Aromatherapy is the holistic use of Essential Oils, derived from aromatic plants, to promote health and well being on all levels – Physical, Emotional, Mental, Spiritual.

When did it all start?

Although the word ‘Aromatherapy’ is fairly new to our vocabulary, aromatic plants have been used for thousands of years in the context of healing and spirituality.

The ancient Egyptians used aromatic oils in their embalming processes – traces of which were discernible thousands of years later when tombs were opened. The Egyptians were also famous for their use of herbal cosmetic preparations, the most famous being ‘kyphi’. This was a mixture of 16 different ingredients and could be used as a perfume, as incense or taken internally as a medicine.

The ancient Greeks and Romans also used aromatic oils extensively, both as medicines and to fragrance the body, hair, clothes. They were particularly fond of scented oils for massage after bathing.

Many indigenous cultures used aromatic materials in spiritual and shamanistic ritual – for example the use of smudge sticks to clear energy and to create sacred space.

With the scientific revolution of the early 19th century and the advent of the modern pharmaceutical industry, aromatic remedies lost their credibility. However the pioneering work of the French chemist Gattefosse and the French doctor Jean Valnet early in the 20th century, led to a greater understanding of the therapeutic uses of essential oils. The practice of Aromatherapy is now very widespread and increasing in popularity.

What are essential oils?

Have you ever wondered what makes a rose smell like a rose, or why a citrus fruit has that zesty, fresh aroma? The answer is essential oils.

Essential oils are the volatile liquids that are found in aromatic plants and give them their distinct smells. They are extracted from various parts of the plants – flowers, leaves, roots, seeds etc – by methods such as distillation and expression. They are extremely concentrated and are always diluted before being applied to the body.

The food industry is the biggest user of essential oils, where they are used as flavourings.

So how does it work?

In general, essential oils have the ability to either calm, stimulate or balance the body and mind. Each essential oil has specific therapeutic properties that can promote health, such as fighting infection, alleviating stress and tension and helping to increase energy and vitality.

In Aromatherapy, the oils are used in various ways such as massage, baths, inhalations, lotions and creams. Massage is an excellent way for the body to benefit from essential oils, as the skin absorbs the oils slowly and the massage induces a relaxed and calm state, whilst improving circulation and muscle tone

The ability of essential oils to affect mood and emotions is due to the link between the sense of smell and the area of the brain, which relates to mood and emotions. One of the gentlest ways to achieve this effect is by using essential oils in a warm bath.

Can anyone use essential oils?

Aromatherapy lends itself very well to home-use and self-help, particularly for minor ailments. There are many good books available which explain clearly how to use essential oils. There are a few safety considerations to be aware of and therefore it is important to choose a book, which gives good safety information.

However, it isn’t always possible to get a friend or partner to give you a massage and so visiting a qualified aromatherapist can be invaluable.
A professional aromatherapist will have in-depth knowledge of the oils and their properties, and will be able to treat you and advise on which oils will be beneficial for you to use at home.

During your first visit to an aromatherapist, they will ask you briefly about your medical history, general physical and emotional well-being (all in strictest confidence). They will then select and blend oils specific to your individual needs. This is an important factor, as there are many pre-blended products available, which may not be totally right for you.

How do I find a qualified aromatherapist?

There are many organisations, which offer aromatherapy training. This can vary considerably from short weekend courses, mainly for home-use, to 2-year part-time diploma qualifications.

It is very important to find a fully qualified therapist and there are several professional organisations that can be contacted for advice.

(Many thanks to Lynn Christina who has contributed this introduction.)

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