Essential Oils & Aromatherapy
By Sabina Brownstein
Things that smell good make us feel good. It can be a field of flowers, fresh orange blossoms, salt sea air, or someone who always smells fresh and sweet. These wonderful aromas have a profound effect on our moods and our health. This is the essence of aromatherapy, which is also known as essential oil therapy. It is the art and science of using naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of your body, mind and spirit. Many therapists use natural aromas as part of their practice, and their value is backed by both experience and science. The term aromatherapy was first used by a French chemist in the 1920s, but the use of oils and their aromas for healing and well-being goes far back into ancient history. It is a holistic process that seeks to enhance people’s innate healing abilities on all levels: physical, emotional and spiritual.
Your sense of smell has a powerful influence on the way that you feel, both mentally and physically. We have all had the experience of a certain aroma bringing back a distinct memory from our past. Suddenly the smell of freshly cut grass reminds us of a time in our childhood; or a feeling we had long forgotten; or a place that was special to us. Often when people fall in love the smell of their beloved becomes intoxicating. These experiences go deep within, and they can instantly alter our moods and give us a feeling of well being. This is where the power of aromatherapy comes from – the ability of our sense of smell to connect us to a deeper part of ourselves. When natural essences are properly combined they can open our minds and bodies to healing, relaxation and happiness.
Essential oils are produced by the distillation of natural plant material that can come from roots, barks, seeds, fruits or flowers. Always remember that essential oils are highly concentrated, so be careful not to apply them directly to the skin, or to use them on babies or small children. One of the nicest ways of using essential oils is for a massage, and this is done by diluting them in a base oil. Sweet almond oil is a good choice for the base as it is mild on sensitive skin and is also easily obtainable (particularly here in Spain). Generally the proportion of essential oil to base oil should be about 3%. This means adding about 50-60 drops of essential oil to 100 ml of base oil. For just one massage you can pour a little base oil into a saucer and add 2-3 drops of the essential oil. Three of the most popular essential oils for use in massage are lavender, rosemary and lemon. Lavender essential oil is known for its sedative properties – the ability to calm stress and help to promote sleep. Rosemary essential oil can help to improve circulation and is useful to clear the respiratory system. Lemon essential oil has a strong, purifying citrus scent that is revitalizing and uplifting.
Another great way to use oils is to add a few drops (5-10) to a warm bath. When you feel nervous or stressed a bath with oils such as lavender or rosewood can be of great benefit. Adding a blend of oils to a bath can also help to eliminate toxins; rosemary is especially good for this. Essential oils are not only useful tools for healing and soothing your emotions – they are also beneficial for purely physical healing. New research is showing that some of these oils have valuable anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. What is really interesting is that these benefits are derived both through direct contact with the skin, and through breathing in the aromas as well. Essential oils can also be used to cleanse a room that has been exposed to diseases. One of the best oils for this antiseptic purpose is eucalyptus, and it can be effectively mixed with lavender or lemon.
As you can see, the use of essential oils for aromatherapy is an inexpensive and pleasant way to support your wellbeing... but that is not all. Essential oils also provide a very elegant and natural way to create a beautiful ambiance in your home. It is easy to find colourful receptacles for this purpose in most health food stores. Simply put 3 to 4 drops of essential oil into the water-filled receptacle that sits above a tea candle, and the room will gradually take on the fragrance of the oil. Olibanum (frankincense) is particularly good for creating a homey relaxed feeling, as are sandalwood, cedarwood and rosewood. It’s also fun to try different combinations: mixing a citrus oil with a sweet or woody oil will give it a more rounded, fuller scent – for example mandarin with ylang ylang or sandalwood.