An educated look at all things aromatherapy.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said that the way to health is to have an aromatic bath and a scented massage every day. It turns out he was onto something all those centuries ago as there is now a growing body of evidence showing the benefits of aromatherapy massage. We all know how wonderful a massage can feel on sore, tired muscles, but an aromatherapy massage can do that and so much more.
Aromatherapy massage is a specialized form of massage that uses the therapeutic benefits of essential oils to treat the mind, body and spirit. It is gentle and involves no kneading of pressure points or deep tissue. Instead it is a full-body relaxation massage that eases stress and tension, reduces inflammation and swelling, and promotes the release of toxins from the body.
Prior to your first massage, your aromatherapist will take your complete medical history to look for any medical contraindications and research which essential and carrier oils would be best to support your wellness goals. It is in your best interest to be completely open during this intake so that you can get the maximum benefit from your massage. When you arrive at your appointment, your aromatherapist will go over your information and select the oils for your massage with you to make sure you are happy with the scent. On subsequent visits, your aromatherapist will review your information to see if you need an adjustment to your blend or if you want to work on something else that session.
In addition to knowing which oils to use (and not to use), a qualified aromatherapist will know how much is safe to use. Essential oils all have different maximum levels that are safe for topical use, and some can interact with the medications you may be taking. Wintergreen is one such oil that is frequently used for pain relief but must be used with extreme caution for many reasons.
Most people assume that the effects of aromatherapy massage are felt when the essential oils are absorbed through the skin. While massage increases blood flow to the skin and therefore absorption of the oils, only a small amount is absorbed into the bloodstream this way. Instead, the greatest immediate benefit is through inhaling the essential oils during the massage. However, the effects of the massage can continue to be felt for up to two days after the massage depending on how long it takes for the body to process and eliminate the oils from the body. It is recommended to avoid showering the oils off your skin right after your massage so that they continue to be absorbed, and to increase your water intake for the rest of the day to help with lymphatic drainage.
So what all can aromatherapy massage help? Most of my clients complain of stress, which can be helped with a full-body relaxation massage coupled with some soothing essential oils like lavender, mandarin and vetiver. Anxiety has also been shown to respond well to regular aromatherapy massage. My most interesting feedback was that a client was back to her “regular self” after a massage targeting her digestive issues! Many clients will come in with stuffed sinuses and comment halfway through their massage that their breathing has improved. In addition to pain, stress and anxiety, aromatherapy massage has been shown to help myriad other issues including sleep, digestion, PMS, energy levels, inflammation and swelling, and more. As well, more than one complaint can be addressed in a single session.
Aromatherapy massage is a beautiful and gentle complementary modality. It is not a replacement for other forms of massage, or treatment from other healthcare practitioners. Most health insurance benefits will not cover aromatherapy massage; however, it could be covered by a health savings account or health and welfare trust. Consider adding regular aromatherapy massage to your self-care routine to improve your well-being!
Shannon Bachorick is a Certified Aromatherapy Health Professional in Regina, Canada. Her focus is on emotional healing for those living with and at risk of developing autoimmune disorders, and the safe and responsible use of essential oils at all ages and stages of life.