By Donna Spencer
Fragrant bath salts, scented candles, perfumed oils, and aromatic herbs all come to mind when “aromatherapy” is mentioned.
Although these items are largely included they don’t begin to spell out the whole meaning of the word-there is so much more involved. It’s safe to say that we all have had an aromatherapy experience of some kind, whether sniffing cologne or watering basil in the garden. Inhaling a fragrance is probably the most typical way to experience aromatherapy, and perhaps the most effective. Out of five senses our olfactory sense is the only one that goes directly to the brain. What you smell literally “goes to your head” and other areas of your body internally. It’s no coincidence when you feel euphoric after smelling a favorite fragrance that brings back pleasant memories. Other ways to experience aromatherapy are through food, baths and my personal favorite – MASSAGE! So just what is “aromatherapy” anyway???
If we breakdown the word into two parts we have “aroma” which of course refers to fragrance. Then there’s the “therapy” part which at its simplest level of understanding refers to well-being; emotional, psychological and physical. Although there are many definitions of aromatherapy, the common denominator is the effect the aroma has on the well-being of the individual. In other words, it’s the healing impact of the aroma that it produces in the mind, on the spirit and within the body! Aromatherapy very simply put is the practice of utilizing fragrance for healing and wellness.
How is this done? Essential oils are the main ingredient of aromatherapy and provide the fragrance. These oils are extracted from plants (including the flower, seeds & roots) and are considered the “essence” of the plant. They are applied to the body or inhaled.
Essential oils are very strong hence they can be inhaled full strength, but must be diluted before applying directly to the skin.
This can be done with water by adding a few drops of the oil to a bath. Typically essential oils are diluted by blending the drops with several ounces of a base or vegetable oil known as “carrier” oil, because it carries the oil to the skin. Common carrier oils include olive, grapeseed, coconut, sweet almond, etc. The combination of essential oil and carrier oil produces oil which has both relaxation and therapeutic uses, including use in aromatherapy massage.
The healing benefits of aromatherapy are just too good to pass up. Opportunities to use it are all around us, especially in our lush tropical environment where plants and flowers abound. Aromatherapy has been effectively used for centuries in medicine, cooking and rituals. Although it only started to gain popularity in the United States during the 80’s it had been used during WW1 to treat gangrene, wounds and overall skin infections. Ancient civilizations to modern day society have all reaped the healing benefits.
Aromatherapy can be applied in every area of our lives, and has been used in numerous settings from health spas to healthcare.
The above list is an extremely abbreviated one, the uses and applications are virtually boundless.
Anyone can learn to apply aromatherapy to their life and everyone can use it to enhance their well-being. The key to using aromatherapy for your individual purpose is finding out which scents “trip your trigger”. What a particular fragrance does for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Familiarize yourself by inhaling various essential oils to get an idea of what you like and why you like it. Start by sniffing the inside of the cap and then the open bottle, especially with stronger oils. Feel free to stop by APOTHECARY to “get your sniff on”, or any other establishment that has sample bottles for you to try. When I custom-blend aromatherapy it’s important for me to know what scents are pleasing to my client, in addition to the condition we are addressing. It’s not very therapeutic to make a blend that is effective physically, but triggers bad feelings or basically stinks.
For instance ginger oil (used for digestive disorders, migraines, treatment of ovarian cancer) if not properly blended can smell like stale tobacco or cigarette butts; not quite the wellness experience you had in mind. Don’t be discouraged though. If you are intrigued by aromatherapy, but find the study of it a little overwhelming stay tuned. This is the first in a series of articles written to expand your knowledge of aromatherapy and increase your comfort level. Keep reading and you’ll be blending and healing in no time!