By Kumkum Bhandari & LifePositive.com
uses healing essential oils, nature’s versatile fragrances painstakingly
extracted from plants, to bring deep and far-reaching changes in our
physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. It is poised
to be a key complementary therapy of the 21st century.
nights, six weeks of a hacking cough, the mandatory course of antibiotics,
changing bottle of fat, sweet globules of homeopathic medicine, experimenting
with what seemed like everybody's grandmother's remedies - I went through
it all. Nothing much helped. Aromatherapy, someone finally suggested.
Now what could a smell-to-get-well therapy do for a person with a blocked
nasal passage, I wondered, even as I set off in search of the smell
from the aromatherapist's clinic armed with made-to-order aromatic
massage oil, a blend of inhalation oils and essentials oils which I
could dab on a tissue and sniff or sprinkle on my pillow? I balked
at the idea of oily stains on the linen. That of course, was before
I knew much about essential oils, the base of aromatherapy. Essential
oils, present as tiny droplets between plant cells, are aromatic substances
which are extracted from flowers, grass, herbs, peel of citrus fruits,
seeds, leaves, bark, roots—virtually every part of the plant, generally
by a process of ‘expression' (cold-pressure squeezing of fruit peel)
or distillation. This process is slow, laborious and expensive.
eight million hand-picked jasmine blossoms yield a mere kilo of steeply-priced
jasmine oil. Or 30 roses produce a single drop of rose oil. A liter
of rose oil could cost up to Rs 4-5 lakh. These essential oils contain
the plant's vital essence, its most valuable and concentrated therapeutic
and nutritional properties. In nature, these oils, which are released
slowly, protect the plant from climatic changes, pests, diseases and
other imbalances. Amazingly, research is demonstrating the minute doses
of these essential oils can work similar wonders within our bodies,
stimulating, rejuvenating and balancing our delicate life-support systems.
percent of the world's essential oils lend their aromatic flavors and
preservative qualities to the food industry, perfumery accounts for
a substantial percentage, while five per cent is for aromatherapy,
a small but significant figure which is growing. If these oils are
used carefully, aromatherapy can be one of the gentlest, universally-applicable,
natural healing therapies.
is better' doesn't work here, as I realized when I sprinkled a liberal
amount of the recommended oil in the overly-hot inhalation water and
flinched as the strong, vaporizing oil stung my eyes and the overwhelming
aroma brought loud protests from others in the room. Six drops would
be enough, reaffirmed the therapist, and keep your eyes closed when
you inhale the aromatic oil added to tepid water. Worked better, through
I felt far more comfortable when I sprinkled a couple of drops on my
pillow and finally slept through the night. There were no oily stains
next morning because essential oils are non-oily in nature, and, when
found myself bounding back to health, amazement at the efficacy of
aromatherapy led me to read everything on the subject I could lay my
hands on. Slowly, little brown bottles, double-sealed to protect the
volatile oil from light and air, started lining my medicine cabinet.
The oils, I discovered, were versatile, the possibilities of usage
limitless. You could as easily use them to beat back insomnia, insects,
indigestion, anxiety, acne or aches, as you could to sharpen memory,
expand your consciousness or arouse erotic sensuality. Aromatherapy
is poised to be one of the key alternative therapies of the 21st century.
are realizing that they can get rid of their physical, mental, emotional
and even spiritual ills through a judicious use of aromatic essential
oils. Innumerable universities and hospitals are studying the use of
aromatherapy oils. Innumerable universities and hospitals are studying
the use of aromatherapy oils. Some hospitals in Oxford, England, for
instance, have replaced chemical sedatives with essential oil blends
which include lavender, marjoram, geranium and cardamom oil. The University
of Cincinnati, USA conclusively demonstrated that the use of lily-of-the
valley and peppermint oils increased, by 15-25 per cent, the subjects'
performance in any task needing concentration.
in Japan are pumping aromatherapy oils such as lemon and rosemary through
the air-cooling systems to improve employee efficiency, especially
in the less productive hours of the afternoon. An entire new field
of health care, making use of aromatherapy oils with their sedative,
calming, pain-reducing effects, is growing around the care of the terminally
ill. Aromatherapy oils, with their air-purifying, anti-viral, antibacterial,
antiseptic abilities, are ideal for vaporizing in hospitals and crowded
public places to prevent airborne infections. Mass aromatherapy is
also suggested to influence social behavior and increase work efficiency.
of course, is vehemently opposed by the advocates of holistic aromatherapy,
who believe in individual prescriptions. Aromatherapy is essentially
old wine in new (little brown) bottles. Aromatic essences were popularly
used centuries ago in India, Egypt China and Greece. We've all heard
the story of Cleopatra's amorous adventures aided by aromatic essences,
of ayurvedic use of essential oils for medicine and massage, the use
of sandalwood to enhance meditation, and the use of aromatic resins
by Egyptian embalmers to preserve mummies. Modern aromatherapy, coming
into vogue in the past 30 years, has given a new and focused impetus
to the art.
practiced in Europe and the UK, aromatherapy is also finding converts
in Australia, Canada, the USA and Japan. A decade ago, you could hardly
come across an English book on the subject, or find it mentioned in
the periodicals. Today, the western media pans in on any new development
or research in the field. Entire journals are now devoted to the subject,
what with researchers, industries, medical practitioners, alternative
health therapists, and amateurs jumping on to the aromatherapy bandwagon.
In India, many homes unaware of the fashionable term ‘aromatherapy',
have nonetheless a tradition of using essential oils.
eucalyptus oil: in south India, a drop or two is commonly added to
the bathwater of babies or put on their bed linen to prevent coughs
or bronchial problems. Traditional perfume concentrates like ittars
and commonly-used incense sticks also make use of essential oils. Further,
the close link between aromatherapy and ayurveda is part of our living
culture. But urban India, with its looser links with heritage, remains
largely ignorant of the uses of these oils.
with the resurgence of New Age therapies and the urgent need to take
individual responsibility for health, aromatherapy is slowly gaining
ground here. Talking to some aromatherapists, the first impression
one gets about this system is that whether it is used for cosmetic
purposes or as a natural holistic health remedy, there can be no sharp
or dividing lines in its practice. Even as you are being treated for
specific physical or psychological problems through other modes, therapists
believes that the essential oils can supplement the treatment, intelligently
balancing and harmonizing your physical, emotional mental and spiritual
nature, leading to overall well-being.
aromatherapist Sunita Agarwal, who has an MD, talks with palpable excitement
about the therapy and how she discovered it. What began as a home remedy
for her perpetually sniffling toddler soon spread to her circle of
friends, and finally crept into her regular practice as a successful
add-on relief measure for children who visited her clinic, with even
chronic cases responding well to aromatherapy. "I would treat the children
for respiratory problems, accompanying coughs, colds and sore throats.
But because of urban pollution, these problems would keep recurring.
How often can one prescribe antibiotics?" she wondered.
a steady stream of patients walking into her clinic asking for treatment
with aromatic oils, she gravitated full-time into the study, research
and practice of aromatherapy. Typically, a consultation with her entails
a detailed medical history, queries about diet and lifestyle. Then,
she blends the required essential oils in a carrier oil for massage.
You are asked to sniff the oil blend to ensure that you like the fragrance,
your body's signals being an important guide to the correct choice.
If massage oils are given for home use, basic massage techniques are
demonstrated. Supplementary essential oils for inhalation and baths
may be included. Agarwal's patients include women with postpartum blues,
lower-back aches, cosmetic queries, gynecological problems, and the
middle-aged and elderly coming with stress related problems, insomnia,
spondylitis and arthritis. There are hundreds of essential oils available
but aromatherapists generally use only 30 to 40.
who avoids using very expensive essential oils, would ideally like
to import all essential oils, but the costs are prohibitive. So she
largely relies on indigenous products. A trained nose, she says, is
the best guide to detect purity. Essential oils, she elaborates, are
chemically complex and very versatile.
oil, for instance, can be used to treat skin problems, dandruff, diarrhea
or joint pain. The natural plant essences with their hormone-like properties
and vitamins, minerals, and natural antiseptics, are easily absorbed
into the bloodstream through the skin or nose. Different fragrances,
with varied vital electromagnetic properties and vibrational energies,
serve to stimulate our immune system, circulatory system and neurological
oils can be put in three categories: those that invigorate the body
and rev up the spirit, those that tone, balance and regulate our bodily
functions and life-supporting systems, and those which have a calm,
sedative and tranquilizing effect.
that some fragrances can evoke strong emotional or psychological responses.
They affect the cells of our nose, which send messages to the brain,
which is then stimulated to release hormones and neuro-chemicals that
bring healing changes in the body, and our psychological and emotional
reactions. In Aromatherapy: Scent and Psyche, authors Peter and Kate
Damian point out: "Olfactory research is still in its infancy—we are
now gaining rudimentary knowledge of how and why essential oil fragrance
affect human psychology and physiology."
awareness about how aromatherapy works is poor. Even people who have
used it and got well are unsure about it. Take Ritu Singh, 42. A recurring
yeast infection, unsuccessfully treated by leading gynecologists, finally
yielded completely to tea tree oil.
she says, "I hardly know anything about this therapy and would probably
end up visiting my homeopath first for any future problem." Anand Sen,
68, after two months of discomfort and regular visits to doctors, reluctantly
let his family persuade him to get aromatherapy for a frozen shoulder.
"Aromatherapy is all right for women who are more sensitive to smells.
What can it do for me?" he asked, a prejudice echoed in many quarters.
later, he sheepishly admitted substantial pain relief and ease in mobility,
but still talks of going to his physiotherapist. Says Usha Kapoor,
manager at Pivot Point India, an institute for hair and beauty in Delhi
which also runs aromatherapy courses: " I know all about the refreshing,
rejuvenating qualities of these essential oils, and how even a few
drops in bath water has a therapeutic or mood-enhancing effect. But
somehow I don't end up using them."
things in perspective, says Blossom Kochhar, author of Health and Beauty
through Aromatherapy, whose aromatherapy cosmetic range is available
in select outlets in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai: "Three years ago,
if I mentioned aromatherapy, people would go 'Huh?', I wouldn't have
dared launch my Aroma Magic cosmetic range then. But things are looking
over, aromatherapy is becoming big business in beauty and health spas,
fragrance and cosmetic industries. Some use pure essential oils, others
sneak in the cheaper, synthetic copies. "Only pure essential oils,"
emphasizes Kochhar, "can produce genuine results. There is nothing
like nature for anti-aging help and rejuvenation. Essential oils advance
cellular renewal by better circulation, hydration and removal of toxins
from the body."
campaigner, Kochhar often conducts workshops and lecture seminars on
aromatherapy in India and abroad. She says that her route to aromatherapy
was probably a natural progression from her early years in the Nilgiris
where some herbs or crushed seed from trees held the answer to every
working extensively with environment fragrancing and using her shop
in Qutab Colonnade in New Delhi, India, to make people aware—in a fun
way—of the creative, experimental and explosively rich potential of
aromatherapy. At her shop, you find huge jars of colored aromatic waxes
to create your own aromatic candles, essential oils to fashion your
own perfume or cosmetics, ceramic aromatic diffusers which spread aromas
of your choice in the room, serving as air-freshners and mood enhancers,
corked miniature earthen pots in which you can put essential oils to
perfume your cupboard, keep away the silverfish, or fill with basil
oil and hang inside your car to keep you alert when you drive.
Kochhar: "We educate people back to natural, healing aromas. Given
a choice, people often choose a synthetic aroma." This is hardly surprising
with the modern penchant for the dramatic in fragrances. With nearly
10,000 synthetic substances available to fashion fragrances, many people
don't have a nose for the real thing.
expensive, superficially synthetic fragrances certainly do not have
the healing power of natural essences with their ability to ensure
profound and real changes. Pure rose oil, for instance has as many
as 2,000 complex components, each working holistically, safely and
in wide-ranging ways, whether for cosmetic or therapeutic use, while
a synthetic copy, which may be superficially stimulating, may have
about 50 components. Nature can never be duplicated.
pure lavender oil: among the most versatile oils available, by virtue
of its complexity, it heals burns, counters stress and depression,
eases heart palpitation, soothes nerves, is anti-inflammatory, works
to get rid of insects and headaches disinfects babies' nappies, combats
the hot flushes of menopause, cures insomnia, lowers blood pressure,
overrides impatience, irritability and hysteria, relieves aches and
pains, and even smells good! Anyone for synthetic lavender?
as she widens her product range and works out new promotional schemes,
Kochhar comments: "This is not a therapy for the masses. You need to
be educated and informed about its uses to incorporate it into your
Mumbai-based aromatherapy consultant Deepa Bhatia, who markets her
products under the brand name Breathe: "Aromatherapy, which people
here still believe has come from Europe, is attracting the well-traveled,
educated people—some probably for the wrong reasons like snob appeal.
I guess when Indians start associating it with incense sticks and other
Indian applications is when they will feel a little closer home to
says:"The main problem most aromatherapists is the sourcing of essential
oils, more so because their requirement for individual essential oils
is to small for the extractor to entertain, and what you get in the
market cannot be trusted for quality or price. FM's meets this need
by supplying small packs of quality essential oils at reasonable prices."
FM's Handbook of Aromatherapy serves as a guide for his aromatherapy
workshops, which, says Rattan, "stress on the therapeutic aspects and
give information about essential and carrier oils, formulation methods,
applications and massage techniques. Participants include medical practitioners
(allopaths, homeopaths, and gynecologist), housewives and beauticians.
offing is also an advanced aromatherapy course based on the core curriculum
of based on the core curriculum of International Aromatherapy Organizations
has unique and diverse ways of identifying the essential oils best
suited to you, depending on factors such as your particular mind-body
are a vata type (typically susceptible to headaches, dry skin, constipation,
nervous anxiety, hypersensitivity, insomnia), avoid sharp or strongly
perfumed essential oils. You would benefit from warm, energizing oils
such as camphor, cinnamon and cypress, combined with the stabilizing,
calming oils such as sandalwood, jasmine or rose, blended in sesame
oil, a carrier oil generally regarded as incomparable in its ability
to penetrate the skin.
type (typically prone to ulcers, fevers, inflammatory skin diseases,
acidity, agitation, anger) would benefit from cooling, calming oils,
flowery fragrances such as gardenia, jasmine, mint, rose, sandalwood
blended in a cooling carrier like coconut oil.
type (predisposed to respiratory ailments) will benefit from the use
of warm, light, stimulating oils such as sage, basil, cedar, pine,
myrrh in very light carrier oils. The use
of sharp, stimulating fragrances is beneficial for the kapha type.
ayurvedic massages, whether for rejuvenation or health, are big business
the world over. An entire tourism industry is booming around it in
Kerala, with tax and other incentives given to entrepreneurs to set
up quality ayurvedic resorts offering genuine ayurvedic treatment.
an integral part of ayurveda, will obviously receive a fillip with
such incentives. Over centuries and across cultures, the belief holds
that essential oils have the ability to advance mystical ecstasy and
heightened awareness—be it in places of worship, religious gatherings
or in the meditation room.
oils include frankincense, sandalwood, lavender, rose, jasmine, rosemary
and angelica. An ancient recommendation of essential oils to balance,
strengthen and energizes your seven chakras: jasmine and ylang-ylang
for the base or root chakra, vertivert for the hara, rose-mary and
lemon for the solar plexus chakra, neroli for the heart chakra, benzoin
for the throat chakra, sandalwood for the third eye chakra and rose
for the crown chakra.
sandalwood oil, blended in a carrier oil and rubbed between the brows,
the third chakra, holds the promise of psychic enfoldment.
in essence, does one have here? An alternative remedy which has crossed
barriers, got the tacit nod of approval from orthodox medical researchers,
scientists and doctors. Their research has demonstrated that medicinal
properties are actually present in aromatherapy oils, that aromatherapy
is an immensely versatile system which is accessible to both scientific
examination and individual experimentation.
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