This article is written by our Wellness Coordinator Mary Beth Janssen, a certified mind-body health educator for the Chopra Center for Well Being and the author of five books.
It continues to surprise me how many folks are not aware of aromatherapy’s delightful and therapeutic benefits. It’s a regular part of every Mind, Body, Health seminar I teach and every beauty and wellness consultation I conduct. I must say that for me, taking deep whiffs of my freshly ground cup of organic coffee in the morning is a special form of aromatherapy, as is planting my nose in my rose bushes out back. However, in the world of wellness and beauty, aromatherapy has a special meaning.
Aromatherapy is defined as the art and science of using essential oils (EOs) to relax, balance, and stimulate the body, mind, and spirit. These aromatic concentrates are generally steam distilled from a variety of flowers, roots, leaves, wood, bark, fruit, berries, seeds, and resins—or cold pressed from the rinds of citrus fruits (think “blood” of the plant). Every oil has its own distinct aroma, and whether inhaled, massaged into the skin in diluted form, or placed in a bath the EO molecules enter into your bloodstream and offer the body hundreds of powerful natural chemical constituents that stimulate an array of physical, emotional, and psychological responses. Inhaling an essential oil affects your mind, mood, and emotions. This process also releases hormones to your organs and body cells. Reactions can be calming, cooling, invigorating, and more. When applied externally, the essential oil molecules affect the body—skin, muscles, joints, and organs—by penetrating the skin, entering the dermal layer, and interacting with blood and lymph vessels, connective tissue, sebaceous and sweat glands, sensory nerves, and hair follicles. The positive effects run the gamut and include: balancing the mind-body physiology, calming the emotions, moisturizing and regenerating the skin, and acting as an anti-inflammatory for body tissues. Essential oils can also promote elimination of waste matter and regeneration of new cells.
Real and Therapeutic Benefits
Yes, essential oils can effect great healing—whether internal or external—whether inhaled or applied to the skin. They can moisturize, tone, and provide astringency for the skin, hair, and nails. They can improve skin appearance and function, soothe aching muscles and cramps, reduce lung and sinus congestion, enhance metabolic and other bodily functions, and purify our environment. They can treat infections, bruises, minor cuts and abrasions, arthritis and headaches. In addition, they can boost confidence, quell anxiety, dispel anger, stimulate and motivate, accelerate learning, engender love, enhance sexual desire—the list goes on.
A quick word of caution here. As an aromatherapist myself, it is important for me to educate on what aromatherapy is and is not. High-quality essential oils are unadulterated and have no synthetic fillers, suspenders, or added mineral oil. Read the ingredient label of any aromatherapy product you wish to purchase, looking for 100% pure essential oils, preferably therapeutic grade, and certainly certified organic.
Choosing Essential Oils
To best understand and use essential oils, visit your local full-service spa, health, or whole foods store, and in many instances, yoga studio. My supplier has small bowls of whole coffee beans available to clear the “nose” palate in between smelling the different aromas. Go through the samplers to discover how the different essential oils resonate with you. You’ll instinctively be drawn to your favorites. To begin, choose one that is calming such as lavender, chamomile or lemon balm, and one that is stimulating, such as peppermint, rosemary or grapefruit.
Following is only the short list of possible usages:
• Add essential oils to your skin- and hair-care products to enhance their benefits. I like adding a few drops of rosemary essential oil to my hair shampoo/conditioning treatment (stimulates blood circulation to the scalp). And a drop of geranium to my facial moisturizer to accentuate a healthy glow. Or purchase items that already contain certified organic essential oils.
• Bathe with essential oils. I’ll add 6 to 8 drops of my desired essential oil(s) into a small amount of organic plant oil. Next, fill the tub and put this prepared oil mix in when the tub is almost full as to experience the essential oil’s full potency.
• Massage your body, feet, scalp, or any area that needs attention. Mix 6 to 8 drops of your favorite essential into an ounce of organic plant oil, and massage. Be fully present during this process, sending yourself loving energy. (Peppermint oil is great for a belly rub. It helps the digestion and calms an upset stomach.)
• Take a steam. Although a spa facial steam is simply divine, the homespun version can work. Whether for skin conditions, or respiratory problems—bring a pan of water just to a boil on the stove, move to a stable surface (on a trivet) add from 8 to 12 drops of your essential oil selection. Sit next to this with your head placed comfortably over the pan, and tent a towel over you to create a steam bath. Now take deep, healing breaths.
• Create your own natural perfume. Add 25 drops of any combination of essential oils to one ounce of perfume alcohol or denatured alcohol. Create a perfume oil by adding to a carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil.
• Mist your environment. Mix a few drops of essential oil and a teaspoon of alcohol with purified water in an atomizer (shake before each use), or you can use a hydrosol spray or floral water. Hydrosols are the byproduct of the steam or water distillation methods that create essential oils.
• Use an essential oil diffuser to float oils in your environment. Try peppermint, eucalyptus, and juniper in the bedroom at night if you have a stuffy head, lavender in the evening to calm the overactive mind, or citrus oils in the a.m. to get going, as well as to brighten mood. Other great sleep inducers include chamomile, lavender, marjoram, or Neroli. You can also put a few drops on a tissue or cotton ball and tuck into your pillow.
• Place a drop or two of oil on a cool light bulb. After you turn the light on, the bulb heats the fragrance and disperses it throughout the room. You can also purchase ceramic diffuser scent rings specifically made for placing on the bulb.
• Make your own smelling salts by placing 1 tablespoon of rock salt and 10 drops of basil, peppermint, or rosemary essential oil (or a mix of these) in a small container with a tight fitting lid. Uncap and inhale as desired, stimulating present moment awareness, clear thought, and providing an instant pick-me up.
• I’ll place a few drops of purifying oils on a cotton ball and place in a plastic bag for when I travel, taking out at intervals during flight to take deep breaths into my lungs. Eucalyptus, rosemary, cedarwood, pine, tea tree are all great antibacterial, antimicrobial oils for this usage.
• Aromatherapy candles are wonderful for meditation, relaxation, and special occasions. Make sure the candle is made with pure essential oils, natural beeswax or organic soy, and a natural, non-lead wick.
General Safety Information
• There are specific precautions about using essential oils. Do not apply undiluted essential oils onto the skin or take any oils internally without consultation from a qualified aromatherapy practitioner. Also, certain essential oils have contraindications, and trained aromatherapy professionals as well as any reputable retailers will be able to discuss these issues with you. By the way, if wanting to delve in more deeply, there are many excellent websites, DVDs, books and more, that can help you learn about the more than 700 essential oils in existence.
• It’s now well proven that artificial fragrance can be quite toxic. Please remember to honor and surround yourself with the purest, most organic aromas possible—including personal care, household, and cleaning products, and the candles, incense, and essential oils that you use.