Aromatherapy employs the use of natural oils to help people achieve a state of relaxation, increased energy, and other forms of natural and safe self-healing. Many of the same essential oils can be used by massage therapists topically, as well, in order to enhance their already relaxing and healing massage therapy. Aromatherapy may be used for medicinal purposes. It should be noted that ingesting essential oils should never be done without consulting a medical practitioner, or someone who is licensed in the use of these oils, as many of them can be toxic.1 The essential oils, which are derived from concentrated plant oils, could be used for air freshening, for hygiene care, in saunas and showers, during therapies, and to be inhaled through steam or vaporization.2 People seeking safer, alternative treatment options for a wide variety of ailments may find aromatherapy helpful and complementary to other forms of natural treatment, including the aforementioned massage therapy and chiropractic care. The conditions that may be treated through the use of aromatherapy can range from headaches and heartburn to nausea, digestive problems, flu, cold sores, leg cramps, ear infections, pneumonia, and more.3
How Aromatherapy Works
The use of essential plant oils can help patients achieve relaxation, stress relief, and other therapeutic benefits. While they are generally not taken internally, the oils might be applied via “massage, inhalation, bath, creams, (and) compresses”. It is believed that the oils “interact with the body chemistry”, and that helps the patient self-heal for a variety of conditions. In addition, the immune system can be boosted. Different type of oils are used in different situations for a variety of ailments. The same oil may or may not be used to treat two different symptoms, and the practitioner of aromatherapy will know what is best to suggest for their patient’s physical and mental state.4
Essential Oils Used in Massage
Massage therapists may use essential oils in two ways: topically and aromatically. When using essential oils on the skin, carrier oils are used to dilute the concentrated plant oils. These can include many neutral plant oils, such as wheatgerm, sunflower, peach kernel, soya, olive, hazelnut, grapeseed, avocado, almond, and apricot kernel. Some of the carrier oils have added benefits, themselves, including vitamins A, B, C, E, fatty acids, etc. This can assist patients who have brittle nails and hair, psoriasis, and eczema, those with dandruff and acne, and people with scar tissues and stretch marks.5 During the massage, the therapist may also employ “oils for the mind”, which would help clients, via aromatherapy, with various conditions. Patients may report relief from anxiety or depression, reduced irritability and fatigue, and decreased stress.6 Patients should be sure to mention any allergies that they might have to plants or oils and any discomfort that they feel. This is not a common issue, fortunately.
Traditional medicine has been catching up with Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in recent research. One study examined the benefits of aromatherapy and massage in relieving the symptoms of cancer patients. The rationale behind the research was to explore if patients had an improved “quality of life” and reduced “psychological stress”. Short-term benefits were found for some of the patients, especially in the area of anxiety. There were variable other benefits and results; more research, with longer follow-up, will be necessary.7 Another study explored aromatherapy/massage effects, combined with music, on the stress levels of emergency nurses, especially during the winter. The results were promising: “Aromatherapy massage with music significantly reduced emergency nurses’ anxiety”. The job of these nurses is very stressful, so finding a relief for that level of stress in a busy and very critical medical environment is important.8 Yet another interesting study showed that aromatherapy and massage reduced the amount of anesthesia needed during labor and childbirth. This not only benefits the mother, but it improves the child’s safety in the situation, as there are risks associated with anesthesia that could be mostly negated through the use of safe aromatherapy.9
Interaction with Yoga
Aromatherapy may also act as a complementary part of yoga. Combining the two treatments of the mind and body has been show to help the patient reach hormonal homeostasis, balance the autonomic nervous system, and raise the levels of gamma amino-butyric acid, or GABA, in the brain.10 GABA is responsible for regulating muscle tone and regulates the activity of neurons or nerve cells, behavior, cognition, and the body’s response to stress. Levels of GABA in the brain that are lower than normal have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, sleep disorders, and a reduction of control of fear and anxiety.11 For a morning yoga session, the patient might consider diffusing energizing essential oils, such as spearmint, peppermint, bergamot, grapefruit, or lemon, for a boost to the mood and vigor. Evening yoga sessions might be accompanied by stress-reducing and calming essential oils, such as clary sage, lavender, or ylang ylang. These oils, which slow heart rate and reduce blood pressure, may be combined with restorative yoga poses such as child’s pose, reclining butterfly, or supported bridge pose. Yoga, massage, and other alternative treatments benefit from the addition of complementary aromatherapy.12
See more info on essential oils.