Sunday, June 27, 2010
Alternative therapies have been enjoying a vogue in recent years, but most of them are by no means new. Aromatherapy is no exception. It is my favourite of the alternatives on offer, and I believe it to be one of the safest. Nothing is taken by mouth, so that the risk of overdoses is avoided.
What is Aromatherapy? Basically it is the use of 'essential' oils extracted from plants, flowers and resins, usually by distillation, to alleviate symptoms and speed the healing of various illnesses and conditions. In latter years this has increasingly involved massage of affected areas, which indeed is a useful and effective therapy in its own right. There are various ways to use the oils but massage is definitely a favourite with many. Other means include hot and cold compresses, addition to a bath, lotions, ointments, inhalations, in a vapouriser or a diffuser. The choice of method varies with preference and the nature of the complaint- from athletes foot to bronchitis, insect bites to varicose veins, and acne to zits.
To really appreciate Aromatherapy, it helps to know a little about its past. The use of aromatic plants and oils has been known all over the world for thousands of years , in incense, cosmetics, and for medicinal and culinary purposes.The ancient Egyptians were reknowned for their hebal preparations, ointments and perfumes. Hippocrates, 'the father of medicine' is known to have prescribed aromatic remedies. The Bible has many references to 'precious ointments and gums' , anointing oils, and rare herbs and spices. Much of this knowledge came to the Western world during the Crusades, and of course trade with the east. In around 900 AD , there was a great step forward in the distillation process which made extraction much easier and efficient, and therefore the volatile
essential oils were more readily available. 'Volatile' means they evaporate easily, so this is why inhalation is a suitable method of application.
"Aromatherapy" was a term coined by Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1928. He was a French chemist, working in this family perfumery business. He discovered by accident that lavender oil was able to heal a severe burn on his hand and help prevent scarring. It had already been discovered that essential oils are all antiseptic in varying degrees. Maguerite Maury, a Beauty therapist and Dr Jean Valnet both used Aromatherapy successfully in the '60s in their various fields, when it was popular. It has been less in demand during intervening years , but is now experiencing a revival.
It is not just the smell that is theraputic in the oils. They each have a unique combination of constituents which interacts with the body's chemistry in numerous ways. Once they have entered the body, through the skin(bath , application, compress etc) or lungs (inhalation), they are absorbed into the bloodstream and are transported throughout the body. It is important to remember that everyone's body is also unique so the results of use can vary from person to person, and for this reason, certain factors , such as allergies or medical conditions , and of course pregnancy, have to be taken into consideration when selecting the most suitable oils for an individual.
If you would like to try Aromatherapy for yourself, I would recommend that first you read a book or two from the library. My 'Guru' is Julia Lawless , and I always look at her books first, but there are many books out there worth reading. I would also suggest you check locally for stores to supply the carrier oils, essential oils and other items you may require. The internet probably offers many alternatives if there are none locally. A Word of Warning:- Many of the oils can be expensive,but the amount used each time is very small as the oils are so concentrated. I would not buy large numbers or amounts of oil especially at first. There are so many available, but so few you use regularly. I intend to write more blogs , including the oils I would suggest, so this may help with your choice.
If you dont wish to slash out yourself, then there are many reputable practitioners who can help you. They may even be attached to your Doctor's Surgery.
By the way, you dont have to be ill to enjoy the benefits of Aromatherapy! The oils make wonderful 'fresheners' for Pot -pourri.