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Aromatherapy uses essential oils to produce a healing effect. Essential oils are extracted from flowers, fruits, rhizomes, leaves and barks. They give plants their characteristic fragrance (e.g. mint from mint leaves, lemon from lemon rind, rose from rose petals, etc.). They also help to attract insects for pollination and protect plants from bacterial and fungal attack.
According to aromatherapists, essential oils have healing properties for humans too. These include antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and regenerative qualities. For example, chamomile, fennel, ginger and peppermint oils can be helpful for digestive distress, while Roman chamomile, lavender and neroli (orange blossom) oils are prized for their calming qualities. Essential oils are said to affect the limbic system of the brain, which is linked to memory and emotion. The right scents for you can aid relaxation, encourage sleep and create a more positive mood.
Essential oils come in small dark bottles. They should always be used diluted (e.g. with a carrier oil, aloe vera gel or milk). Applying them neat can burn the skin and sensitive bodily tissues. It is vital to visit a qualified and experienced aromatherapist before using essential oils at home: he or she needs to choose the right oils for your condition and the correct dilution. Some oils can irritate skin problems or interact with prescription drugs if used improperly.
It is also crucial to inform your therapist if you are allergic to nuts, seeds or other plants, as carrier oils (the base oils used to dilute and ‘carry’ essential oils) can be nut- or seed-based (e.g. almond, peanut, sesame, etc.). Similarly, essential oils can also trigger allergies if they come from a plant to which you are sensitive. Some oils are dangerous to use in pregnancy, so visiting a good practitioner is a must.
When you visit an aromatherapist for the first time, he or she will take a detailed personal, medical and family history to select the correct oils and treatment method for you. The first session often lasts up to two hours. Subsequent sessions are typically an hour long.
Aromatherapy uses five main methods of treatment, listed below with some examples:
- Massage: This is one of the most common methods of treatment. It involves specialised aromatherapy massage by a qualified practitioner. The aromatherapist applies the prescribed blend of oils to the skin using professional massage techniques. Massage helps the therapeutic oils to penetrate the deeper layers of skin. It is important that you like the scent of the oil your therapist is planning to use on your body. If you find the fragrance irritating or unpleasant, ask your practitioner to use a different oil. A variant of body massage is the foot massage.
- Steam inhalations: This consists of a bowl of boiling water to which 4 drops of essential oil blend have been added. The client is asked to cover his or her head with a towel and inhale the steam. This method is beneficial for sinus problems, dermatitis, headaches and sore throats, among other things, but can be bad for facial skin with high colouring and broken veins.
- Hot or cold compresses: 3 to 5 drops of essential oil blend are sprinkled on a compress and placed, for example, on a swollen sprained ankle (after a doctor has established that no fracture or major injury is present).
- Aromatic baths: You might be asked to take an aromatic bath at home. This is one such formula: 5 to 15 drops of essential oil (less for sensitive skin and only 2 to 5 drops for a child or an elderly person) are blended with 10mls (about a tablespoon) of milk and added to a bath. Using milk instead of a carrier oil makes an aromatic bath less oily. Oily baths can be both dangerously slippy and unpleasant. It is also important not to add soap, shampoo, or other products to an aromatic bath. A variation of this is the foot bath, which uses a large basin and enough water to cover the ankle bone. A 10-minute soak in a bath or foot bath helps to reduce stress and calm skin ailments.
- Vaporising: This consists of slowly evaporating a chosen essential oil blend in a specially designed aromatherapy burner to create a particular mood, or to prevent the spread of airborne illness.
When used correctly, aromatherapy is a wonderful tool for de-stressing, inducing sleep, elevating mood and helping you and your loved ones to get well and stay well.
For information on aromatherapy and stroke, visit: http://researchandhope.com/stroke/aromatherapy