules in the air around you. Aromas provide information about your environment and subtly influence your moods, behavior, and energy levels.

The brain is designed to process and respond to olfactory information through the limbic system. This circuitry coordinates the basic physiological functions responsible for regulating your appetite, sexual desire, blood pressure, heartbeat, sleep cycles, memory, and emotions. Your sense of smell plays a role in these critical functions because in most higher animal species, olfaction is used to determine sources of nourishing food, partners suitable for mating, the boundaries of territory, and the presence of enemies. Although human beings are less tuned into their sense of smell than many other animals, we still respond to odors and scents in primitive and powerful ways.

Each day you take the world in through your sense of smell.

The earliest components of the olfactory system appear by six weeks of fetal age. Although it is not possible to assess exactly how soon and how well a fetus can perceive smells, we do know that immediately after birth, an infant is capable of identifying familiar odors and scents.

Close your eyes for a moment and see if you can conjure up the different scents that surrounded you today. You may recall some that were pleasing and find others that were offensive. As you evoke them, see if you can sense how you felt as a result of your exposure to them. Pleasant aromas soothe your being and unpleasant odors may annoy or deplete you.

During pregnancy, you can take advantage of your sense of smell by consciously choosing aromas that are balancing and nourishing. There are two basic ways to consciously use aromas to enhance a state of well-being. The first is to link a pleasing fragrance to a positive experience. When you are practicing meditation, relaxing in a yoga pose, listening to soothing music, or receiving a massage, diffuse a calming aroma such as lavender, geranium, or juniper in the room. Your brain will begin to associate the smell with the experience, so that at other times, just inhaling the aroma will help you relax.

The second way to benefit from smell is by taking advantage of the specific therapeutic properties of essential oils. These oils are extracted from the roots and stems of flowers, fruits, herbs, and trees and have direct effects on the nervous system. Essential oils, which are sometimes known as the soul of a plant, have a long-established role in healing systems around the world. In Ayurveda, fragrances are used for their medicinal and spiritual properties. We recommend that you keep a small vial of an essential oil with you, so it is available to you whenever you could benefit from its specific therapeutic characteristics.

Listed below are essential oils that can be used to calm, soothe, or invigorate your mind-body system and are safe to use during pregnancy.

Essential Oils

OIL

 

SPECIAL EFFECTS

CALMING AND GROUNDING

   

Chamomile

 

Balances digestion

Geranium

 

Mood elevating

Lavender

 

Pain relieving

Vanilla

 

Helps induce sleep

SOOTHING AND COOLING

   

Jasmine

 

Mood elevating, anti-inflammatory

Neroli

 

Balances digestion, refreshing

Patchouli

 

Grounding, skin replenishing

Mandarin

 

Calming, soothing to nervous system

INVIGORATING AND PURIFYING

   

Cinnamon

 

Stimulating, helps reduce digestive gas

Ginger

 

Digestive stimulant, anti-nausea

Juniper

 

Clears the mind, restores confidence

Clary Sage

 

Decongesting and detoxifying

Exercise

Choose one of the essential oils above that is soothing to you. Create a comfortable place to lie down where you can relax, or take a warm bath. Begin diffusing the essential into the air or pour a few drops into your tub.

Once you are comfortable, allow your eyes to close and begin to feel your breath. Notice the sensations in your body. Feel yourself breathing into your belly and notice the scent of your aroma encircling you. Breathe it in. Allow this fragrance to relax you (more) deeply. Feel the energy of this oil melting away any tension or resistance you may be carrying in your body. Breathe in relaxation; breathe out tension. With your next inhalation, allow your awareness to float to the crown of your head. As you exhale, relax from your crown all the way down through your body into your toes. Feel each breath helping your muscles unwind. Continue like this for a few minutes: breathing in to the top of your head, breathing out all the way down into your toes.

Now, bring your awareness to your belly and feel your baby inside your womb. Breathe peacefulness into your belly and relax with your baby as you breathe out.

Conscious Choice Making

You are the sum total of the choices you make. At a very basic level, the choices you make determine your sensory experience—what you hear, feel, see, taste, and smell. When you are in touch with the inner experiences that result from sensations you intake from the world, you are in touch with the core of your life. Every experience has an impact on your biology. Everything that has happened to you is recorded in your body; with each new experience, your body changes. The more consciously you choose your experiences, the more consciously you create your body.

Pregnancy is not just something that is happening to you; it is a miraculous unfolding that you are co-creating. For nine months, you are your unborn baby’s environment, and your baby is affected by each one of your experiences. At the core of your being you already know this, because you have had this experience and felt these sensations as you developed and grew inside your mother’s womb. Now that this information is available to your conscious mind, make use of it to create a magical beginning for your child.

Enliven Through Your Attention

• Place your hands on your belly a few times throughout the day and send loving thoughts to your unborn baby.

• Journal each day about your experiences.

• Early in your pregnancy, plant a tree or flowering bush to symbolize the growth of your baby in your womb. After your child is born, you can take care of the plant together.

• Read enchanting stories and heartfelt poetry aloud to your baby and listen to beautiful, relaxing music each day.

• Perform a daily oil massage on yourself before you bathe or shower.

• Diffuse an aroma while listening to music, while soaking in a tub, or while meditating to create the association between the fragrance and the relaxed state of awareness.