By Kumkum Bhandari February 1998 Aromatherapy 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 Smell pharmacy at homeMassage: Aromatherapy massage is a comprehensive body therapy which rejuvenates, nourishes and heals. More so when combined with acupressure, polarity therapy, shiatsu and reflexology. For optimum results: thoroughly mix chosen essential oil or oil blends in the carrier oil just before use (10 drops to 15 ml or three tea spoons of carrier oil, less for children, asthmatic and elderly people). Any good odorless, colorless oil from the kitchen cabinet will work as a carrier oil. But never use baby oil. If you take a massage after a bath or steam, the dry, open pores will aid absorption of oils which takes from 20-90 minutes. Use room temperature oil, follow normal massage techniques, drape cloth over skin as soon as massage is over. Avoid bathing for a few hours afterwards. Bath: Particularly effective for fluid retention, insomnia, menstrual problems, depression, stress, aching muscles, poor blood circulation. Swish eight drops of oils in warm bathwater, stir vigorously and soak for 15-20 minutes. If your skin is dry,mix the aromatic oils in a tablespoon of carrier oil before pouring into bath water. Rub the skin gently with towel to aid absorption. To get relief for tired, aching, swollen feet, try a foot bath with lemon and peppermint oil. Mouth Wash: This is useful for mouth ulcers and bleeding gums. Add five drops to a glass of water, rinse mouth and spit out. Inhalation and Steaming: Effective for respiratory problems and congestion. Sprinkle 6-8 drops of essential oil in tepid water. Close the eyes, bend over the bowl, cover the head with a towel and inhale deeply for a few minutes. This will deep-cleanse and rehydrate skin. For direct inhalation, sprinkle a couple of drops on your pillow or tissue and inhale: peppermint for a headache, eucalyptus for congestion, lavender and marjoram for insomnia. Compresses: S Use cold compresses for headaches, bruises, aches, sprains, fevers; and hot ones for boils or menstrual pains. Stir 6-8 drops of oil in half a cup of water. Soak a thin tower or handkerchief, wring and place over affected area. Vaporization: Ideal as safe and natural air-freshners, mood enhancers. Also of germicidal value. Place a few drops on a heat source: a light bulb, a small bowl of warm water, an aromatic diffuser. Replenish oil after an hour or two. Vaporizing lemongrass oil keeps away mosquitoes, camomile eases hyperactivity and cranky feelings in a child. Perfume: The fragrance of essential oils, though less dramatic, actually suppresses any foul body odor by a physiochemical action that destroys, hinders or neutralizes germs. Blend oils of your choice. 10 drops to 100 ml of light carrier oil such as sweet almond and use on body. Use 10 drops to 100 ml of carrier. Sleepless 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 pharmacy. I returned 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. For instance, 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. Fifty 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. ‘More 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 pure, evaporate. As I 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. People 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. Firms 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. This, 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. Widely 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. Take 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. Now, 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, t
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