Aromatherapy is the practice of using plant-based essential oils to improve overall health and wellbeing. Essential oils contain healing properties that can relieve physical, mental and spiritual symptoms. Oils can be applied to the body in several ways including inhaling, absorbing topically through massage or by adding to a diffuser. Traditionally an ancient practice, the practice is gaining more popularity in western medicine. Many healthcare professionals are now adding aromatherapy into their treatment plans.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are the ‘essence’ of plants, herbs or flowers. They contain complex plant chemicals which hold antibacterial and antiviral properties. You can extract these properties by distilling or cold pressing the plant to produce a highly concentrated oil.
The oils work by triggering signals in the brain which release chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins. These chemicals are what help us to feel calmer or energised. As you don’t usually ingest the oils, aromatherapy is considered a safe alternative therapy to help us regulate our bodies and calm our mind.
Examples of essential oils are lavender, tea tree, bergamot and eucalyptus oil – but there are hundreds available to buy. Each one contains unique properties which can target a wide range of ailments.
Where did aromatherapy originate?
Humans have used aromatherapy for thousands of years. Ancient cultures in China, India, Egypt, and elsewhere incorporated aromatic plant components in resins, balms, and oils. They used the natural substances for medical and religious purposes and were known to have both physical and psychological benefits.
What are some of the benefits of aromatherapy massages?
Citrus fragrances and aromas are thought to reduce depression in adults – A particular study found that citrus aromas comfort the sensory system used for smelling, and were more effective at normalizing hormone levels than antidepressants in patients.
Combining essential oils can have even more powerful results. An interesting study found aroma hand massages have a much more positive effect on reducing depression compared to regular oil hand massages. Patients received a daily five-minute massage on each hand using a blend of Bergamot, Lavender and Frankincense. They showed significant differences in the changes of pain and depression compared to those who had massages without essential oils.
Easing muscle tension
Some oils when applied topically can ease muscle tension and sore joints. Peppermint and eucalyptus oil can have a cooling effect on sore muscles. Other oils like ginger, lavender and clary sage contain anti-inflammatory properties. A 2016 study found ginger essential oils helped to reduced arthritis-related inflammation in rats. Try adding a few drops to a warm bath next time you have sore muscles or diluting it with a carrier oil before massaging into the target area.
Lavender oil encourages better sleep by calming the body’s sensory nervous system. In a 2015 study, 60 patients in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) either inhaled lavender essential oil each day for two weeks before sleep or acted as a control group. They found the patients given lavender oil saw significant improvements in their quality of sleep and anxiety. Next time you’re having trouble getting to sleep, try adding a few drops of lavender oil to your pillow.
Aromatherapy is sometimes used as a complementary therapy with cancer patients. Patients in studies have reported feeling uplifted and seen improvements in their mood. Other studies have shown they can reduce the feeling of nausea and vomiting, some of the side effects of chemotherapy treatment.
Is aromatherapy right for you?
Most essential oils are safe to use but you should take some precautions when applying topically. Always follow the instructions on the bottle before applying directly to your skin. You should dilute your essential oil with a carrier oil first such as jojoba, argon or olive oil. Always do a patch test before applying anything new to your skin and leave for 48 hours. If you are pregnant, there are some essential oils you should avoid. However, prenatal massages are generally safe and your aromatherapist will guide you on the best oils for you.
When it doubt, always consult an expert and seek professional treatment. You can contact certified aromatherapists directly through Holistify before booking an appointment. Aromatherapists treat each new patient as an individual. During a consultation, expect to answer questions about your lifestyle and habits so your therapist can produce a unique treatment plan specific to your needs.
Since aromatherapy is a complementary therapy, you should talk to your doctor before starting your sessions. That way your essential oil therapy can be tailored to work together with any medical care or treatment you are receiving.