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How aromatherapy oils improve the benefits of massage

When we walk through a garden, rub a sprig of rosemary or lavender between our fingers, smell a rose or grate a lemon, we are all aware of the special scent that it emanates. But what exactly is it that we smell? The special substances which give herbs and spices their specific scent and fruit and flowers their perfume are the plant essences – the light, fine, almost etheric essential oils taken from roots, leaves, barks, flowers and plants in their prime of life.

The art of their extraction has developed slowly over the course of time but it’s origins reach back to the very heart of the earliest civilisations.

In the 5th century BC Hipocrates, the Greek ‘father of medicine’, declared that the key to health was a scented bath and an oiled massage daily and that all physicians should be expert on ‘rubbing’.

Seven thousand years later, massage therapy is an increasingly popular and very enjoyable way of maintaining health and preventing disease. But how does it work? Why does the combination of essential oils and massage combine in to holistic bliss?

Many experts in the use of plant essences believe that nobody has really been able to identify what gives these substances their smell and the ability to affect human beings in specific ways.

If we look at the word ‘aromatherapy’ in some respects it can be misleading because it suggests that it is a form of healing that works exclusively through our sense of smell and on the emotions. That is not the case however. Apart from it’s scent, each essential oil has an individual combination of constituents which interact with the body’s chemistry in a direct manner, which then in turn affects certain organs or systems as a whole.

For example when used in the form of a massage treatment essential oils are absorbed via the skin and transported all over the body. Numerous clinical studies constantly confirm the essential oils potent physiological and psychological effects. They can sedate and stimulate and help dispell depression.

When inhaled, essential oils communicate with a part of the brain known as the limbic system. This is the emotional control centre of the brain responsible for regulating appetite, sex drive and stress response. When an essence is inhaled its odour has direct acces to the emotional centre of the brain without interference from rational thought process. This is why the reintroduction of smells can bring forth vivid recollections of emotions from past events.

But essential oils do not simply work through association alone. Combined with massage, the physiological changes such as deeper respiration, slower heart rate and relaxed muscle tone and the remarkable healing and emotionally balancing properties of this essences are immense.

Essential oils are here to stay. If you are not using them you are missing out on all the wonderful things they have to offer – from energy and rejuvenation to first aid and freedom from aches and pains, not to mention beautiful skin and a sanctified space in which to live and work.

Let your romance with aromatherapy and massage begin as most things do – tentatively, with a little respect for this centuries old tradition and perhaps a touch of wonder.

By Elena Johns, Aromatherapy Massage Therapist at Wantage NTC.