by East Lewis Haradin, L.Ac.
Like Chinese Medicine, aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years. Ancient cultures from all over the world have used various forms of aromatherapy ranging from the burning of incense to utilizing the extracted oils from various plants, herbs and flowers. These ancestors used aromatherapy because they understood the healing properties of essential oils and the aromas that come from them. This article aims to provide a general understanding of how aromatherapy works and ways in which you can incorporate aromatherapy into your practice.
Since many of us are familiar with the term “aromatherapy” it is interesting to first explain where this term originated. Back in the late 1920’s, French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse was severely burned in a laboratory experiment. It is said that he applied lavender oil on his burned flesh and discovered that not only did his pain and swelling reduce significantly, but the wound healed rapidly and almost miraculously. It was around this time that Gattefosse began a life-long exploration into this healing modality and coined the term “aromatherapie” (basically referring to the use of essential oils for treating the body, mind and spirit).
Generally, aromatherapy can be applied in three ways: Direct application to the skin, inhalation and internal consumption. In all three scenarios the properties of the essential oils, which constitute “aromatherapy”, travel through the body and eventually go to the brain where they have both physiological and psychological effects. When applied to the skin, the essential oils are absorbed and enter into the lymphatic system, which then circulate into the blood stream, making their way into the brain. Similarly, when essential oils are inhaled or ingested, they are absorbed into the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, lungs and/or gastrointestinal system, transferred into the blood stream, and make their way to the brain. Inhalation of essential oils also utilizes the body’s olfactory system which processes the smell, sending a signal to the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system is directly connected to the parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, the balancing of hormones and the processing of emotions and memories. For these reasons, it is evident that aromatherapy can have a very powerful effect, both emotionally and physiologically.
We can also look at aromatherapy from a TCM point of view. Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia) and Grapefruit (Citrus Paradisi), two very common essential oils used in aromatherapy, can serve as good examples. Lavender is spicy and sweet, has a cooling nature and affects the Lung, Liver and Pericardium. Two of the major functions of lavender are to promote the smooth flow of Liver qi and calm the shen. Grapefruit is spicy and bitter, has a slightly warming nature and affects the Lung, Stomach and Gallbladder. Major functions of grapefruit include regulating the flow of Liver qi and breaking up qi, food and phlegm stagnation. With their positive influence on qi, just using these two essential oils would be a good start to incorporating aromatherapy into your practice.
So, now that we have a basic understanding of aromatherapy, healing mechanisms of same and two essential oils which we can start to use immediately, how can we specifically incorporate this powerful, ancient healing modality in our practice? Here are a few simple and extremely effective ways:
#1. DIFFUSERS: Diffuse essential oils in your waiting/reception areas and/or treatment rooms. You can buy special plug-in diffusers designed to slowly release essential oils based on your desired strength (i.e. from light to heavy scent). You can also use a small tea-light oil/scented wax burner that does virtually the same thing without the need of electricity or batteries.
#2. ACUPUNCTURE POINTS: You can place drops of essential oils onto acupuncture points prior to needling or in lieu of needling. If you chose this technique, it is extremely important that you dilute certain essential oils before doing so as some oils can burn the skin. Lavender is an example of an essential oil that is safe to place on the skin directly.
#3. SPACE SPRAY: You can make an aromatherapy spray by placing drops of essential oils into a bottle (preferably dark colored glass) filled with spring water. Similar to making an herbal formula, you can chose one essential oil or create a blend based the individual make up of each essential oil and the desired therapeutic outcome. For a one ounce bottle, eight to ten drops of essential oils is sufficient. You can spray over the patient during treatment or between patients in the treatment room.
#4. EYE PILLOW: Many eye pillows come infused with aromatherapy. However, if you do not possess one of these, you can easily make one by lightly spraying essential oils onto a folded Kleenix tissue and placing the Kleenix tissue onto the eyes of your patient. Instructions on making an aromatherapy spray are given above.
#5. COTTON BALL: Place a few drops of an essential oil or essential oil blend onto a cotton ball and place it on the patient’s chest, near the face, during a face-up treatment. This way the patient is able to receive the aromatherapy while they are having an acupuncture treatment. If they are face down, place the cotton ball on a chair under their nose so they can receive the aroma. When the treatment is over, you can give them the patient the cotton ball to take with them, directing them to continue smelling it throughout the day. You can also give a cotton ball to patients that become extremely relaxed from a treatment and feel “out of it”. Saturate a cotton ball with a few drops of an uplifting essential oil like grapefruit and have them inhale a few times before leaving your office and have them take the cotton ball home with them so they are alert as they drive away and go about their day.
#6. MASSAGE: Add drops of essential oils into your massage oil and apply to specific channels of the body or even to the UB channel where we find the back shu points. For eight ounces of massage oil, ten to fifteen drops of essential oils is sufficient. This method is preferred over inhalation for patients that have sinus problems or impaired olfactory systems which may inhibit the processing of inhaled aromas.
These six methods are just a few ways in which you can incorporate aromatherapy into your practice. With hundreds of essential oils, each having their own properties and specific actions on the body, the application of aromatherapy is almost endless. This article is simply an introduction into aromatherapy and only scratches the surface of a much deeper body of knowledge. Many workshops and books offer a more in-depth understanding of this modality as well as additional ways in which you can incorporate its use. Hopefully with just the few tips provided herein, you can find ways to integrate aromatherapy with your treatments and thereby achieve higher levels of efficacy and patient satisfaction.