is a form of alternative, holistic medicine that uses essential oils and
other aromatic compounds extracted from plants for the purpose of affecting
mood and health.
Its history dates back over
6000 years to the time of ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese who burned
scented flowers and herbs for their cosmetic and curative properties. Modern aromatherapy began in the 1920s with French scientist Rene Maurice Gattefosse
who discovered that an extract of lavender oil aided in the healing and
prevented scarring after he accidentally burned his hands. Today, the
effectiveness of aromatherapy is often called into question, but
practitioners, even respiratory therapists and aromatherapists alike strongly defend the use of essential plant oils for
both psychological and physiological benefits. With a few safety tips in mind, aromatherapy can be a pleasant hobby that helps
alleviate stress, slows down our hectic pace of life, and offers a pleasant environment in which to live and breathe.
Essential oils are volatile
plant liquids extracted through a distillation or expression process. These
extremely concentrated oils are the heart of aromatherapy - used for
massage, bath, candles, room and body perfumes, and body cleansers. Typically, essential oils are highly concentrated, fragrant substances that
cannot be used directly on skin without first diluting in base oils such as
sweet almond or olive oil.
The benefits of aromatherapy
are vast and varied. Depending upon the essential oils used in a recipe and
the means in which it is used (i.e. either inhaled, or topically applied),
aromatherapy has been linked to a host of beneficial side effects such as
relief of stress, headaches, and insomnia, an increase in immune
function as well as mood enhancement. Due to its calming effects and ability
to relax muscle tension and regulate hormones, aromatherapy may be used in
conjunction with other holistic practices, such as yoga. Essential oils
soothe body and mind and can help create your ideal
yoga practice space.
Simply by reading many of the
descriptions of the plants used, their pleasant fragrances, and the
restorative side effects of aromatherapy, it's very tempting to pick up and
begin practicing. It's important before making any purchases to read as
much as possible on the subject. Take the time to visit your local health
stores with notebook and pen in hand to learn more about what appeals to you
and your senses. Spend time smelling each extract taking note of how they
make you feel. Pick fragrances that create similar sensations for you - for
example many people find lavender and eucalyptus have an extreme calming
effect, and this may be a good combination for you. Finally, take the time
to learn about each essential oil's properties and uses. Select only the
oils that are pleasant, since the desired effect probably won't work if you
don't like the smell in the first place.
Once you get going and start
collecting essential oils, keep a journal with all the recipes you have
tried and notes on what you've liked and what you haven't. You will probably
want to experiment with ways in which to introduce aromatherapy into your
life – from pleasant massages, to warm and fragrant baths, there are
generally two methods for you to try – topical application, or inhalation.
- Whether through the use of diffusers or burners for your room, a simple
application of oils to a handkerchief, or a recipe for smelling salts,
inhaling essential oils affects the limbic system - the brain's emotional
control center. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
Mister - Simply mix
distilled water with a few drops of essential oils, shake, and mist
throughout your room. This is quite an inexpensive and safe method to try.
Smelling Salts – If
you prefer, you can place a few drops on a handkerchief and inhale, but this
seems a bit wasteful since the fragrance will quickly dissipate. Also, some
oils may irritate skin in direct contact. Instead, consider buying a brown
vial, putting in sea salts and adding a couple drops of essential oil.
Topical application of essential oils allows for absorption into your
bloodstream. Bubble baths and relaxing massages are a great way to unwind
and distress and are even more calming with the addition of fragrant bath or
massage oils. Directly applying essential oils to your skin is dangerous -
you first need to add a few drops to a carrier oil (sweet almond oil is the
Aromatherapy is big business -
so just how can you weed out the bad products and ensure you're getting the
highest quality, most effective essential oils?
First of all, this is
incredibly important. Many companies will sell oils that vary in purity,
ingredients, and origin. Not only will this mean the final product may be
ineffective, but that it can also actually be harmful. Many resources
recommend beginners consult first with a certified aromatherapist, who can
steer newcomers in the right direction. Following are a few considerations:
Perfume Oils are
not Essential Oils - Though pleasant smelling, perfume oils
offer no therapeutic benefits.
Herb and Health
Food Stores May be Your Best Bet - Though more expensive than
your average grocery store, you're more likely to get pure product.
Read the Label
- Look for "100%" or "Pure" essential oils on the label. Otherwise,
what you might be getting is impure, watered down product.
Do Your Research
- Look online for reputable companies, talk to the experts.
Beware of Bargain
Pricing - All oils vary in price simply because some are more
readily available than others. Steer clear of stores that sell all
bottles for the same price since that's usually a good indicator you're
getting watered-down product.
Learn the Latin
Names - They might not be fun to pronounce, but they will help
avoid confusion. Since common names can often apply to more than one
plant, and there are also many varieties of similar plants it's best to
get familiar with the botanical names to avoid this kind of confusion.
- Essential oils are highly volatile and light sensitive. They're also
very potent. For these reasons, select dark brown or blue bottles that
block out the light. Also, avoid cool looking bottles with rubber
droppers, since the oils will actually break down the rubber and thus
contaminate the oils.
Essential oils are highly
concentrated and potent chemicals that can be harmful if handled
incorrectly. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the compounds and
their properties before using them will ensure your safety.
Before Topical Application - The use of base oils is necessary
to dilute essential oils.
- Some essential oils are very toxic if ingested.
- A little goes a long way. Final products are typically 98
percent base oil and 2 percent essential oil.
Keep away from
Eyes - Flush with milk and seek medical attention.
Don't use when
Pregnant - You should always be careful before using essential
oils when pregnant. Avoid rosemary, hyssop, sage, jasmin, peppermint,
juniper, and myrrh oils, and check with your physician before using any
others just to be sure.
Keep Away from
Children - Some recipes are suitable for children, however the
dosage and concentration will vary. It's best to avoid using on
children at all, unless you talk with an expert.
Conditions – Some essential oils are not suitable for certain
health conditions and illnesses. Always talk to your doctor before
trying a new recipe.
Do a Patch Test
– It’s always a good idea to check for allergies before an
all-over body massage! You can do this by simply applying a small amount
to a patch of skin and observing any reactions for the next 24 hours.
Sensitivity to Sunlight - Some essential oils, particularly the
citrus oils, actually increases a person's sensitivity to sunlight. If
you use these oils, do not go out in direct sunlight for at least five
- Concentrated oils are highly flammable. When preparing recipes, it's
important to be aware and avoid any open flames.
Charlotte Bradley is the publisher of
and an avid yoga practitioner. She was a student of karate for many
years and took up yoga only tentatively after the birth of her sons
and a knee injury left her looking for a less high-impact form of
exercise. It was love at first pose as Charlotte saw how quickly
yoga sped her rehabilitation along. She also found that yogic
relaxation techniques lent her proper focus, bringing balance into
her life as well as a greater appreciation for how blessed she truly
is. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario with her husband and twin boys,
Charlie and Patty, who keep her on her feet and on the go. Her
golden retriever supervises Charlotte’s yoga workouts from a spare
mat, with his eyes closed.
out all of Charlotte Bradley's