What is Aromatherapy and what can it do for you?
Many times throughout my massage therapy career I will be asked about aromatherapy. People will ask what it is? Does it work? Is it just to make the room smell good?
Some of us have our “comfort smells”. The smell of an apple pie in the oven evokes certain feelings and emotions. Others might love the smell of a roast that has been cooking all day. That isn’t necessarily a definition of aromatherapy , more like happy memory/smell association, but the example was given because it shows the power of your olfactory senses and your physical and emotional responses to them.
So let’s start from the beginning: What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils in a range of treatments designed to promote the well-being of mind, body and spirit. Essential oils are made from plants and can have a powerful effect on both mind and body. The oils are introduced to the body in a number of ways, with the main ways being massage and inhalation.
The term aromatherapy was named by René-Maurice Gattefossé during the early 1900’s. He burned his arm while working on an experiment and quickly stuck it into the nearest liquid. The liquid happened to be lavender essential oil. Since his burn was fast healing and did not leave a scar, he called the healing powers of essential oils aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy can be used as an alternative medicine to accompany traditional medicine. People most often practice aromatherapy to induce certain moods or feelings or to reduce physical ailments depending on the type of essential oils used.
In France, and much of Western Europe aromatherapy is incorporated into mainstream medicine as an antiseptic, antiviral, anti fungal, and antibacterial, much more so than in the UK, USA or Canada. In fact, there are some essential oils that are regulated as prescription drugs in France, and can only be administered (or prescribed) by a doctor.
Aromatherapy is generally applied in one of three ways:
- Aerial diffusion- the oils evaporate into the air. The aim is to give the air a specific fragrance or to disinfect it.
- Direct inhalation- the person breaths the evaporating oils straight in. This is commonly used for respiratory disinfection, decongestion, as well as for psychological benefits.
- Topical applications- applied onto the skin. Commonly used for massage, baths, and therapeutic skin care.
What can aromatherapy be used for?
- Muscular aches
- Arthritic aches
- Circulatory problems
- Digestive troubles
- Menstrual problems
- Menopausal Symptoms
Essential oils include muscle relaxants (marjoram and black pepper), digestive tonics (cardamom and mint), circulatory stimulants (rosemary and basil) and hormone precursors (clary sage and fennel). Many repair injured cells (lavender and helichrysum); others help carry away metabolic waste to aid in detoxification (grapefruit and juniper). In addition, a number of essential oils enhance immunity, working with the body to heal itself. They are capable of stimulating the production of phagocytes (white blood cells that attack invaders), and some (e.g., tea tree and lavender) are anti toxic for insect bites and stings.
There are thousands of essential oils that have been used for centuries. I have compiled a short list of the ten most popular essential oils and what they are used for in both aerial diffusion and in therapeutic massage.
Ten Basic Essential Oils
- Lavender - First aid oil; antiviral and antibacterial, boosts immunity, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic
- Chamomile - anti-inflammatory, anti allergenic, digestive, relaxant, antidepressant
- Marjoram - antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic
- Rosemary - stimulating to circulation, relieves pain, decongestant, improves circulation
- Tea tree - anti fungal, anti yeast, antibacterial
- Cypress - astringent, stimulating to circulation, antiseptic, astringent
- Peppermint - digestive, clears sinuses, antiseptic, decongestant, stimulant
- Eucalyptus - decongestant, antiviral, antibacterial, stimulant
- Bergamot - antidepressant, anti parasitic, anti-inflammatory
- Geranium - balancing to mind and body, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory
What is aromatherapy is best demonstrated by experience. If you would like to try it for yourself, please don’t forget to check it as an add on to your next massage.