The art of aromatherapy stimulates senses — and promotes health and relaxation — with nature-based smells.
One of the most effective and pleasant practices to come out of the world of herbal medicine is aromatherapy — the use of aromatic essential oils derived from herbs and other plants to enhance physical and psychological well-being. And, while aromatherapy is available at spas, it’s easy for anyone to incorporate it into daily life, says Pam Conrad, RN, BSN, PGd, CCAP, a certified clinical aromatherapist and medical educator based in Indianapolis, Ind. It can also be used to aid relaxation and recovery in medical settings: Clinical aromatherapy is often used to help mothers relax in childbirth and to help cancer patients cope with chemotherapy nausea.
Origins: Healing with aromatic oils and herbs is ancient — the Greek physician Hippocrates was an advocate — but modern aromatherapy began with French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé’s work in the 1920s and ’30s. Robert B. Tisserand brought the French techniques to the English-speaking world with his 1978 book, The Art of Aromatherapy, and since then, aromatherapy has thrived here in both clinical and spa settings.
Benefits: “The main benefit of both clinical and nonclinical aromatherapy is relaxation,” says Conrad. “It’s a safe, simple therapy for reducing stress and for promoting all the good things that come with that — and for furthering deep sleep.” Aromatic oils also have stimulating properties. “Mint and rosemary oils are particularly uplifting,” says Conrad. Certain oils have antibacterial and antiviral properties that can help you stay healthy in flu season, and mint, ginger and lavender oils help alleviate nausea.
Simple Steps: Though you can enjoy aromatherapy treatments at most spas today, it’s also easy to self-treat with oils. You can rub a drop or two of a favorite essential oil between your hands, then wave them around for a quick lift, or use a candle-warmed diffuser like the one below to send a continual, warm aroma flow into your room. Essential-oil-laced water spritzers are great for freshening the air without overly perfuming it. There are also a number of diffuser products that plug into a wall outlet or a dashboard cigarette lighter.
Whatever method you choose, be respectful about using aromatherapy anywhere but your personal space, because some people are quite sensitive to fragrances.
Conrad suggests that you first consult a competent aromatherapist or a Web site, like that of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (www.naha.org) or the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (www.alliance-aromatherapists.org), where you can learn which oils do what and how to apply them. There are a few cautions: Use only pure, nonsynthetic, oils; make sure to dilute oils intended for skin application with an unscented carrier oil such as almond or apricot; use externally only; and avoid overuse, which will make the oils less effective. If you are pregnant or have a serious illness, consult with a clinical aromatherapist or your healthcare professional before using.