By Heidi Aschenbrenner, BCTMB CCT, LMBT and Member AOBTA
We’ve all heard the term “aromatherapy,” which utilizes essential oils during massage, sauna use, or as an addition to a bath or lotion, but many of us aren’t exactly certain what those terms actually mean. What exactly are essential oils? How are they helpful? Essential oils are extracted from a given plant (using all of its parts from root to flower). The extraction is generally done using a steam distillation process to release the oils, and then the oil is extracted from the steam as the mixture cools. With distillation, any pesticides or other chemicals that may have been in the plant should be removed. Cold pressing may also be utilized for certain citrus oils. The health benefits from the original plant are then concentrated in the oil extraction. Essential oils can be used to remedy a wide range of ailments, just as plants have been used to heal for centuries.
Quality does matter – it does seem to be true that you get what you pay for with essential oils. It usually takes thousands of a particular plant to produce just a few milliliters of essential oil! The term “therapeutic grade” is used by several companies, and though that term is not a regulated one, it is generally the industry standard that signifies that the oils are pure and contain no fillers or artificial ingredients. But as with any unregulated term, ask questions! Find out what the extraction process is – there should never be oily feel to a pure essential oil (which you can test on a sheet of white paper). Some sources of good quality oils include doTERRA, Young Living, Swiss Aromatics, and Native American Nutritionals.
There are several essential oils I can’t live without anymore: lavender, peppermint, lemon, and frankincense. Lavender is simply the most versatile oil out there; it can be used to relax muscles, to soothe irritated skin (and is disinfecting), and is very calming and great for a bath or a massage. It can spruce up a stagnant closet, freshen up a room, linens, really anything! It can help keep winter dryness away when added to your moisturizer (fractionated coconut oil is best to mix it with).
Peppermint is wonderful for both digestive troubles and also for any sinus congestion or headaches. It helps relax muscles too, so it’s a great blend with lavender if you’ve got a knot in your back. Peppermint has soothed my tummy many a time after eating something that didn’t agree with me. You can double bag your peppermint tea or add a few drops of the essential oil to receive its soothing effects on your digestive system or to eliminate headaches without taking a pill. Rubbing it directly on your belly works for digestive troubles too. When diffused in a room, not only do you get its great benefits for your sinuses, you’ll also be encouraging your 6 and 8 legged uninvited guests to vacate the premises – insects and arachnids don’t like peppermint, an added bonus!
Lemon is such a wonderful immune-boosting oil. Just a few drops to your favorite herbal tea will help detoxify your liver and give you an energy boost. Mixing lemon and peppermint in your morning glass of water will give you a refreshing, energy boosting treat. Lemon can also get the stink out of forgotten wet laundry and help with hard water deposits when cleaning.
Ah, frankincense… My new favorite oil. It’s calming to both your physical and emotional states. Just taking a few deep breathes of frankincense can change your whole perspective and turn your day around. It’s also good for skin conditions and is a diuretic, and it works very well with peppermint to relieve headaches. Frankincense boosts your immune system and supports your body’s healthy production of white blood cells, and it makes you feel great while it’s doing all that.
Who can benefit from essential oils? Everyone! They are particularly great for pregnant women who want more natural remedies for headaches, nausea, morning sickness, congestion, swollen ankles, or low-back pain. Essential oils are a wonderful complement to any massage, and can be a great addition to any home.
Heidi Aschenbrenner, BCTMB CCT, LMBT and Member AOBTA, is the owner of Renu Massage, Energy & Bodywork. Heidi and her team of therapists all strive to achieve balance in each session through the use of energy work incorporated into their bodywork therapies.