The Nose Knows Good Health..
Aromatherapy: The Basics
So what is aromatherapy anyway? Well, the name pretty much says it all—it’s the practice of using aroma, or smell, as therapy to treat the entire person (not just the symptom or disease). Though the term aromatherapie only evolved in the early 1900s, the practice of scenting air and body with natural plant extracts for medicinal purposes dates back to ancient China, India and the Middle East. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy , “Aromatherapy can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.”
Aromatherapy is often a hands-on practice, as it can be used in massage or at pressure points around the body to complement the practice of acupuncture (which I’m going to cover next) and other body treatments. However, it can also be used simply as an environmental stimulant, giving scent to the air and allowing the oils to take effect simply through your sense of smell. Using single scents or scent combinations—you can buy pre-mixed essential oil combinations—will affect the result of the aromatherapy, and the art of mixing different scents (five is the max generally recommended) to achieve combined results is something that takes years to perfect. But as long as you’re not drinking them or putting them on your skin, there’s no harm in experimenting!
What’s It Good For?
Here’s a quick list of some more popular scents and their uses:
Uplifting and relaxing, it can be used as a purification agent in skin cleansing, taken internally to soothe indigestion or as a home deodorizer.
For pain and insomnia relief, and it can be helpful for balancing hormones. Should be used topically on the skin.
Relaxing, soothing to muscle aches. People often drink chamomile tea for the same reason, but you can drop this essential oil in a cup of hot water or apply it topically to your skin.
Stimulating and uplifting. Taken internally, it helps to promote good digestion and immune health.
Used as an antiseptic, this is my family’s secret weapon against canker sores. Simply swill a mouthful of water plus a drop or two of myrrh in your mouth for 30 seconds twice daily and watch them disappear!
How Can You Use It?
Massage, bath, shower, drink—you name it, and essential oils can help you get the most out of it.
Essential oils are usually sold with something called a diffuser, which is basically just a little ceramic dish that sits over a flame or other heat source. As the oil heats up, it begins to evaporate into the air, releasing its divine scent and setting the mood for you.
I add a few drops of roman chamomile to a cup of Epsom salts (you can buy these at any local pharmacy; they are great for sloughing away dead skin cells and highly effective both for detoxification and for soothing any muscle stiffness) and dissolve into my bath water for a great post-workout treat. You can also dilute oil in a carrier oil and add to your bath water, though you want to be sure to rinse any concentrated oil that may be left on your skin as you’re getting out of the bath to avoid irritation.
Bring water to a boil and add a few drops of essential oil, or a combination of oils, to the water after it has cooled for a few minutes. Inhale the vapors, but remember to keep your eyes closed to avoid irritation!
You can also add some essential oils to a glass of water and ingest them for internal healing. Make sure you read up on any specific oil before doing this, since it’s not advised for all oils out there. I love to put a drop of lemon essential oil in an 8-ounce glass of water with lunch every day. It makes all the difference when there’s nothing but tap water on hand, and it’s a great stomach soother because it helps to alkalize the acids in your stomach.
On the Go
Dab a few drops of essential oil onto a tissue to inhale from on the run (just cup it in the palms of your hand and the heat will help release the vapors and help you get the most from the tissue). You can even use this on your pillow case, though it will require more frequent washing.
In a pinch, you can use essential oils as perfume, and carry the scent (and the sense of well-being) with you through the day!