Smells. Scents. They can bring about a positive or a negative reaction. A whiff of something can either make us smile or gag. Do you remember scratch and sniff stickers? How about flavor scented markers? Some we kept putting to our noses, others we pushed away, purely due to how the scent smelled to us. When I first moved into my current massage studio location, I was directly above a gluten free bakery. Oh the yummy smells that wafted up!!! Clients would always comment on the sweet aromas and by the end of their session, both of our stomachs would be growling. Something about the delicious smells of cupcakes and cookies being baked puts us in a good mood…and made us hungry! Needless to say, it was bittersweet when they moved into a bigger space around the corner.
Smells can alter our moods. Whether that mood is relaxed and calm, alert and invigorated, uplifted, or even soothing, smells can help change our state of mind. The use of essential oils has been a popular addition in many massage practices, as well as other alternative health care industries. Essential oils are not only used in the form of aromatherapy, but topically as well, as they have many health benefits to them.
What is essential oil?
Essential oils are concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, seeds, or blossoms of plants. Each contains its own mix of active ingredients, and this mix determines what the oil is used for. Some oils are used to promote physical healing, for example, to treat swelling or fungal infections. Others are used for their emotional value. They may enhance relaxation or make a room smell pleasant. Orange blossom oil, for example, contains a large amount of an active ingredient that is thought to be calming.
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the practice of using the essential oils to enhance psychological and physical well-being. The inhaled aroma from these oils is widely believed to stimulate brain function. Essential oils can also be absorbed through the skin, where they travel through the bloodstream and can promote whole-body healing.
What are the benefits?
As a massage therapist, I will include some of the more popular benefits to aromatherapy and the use of essential oils topically. (Please note, that there are many more health related benefits that affect memory, digestion, and even uses for alternative cleaning properties for the home.)
Stress Relief: Perhaps the most well-known, and popular, uses of aromatherapy, is for stress relief. The aromatic compounds from many different essential oils are known as relaxants and can help to soothe your mind and eliminate anxiety. This is what a lot of people ask for when they come in for a massage or who want to use aromatherapy at home. Some of the more common essential oils for stress relief are; lavender, chamomile, eucalyptus, lemon, wild orange, and peppermint.
Pain Relief: Pain relief is one of the most useful applications of aromatherapy. Painkillers can have a lot of different effects on the body as a side effect, even if they do relieve the pain. However, if aromatherapy can relieve dozens of different types of pain, then why not take advantage of it? The top essential oils, both for professional and personal use, include lavender, chamomile, clary sage, juniper, eucalyptus, rosemary, and peppermint essential oils.
Headaches: Everyone gets headaches from time to time, and the bad ones can stop us dead in our tracks. Rather than relying on pharmaceuticals, try the use of essential oils to possibly reduce the stress, anxiety, or medical origin of your headaches to prevent them in the future. Some of the best essential oils that have been connected to reducing headaches and migraines are peppermint, eucalyptus, sandalwood, and rosemary essential oils. You can also mix these oils in what is called “carrier oils” and spread that oil onto your skin, scalp, neck, and temples. Some of the best carrier oils for headaches include almond, avocado, coconut, apricot kernel, and sesame oils.
Boost Energy Levels: We can all use more energy to get through the hectic daily tasks of modern life. Many essential oils are known to increase circulation, raise energy levels, and generally stimulate the body and mind, without the dangerous side effects of other stimulating substances. The best essential oils for giving you an energy boost include black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, angelica, jasmine, tea tree, rosemary, and sage.
Antidepressant Capacity: Second to stress relief, aromatherapy is often used (in combination to psychological therapy and counseling) to help eliminate the feeling of depression. As far as to what the best essential oils to use for reducing depression are, most specialists suggest peppermint, chamomile, lavender, and jasmine.
Immune System: It is far better to prevent than treat, as most medical professionals say, and aromatherapy can give you a serious boost to your immune system, if used properly. The anti-microbial effects, as well as the anti-fungal and antibacterial effects can protect you from any number of illnesses and infections that could damage your system. This area of aromatherapy is very popular and widely studied. Some of the most effective essential oils that boost your immune system include oregano, frankincense, lemon, peppermint, cinnamon, and eucalyptus essential oils.
As with all things, take these suggested scents and oils as a guideline. Personally, the smell of lavender does not relax me, but give me a citrus based aroma, and I am in heaven! I always encourage my clients to open up the different bottles of essential oils in my massage room and determine for themselves what smells they like. Maybe you prefer a more woodsy smell, or maybe it is floral…maybe you like a blended mix of oils, or combine two or three single oils for your own personalized blend. Remember, when it comes to smells, it is very individualized and specific to each person.
If you buy essential oils for your own personal and home use, please do your research on the brands before you purchase them. If you are simply using them for aromatherapy, most are fine (many stores that sell organic products will have a few different options to choose from). If you plan on using them topically or even digest them, please make sure you are buying certified pure essential oils. I personally like to purchase doTerra Essential Oils, which are certified pure therapeutic grade oils. Young Living is another very popular and well-known brand that provides quality essential oils. There are others out there, do your research and find what is best for you. :)
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.