Beginning ‘bona fide’ aromatherapy, beyond burning a scented candle or soaking with a pleasing pre-packaged bath salt blend, can be a little daunting to many people. All those little bottles of pricey liquids, electric contraptions, and fancy-sounding blends – how does one actually use essential oils to improve their health, happiness and well-being, It’s easier than one might think – getting started can open a whole new world of fun and effective natural remedies that can lift your mood, calm your nerves, and support healing of a great many common ailments.
The basics of aromatherapy are simple, once a few fundamental concepts are understood. Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils – the aromatic compounds of plants, extracted through steam distillation or other methods. The oils act as the chemical messengers and protectors of the plant kingdom. Each essential oil can contain hundreds of different ‘volatile’ (easily evaporated) compounds, most of which are very compatible with the physiology of the human body. What’s so wonderful is they can also do for us what they do for plants – act as chemical messengers through affecting our smell sense and limbic system, and defending the body against foreign invaders by their anti-bacterial and anti-viral actions. In this article, we’ll focus on the mental and emotional effects of aromatherapy, and address the physiological aspects at another time.
Essential oils are best used in one of two simple ways: through inhalation, where the oils can directly affect certain areas of the brain, and through topical application, where the oils are easily absorbed into the bloodstream. (Note: Oral ingestion can be an option, but only under experienced medical supervision – further, SOME OILS CAN BE TOXIC, and other even seemingly harmless oils should not be used under certain conditions. If you are pregnant, or have specific medical needs, consult a knowledgeable practitioner before continuing!)
Inhalation of Essential Oils
Essential oils when inhaled directly effect our limbic system, the brain’s emotional centers. Many oils have been found to sharpen concentration, reduce tension and anxiety, and even reduce depression. How can we reap these magnificent benefits, There are a few simple, cost-effective ways to prepare essential oils for inhalation – and experience these wonderful effects: the ‘handkerchief method’, making your own ‘smelling salts’, and making your own aromatherapy ‘mister’.
The handkerchief method is pretty straightforward – put a drop or two of an oil or blend on a tissue and inhale (careful with some oils though – peppermint, for example, can burn the sensitive skin around your nostrils if put in direct contact). You can even leave the tissue (or ‘handkerchief, or piece of cloth, or cotton, or whatever) in a room or your workspace and the oil will continue to evaporate and have its effects.
Making your own ‘smelling salts’ is similar, though your preparation will last a while longer. To make the salts, fill a small vial (dark glass with a good cap is best) with natural sea salt and drop essential oils into the salt. The amount of oil is not too critical – enough that there is detectable aroma, and not so much that the salt gets completely wet. Just unscrew the cap and inhale from the bottle whenever you need a lift, or, like the handkerchief, leave the vial open in your space, letting the aroma slowly fill the area.
A ‘mister’ can be used infuse a room with aroma – just add essential oils to water in a small spray bottle, shake (before each use) and spray!
Here are a few easy recipes for the inhalation method (Note: in all recipes, the number of drops of oil and/or amount of carrier can be used as a ratio, which you can increase or decrease as you need):
For uplifting the mood and brightening the mind – 4 drops of Rosemary Cineol, 3 drops of Lavender, 2 drops of Lemon and 1 drop of Peppermint, OR 3 drops Clary Sage, 2 drops Bergamot and 1 drop Sweet Orange.
For calming anxiety – equal parts of Roman Chamomile, Bergamot and Orange, OR 3 drops Lavender, 2 drops Neroli and 1 drop Bergamot.
For creating a harmonious atmosphere – 3 drops Jasmine, 1 drop Ylang Ylang and 1 drop Sandalwood, OR equal parts Geranium, Patchouli and Bergamot.
Now for the topical application method. Usually this is described as aromatherapy massage – ideally, this is done with a partner, but self-massage will work as well. Creating your own massage oil is a straightforward process – just dilute 10 – 20 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil. There are a variety of carrier oils available, though Sweet Almond is a great all-around oil and is recommended for general aromatherapy massage. As for the massage, itself, any technique will do – let your intuition be your guide. When you wish to get a little more advanced, do a little further research to create synergy with certain essential oils and certain acupressure points.
The same blends for inhalation can be used for massage, though here are a few more fun recipes:
For a sensual massage, per ounce of carrier oil, add – 8 drops Sandalwood, 6 drops Rose, 4 drops Lavender and 2 drops Ylang Ylang.
For opening the heart, try 4 drops Spikenard, 4 drops Lavender and 2 drops of Rose.
Finally, for sheer relaxation, use 6 drops Lavender, 4 drops Neroli and 2 drops Bergamot.
Don’t be afraid to create your own blends! You will certainly find particular oils that you enjoy – and aromatherapy is like that. It is the oils you find most enjoyable that are likely those that are most effective for you. My only recommendation is to change the ratios of oils you are blending very slowly. Start with one drop of each oil in a small vial, mixing them and allowing a few minutes for them to blend before adding more oil 1 drop at a time. In general, citrus oils ( Orange, Bergamot, Lemon, Lime) tend to bring alertness while calming at the same time. Herb oils (Peppermint, Rosemary) tend to be invigorating, while floral oils tend to be relaxing (Lavender, Chamomile, Jasmine, Neroli). This is only a guideline – many oils have complex properties and will affect individuals differently – use your nose as a guide.
Getting started with aromatherapy is easy, and with these simple ideas, you will be able to create essential oil preparations tailored to your needs and enjoyment. This can lead to a lifelong appreciation of these wonderful gifts from nature.