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Wednesday, December 13, 2006
A R O M A T H E R A P Y 101
History of Aromatherapy
Although the contemporary practice of modern aromatherapy originated within the last years, the use of essential oils to heal mind, body, and spirit can be traced back to all the major ancient civilizations of the world. Aromatic plants played a cental role in the healing arts of early humankind.

Our ancestors learned - through trial and error, and through observing which plants sick animals ate - that eating certain roots, berries and leaves helped to alleviate the symptoms of different ailments. Other plants had little (if any) effect; and a few plants aggravated symptoms, caused vomiting and even occasionally death. This highly prized healing wisdom was passed down from one medicine man or woman to the next, together with new discoveries and innovations. This knowledge was eventually transmuted into the herbal medicine we know today.

Early civilizations also discovered that burning twigs and leaves from certain plants could produce interesting effects. Some of these smoky aromas made people drowsy, while others curec ailments; some stimulated the senses, and a few gave rise to mystical, religious experiences. The precious, magical natue of aromatic plants was honored by burning them and offering the smoke to the gods of these civilizations.

We can see this principle at work today in the temples o the East, where incense is still ritaully burned on the altars of Hindu and Buddhists deities. The modern Catholic Church also continues its traditions of burning frankincese during church services.


Back in the modern world, a renewed interest in natural, plant-based healing led to the development of modern aromatherapy. In the 1920s a French chemist, Rene Gattefosse, experiemented with essential oils and realized their great healing potential.

After burning his hand in a laboratory accident, he plunged his arm into some lavender essential oil. The miraculous effectiveness of lavender in healing his burn led to him to further research essential oils, and to use the term aromatherapie for the first time in a science paper in 1928. This heralded the arrival of contemporary aromatherapy as we know it today.


Gattefosse's research into essential oils was taken up by another Frenchman, Dr. Jean Valnet, who used essential oils to heal soldiers bruns and wounds during the First World War. He then suscessfully treated psychiatric patients with essential oils, demonstrating their emotional and psychological healing qualities. Marguerite Maury subsequently pioneered another aspect of the healing powers of essential oils.

Combining essential oils with intuitive and Swedish massage techniques in the 1960s led to the contemporary practice of aromatherapy as a healing art. Aromatherapy is a hollistic, complementary health-care discipline. The main treatment is full body massage, using essential oils diluted in a base of vegetable oil. When you visit a qualified aromatherpist, she or he will take a detailed case history covering your medical history, lifestyle and emotional well-being, before selecting approprioate essential oils for you.


Although there are other important uses of essential oils, it is human touch and essential oils that hold the essence of the healing art of aromatherapy. The healing power of touch is instinctive in human nature; we express affection, sexuality, and other forms of nonverbal communication using touch. We naturally rub our body for pain relief when we hurt ourselves. And when we formalize that instinctive touch into massage, it becomes a powerful healing tool.

One of the most important aspects or aromatherapy is that essential oils are only applied by external means. It is illegal for a qualified aromatherapist to suggest that a client ingest oils by mouth. Although in France some medical doctors are trained to prescribed the internal use of essewntial oils. this is a highly specialized aspect of aromatherapy.

It has been scientfically demonstrated that the external application of essential oils is in most cases more effective, and considerably safer, than taking them internally. Thus the healing art of aromatherapy lies in the hands of the therapist working in synchronicity with the judicious choice of essential oil.


There are many different benefits of aromatherapy that help people find health and well-being. Perhaps the most important are the completely natural qualities of aromatheraphy, the emphasis on preventive measures and on clients learning to take responsibility for their own health care.

Essential oils are a precious gift from Nature, derived with only minimal human interventions. The vegetable base oils used to dilute essential oils before massage are also natural. Both base and essential oil work in harmony with the human body, minimizing any risk of adverse reactions.

In the modern world there are many chemicals and synthetics in common use, to which increasing numbers of people suffer allergic reactions, such as asthma, skin rashes, digestive upsets, and so on. Aromatherpy's natural qualities help to redress the problems caused by excessive use of these unnatural substances.


The emphasis of aromatherapy can be summed up as "Prevention is better than cure". In practical terms, this means that an aromatherapist will look at a client's lifestyle holistically and suggest simple changes that can prevent illness or dis-ease arising in the first place.

For example, one of the most common problems that clients have is backache. Aromatherapy massage reduces pain and dispels the stress and tension that are a major cause of back pain. However, there are many other potential causes of backache. The aromatherapist will go through these with the client to see if physical causes such as an uncomfortable work chair, a sagging mattress, or an unsupportive car seat might be contributing to the problem.

Prevention leads naturally into the arena of self-responsibility. The aromatherapist will encourage clients to look after themselves, to be involved in, and take responsibility for their own health care. In this way clients can actively seek their own health and well-being,with assistancem from the aromatherapist.


Aromatic plants produce fragrant essences in secretory cells, using nutrients from the soil and water, and light and warmth form the sun in a process called photosynthesis. These natirally occuring plant essense attract beneficial insects, such as bees, to help pollination, and deter less friendly insects that would otherwise eat or damage the plant.

In many aromatic plants the secret cells are near the surface, located in flowers and leaves. When you walk past these plants and brush against them, this releases the grangrance into the air. The beauty and magic of these essences are ofgen described as the aromatic heart, life force or energy, and soul or spirit of the plant. When aromatic plants are distilled (usually by steam distiallation), the essences undergo subtle chemical changes and turn into essential oils.

The term "essential oil" is generally applied to all the aromatic oils used in aromatherapy, although strictly speaking this is not technically correct. Oils exacted from citrus fruits using simple expression of the rinds are still the plant essence. Some floral oils such as jasmine, are obtained by a process called enfleurage or solvent extraction. This produces a "concrete", which then undergoes further further solvent extraction to produce an "absolute". However, for ease and simplicity, the term "essential oil" is often used generally to mean all aromatherapy oils.


Many essential oils are light, clear and non-greasy, although, a few are viscous and some are colored. However, they all share one important characteristic; they will only dissolve in fatty oils, such as almond or sunflower oil, or in alcohol. They will dissolve in water, and this has implications for the way they are used.

Essential oils are very concentrated and powerful, and are greatly diluted before use in aromatherapy. In a massage oil, for example, the dilution of essential oil in base oil is around 2 or possibly 3 percent. Essential oils are only rerely used undiluted, and in very specific instances. They are also highly voltivle and evaporate quickly when exposed to the air, so they arebest kept in airtight, dark glass bottles.


Essential oils are the main "tools of the trade" for an aromatherapist, and in her or his hands they become a powerful, yet subtle instrument of healing. In this context, the most valuable use of essential oils lies in professional aromatherapy massage treaments.

Such a treatment consists of two parts. The first part is a consultation, during which the aromatherapist will establish the best way to trat the client, and which essential oils will be most beneficial. this is followed by blending the massage oil and giving a full body massage.

Sometimes a shorter treatment of a back, head, neck and shoulder massage is offered, which maybe conveniently fit into a lunch hour. Some aromatherapists also offers facials, lymphatic drainage massage and other specialized aromatherapy treatments.

After an aromatherapy massage, the aromatherapist may suggest that the client use essential oils at home to reinforce the treatment and to maintain an ongoing beneficial effect. The aromatherapist may then make up a body oil or bath oil for the client, or suggest specific essential oils for the cleint to purchase and use for themselves at home.


Essential oils are volatile, which means that they evaporate as soon as they come into contact with the air. So whichever method of applying essential oils is sued, a certain amount is always inhaled. Because body massage is the main method of applying essential oils, this suggests that the lungs and the skin are both of prime importance in the way essential oils get into the body and do their work.

In the Lungs

When we inhale air during an aromatherapy massage, bath or other treatment, we also breathe in particles of essential oil. This air/essential oil mix travels down the trachea (windpipe) into the bronchial tubes and then into the lungs. Within the lungs are tiny balloon-shaped air sacs know as alveoli, around which lie minute blood vessels that carry out the exchange of gases. this means that waste products mainly carbon dioxide are exchanged for oxygen and particles of essential oil.

On the Skin

During a body massage, the skin becomes covered with a base oil (such as sweet almond) containing a small amount of essential oil. Because the skin is semipermeable - which means that it can absorb and excrete certain substances with a small molecular structure - the oils are drawn into the body through the skin.

Within the Body

Once inside the body, the particles of essential oil circulate around the bloodstream and travel to the different organs and body systems. Most essential oils have a therapeutic affinity with particular organs or body systems. For instance, essential oil of rose has a purifying, regulating and tonic effect on the uterus. Once inside the body, the particles of rose will travel to the uterus and have a beneficial effect upon it.

In the Mind

Essential oils also have powerful mental, emotional and psychological effects. Staying with the example of rose, it is also antidepressant, nerve tonic and aphrodisiac. So an aromatherapist would be likely to include rose in a massage blend for a woman expreincing problems in conceiving. Rose would have an overall beneficial effect on this wiman physically, emotionally and psychologically.

(Source: THE AROMATHERAPY BIBLE by: Gill Farrer-Halls)
posted by infraternam meam @ 9:34 PM  
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