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Beginning Aromatherapy: A Look at the Techniques of Inhalation, Massage and Ingestion of Essential Oils

Glass vial containing Geranium Essential Oil

Image via Wikipedia

There’s a real difference in dabbling in aromatherapy and really using essential oils as medicine. Many folks will make use of lavender for rest or tea tree to prevent infections of cuts and scrapes, yet remain unaware of the greater potential essential oils have to offer.

One of the barriers is really not knowing what to do with those great smelling little bottles of oil. In Europe, their use has evolved into three distinct methods of use — hopefully by understanding these, you can embark on your own journey of using essential oils as medicine.

It’s crucial to see beyond what is commonly understood as aromatherapy in the U.S. The word often conjures images of aromatic spa treatments, with clients bathed in rose petals.

But the true definition of the word means something much more: the entire branch of botanical medicine utilizing the volatile aromatic constituents of plants.

Really, aromatherapy is a major aspect of herbal medicine, with an incredible healing potential.

As aromatherapy practice evolved in Europe, the major methods of essential oil use became associated with its proponents in particular countries. The German method embraces inhalation, the English uses topical application via massage, and the French, where modern aroma-medicine originated, primarily involves involves ingestion.

The method favored in Germany is inhalation, perhaps the most commonly imagined route of administration of essential oils. The applications are actually much more diverse than one would expect purely from inhalation, however.

At one end of the spectrum, we have inhalation for affecting mental conditions: reducing anxiety and improving rest. Oils for this are generally soft and floral — lavender is the primary culprit, and chamomile being so popular in Germany that there’s even a variety called “German Chamomile”. Inhalation is also a wonderful way to receive healthy, natural stimulation that’s been proven to sharpen our focus.

The German school of practice, while utilizing inhalation as the application method of the oils, also focuses significantly on the medicinal aspect of oil use. Treatment of infectious illness is readily accomplished via inhalation of essential oil vapors, especially if high-tech nebulizing diffusers are used (these create a visible mist of oil, which disperses quickly in indoor environments).

By inhaling high concentrations of diffused essential oil, the cells lining our respiratory system are treated with their antimicrobial action. Oils have been shown in scientific research to have antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and even immune-system stimulating effects, all of which are utilized through inhalation.

The English method of aromatherapy involves topical application, and centers around aromatherapy massage. In a way, aromatherapy massage really includes the inhalation of the oils as once cannot help smell the oils when they’re being rubbed all over your body.

These massages can help with stress with some oils and techniques, or be stimulating using others. Topical application in this way can also help with cold-care, as massaging the chest, sinuses and lymph glands of the body can strongly support immune system function.

Some individuals are using blends of frankincense and lemongrass in a carrier oil as a complementary cancer treatment, as these oils have been shown to have anti-cancer activity in laboratory research.

The English method doesn’t technically involve therapeutic use of oils for skin care, though this is a rapidly growing area of essential oil use. Many oils have exceptional properties for treatment of all sorts of skin conditions.

Infections of all kinds are treated with blends including tea tree. Acne can be effectively treated with tea tree or myrtle oils. Anti-aging and mature skin blends can be made with frankincense, rose otto, sea buckthorn and many more, using carrier oils rich in essential fatty acids.

Essential oils have potent antioxidant activity, and can be excellent for use when one has spent a lot of time in the sun — sandalwood oil has even been show to prevent skin cancer when applied before exposure to UV radiation.

Moving on the French method, by far the most controversial. While on one side of the argument we have some saying “never ingest any essential oil”, an on the other the FDA lists most essential oils as “generally recognized as safe” for ingestion. Not that the FDA is a sound source of medical advice, but typically they’re the ones stating how dangerous natural medicines can be. The truth is that the essential oils that actually have therapeutic protocols created for the treatment of illness are safe to ingest in the recommended amounts.

The protocols used by French doctors involve very small amounts of essential oils. These are in the range of one to three drops at a time, up to three times daily. This is different than tossing back a bottle like a cocktail, which must be what some are imaging when advocating oils never be ingested.

The way the doctor/patient/essential oil use worked until only recently (as the movement by big business and government has made using natural therapies more difficult, and in many cases illegal) one would see a doctor specially trained in the use of oils. They would give you a prescription with a specific blend for your condition, and a dosage regime that was used only as long as necessary.

While this sort of treatment isn’t available in the States, it’s important to note that oils can and should be used this way if this is the best method to treat an illness.

Now you’re a good bit more knowledgeable on the major schools of the therapeutic use of essential oils. This is important know-how for the beginning aromatherapist, as it opens one’s mind to the great range of possibilities of treatment with the very potent medicines involved in aromatherapy.

More information on essential oils and aromatherapy carrier oils is available at the Ananda Apothecary.
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