On the Scent
Adding aromatherapy to your next massage can help you get the
most of your session
Roses. Fresh-cut grass. Your mother's perfume.
Mint. An orange being peeled.
These are smells many of us can imagine. Whether good or bad in
our minds, smells can take us back to an event in time and provoke
emotion. They can wake us up - or relax us. And that's what's at
work behind aromatherapy.
"Fragrance is processed in an area of the brain that also
processes memory and emotion," says Mindy Green, co-author of
Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art and
owner of botanicals consulting company Green Scentsations.
"It's a lock-and-key system," adds Kathy Padecky, certified
massage therapist and instructor at Pacific College of Oriental
Medicine. "You can smell a scent and immediately feel an
Aromatherapy and Its History
It's important to note that aromatherapy isn't just about any
smell, Green says. A number of perfumed products on the market, she
says, have diluted the reputation of aromatherapy - and given
consumers the wrong impression.
"True aromatherapy is only gained by essential oils derived from
nature," she says. "You might find a fragrance that smells nice and
even evokes a memory, but you don't get the same therapeutic effect
from a synthetic."
So, what are essential oils? They're complex mixtures of
chemical compounds found in aromatic plants, writes Anne Williams,
author of Spa Bodywork: A Guide for Massage Therapists.
Specialized structures that store essential oils are found in
leaves, needles, twigs, bark, heartwood, flowers, fruits, stems,
roots, flowering tops, zests and peels.
While plants have been used as medicine since early
civilizations, modern aromatherapy owes its beginning to French
chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé. Already familiar with chemicals
because of his exposure to his family's perfumery business, he
began experimenting with oils to heal wounds, later coining the
The Benefits and Caveats
Essential oils have various uses. "For example, some essential
oils are topical analgesics," Williams writes. "When they are
applied to soft tissue they decrease sensations of pain. Oils like
lavender, Roman or German chamomile, and sweet marjoram sedate the
body and decrease stress because they stimulate an area of the
brain which causes the release of serotonin."
During an Aromatherapy
massage, an oil like lavender can encourage relaxation in
order to maximize the effects of your massage. And at the end of a
massage, a stimulating oil might be used to help you wake up.
But, Green warns, not all scents are for everyone.
"Everybody has different scent perceptions," she says. So, if
you favor a certain scent over another, go with your preference.
Something you dislike may not relax you just because it relaxes
And, Padecky notes, pregnant women are advised not to use
aromatherapy, particularly during the first trimester. In addition,
people with allergies or asthma may find triggers in certain oils
and should be cautious. Plus, some oils, such as citrus oils, can
make skin particularly sensitive to the sun.
For most people, however, aromatherapy has tremendous
therapeutic benefits especially when
combined with a massage therapy session. "The whole premise of
taking a deep breath and slowing down is part of meditation," Green
says. "Then, you add that to inhaling something you find pleasant,
and stress just melts away."
By Stephanie R. Conner
Photography by Jeff Newton