What is Aromatherapy?

The use of fragrant essential oils to heal certain ailments and to alleviate mood is called Aromatherapy, an alternative form of medicine. All plant roots, stems, leaves, seeds, flowers etc. contain a combination of oils in them. These oils are called essential oils and are mostly volatile in nature with some being uniquely fragrant. Selected essential oils are used in the aromatherapy to help improve harmony of the body, mind and spirit. Their therapeutic benefits are believed to be the result of their effect on our hormones and other chemical messengers in the body and the brain.

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History of Aromatherapy

The use of essential oils is believed to go back as far as at least 4500 BC, when the Egyptians created perfumes and medicines from these oils. They linked perfumery to religion, assigning a particular fragrance to each of their many deities. These oils were not just used to prepare perfumes and medicines but were also used to embalm their dead, the famous Mummies. Traces of many essential oils can still be detected on 3000-year-old mummies.

This ancient science of aromatherapy was preserved by the Greek, Roman and Arab doctors, whose work was influential for many centuries. As recently as 18th century, essential oils are known to have been widely used in medicines. By the late 19th century, due to a lot of advancement in science and medicine, many of these natural extracts could be produced synthetically in the laboratories. This was cheaper and easier process than obtaining the essential oils from plants, thereby causing the use of these natural medicines to decline considerably.

The modern form of aromatherapy was revived with the work of René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist who discovered the healing properties aromaof Lavender oil in the 1920s. Encouraged by his findings with the lavender oil, he investigated the antiseptic properties of several other essential oils and in 1937, he published the first modern book on aromatherapy. For his extensive work on the subject, he is called the Father of Aromatherapy and is attributed with inventing the word Aromatherapy.

Consulting a Therapist

The therapist will usually begin by asking you about your health, your stress levels and your current mood. They will also ask questions about any other remedies or medicines that you may be taking, since certain medicines, especially homeopathic treatments may be affected by the powerful smell of some aromatic oils used in aromatherapy. Depending on the answers you provide, the therapist will choose the best oils that will work for you and then decide how to administer the treatment. There are several ways in which a professional therapist can administer the oils, but the most common form of treatment is to give a relaxing full body massage with the oils selected for you.

After the massage, you are required to have some quiet relaxation time and also may be advised to not take a bath for several hours after the massage. This is needed for the essential oils to be fully absorbed by your body over the next few hours and to get the maximum benefit from them. The therapist may also give you some oils to be used at home. The full session including the consultation and the massage may normally last from 60 to 90 minutes.

Using the Therapy at Home

Although most essential oils are not known to have any side effects, it is still better to get a full professional consultation before you opt for this therapy at home. Essential oils are widely and easily available and simple treatments such as inhalation, massage and bathing are simple to carry out all by yourself, but it is still better to get professional help while choosing the oils. A professional therapist will be able to help you select the combination of oils that will work best for you. Also, the effectiveness of the oils will be even more so if they have been extracted carefully and stored correctly. All these factors will be considered by the professional therapist for you.

The best oils are usually stored in dark colored glass bottles with labels showing the Latin name of the plant, instructions for use, and the precautions clearly listed. The best quality oils are also labeled as 'pure' or 'true' essential oils, and are produced by steam distillation or expression from natural, usually grown organically, plant material. Due to these production processes, true essential oils are usually expensive, so if you happen to come by a store selling them cheaper, do not get influenced to buy them, they are most probably produced synthetically and may not be really effective. Always buy from reputable sources (your aromatherapist will help you source the best quality oils) and always store your bottles in cool place, ensuring they are stored in dark bottles with tight seals.

Before using an essential oil for massage or bathing, it should be diluted in a suitable substance, known as a carrier. As a carrier, use a good-quality, cold-pressed plant oil such as sweet almond oil, sunflower oil or grapeseed oil. Mix the essential oils and the carrier oil in the exact proportions as has been recommended. A drop less will make it less effective and a drop more will not increase or improve its effectiveness, so stick to the recommended proportion. Although you can prepare it in large quantities to serve you for future regular uses in advance.

Methods of Administration of Essential oils

Inhalation

This is the quickest way to get the essential oils in your blood stream. Two ways of inhaling these oils are:

  • Place a few drops of the oil on a tissue or a handkerchief, place it over your nose and inhale.
  • Add one or two drops of the oil to a bowl of hot water, place a towel around your head and over the bowl, and inhale the vapour for upto five minutes.

IMG 0001See which of these two treatment works better for you and repeat it for up to three times daily. Alternatively you may you use a vaporizer, which is a porcelain bowl with a hollow underneath to keep a lighted candle in it. The bowl is filled with water in the top section to which drops of essential oil are added. A small candle is lit and kept beneath it which warms the water and releases the aroma of the oils in the air slowly. But this method only releases the aroma in less concentrated doses and is therefore only suitable for mildly soothing or mood lifting effects. Aklso care must be taken to never let the lit vaporizer unattended at any time.

Bathing

Soaking in water to which essential oils have been added is another simple way of absorbing the oils into your body.

  • For this method, take about 10 teaspoons of your chosen carrier oil and add a few drops of the essential oil. If you opt against using a carrier oil, the essential oils will simply float on the surface of the water and the therapeutic benefits may be greatly reduced.
  • Swirl the water around well so that oil disperses everywhere in water.
  • Close the door and windows and relax in the bath for upto 10 minutes.

Basic Mixing of Carrier and Essential Oils

As mentioned earlier too, use a very good quality, cold-compressed plant oil such as sweet almond, sunflower or grapeseed oil. Some people have now started using sesame oil as well. For bathing method, unscented bubble bath or moisturising lotions may also be used. Do not add more than the specified amount of the essential oils as lesser than recommended will decrease its effects and more quantity will mean only waste and nothing else.

Standard Mix for Bathing  - 30 drops of essential oil in 20 teaspoons of carrier

Bathing mix for the young, elderly and those in poor health  - 16 drops of essentil oil in 20 teaspoons of carrier

Bathing mix for babies under two years - 8 drops of essential oil in 20 teaspoons of carrier

Massage oil  -  8-12 drops of esential oil in 6-8 teaspoons of carrier

Special Precautions While Using Aromatherapy

Although pure essential oils can help skin problems and can be  absorbed into the bloodstream, some synthetic oils can irritate the skin and also may cause skin reactions or even trigger asthma attacks. Therefore use the purest essential oils available to ensure maximum benefit and reduce any such risks.

If you have sensitive skin, epilepsy, high blood pressure or have recently had a surgery, consult a qualified medical practitioner or your regular doctor before you start using the essential oils.

 If you are pregnant then you should avoid certain essential oils. If you think you might be pregnant, get a pregnancy test to confirm before using the essential oils.

Utmost care should be taken while bathing as the oils should never be swallowed. If you happen to swallow the mix, spit it out immediately and gargle a few times with plain water.

Oils to be avoided in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy:

  1. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  2. Cajuput (Melaleuca leucadendron)
  3. Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)
  4. Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
  5. Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
  6. Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
  7. Niaouli (Melaleuca viridiflora)
  8. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

 Oils to be avoided throughout pregnancy:

  1. Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
  2. Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)
  3. Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)
  4. Caraway (Carum carvi)
  5. Clove (Eugenia caryophyllata)
  6. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
  7. Fennel (Feoniculum vulgare)
  8. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
  9. Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
  10. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  11. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  12. Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
  13. Savory (Satureia montana)
  14. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
  15. Thyme, red (Thymus vulgaris)

Some popularly used Aromatherapy oils and their uses

lavenderLavender

Mental benefits: Combats anxiety, stress and depression.

Physical benefits: Stimulates renewal of skin cells,  reduces skin inflammation, helps heal mouth ulcers, reduces bad breath and nausea.

Eucalyptus oil 

Mental benefits: Promotes alertness, clears the mind

Physical benefits: Helps fight cold and nasal congestion, soothes irritation due to dry coughs, combats skin infections such as boils and pimples, reduces swellings, muscles aches and pains.

Geranium

Mental benefits: Reduces mental stress and anxiety

Physical benefits: Cleanses and tones the skin, fights throat and mouth infections, cleanses the digestive system, stimulates liver, helps detox the body, combats fluid retention.

Peppermint

Mental benefits: Uplifting mood and for treating emotional shock.

Physical benefits: Helps reduce cough and throat infections, soothes intestinal cramps, relieves heartburn due to acidity, helps relieve symptoms of motion sickness.

Rosemary

Mental benefits: Stimulates the memory.

Physical benefits: Relieves indigestion and flatulence, helps stimulate circulation, alleviates muscle aches, cleanses and stimulates the skin, combats infections.

Sandalwood

Mental benefits: Sedative and relaxing, its a good remedy for insomnia.

Physical benefits: Used in bronchitis, asthma, throat irritation, dry skin problems, combats dandruff, and alleviates vomiting and diarrhoea.


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