Sunday, July 20, 2008

Aromatherapy: relieve stress, calm our minds, energize our bodies

The healing, soothing, and beautifying properties of essential oils provide a wonderful opportunity to relieve stress, calm our minds, energize our bodies, and uplift our spirits. The practice of aromatherapy-the science of scent-is growing in the US. In natural food stores and department stores alike, aromatherapy products and books abound.

After a hectic day, it is well worth taking the time to custom-blend your own individualized essential oils. Then relax, collect your thoughts, and refresh your mind, body, and spirit. An aromatic bath, a calming inhalation, a facial steam bath, or a comforting massage can work wonders to revive body and soul.

Aromatherapy is an ancient art and science focusing on the use of flower and plant essential oils to enhance and balance mental, spiritual, and physical health. The use of essential oils dates back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians who luxuriated in these precious substances for health and beauty purposes.

Essential oils are derived from flowers, plants, leaves, branches, or roots through the process of steam distillation, or from cold pressing peels (in the case of citrus). The resulting essences aren't really oils; they're natural, aromatic substances with a molecular size small enough to penetrate the skin. True essential oils are very concentrated; they are what give plants their smell. On the average, it takes about fifty pounds of plant material to make one pound of essential oil. For example, over 150 pounds of lavender flowers yield one pound of essential oil; and 5,000 pounds of rose petals produce only one pound of rose oil.

True essential oils should not be synthetically manufactured in a laboratory by a chemist. According to Scott Cunningham, author of Magical Aromatherapy (Llewellyn Publications, 1992), there is no substitute for true scents. "Because essential oils are born of plants, they have a direct link with the Earth." Synthetic oils, on the other hand, are created by scientists who simply mix together only those ingredients necessary to approximate the scent of the true essential oil. "The results," says Cunning-ham, "are often hideous parodies of the real thing."

The use of aromatherapy for healing purposes is an ancient practice, although it fell into disfavor with the advent of synthetic drugs in medicine. In the 1920s, Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French cosmetic chemist and researcher of essential oils, played a significant role in its resurgence. Gattefosse began his research after discovering, by accident, the usefulness of essential oils. While experimenting in his laboratory, he severely burned his hand and immediately plunged it in the only container of liquid available-lavender oil. He later noticed how quickly his hand healed with minimal scarring. Gattefosse coined the term "aromatherapie" in a scientific paper, which documented essential oils' antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Today, health practitioners in Europe use medical aromatherapy for stress management and a variety of ailments-applications that are finding their place in today's holistic healing movement.

It is always important to consult with your physician before beginning any therapeutic program, especially if you are pregnant or have a medical condition.

Since essential oils are very concentrated, it is a good idea to test for sensitivity before using a particular oil. Always dilute before applying to the skin; be careful to avoid eyes, nose, or mouth. To test, apply a little of the diluted essential oil behind the ears and leave for 24 hours. If no redness or itching results, the oil should be safe to use. Be sure to keep all essential oils out of the reach of children.

The following recipes will help get you started in custom-blending your own scents to promote health, well-being, and beauty. You can vary the suggested essential oils according to your preference and moods.

Aromatic Baths

Create your own mini-spa session in your home by preparing an aromatic bath. A soothing ritual may begin with brewing your favorite cup of herbal tea while indulging in ten minutes of tension-reducing stretching exercises. Then add the essential oils you've chosen to a comfortably warm bath and gently swirl the water to combine. For most baths, six to ten drops is recommended.

The essential oils' effects should readily become apparent as you inhale their subtle aromas while enjoying a relaxing soak. To further soften your skin, add one teaspoon of your favorite carrier oil (see Carrier Oils sidebar) to the essential oils. An unscented bath gel, bath salt, or foaming milk bath may be added to the water as well.

To unwind and relax after a stressful day, choose one of the recipes below, mix the essential oils into a warm bath, and soak for at least 15 minutes.

Bedtime Bath Mixture

  • 2 drops Rose Geranium
  • 2 drops Lavender
  • 2 drops Chamomile

Relaxing Bath Mixture

  • 4 drops Ylang-Ylang
  • 2 drops Lavender

For an invigorating bath in the morning, or if you plan to go to an evening party, choose one of the following mixtures and add the essential oils to your bath water.

Energizing Morning Bath

  • 4 drops Rosemary
  • 2 drops Lavender

Evening Party Bath Mixture

  • 4 drops Jasmine
  • 2 drops Sandalwood

Massage Oils

An aromatherapy massage is very helpful for stress reduction. Add the following essential oils to one fluid ounce of carrier oil (see Carrier Oils sidebar). This should be enough for a whole body massage. Since the mixtures don't last very long, massage oils are usually made in small amounts. To blend, place the carrier oil in a glass container, then add the essential oils, swirling the container until the essential oils appear to be sufficiently mixed with the carrier oil.

All essential oils and mixtures must be stored in dark glass containers, away from heat, sunlight, and moisture. If stored properly, most essential oils should be effective for one to two years.

To relax and balance mind and body, blend together:

  • 1 ounce carrier oil
  • 2 drops Rose Essence
  • 2 drops Rose Geranium
  • 2 drops Lavender

For aching muscles and tiredness, blend together:

  • 1 ounce carrier oil
  • 2 drops Rosemary
  • 1 drop Lavender
  • 1 drop Neroli

For a fragrant massage oil, blend together:

  • 1 ounce carrier oil
  • 4 drops Jasmine

Inhalation Therapy

Scent a warm washcloth with the following essential oils, drape it over your face, lie down for five minutes, and breathe deeply.

For a headache, try:

  • 2 drops Lavender

For nervous tension and anxiety, blend together:

  • 1 drop Vanilla
  • 1 drop Tangerine

For sleep, try one of the following:

  • 2 drops Lavender, Jasmine, or Chamomile

Traditional Uses of 20 Common Essential Oils

Cedar: Used traditionally to balance the emotions. Normalizes both dry and oily skin and hair. Should not be used by pregnant women.
Chamomile: Used traditionally to relieve stress, tension, and insomnia. Cond-itions the hair and scalp and adds shine and luster to hair.
Cinnamon: Strengthening, invigorating. Counteracts nervousness and tension.
Frankincense: An ancient essence traditionally used in religious rituals for meditation. Soothes and softens dry, chapped skin. Be sure to test first, as it may cause skin irritation.
Jasmine: This heavenly fragrance lifts spirits and soothes nerves, relaxes and calms. Beneficial for all types of skin.
Juniper: Antiseptic and purifying properties. Helps to revive dull skin.
Lavender: Traditionally used to help relieve tension, anxiety, head-aches, insomnia, and premenstrual tension. Also an antiseptic and a skin healer.
Lemon: Revitalizing, stimulating, and purifying. Because it is a skin irritant, it should not be applied to skin or used in baths.
Myrrh: This ancient, richly exotic scent has been traditionally used for spiritual meditation. It may cause skin irritation if applied to skin or used in baths.
Neroli: A stress reducer, deeply relaxing and well worth its price. Good for all types of skin.
Orange: This sweetly exotic fragrance may help induce sleep.
Peppermint: Stimulating and purifying. Decon-gests sinuses. A skin irritant. Do not apply to skin or use in baths.
Rose Essence: Sometimes called the 'queen of flowers', this exquisite fragrance instills feelings of peace, happiness and love.
Rose Geranium: Tension-easing, uplifting.
Rosemary: Energizing, invigorating and stimulating, may help relieve physical and mental tiredness and muscular aches and pains. Improves dry or mature skin.
Sandalwood: Traditionally used to enhance feelings of peace. A good moisturizer for all types of skin, even sensitive skin.
Sweet Eucalyptus: Traditionally used for purifying and healing. Helps stimulate and ref-resh body and mind.
Tangerine: Traditionally used to soothe the psyche and calm the nerves.
Vanilla: Revitalizing.
Ylang-Ylang: Often called the 'flower of flowers' due to its incredibly exotic fragrance, it soothes, relaxes and emotionally calms. Be aware that extended inhalation may cause headache. Best for treating oily skin.

Therapeutic Oils:

Avocado Oil, Carrot Oil, Jojoba Oil, and Wheatgerm Oil: Use for very dry skin, psoriasis, and eczema.
Castor Oil: Use for sore muscles and skin disorders.

Aromatic Facials

A facial steam bath is a great way to cleanse pores, add moisture to the skin, and increase circulation. Steaming your face once a week will keep it blemish-free and give your complexion a healthy glow. To prepare your facial bath, pour steaming water into a two-quart bowl. Add 3-5 drops of the essential oil suitable for your skin type (see 20 Common Essential Oils sidebar). Put your face over the bowl, drape a towel over your head and relax for 5-10 minutes. Afterwards, apply a cleanser to remove the impurities released from your skin by the steam.

To use essential oils in a moisturizer, mix a few drops of your favorite scent with a soothing carrier oil. Grapeseed and Sweet Almond carrier oils are both recommended for skin.

Diffusers, Lamps, and Rings

Using essential oils is like bringing a bit of the outdoors into your home. Because most of us live in big cities, we don't have the time or opportunity to get out and enjoy nature. Days, even weeks, go by without the scent of flowers or fresh mountain air. Escape from our hectic lives is necessary for our well-being, and essential oils-nature in the purest and most concentrated form-can help us meet this need. Whether you want to calm yourself after a long day or rejuvenate before a big meeting, scents drifting through the home or workplace can have numerous positive effects on both mind and body.

When you add several drops of essential oils to an aromatherapy candle lamp, light bulb ring, or electric diffuser, heat disperses the vapors from the essential oils into the air.

An electric diffuser, which pumps a constant light mist into the room, is the easiest and most effective method. Shop around and compare prices-some diffusers can be relatively expensive. Aromatherapy lamps, small bowls which hold the water and essential oils with a candle or light bulb heat source underneath them, are a convenient and inexpensive alternative. Light bulb rings are also useful. Simply sprinkle them with your favorite oil, slip over any light bulb, sit back and enjoy the wonderful aroma. Potpourri, pillows, bed linens, clothes, and stationery can also be scented with your favorite essential oil. A couple of drops is all you need. You can also create your own air freshener by blending the essential oils below with eight ounces of water in a bottle, then spraying the mist into the air.

To set a mood, use the following blends in an aromatherapy lamp, light bulb ring, or diffuser:

To inspire a meditative mood:

  • 3 drops Frankincense
  • 2 drops Myrrh
  • 2 drops Sandalwood

To help ease tension:

  • 4 drops Orange
  • 4 drops Cinnamon

For calming, add together:

  • 3 drops Lavender
  • 3 drops Orange

For an uplifting air freshener, mix:

  • 3 drops Sweet Eucalyptus
  • 2 drops Orange
  • 2 drops Lemon

Experiment with different essential oils to achieve the desired results. With the help of these precious essences, you can refresh and enjoy mother nature's gifts.

Carrier Oils

When essential oils are mixed with an unscented base oil, lotion, or cream, it is called a "carrier" (or fixative). This base oil dilutes the essential oil for skin applications. Undiluted essential oils are very concentrated and should not be applied directly to skin.

To determine the type of carrier oil to use, you may want to consider its intrinsic attributes and your intended purpose. The carrier oils may also be combined with one another and with essential oils to heighten their effectiveness. For all carriers except jojoba, add a few drops of wheat germ oil or a vitamin E capsule to prevent rancidity.

Light Nourishing Carrier Oils For All Skin Types:

Apricot Kernel Oil: A nourishing oil, well-suited as a moisturizer for dehydrated, sensitive, or mature skin and as a bath oil.

Grapeseed Oil: One of the best oils for massage; very light, non-greasy, and easy-to-spread. It also makes an excellent facial moisturizer.

Hazelnut Oil: A nourishing oil and skin revitalizer. Helps tone and tighten the skin.

Jojoba Oil: Very similar in composition to human sebum or natural skin oils. An excellent oil for conditioning hair, scalp, and cuticles as well as a body moisturizer.

Sesame Oil: A nourishing oil, often used in the Indian Ayurvedic medical system. A thick oil with a heavy odor. Use for massage oils containing stronger smelling essential oils, such as basil, rosemary, or thyme.

Sweet Almond Oil: An all-purpose, versatile oil used as a skin enricher and emollient. A perfect base for a massage oil and moisturizer.

Other good carriers are: Safflower, Peanut, Sunflower, Soy, Olive, Canola, and Peanut Oils.

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