Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils. An essential oil is an aromatic essence, distilled from a single botanical source. True essential oils have nothing added to them, and nothing taken away. Essential oils can have many different effects on the body, mind and spirit. They can be sedative or stimulating, some have an analgesic and antispasmodic effect, most are antibacterial. Essential oils can aid in skin care and wound healing.
There are many different ways of using essential oils therapeutically - in baths, inhalations, compresses, creams or lotions, but perhaps one of the most pleasant, relaxing and therapeutic ways, is through aromatherapy massage. Shirley Price says: "Nevertheless, where stress and depression are a major cause of a health imbalance, then, in my opinion, a full aromatherapy body massage is the best complementary therapy treatment available. It is also an excellent prophylactic treatment to ensure continuation of good health."
Massage therapy has been shown to be highly beneficial. It can affect the autonomic nervous system, and calm the "fight or flight" response, reducing the level of harmful stress hormones in the body. Massage stimulates the blood circulation, increasing the supply of nutrients and oxygen to cells. Massage stimulates lymphatic flow, improving tissue drainage and improving the immune system. Long, flowing connective strokes, called effleurage, generally have these effects.
Many studies have shown that continued stress can increase the incidence of various diseases, and can reduce recovery time. Stress can cause and exacerbate many chronic problems such as hypertension, migraines, digestive problems, PMS. If stress can be reduced, and relaxation induced more frequently, the progression of many chronic conditions can also be reduced. Massage therapy is an excellent way of reducing stress.
Specific somatic techniques, working on specific areas, can reduce chronic and acute muscular tension and pain, by helping to lengthen and release shortened and contracted muscles. These techniques may include stretching, deep tissue, sports massage, neuromuscular, Rolfing, myofascial release. [links to descriptions of these techniques to come]
Massage therapy has long been recognized as an important part of athletic training. Most serious athletes receive regular somatic work. Massage therapists have been an integral part of the Olympic Games for many years now, helping to improve athletic achievement and increase recovery time after performance.
The Touch Research Institute, at the University of Miami, has carried out many studies on the effects of touch and massage therapy.
Touch has been used since time immemorial to assist in healing, and general well-being. Hippocrates said: "The Physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing . . . for rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose, and loosen a joint that is too rigid."
Per Henrick Ling, born in Sweden in 1776, is widely credited as the originator of modern "Swedish massage". Ling was a fencing master and was fascinated by the human body in movement. He developed a series of exercises, and eventually his system of massage that he called "movement cure". Massage therapy and somatic practices have developed in many different directions since then, including the Esalen style and many intuitive methods, largely originating in California in the 1960's, which are often used in Aromatherapy massage.
The person to whom we really owe the development of Aromatherapy Massage, is Marguerite Maury, née König(1895-1968) who was born in Austria. Following the death of her young child, her first husband and her father, Marguerite trained as a nurse and surgical assistant, and moved to France. Her interest in aromatherapy began with a book by Dr Chabenes, published in 1838, called Les Grandes Possibilités par les Matières Odoriferantes. Dr Chabenes later taught René-Maurice Gattefossé. Marguerite met and married a French doctor in the early thirties, and continued her research into essential oils. She developed her particular method of using the "Individual Prescription" blending several essential oils, for each patient, after an in-depth consultation and examination. She also pioneered the use of massage to administer the essential oils, partly perhaps because she was not a medical doctor, and therefore not qualified to prescribe internal use of the oils. In 1961 Mme Maury wrote Le Capital Jeunesse (in English, The Secret of Life and Youth). She opened clinics in France, Switzerland and England, and continued to teach and practice until her death.
Massage therapy is beneficial, use of essential oils is beneficial, to combine the two can be synergistically even more beneficial than either therapy separately.
Most massage therapists will request a new client to provide some intake information, relating to their current physical state, and any illnesses or injuries that may affect the massage. Practitioners of aromatherapy massage will generally have a longer list of questions and areas of discussion. A holistic practitioner will consider the client as a "whole", body, mind and spirit. They will generally help the client to consider what factors in their lives may be affecting them. For example, someone who suffers from insomnia may have family worries, stresses at work, indigestion, or simply a noisy environment, any or all of which could affect their sleep patterns. Rather than only using a relaxing and sedative blend of essential oils, together with a calming massage, a good practitioner will suggest other ways that the client can improve their sleep. They may be able to refer to a family counselor, suggest a change at work, refer to a nutritionist, or suggest earplugs, to address various root causes. This initial consultation may take between 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the situation.After the client intake and consultation, and when other suggestions and referrals have been made, the aromatherapist will select several essential oils, most suited to the client's needs at this time, and will blend them into a massage oil or lotion. Sometimes a particular carrier oil will be used. This blend with essential oils will then be used to give the massage. client to undress as far as they are comfortable, and lay down on a padded massage table. Often, to aid in relaxation, relaxing music will be playing too. For warmth and modesty, the client will be covered with a sheet or blanket, which the massage therapist will pull back to work on each specific part of the body. If the client feels uncomfortable at any time, or if a specific technique hurts, they should let the practitioner know - clear communication, understanding and consent is most important. Depending on the client’s needs and the practitioner’s individual skills and training, different styles of somatic work may be used. Jeanne Rose says that "The deep thumb pressures of shiatsu; the pressure of deep tissue massage that is intended to reach nerves, ligaments, tendons; the soft tissue work called Swedish massage; and the slow, gentle, rhythmic movements of effleurage massage that are so appropriate for pets, infants and the infirm - all are used in aromatherapy massage. The total effect should be harmonious, and not jar in any way." The massage usually lasts for an hour, but may be longer or shorter, depending on client needs. At the end of the session, the practitioner will leave the room, allowing the client a few minutes to gently "come back to themselves", and get dressed.
After the session, many aromatherapists will also suggest the use of a blend that the client can use at home, between sessions, to continue their use of essential oils. The aromatherapist will select the essential oils, and make an appropriate blend, giving instructions for use to the client. A plan for future sessions should also be agreed on. Frequency of sessions will depend on client needs, and financial situation, but many clients find that a weekly or biweekly session is most beneficial, particularly in the beginning. Some clients receive monthly sessions. I believe that aromatherapy massage is an excellent "maintenance tool", and should not just be used to "fix a problem", but should be part of every day life if possible. Hippocrates said that "a daily aromatic bath and scented massage are the way to health". It would be wonderful if we could all follow that suggestion!
Many aromatherapists and aromatherapy tutors believe that essential oils are absorbed by the skin. There are however differing opinions as to how much of the components of essential oils can penetrate the skin, and indeed what their effect on the body might be, if they do penetrate. It seems that some components do penetrate, but more studies need to be carried out on this. Nevertheless, many beneficial effects can take place at the level of the skin. Many skin conditions can be improved by the anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties of the essential oils.
During the massage, much of the volatile essential oils will be inhaled and some absorption is likely through the mucosa of the nose and mouth. Additionally the volatile molecules of the essential oils lock onto receptor cells at the back of the nose. An electrochemical message is sent to the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system appears to trigger memory and emotional responses, which cause messages to be sent to other parts of the brain and body. In this way, the production of euphoric, relaxing, sedative or stimulating neurochemicals is stimulated. Many beneficial mental and emotional effects can be seen this way.
In the United Kingdom, there are two main professional associations who can provide referrals to trained aromatherapists. The International Federation of Aromatherapists, phone: +44-181-742-2605, and the International Society of Professional Aromatherapists, phone: +44-1455-637987. Both of these associations require a certain level of training before membership is granted.
Copyright © 1998 Danila Mansfield, MIFA, MISPA, NCTMB
Price, S., Aromatherapy Workbook, Thorsons, 1993
Price, S. & Price, L., Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, Churchill Livingstone, 1995
Rose, J., The Aromatherapy Book, Herbal Studies Course & North Atlantic Books, 1992
Ryman, R., Introduction to The Secret of Life and Youth by Marguerite Maury, C.W. Daniel, 1989
Sheppard-Hanger, S., The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual, Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy, 1994Go to Top
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