So what is Aromatherapy?
According to Miriam Webster Dictionary it is:
“massage of the body and especially of the face with a preparation of fragrant essential oils extracted from herbs, flowers, and fruits; broadly : the use of aroma to enhance a feeling of well-being”
Because of the name, one would just assume by the “aroma” prefix that these oils are only good for stimulating the olfactory senses. However, a more detailed approach to aromatherapy is massage. Essential oils can also be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream therefore affecting the entire body.
I've been into aromatherapy for a long time. As a kid, I could spend hours upon hours in the library. Do you remember those recipe cards that used to come in the mail? Well I used all my babysitting money to get natural healing cards. Every month, I would get another bunch of cards with information on different plants and their healing properties. From then on, I always use this information as an added supplement to my normal healthcare. For example: Did you know that clove oil is great for toothaches? Just rub it on the gums.
When I became a massage therapist, I knew before I even graduated, that aromatherapy was going to be a part of my practice. I encourage all of my clients to try it out. However, do your due diligence when experimenting on your own because some oils are very irritating to the skin. Some oils need to be diluted in another oil or a lotion. Some may cause an allergic reaction; so it's always wise to test on a small area of skin first and wait 24 hours to see if there is a reaction.
Essential oils are highly concentrated. So let's say, you want to use oregano because it is antibacterial and high in antioxidants (here's a great website that lists its attributes: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=73) Who hasn't used oregano as a spice for cooking? There are a few differences between eating herbs/plants and using an oil. Freshness is always important because the oils of a plant lose their potency over time. Sometimes dried herbs are completely devoid of those oils. Cooking sometimes also drains the plant of its beneficial properties. So, although eating healthy and using herbs therapeutically in your diet is great; it will not pack the same punch as the concentrated oil. An ounce of oregano essential oil is made from many oregano plants. There are various methods used to extract oils but I prefer the steam distillation method because it is natural. No other chemicals are added as compared to extraction. This is something to keep in mind when shopping around. Quality essential oils are not cheap either but they are worth it. I charge a reasonable $5 additional for aromatherapy just to offset the cost of the oil.
Here's a list of some of the more common herbs along with their healing properties that I use in my practice:
Lavender: Calming. Promotes relaxation and sleep. Eases tension. Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-fungal, expectorant (breaks up mucous), reduces muscles spasms and knots. This is an all around wonder plant. It's great for insomnia, stress relief, muscle spasms, bug bites and sores. Just inhaling the scent of lavender is a great way to bring about relaxation.
Eucalyptus: Decongestant, expectorant, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory. Stimulates nervous system, combats tiredness, increases concentration. Great for respiratory conditions and digestive issues. Also, the scent is very refreshing and stimulating.
Peppermint: Best oil for stomach upset. Digestive aid. Natural analgesic and is especially great for migraines and other headaches. Relieves nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas/bloating. Good for menstrual cramping.
Rosemary: Reduces fever, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory (especially good for arthritis), astringent, anti-spasmodic. It is also a carminative, which means it prevents the formation of gas and also facilitates the release of said gas which helps to ward off flatulence. Carminatives have been shown to reduce pressure in the lower esophagus which is usually a contributor to acid reflux and GERD. Rosemary is also great for inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis. Rosemary affects and sedates the nervous system. It also stimulates the mind for increased clarity and alertness. Used as a brain tonic in Eastern Medicine for thousands of years.
As you can see a lot of these herbs/plants/flowers have similar therapeutic attributes. Sometimes, a combination of oils can be used as they complement each other.
There are so many other wonderful plants out there that I could easily write a 20 page blog about them without blinking. I have listed above my go to plants but I also love rose oil, tea tree oil (awesome for mosquito bites), aloe, witch hazel, lemon, sage, parsley, arnica, basil, orange, frankincense and myrrh and the list goes on and on!
- Always dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil (ex: grape seed, coconut, almond or olive oil) or a lotion. Use only a few drops of the essential oil per 1 oz of carrier oil or lotion.
- Always research the therapeutic properties and precautions before using the oil on yourself or others.
- Always check with your doctor first, especially if you have sensitive skin. Always do a 24-hour spot test before using the oil.
Aromatherapy & Massage
If you would like to add aromatherapy to your massage treatment, mention it to me during our consultation and we will come up with a therapeutic combination made on the spot specifically for you.
In my practice, my aromatherapy techniques use a combination of: hot towels infused with essential oil, customized aromatherapy blended massage lotion and the encouragement of deep breathing done by my client. An aromatherapy massage is usually a light to firm pressure massage. No deep tissue or deeper work is necessary.