Aromatherapy For Modern Life
Whether we are young or old, healthy and at the peak of physical fitness or frail and infirm, the complementary therapies of aromatherapy and massage can enhance our lives and help prevent illness. By awakening the senses of smell and touch, we can relieve tension, improve sleep, enhance mood, and alleviate many physical ailments. Above all, they impart a sense of well-being so important to overall health. Medical research has shown there is indeed a strong connection between positive mood and good health.
Aromatherapy can be defined as the systematic use of essential oils in holistic treatments to help improve physical and emotional well being. An essential oil is the highly concentrated volatile substance obtained from various parts of the aromatic plant.
The aims and objectives of aromatherapy are to rebalance the body, mind and spirit by applying special plant and tree extracts called essential oils to the body. These powerful substances are chosen for their specific healing properties and aroma. By inhalation and massage, essential oils produce a physical, spiritual and emotional sense of well being.
Modern living may have produced advancements in science beyond our comprehension, but it has also increased the stress we cope with daily. Uncertainty of the future leads to concern over jobs, finance, supporting the family; while pollution in the air, ever increasing noise around us, all lead to the body being unable to cope. Muscular tension builds up, and the heart has to work even harder to cope. It is the therapist’s aim to show, in a calm and relaxed environment, compassion and understanding in trying to alleviate these concerns. Each client is an individual, and deserves the therapist’s undivided support and attention.
It has long been known that stress accounts for a staggering amount of illness in modern society, and aromatherapy offers one of the finest ways of combating the ravages of stress without having to resort to drugs which can be habit forming and damaging to your health. This is yet another reason that aromatherapists believe taking an holistic approach with aromatherapy promotes positive physical and mental balance. Scientists and doctors have known for a long time that negative and positive emotions really can change the complex chemistry of our bodies, and these changes can have a negative or positive effect on the immune system. For example, research has shown how prolonged stress can cause the body to overproduce cortisol and adrenaline which are hormones produced by the adrenal glands. These two hormones are normally secreted to produce a burst of energy as part of the “fight or flight” response, and of course this response is an essential tool for survival. Prolonged periods of emotional and psychological pressures however, means that the over-production of these hormones can begin to weaken the integrity of the immune system.
A few drops of essential oils are diluted in vegetable carrier oils, which are chosen carefully for their beneficial properties. Individual treatments are made for the client, but only after relevant background information is supplied so that the oils are chosen safely and appropriately.
Aromatherapy works on a more subtle level affecting the emotions and spirit, allowing the client to view their own feelings, ailments and lives more objectively, so that they can make positive life changes and regain a sense of well being.
The body strives to maintain a constant, stable internal environment, which is known as homeostasis. For example, temperature, blood pressure and fluid balance. Aromatherapy helps to restore homeostasis by rebalancing the whole system.
When using good quality essential oils correctly, the soothing combination of beautiful aromas, massage, aromatic baths and other treatments all work to regulate, balance, heal and maintain the entire body by working with nature, and not against it.
Relaxation is the most desired benefit of aromatherapy. People crave respite from the stresses that fill our daily lives. Aromatherapy is a way to reward ourselves simply and effectively with fragrant, natural substances that nourish mind, body and spirit. Essential oils that help to achieve a state of relaxation include: chamomile, benzoin, bergamot, cedarwood, clary sage, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, lavender, neroli, patchouli, rose, sandalwood and ylang ylang.
Aromatherapy is one of the most popular of all complementary therapies, offering a wide range of highly effective treatments to both the acute and chronic stages of illness and disease. At the same time, regular use of aromatherapy treatments and home-use products can help to strengthen the immune system, thereby establishing a preventative approach to overall health.
One of the reasons that aromatherapy has been so hugely successful is because it uses a holistic approach, whereby the aromatherapist takes into account a person’s medical history, emotional condition, general health and lifestyle before planning a course of treatment. The whole person is treated – not just the symptoms of an illness – and this is in direct opposition to the modern trend of just treating the presented condition.
There are many essential oils for pain relief, and people who use them seem to heal more quickly than others. Some essential oils have analgesic properties, which means that they have shown to relieve or reduce pain, as well as antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic properties. Backache, irritable bowel syndrome or headaches, for example, are often the result of stress and not actually a physical problem. By looking at the causes of the stress and providing treatments to ease and manage it, the aromatherapist will alleviate the condition in a much more efficient manner.
In combination with massage, essential oils can support circulation by flushing lactic acid from the muscles resulting in improved body function; flush out joints; increase strength and flexibility which will make you less prone to injury. Essential oils can help to heal muscle fibres that are slightly torn, maybe due to vigorous exercise or minor injury. Many oils also have analgesic properties that will help to reduce muscular, tendon and ligament pain. Some oils have a rubefacient effect, which causes an increase in blood supply and therefore an increase in oxygen and nutrients, which will help injured muscle. This will mean an increase in the removal of waste products such as lactic acid, which may be the cause of muscle tension.
There are many ways to increase energy naturally; exercise, sleep and diet to name a few. Aromatherapy can also play a role in increasing energy levels. Essential oils are absorbed both through inhalation and absorption. Both of these methods target the limbic system in the brain which is the area responsible for regulating hormones in the body. Citrus fruits, such as grapefruit, lime, orange and lemon, and minty plants, like peppermint, rosemary and spearmint, are all known to trigger energy producing hormones in the body. Just smelling these invigorating oils can jump start our thyroid glands to produce more energy inducing hormones.
Fatigue can make it more difficult for a person to concentrate. However, aromatherapy can be used to stimulate the brain and increase focus and productivity. The scents of cinnamon, clove, basil, ginger, peppermint, cypress, rosemary, sage and black pepper can have a stimulating effect without producing the adverse side effects, such as irritability and headache, sometimes caused by coffee and other caffeine containing stimulants.
There are essential oils that are useful for conditions associated with the lymphatic system. This system plays an important role in the immune response to harmful substances in the body. Almost all essential oils increase the production of white blood cells to stimulate immunity, but the best oils for this are lavender, chamomile, rosemary, bergamot and tea tree. Certain oils act as diuretics, helping to eliminate the buildup of fluid. Using oils that are diuretics and applying massage strokes towards the groups of lymph nodes in abdominal and groin areas will aid lymphatic drainage and help treat fluid retention and cellulite conditions.
Blending is one of the most important parts of an aromatherapy treatment. When essential oils are blended together, their molecules merge to produce a synergy. A synergy is when two or more essential oils are blended together and the chemistry of oils combines to greater effect. By blending together these compatible components, a more effective and powerful product is produced. Basically, they enhance each other and bring out their best features. A synergistic blend treats the body using a holistic approach.
Methods of use and application
Baths/showers – essential oils may be added directly to the bath water or blended in carrier oil first. If adding the essential oils directly to the water, take care to disperse in the water as the oils will not dilute in the water, but will float on the top. 2 to 6 drops of essential oil is sufficient.
Compresses – this is a very effective way of using essential oils to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. A hot compress may be made by filling a bowl with very hot water and then adding four or five drops of essential oil. Dip a piece of absorbent material such as cotton wool or a flannel or lint into the water, squeeze out the excess and then place over the affected area until it has cooled, then repeat. Hot compresses are particularly useful for backache, rheumatism, arthritis, abscesses, earache and toothache. Cold compresses are made in a similar way, using ice-cold rather than hot water and these are useful for headaches, sprains, strains and hot, swollen conditions.
Creams and lotions – essential oils may be blended into base creams for client self-application, as the client may find it easier and more convenient to apply a cream or lotion as part of their home care treatment. Base creams or lotions may be bought from good essential oil suppliers. They should be unperfumed and made from pure and natural plant substances. It is recommended that the blending ratio for creams and lotions is between 1-5 per cent, depending on the reasons for usage.
Hydrolats – great to use in situations that involve great gentleness and delicacy. They can be used on children (even babies), on the elderly, and many vets use them too. Hydrolats are great for skincare (having a perfect pH value). Try spraying Rose hydrolat on your face, or on bed linen.
Inhalation – this method is especially suited to sinus, throat and chest infections. A single drop may be enough, and four drops is maximum. Try one drop only the first time; do not inhale for longer than about 60 seconds at a time if you have a history of asthma or allergies. Provided this is well tolerated, you can then increase the amount of oil used and lengthen the treatment time to five minutes or more.
Mask – although it takes some time out of our busy day, we still believe that a face mask is one of the best facial treatments that you can have, for a variety of reasons – from cleansing, stimulating, assisting anti-ageing, improving skin tone etc. The idea of an essential oil mask is not a new one and a few very expensive rejuvenating clinics have been using them for some time. As a base you can mix either green clay or kaolin powder (reconstituted with either floral water such as rosewater or pure distilled water) together with a little cornflour and a quarter of a teaspoon of powdered raw oats.
Massage – aromatherapy massage is the first choice of treatment with essential oils and has three main benefits:
- It aids absorption of essential oils into the bloodstream.
- There is the psychological benefit of inhaling the vapour itself.
- The massage itself has therapeutic effects and can relax and/or stimulate the client.
There are three main forms of treatment offered in aromatherapy massage. The choice will depend on the client’s needs and preferences.
- Full aromatherapy massage usually takes 1 hour.
- Full aromatherapy massage including the face and scalp usually takes 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Part body aromatherapy massage applied locally to body parts usually takes between 30 and 45 minutes.
Shampoos – When you use essential oils in shampoos, you will need to dilute it to a suitable level so as not to cause any irritation to the eyes. Adding essential oils to your shampoo is an easy way to increase the effectiveness of your shampoo, but take care to select oils that are not irritants, or that you might be allergic to, since shampoos do have a habit of getting into your eyes. A good addition for hair care is normally rosemary essential oil. Do not use a new essential oil in a shampoo that you haven’t tested – rather first do a skin patch test to determine if you are allergic to the oil or not.
Sprays – an aromatic spray is a combination of essential oils and water. Often a dispersant such as alcohol is used to diffuse the essential oils within the water. Aromatic sprays can be used as room fresheners, to cleanse the air, to uplift and energise, to scent space, or used during a massage or aesthetic practice: e.g. sprayed on face cradles to keep respiratory passages clear. To make, add 10-15 drops of essential oil (1-3 different essential oils) per ounce of water. Shake before using or add dispersing agent (e.g. alcohol).
Diffusers – Depending on diffuser type, use as directed. Aerial dispersion via electric diffuser can be used for:
- Environmental ambiance.
- Stress/anxiety reduction.
- Insomnia or sleep disorders.
- Mood or motivation enhancement.
- Increase alertness.
- Purify and improve air quality.
- Reduce airborne pathogens.
Physiological and psychological effects of aromatherapy on the body systems
Due to the diversity of essential oils and their therapeutic properties, the benefits and effects of aromatherapy massage are many:
- Enhances a general state of well being.
- Calms and soothes the mind.
- Helps reduce nervous tension.
- Helps lift the mood and feelings of depression.
- Stress relief enhancing feelings of contentment and relaxation.
- Invigorating and increases energy.
- Creates postural awareness.
- Feelings of being cared for and cosseted.
- Enhances lymphatic drainage – helps reduce fluid retention and prevent oedema.
- Induces a feeling of deep relaxation in the body.
- Helps to restore balance in the body.
- Stimulates the body’s natural immunity.
- Increases the oxygen and nutrient supply to the tissues by increasing the blood circulation.
- Can help to increase energy levels as blockages and congestion in the nerves are eased.
- Warm tissues.
- May stimulate skin.
- May increase cellular function.
- May aid desquamation.
- May increase sebaceous secretions.
- Relax tense muscles.
Effects of massage on bone tissue and joints:
- Stimulate blood flow increasing blood supply to the bone and joints.
- Loosens adhesions in structures around joints.
Effects of massage on muscle tissue:
- Improves condition of muscle.
- Reduces pain, stiffness and fatigue.
- Reduces tension and aids relaxation.
- Elasticity of muscles improved.
- Break down adhesions and fibrostic nodules.
Effects of massage on the skin:
- Metabolism is increased.
- Improves condition and colour.
- Softens and lubricates.
- Elimination of waste.
Effects of massage on adipose tissue:
- Dispersal of fat.
Effects of massage on blood circulation:
- Increases blood flow thereby flushing out metabolic waste.
- Increase supply of fresh oxygenated blood aiding tissue recovery and repair.
- Reduces viscosity of blood, reducing its rate of coagulation.
Effects of massage on the lymphatic system:
- Flow of lymph speeded up.
- Prevents or reduces oedema.
Effects of massage on the digestive system:
- Stimulates movement of digested food through colon.
- Relieves constipation and flatulence.
Effects of massage on the nervous system:
- Soothing sedative effect on sensory nerve endings.
Reference: Aromatherapy Therapy Basics Helen McGuiness