What is Aromatherapy?
Essential oils – fragrant, potent, and volatile – extracted from a great range of (more than 150) plants, flowers, fruits, grasses, leaves, twigs, roots and bark, these form the basis of Aromatherapy. The knowledgeable use of these essential oils (often with massage) is reckoned to enhance body, mind and spirit; they are intended to complement and work alongside medical treatment.
Extracted from both common and more exotic plant varieties, pure essential oils have been found to be relaxing, anti-inflammatory, anti-infectious, soothing and uplifting. Aromatherapy promotes bodily well-being, positively affect the emotions, and assists psychological balance.
Aroma oils can be inhaled, absorbed or consumed. A concentrate of the essential ‘oils’ is more like water, not greasy, and evaporates quickly. Aroma oils are carefully prepared by a complex process called maceration which extracts the essences from dried plant material. They are then purified using a process called defleurage and in some cases fat is used instead of oil. The final process of purification is called enfleurage.
It is well known how evocative the sense of smell is, reminding us of past experiences or emotions. The idea of Aromatherapy is based on the positive reaction to particular fragrances and to particular aromatic oils. When the body is massaged with specially-prepared aromatherapy organic massage oils, a specific smell is released. Our breath takes about 15% of the air to the roof of the nose, where olfactory receptors transport those smells straight to the brain. This process stimulates the release of beneficial chemicals within the body which in turn are responsible for healing bodily imbalance.
To get the most from aromatherapy, since it takes expertise and experience to correctly dilute and blend the essential oils, it is recommended to attend a qualified aromatherapist.
What to expect
The aim of aromatherapy is to treat the whole body (holistic) and not just the current problem. So at a first session, the aromatherapist will ask about general health and lifestyle as well as medical history. This helps the aromatherapist to select which essential oils are most appropriate for each individual.
After choosing and blending appropriate essential oils, tailored for each individual, up to a total of 12 drops from a selection up to 5 oils are blended with a carrier oil for a full body massage. The client prepares for the massage by undressing, and lying on the coach where the body is covered with towels. Those parts of the body not being massaged remain covered during the treatment. No part of the body is touched without consent. The massage will be adapted to meet individual needs.
After an aromatherapy session it’s best to relax and to allow the oils to be absorbed by the skin. It’s recommended not to shower or bathe for at least four hours, and to avoid caffeine or alcohol directly after aromatherapy, but to drink plenty of water.
The effects & benefits
“Smell acts directly on the brain, like a drug,” says neurologist and psychiatrist Dr Alan Huch, director of Smell and Taste Research Centre in Chicago. The Limbic system is a library of millions of remembered smells. When an aroma enters the nose it contacts the cilia, the fine hair inside the nose lining. In the cilia ‘receptors’ are linked to the olfactory bulb at the end of the ‘smell’ tract. Smells are converted by cilia into electrical impulses which are transmitted to the brain through olfactory system.
All the impulses arrive at the limbic system, that section of the brain associated not only with memory and learning, but also with moods and emotions. And the smells that reach the limbic system have a direct chemical effect on our moods.
For example it is said that the scent of lavender increases alpha waves in the brain and that this wave helps us to relax. A waft of jasmine increases beta waves associated with agility and a state of alertness.
Over many years of practice, Aromatherapy has identified that certain aromas are associated with certain responses or therapeutic effects. Here are the common uses for some of the some essential oils:
|Essential oil||What it’s used for|
|Peppermint (Mentha piperita)||Headaches and fever. Aids digestive complaints – nausea, indigestion and flatulence. Also muscle aches and fatigue|
|Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)||Aids relaxation, and can reduce muscle tension. Good antidepressant|
|Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)||A natural anti-fungal, anti-bacterial oil, good for treating fungal infections including vaginal yeast infections, ringworm and athletes foot. Boosts the immune system.|
|Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)||Minor burns, insomnia, pain relief, and wound care|
|Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)||Natural pain killer, relaxing, and can help with insomnia.|
|German chamomile (Matricaria recutita)||Inflamatory skin problems|
|Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)||Mild antidepressant and tonic|
|Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinali)||Stimulant and anti-infective agent. Uplifting, good to help mental stimulation and to stimulate the immune system|
|Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)||Helps to balance hormones in women, good for balancing the skin, as well as antidepressant.|
|Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus radiata, Eucalyptus smithii)||Respiratory conditions such as coughs, colds, and asthma. Also helps to boost the immune system.|
|Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)||Nausea and inflammation|
|Roman Chamomile (Anthemus nobilis)||Relaxation, can help with sleeplessness and anxiety. Also good for muscle aches and tension.|
Fascinating Facts about Aromatherapy
- In 1928 Rene-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist coined the term aromatherapy. He discovered the healing powers of essential oils when after a laboratory explosion he plunged his burned arm into the nearest tub of cold liquid. The tub was full of lavender oil, and not only did he find relief from the pain, but he found that the wound healed at an amazing rate.
- A suggested cure for hangover is reputed to be: Essential oils of Juniper, Cedarwood, Grapefruit, Lavender, Carrot, Fennel, Rosemary, and Lemon. Mix a blend of these oils and use a total of 6-8 drops in a bath.
- Hippocrates, father of medicine, is also believed to have used aromatic baths and massages to ward off plague in Athens.
- During the 1655 London plague, people burnt bundles of lavender, cedarwood and cypress in the streets as a defence against the deadly disease.
- Smelly feet or shoes can be remedied, it’s said, by dropping a few drops of Geranium essential oil directly into the shoes.
- Nero, the infamous Emperor of orgies and feasts, frequently used rose oil to help him recover from his headaches and hangovers.
- A pair of scented gloves so enthralled Queen Elizabeth I that she had a perfumed leather cape and shoes made to match.
- A French doctor named Jean Valnet followed the work of Gattefossé, and during World War 2 whilst working as a surgical assistant he used the essential oils of chamomile, clove, lemon and thyme to treat gangrene and battle wounds.
- Lemon oil is uplifting and acts as anti-depressant. In a Japanese study, lemon essential oil in vapor form has been found to reduce stress in mice.
International Federation of Aromatherapy
The IFA is the Oldest and Largest established governing body for Professional Aromatherapy in the world, and currently claims 8000 members. Founded in 1985, they hold charitable status and devout their revenue to increasing opportunities and benefits for their members. The IFA has pioneered the use of aromatherapy in hospitals, hospices, special care units and general practice.
The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists
Founded in 2002, an amalgamation of the International Society of Professional Aromatherapists and the Register of Qualified Aromatherapist, was the result of a vision by the UK’s major international professional aromatherapy organisations to become the best they could. The IFPA is a registered charity which believes in the principles of holistic health and the promotion of well-being for the individual.
Aromatherapy & Allied Practitioners
The AAPA was formed in 1994 by a small group of therapists who saw the need for an aromatherapy association which was non-profit making and dedicated to the development of the profession & support of therapists. Its officers and staff are all qualified therapists.