How can aromatherapy nourish your soul?
Aromatherapy is a holistic practice which involves using plant oils in carefully blended combinations to support physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. The essential oils may be evaporated in an oil burner, added to bath water, or diluted in a carrier oil and massaged onto the skin.
It is believed that the practice of using aromatic plant oils to support healing and wellbeing may be almost 6,000 years old, based on the discovery of ancient Egyptian artefacts thought to have been used for extracting essential oils. In its modern form, aromatherapy dates back to the work of a French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé, who coined the term in the early 20th century. Gattefossé used lavender essential oil to successfully treat severe burns he sustained in a laboratory explosion.
The aromatic compounds that give essential oils their characteristic fragrances can also have physiological and emotional effects. It is very important to remember that even though they come from plants, these aromatic oils contain potent chemicals that can be toxic if ingested and can cause burns or irritation if they come in contact with the skin in their pure form. Aromatherapy oils must be diluted in a suitable carrier oil if used for massage, and combined with a dispersant if added to your bath. It is also recommended to never consume essential oils by mouth, even in a diluted form.
Benefits of aromatherapy
At the sensory level, aromatherapy is believed to affect the limbic system of the brain, which may stimulate the release of neurotransmitters that make you feel relaxed and peaceful, or energised and motivated, depending on what oils are used. Research indicates that aromatherapy may significantly promote calmness and reduce agitation in elderly people with severe dementia.
There is evidence to suggest aromatherapy massage may help alleviate anxiety and depression in cancer patients for up to two weeks after treatment. Aromatherapy may also have beneficial effects on sleep quality in people with advanced cancer.
The results of a study comparing the application tea-tree oil with a synthetic acne treatment suggested that while both formulations may be effective in treating acne, there were less side effects associated with using the essential oil. There is evidence to suggest aromatherapy may have significant benefits for pain reduction, especially related to surgical procedures or childbirth.
Aromatherapy can assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Aches and pains
- Anxiety and stress
- Back pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Menstrual issues
- Muscle tension and stiffness
- Neck/Shoulder problems
- Neurological conditions
- Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Stress management
What to expect from an aromatherapy session
Your aromatherapist will start by asking you about the condition you wish to treat, as well as enquiring about your medical history and any known allergies that you may suffer from. The practitioner will then choose a combination of essential oils that are believed to have beneficial effects for your health concern.
A practitioner who combines massage with aromatherapy oils uses a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil to dilute the purified extract to a safe concentration. Your aromatherapist will then massage the fragrant oil into your skin, and possibly also provide you with a personally customised blend that you can take home and use in an oil burner or diffuser.
As long as essential oils are treated with respect and used with care, the main risk associated with aromatherapy involves the possibility of an allergic reaction. If you are self-administering aromatherapy, for example by using an oil burner, always keep essential oils out of reach of children to minimise the risk of poisoning.
As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing aromatherapy. If you have an injury or other health issue, particularly if you have any known allergies, it is important to inform your aromatherapist. Your practitioner will be happy to address your concerns and customise the treatment to your individual requirements.