What Is Aromatherapy?
The term aromatherapy may be new, but the practice is very old. Many of our ancient cultures have been using the healing power of plants for thousands of years and it is an integral part of traditional medicine. Many old civilizations use plants in both their healing traditions as well as in their religious rituals e.g. coca in Peru, Bolivia and ecuador, shea butter in africa, sandalwood in india, frankincense in egypt, yarrow in China and so on.
The process of “smoking the sick” (wafting aromatic smoke over patients) subsequently developed into one of the earliest forms of healing. in some parts of the world, aromatic smoke continues to be used for its healing powers. Modern scientific research has verified the antiseptic and bactericidal properties of many of the woods traditionally used.
The life force or the soul of a plant is something that cannot be seen or touched but it is contained in the essential oil of a plant. Essential oils are usually secreted from special glands, ducts, or cells in one or several parts of aromatic plants and from the sap and tissues of certain trees. Essential oils are extracted from trees, bushes, flowers, and shrubs from all over the world, and oils have their own unique chemical makeup.
How Aromatherapy Works
Neela Mhatre, retired senior faculty from Ananda Spa Institute in Hyderabad (India) says, “Aromatherapy is the best therapy. Essential oils are natural energies that heal, balance and rejuvenate. It is a holistic therapy.”
She adds, “The sense of smell is a very basic instinct. Aromas can be very evocative. Aromatherapy works at many levels. The essential oils are absorbed through the skin, pass into the circulatory system. They can also be inhaled, passing into the blood stream through the lungs or by causing signals to be transmitted through the nervous system directly into the limbic system of the brain.” The oils stay in the body for a maximum period of 48 hours.
The premise on which aromatherapy works is that our state of mind can affect the state of our body, and many illnesses today have a psychosomatic origin. Aromatherapy is a very good way of keeping healthy and should be used as a preventive treatment. Essential oils penetrate the epithelial tissues; these include the skin, nasal passages, bronchioles, lungs and gastro-intestinal tract. Once absorbed into the surface layer, essential oils quickly penetrate into the lymphatic and blood capillary systems, entering into the general circulation. How does the therapist decide what oils to use on whom?
Neela says, “There are some safe oils and some very potent oils. Anyone wanting to use oils should go to a certified aromatherapist, who will look at your age, medical history, work pattern and lifestyle, and prescribe you oils accordingly. Oils for the face and body are different. The results will need to be monitored on a weekly/fortnightly basis and the dosage and blends will be decided. A good aromatherapist will blend oils taking into consideration the volatility, effects on the bodily or mental conditions, and also the effect of the aroma on the person being treated.”
She warns, “Do not expect aromatic oils to smell like perfumes. These are very strong, potent and volatile oils and should always be used with carrier oil.”
Oils for Beauty
Safe Oils: Geranium, lavender, neroli, rosemary, tea tree, ylang ylang.
Unsafe Oils: Some oils for the face which should be avoided during daytime as they are phototoxic are bergamot and basil.
Face and Beauty: Chamomile is very good for acne; geranium is the mother oil – good for skin of all ages; rose is very good for dry and mature skin; frankincense is also very good for old and dehydrated skin.
Detoxification: Rosemary, ylang ylang and citrus are good for detoxifying.
Hair Growth: Juniper berry, cedarwood are effective for hair growth.
Weight Loss: Grapefruit and lemon are effective for weight loss.
Cellulite: Cedarwood, citrus, juniper berry and orange help reduce cellulite.
Menopause: Rose, lavender, frankincense, vetiver, sandalwood – these are oils that are calming and soothing.
Beauty: Geranium and lavender (balancer) are best for beauty treatments.
Balancing: Lavender is the best oil for balancing.
On the question of side effects of aromatic oils and whether they can be used regularly, neela says, “With too frequent a use, the effects will be nullified as the body gets used to it. however, there are no other side effects except for the fact that very good quality and pure oils are not available easily. sometimes the oils are adulterated with a combination of many chemicals. hence make it a point to buy only the best quality.”
The many ways of getting essential oils into the blood stream include baths, inhalation, compresses, and various types of massages. My personal favorite is a hot bath.
How to Use Aromatic Oils?
Bath: one of the best ways to use essential oils is in the bath. it is wonderful to combine the bath with meditation – it is most relaxing and rejuvenating. add a few drops of oil to your bath. the steam and warmth evaporate the oils and intensify the aroma, while the water softens the skin and speeds up oil absorption.
Oil Burner: an oil burner provides a way to warm essential oil so that its aroma diffuses across a room. it is a little ceramic pot with a candle at the bottom and a saucer on top holding water in which a few drops of essential oils are
added. the candle heats the water and the oil vaporizes into the air.
Potpourri: to make your own potpourri, mix a few drops of essential oils and add to a bowl of dried flowers, herbs, leaves or seed pods. Cover the bowl for a while, then toss and stir the mixture so that it absorbs the aromas. the potpourri will scent your room for a few weeks.
Hot Poultice: essential oils applied with heat are a great way to relieve muscular pains and reduce chest congestion. add a few drops of essential oil to a bowl of very hot water.
Wearing rubber gloves, dip flannel or small towel into the bowl, squeeze out the excess water and place it over the affected area until it has cooled. Repeat the process.
Footbath: Make a relaxing footbath by adding a few drops of essential oil to a basin of water and then soaking your feet. the oil refreshes tired feet, soothes aches, and helps reduce perspiration.
Sleep Treatment: a few drops of your favorite oil added to a tissue by your bed will not only help lull you into a relaxing sleep, but you’ll continue to benefit from the aromatic effects as you inhale it while you sleep.
Room Spray: You can make your own therapeutic air freshener using your favorite fragrance by mixing a few drops of essential oil with water in a pump spray.
Beauty Treatment: some essential oils have properties that can soothe and heal skin, rejuvenate complexions, reduce oiliness. they make good cleansers, masks and moisturizers, which make you look and feel good.
Body Moisturizer: essential oils penetrate the skin so quickly and deeply that they make excellent and inexpensive body moisturizers. You can make your own by adding a few drops of essential oil to carrier oil or to any simple unscented body moisturizing lotion.
Aromatherapy Massage: Massage combines the sense of touch and smell, as the essential oils are diluted in carrier oil and rubbed directly onto the skin. Massage has the added benefit of stimulating the circulation and enabling the oils to disperse rapidly around the body. in 5 ml of oil add only 3 drops of aromatic oil.
Here are a few recipes from neela Mhatre. since you may not have all the aromatherapy oils at home, if you have basil, lemon, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus and geranium, those are more than enough.
- Chest Congestion – take one drop of basil oil and one drop of eucalyptus oil and mix it in 3 ml (one teaspoon) of any vegetable oil and apply on the chest area. it is very effective.
- Fever – take one drop of basil oil and mix it with 3 ml of any vegetable oil and apply on the sides of the forehead, behind the ears, and chest.
- Flatulence – take one drop of fennel/peppermint oil and apply it on the navel area. these oils can be applied directly.
- Dry and Mature Skin – take one drop of lavender oil and one drop of frankincense oil and mix it with almond/jojoba oil and apply on your skin.
- Arthritis – Mix eucalyptus and black pepper oil with olive oil in equal quantities and apply on the affected area.