Farida Irani had just led me through my first ever meditation. The room was quiet, the echoes of our chants dying down. “How do you feel?” she asks. Fidgety, I tell her truthfully. My nose and scalp had begun itching almost as soon as we had started, and my mind had been racing up until the last five minutes. At that point, I felt calm and could feel waves of energy rushing through my body. “Do this regularly, and this too, every other night. Let me show you.”
She reaches for a bottle of Subtle Energies Tranquility Body Blend and shows me how to rub it into my skin, starting from the feet and moving up towards the heart. The blend, made from kewda, frankincense and petitgrain, has a mildly spicy scent that was at once refreshing and calming.
“Remember to massage behind the knees and under the armpit, where the lymph nodes are,” she says. “Don’t forget to massage the abdomen in a clockwise direction.” She works her way from fingertips to armpits, and then applies pressure to the nape of her neck.
The aromatic dressing, which Irani had just demonstrated, took less than five minutes from start to finish and is a dinacharya, a daily ritual in Ayurveda, that is said to help detox the body and enhance sleep.
We are at Joyce Beauty in Central, where the store now carries Irani’s brand of essential oil blends called Subtle Energies. An Ayurveda practitioner and clinical aromatherapist, Irani created Subtle Energies as a clinic of natural therapies in 1993. Today’s brand encompasses everything from skin and haircare products, treatments and spa blends for leading hotels, to Ayurveda education and clinical research.
It is a lot to take in for the uninitiated, especially if you are unaccustomed to terms such as chakra and dosha, but Irani puts it simply as a natural brand that puts as much attention on what’s happening on the outside as it does on what’s happening on the inside, your mental and emotional well-being. For Subtle Energies, aromatic dressings, meditation and yoga go hand in hand with beauty regimens and hair treatments.
More importantly, Subtle Energies brings together Ayurveda and aromatherapy, an age-old practice that has fallen into disuse in modern day Ayurveda practice. “Ayurveda practitioners themselves have forgotten the use of aromatherapy and essential oils in their practice,” says Irani. “They focus primarily on herbal decoctions, which are also beautiful, but are made in an entirely different process.”
Herbs, packed onto the skin, help to draw out toxins in the body, but the decoction has to be washed off. Irani says aromatherapy should be the next step so the essential oils can enter the bloodstream.
“Essential oils are not just to be exotic, it’s therapeutic. There’s 20 years of clinical research behind this brand. Ayurveda aromatherapy is catching on now, but we were one of the first to develop it clinically.”
Subtle Energies’ essential oils are in high demand. Many of their signature blends are made exclusively for leading hotels, including The Peninsula Hotels, the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, as well as The Six Senses Spas and Resorts. But the making of the oils and the recipes remain a closely guarded secret known only to the Irani family.
“Anyone can distil an oil,” Irani says. “But it is the art of distillation, the expertise behind it and the blending that make a difference. Intent is a very important part of it, from the ingredients sourced, to the people we work with. A lot of the distillers are artisans who have been doing this for generations.”
For years, Irani has established long-standing relationships with various distillers and farmers from all over India, distilling oils from regions where the oil grade quality is highest, and going to extreme lengths to find rare oils including mogra, a jasmine native to the eastern Himalayas and Kashmiri lavender, a French lavender grown on the high altitude Himalayan plains.
Irani then takes the oils, and along with daughter Khursheed Irani, son Nick Irani and her husband, they create the blends by hand from start to finish. “I create the recipes. And now my son and daughter also create the recipes,” says Irani.
Sheriar Irani, an engineer by trade, recreates his wife’s formulas on a larger scale, before the oils are worked with other ingredients with skincare chemists to form Subtle Energies’ line of spa and beauty products.
Apart from the spa blends, there is also a selection of mists, including a Pure Rose Hydrosol spray that revitalises tired skin.
The mist also works for people with insomnia. Irani recommends misting a few drops onto the pillow at night to settle the senses and aid sleep. There is also a wide range of skincare and bodycare products: toners, cleansing gels, moisturisers, to serums, exfoliants, masks and even body creams, body wash and bath salts.
Subtle Energies even has a line of blends specially formulated for mothers-to-be and their babies. “I treat a lot of pregnant women, so I’ve especially and carefully designed blends to suit each trimester. We include a lot of base oils, which are very nourishing. It’s wonderful for the feet and it’s wonderful for the stretch marks.”
Creating blends is no small feat. It took Irani years upon years of clinical research, time and dedication – from leaving a stable job in the corporate world, to taking courses in remedial massage, Ayurveda, Bowen Therapy and aromatherapy – to get to where she is now.
But this, Irani insists, was something she had wanted to do from a young age.
“My father had instilled the love of natural therapies; he was very much a believer in natural therapy,” she says. “He used to take me up to the coastal towns and bury me in the sand because the sand had minerals. And he would rub my legs with the oils that he made.”
When she got to thinking of establishing her own company and began to think of names, Subtle Energies jumped right at her and the name stuck. “It came as I was being a remedial therapist, I didn’t know about aromatherapy,” she says. “Even before I finished the course, I loved it because I do work with subtle energies. These are all subtle energies. It exists in all of us, it is our chi, our prana, that is what we’re working with.”