Sleepless nights, six weeks of a hacking cough, the mandatory course of antibiotics, changing bottle of fat, sweet globules of homeopathic medicine, experimenting with what seemed like everybody’s grandmother’s remedies—I went through it all. Nothing helped much. Aromatherapy, someone finally suggested. Now what could a smell-to-get-well therapy do for a person with a blocked nasal passage, I wondered, even as I set off in search of the smell pharmacy.
I returned from the aromatherapist’s clinic armed with made-to-order aromatic massage oil, a blend of inhalation oils and essentials oils which I could dab on a tissue and sniff or sprinkle on my pillow? I balked at the idea of oily stains on the linen. That of course, was before I knew much about essential oils, the base of aromatherapy. Essential oils, present as tiny droplets between plant cells, are aromatic substances which are extracted from flowers, grass, herbs, peel of citrus fruits, seeds, leaves, bark, roots—virtually every part of the plant, generally by a process of ‘expression’ (cold-pressure squeezing of fruit peel) or distillation. This process is slow, laborious and expensive.
For instance, eight million hand-picked jasmine blossoms yield a mere kilo of steeply-priced jasmine oil. Or 30 roses produce a single drop of rose oil. A liter of rose oil could cost up to Rs 4-5 lakh. These essential oils contain the plant’s vital essence, its most valuable and concentrated therapeutic and nutritional properties. In nature, these oils, which are released slowly, protect the plant from climatic changes, pests, diseases and other imbalances. Amazingly, research is demonstrating the minute doses of these essential oils can work similar wonders within our bodies, stimulating, rejuvenating and balancing our delicate life-support systems.
Fifty percent of the world’s essential oils lend their aromatic flavors and preservative qualities to the food industry, perfumery accounts for a substantial percentage, while five per cent is for aromatherapy, a small but significant figure which is growing. If these oils are used carefully, aromatherapy can be one of the gentlest, universally-applicable, natural healing therapies.
‘More is better’ doesn’t work here, as I realized when I sprinkled a liberal amount of the recommended oil in the overly-hot inhalation water and flinched as the strong, vaporizing oil stung my eyes and the overwhelming aroma brought loud protests from others in the room. Six drops would be enough, reaffirmed the therapist, and keep your eyes closed when you inhale the aromatic oil added to tepid water. Worked better, through I felt far more comfortable when I sprinkled a couple of drops on my pillow and finally slept through the night. There were no oily stains next morning because essential oils are non-oily in nature, and, when pure, evaporate.
As I found myself bounding back to health, amazement at the efficacy of aromatherapy led me to read everything on the subject I could lay my hands on. Slowly, little brown bottles, double-sealed to protect the volatile oil from light and air, started lining my medicine cabinet. The oils, I discovered, were versatile, the possibilities of usage limitless. You could as easily use them to beat back insomnia, insects, indigestion, anxiety, acne or aches, as you could to sharpen memory, expand your consciousness or arouse erotic sensuality. Aromatherapy is poised to be one of the key alternative therapies of the 21st century.
People are realizing that they can get rid of their physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual ills through a judicious use of aromatic essential oils. Innumerable universities and hospitals are studying the use of aromatherapy oils. Innumerable universities and hospitals are studying the use of aromatherapy oils. Some hospitals in Oxford, England, for instance, have replaced chemical sedatives with essential oil blends which include lavender, marjoram, geranium and cardamom oil. The University of Cincinnati, USA conclusively demonstrated that the use of lily-of-the valley and peppermint oils increased, by 15-25 per cent, the subjects’ performance in any task needing concentration.
Firms in Japan are pumping aromatherapy oils such as lemon and rosemary through the air-cooling systems to improve employee efficiency, especially in the less productive hours of the afternoon. An entire new field of health care, making use of aromatherapy oils with their sedative, calming, pain-reducing effects, is growing around the care of the terminally ill. Aromatherapy oils, with their air-purifying, anti-viral, antibacterial, antiseptic abilities, are ideal for vaporizing in hospitals and crowded public places to prevent airborne infections. Mass aromatherapy is also suggested to influence social behavior and increase work efficiency.
This, of course, is vehemently opposed by the advocates of holistic aromatherapy, who believe in individual prescriptions. Aromatherapy is essentially old wine in new (little brown) bottles. Aromatic essences were popularly used centuries ago in India, Egypt China and Greece. We’ve all heard the story of Cleopatra’s amorous adventures aided by aromatic essences, of ayurvedic use of essential oils for medicine and massage, the use of sandalwood to enhance meditation, and the use of aromatic resins by Egyptian embalmers to preserve mummies. Modern aromatherapy, coming into vogue in the past 30 years, has given a new and focused impetus to the art.
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