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Aromatherapy An Essential Experience

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What finer treasure is there than one that provides soothing comfort during this hectic holiday season? Aromatherapy offers some ideal solutions.

What finer treasure is there than one that provides soothing comfort during this hectic holiday season? Aromatherapy offers some ideal solutions.

Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils to promote healing and well-being. Essential oils are the volatile oils that give certain plants their characteristic scents. They are found in special glands located in different parts of plants and are extracted by various methods depending upon the plant. Not all plants produce essential oils and not all essential oils are used in aromatherapy.

There are different grades of oils, some of which are utilized by the food and cosmetics industries. First distillation (therapeutic grade) essential oils generally work best when they don't have to contend with the digestive system, so aromatherapists usually don't recommend ingesting them. Applications of essential oils include inhalation, which involves using a diffuser, vaporizer or even a handkerchief, as well as inunction (applied to the skin) through massage, bath or compress. Inhalation enables the oils to pass into the bloodstream via the lungs, and inunction through the skin. An added advantage of inhalation is the stimulation of the emotional body, as scent directly accesses that part of the brain connected to the sense of smell, the limbic system. This system, situated in the oldest part of the brain, is also the seat of memory, creativity and sensuality, as well as emotional reactions.

Essential oil molecules are very small and pass easily into the bloodstream. Once in the body, they are gradually excreted over a period of 12 to 48 hours via exhalation, perspiration, menstrual flow, breast milk, urine and feces. The molecules appear to be largely unchanged when excreted, leading researchers to the conclusion that they act as "bio-catalysts," meaning they work to enhance the body's own capacities to correct imbalances.

Because of their great potency, it is usually necessary to dilute essential oils in a vegetable "carrier" oil, such as jojoba, sweet almond or grapeseed oil, before application to the skin. This is especially important when using oils in the bath, as warm water renders the skin more permeable. Use equal parts of essential oil and carrier oil in the tub. Avoid the hazards of a slippery tub altogether by adding a couple of drops to a diffuser while you're in the bath.

Aroma-Therapeutic Massage

A very effective and pleasant way to use essential oils is in massage. During massage, the brain releases mood-altering chemicals that reduce the sensation of pain, produce an overall feeling of well-being and, in turn, stimulate the immune system. Massage also encourages deep breathing, a well known stress-reduction technique, and is helpful in the treatment of sleep disorders. It can lower blood pressure, relieve or prevent headaches, help digestion, improve circulation and support the elimination of wastes, such as lactic and carbonic acids that cause muscle pain and stiffness. You don't have to be trained in massage to bring about a beneficial effect. Just remember that a massaging motion should feel good. If it doesn't, stop and try a different movement.

It is advisable to vary the essential oils used every four to six weeks to maximize effectiveness and to prevent sensitization. Avoid direct exposure to ultraviolet rays for 12 hours after an aromatherapy massage. There are also times when massage is contraindicated, including when a fever or infectious illness is present. Massaging someone with a cold will result in increased symptoms, so unless they can rest for 48 hours, I advise against it. Always check with a medical practitioner before massaging anyone who is pregnant or has a serious illness. Early pregnancy and chemotherapy also contraindicate with the use of essential oils, although gentle massage with a good quality vegetable oil is usually most welcome.

Scented Gift Ideas

To prolong the life of essential oils, it is advisable to blend them together in a separate bottle and add them to the carrier oil as needed. Try these gift suggestions:

Happiness Blend
25 drops bergamot
15 drops geranium

Breathe-Easy Blend
20 drops lavender
5 drops tea tree
15 drops frankincense

Store your blend in a two-millilitre coloured glass bottle. For adults, add seven to 10 drops of the blend (for children or frail elderly, use only three drops) to 15 ml carrier oil for a body massage oil. For bath salts, add six drops each of blend and carrier oil to 125 grams of sea salt. When you fill the tub, use up to a cup of sea salts at your discretion. For a spray-pump bottle of scent, add five drops essential oil blend to 60 ml of spring water. Shake and spritz above your head (eyes closed!) to enjoy a "rain" of fragrance.

Single bottles of pure essential oils, given with an oil diffuser, also make a wonderful gift idea. All around essential oil favourites include lavender, frankincense, mandarin and sandalwood. Gift certificates from an aromatherapist or spa specializing in aromatherapy treatments are unique stocking stuffers. Such aromatic presents provide their recipients with stepping stones to future wellness.

Skin Patch Test

Caution: Some essential oils are contraindicated for various conditions so check with a reliable source before using them. To determine whether you are allergic to an essential oil, perform this skin test: to one teaspoon (5 ml) of carrier oil, add one drop of essential oil. Apply to the crook of the arm or wrist. Leave the area uncovered and unwashed for 24 hours. If any redness or itching occurs, avoid that particular essential oil.

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