Aromatherapy, as a practice, has been around for centuries. Let’s start with the basics. What is Aromatherapy? Aromatherapy is the treatment or prevention of disease by use of essential oils. Other stated uses include pain and anxiety reduction, enhancement of energy and short-term memory, relaxation, hair loss prevention, and reduction of eczema-induced itching. At first glance, it sounds too good to be true. But over the years, the results speak for themselves.
What makes it even more appealing is that the ingredients are natural. Essential oils are oils distilled from plants. These oils are usually volatile in nature and should be used with extreme care. It is their fragrance that reaches the nose and works its magic. Two basic mechanisms are offered to explain the purported effects. One is the influence of Aroma on the brain, especially the limbic system through the olfactory system. The other is the direct pharmacological effects of the essential oils.
Using of essential oils for therapeutic, spiritual, hygienic and ritualistic purposes goes back to a number of ancient civilizations including the Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who used them in cosmetics, perfumes and drugs. But different regions of the world have adopted the practice of Aromatherapy to suit their particular purposes. Let’s explore.
Aromatherapy in India
In India, Aromatherapy and Ayurveda have gone hand in hand. Ayurveda predominantly uses herbs and plants for treating and curing people and it is the essential oils from these herbs and plants that form the basis of Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy has been around for so long in India that its first recorded use was in the Ramayana. The famous story of Hanuman lifting a mountain with special herbs which were used to save Lakshman from nearly dying is a classic case of Aromatherapy being used. From Buddha to Ashoka to Babur of the Mughal Dynasty, all these stories have legitimately recorded proof of Ayurveda and Aromatherapy being used.
Aromatherapy has therefore been around for around 3000 years in India. Modern Ayurveda has incorporated scents and essential oils in all sorts of treatments for many different ailments, and Aromatherapy has even seen some significant popularity in mainstream medicine in India. While western medicine has become more and more popular in India, Aromatherapy is still practiced and highly recommended. Many people even choose to use Aromatherapy and essential oils in tandem with western medications, like antibiotics, to ward off issues and illnesses.
The Chinese and Aromatherapy
In certain other cultures that have a rich history of medicine, like China, Aromatherapy again features quite a bit. In Chinese medicine, Aromatherapy and the healing power of scent and essential oils has played a big role in various treatments; however, Chinese Aromatherapy is slightly different than what most cultures are familiar with.
Many plants used to make essential oils are traditionally Chinese and come from Chinese medicine. In most cases, these essential oils are used to enhance energy and increase life force or vitality.
Chinese medicine uses Aromatherapy as a way to affect specific organs and other parts of the body. For example, practitioners of Chinese medicine believe that some Aromatic herbs and plants, like cloves, promote a healthy kidney. Essential Oils from Frankincense is also commonly used to help increase life force, or “Qi” (pronounced as “chi”). It is believed that our lungs draw in chi with every breath so it is natural that Aromatherapy would be used as a way to affect positive changes in one’s life.
Aromatherapy finds its way to the West
The modern uses of Aromatherapy stem from its usage in Western cultures. Uses like diffusing essential oils through electric diffusers to treat common lifestyle ailments like stress and fatigue. One might expect to find Aromatherapy being used in the personal lives of professionals to help them calm down after a day of hard work. Another popular use for Aromatherapy in Western countries can be found in massage parlours where masseuses often diffuse essential oils for their clients’ benefit.
Influence in Europe
The use of Aromatherapy in Europe can be traced back to the Crusades, and it is still very popular in many different places. While certain areas, such as Rome have moved toward standard Western medicine, Aromatherapy still plays a role.
Unlike Aromatherapy in China and India, Aromatherapy in Europe is commonly used to treat “more superficial” ailments like fatigue and a bad mood. There are, however, practitioners of Eastern medicine and holistic medicine that actually use Aromatherapy as part of a whole treatment for a variety of illnesses.
Aromatherapy in America
Stress is a big part of everyone’s life in modern times. While practicing generally prescribed stress reduction techniques can be beneficial, Aromatherapy can help many people reduce overall stress levels.
One of the biggest benefits of Aromatherapy is that it utilizes the senses to actually help you feel calm after a stressful day or event. The act of simply relaxing during an Aromatherapy session, even if you’re doing it at home on your own, is also very helpful for many people with incredibly busy schedules.
Like Europe, the United States is full of practitioners of Eastern medicine and Aromatherapy, though western medicine has a stronger foothold with the general public. However, that doesn’t mean that Aromatherapy is not beneficial, and many people swear by its healing powers.
Countries like the United States, where Aromatherapy is popular but isn’t generally used to treat disease and serious illness, often use it to promote well-being and stress reduction.
Spreading All Across the World
In the countries in South America, Aromatherapy came into being in the late ‘80’s. By the mid-1990s essential oils could be found in beauty salons, spas and shops and the home in general; Aromatherapy had become synonymous with natural. There are now a growing number of people working as Aromatherapists or who offer Aromatherapy treatments as part of their practice.
In Australia, Aromatherapy is a popular complementary therapy, widely used in nursing practice, with increasing cooperation between complementary and conventional practitioners. Although still having applications in beauty care, use is increasing in care of the elderly, palliative care and midwifery. Some Aromatherapists are employed by aged care facilities, although most are in private practice and contract services to individuals or health service providers.
As we go along, Aromatherapy is becoming a force to reckon with, medically and recreationally around the world. People are waking up to the benefits of natural and non-invasive health remedies and medical practices that are sustainable and effective. Whatever your condition, and whatever essential oils you choose to use, always consult your doctor before embarking on a new treatment plan. Also, be sure to only acquire essential oils from approved sources and don’t attempt to mix and use oils unless you have been trained as a professional Aromatherapist.