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What Is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a form of healing that uses volatile plant essences, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds to alter and improve one's mental, physical and spiritual health.  Essential oils are extremely concentrated extracts of a plant's most powerful constituents, and therefore they allow an individual to work with all of the powerful positive aspects of a plant very easily.  Furthermore, some essential oils, such as tea tree oil and lemon oil, have demonstrated powerful anti-microbial effects in a lab setting.

The practice of using plant essences as medicine most likely began in the ancient Mediterranean, where aromatic oils were made by heating crushed plant material in oil and then filtering out the resulting oil.  These substances were said to have healing properties.  In the 20th century, aromatherapy started to become a more concrete concept, and essential oils were even used in World War II to treat wounded soldiers!

Aromatherapy uses several different methods to utilize the power of an essential oil.  Aerial diffusion, in which the essential oil is heated in an oil burner or other diffuser, is used to disinfect the air in a room or to change the environment through scent.  Direct inhalation, in which the individual inhales the scent of the pure essential oil, is used to treat congestion and also to effect immediate psychological and spiritual changes.  Topical applications, in which the essential oil is mixed with a carrier oil, placed in a bath, or, rarely, put directly on to the skin, are used to allow the essence of the essential oils to absorb in to the body directly.

The theory behind aromatherapy is that diseases, both physical and mental, can be treated using essential oils.  Essential oils seem particularly well suited towards pain reduction and stress reduction, as well as altering the mood of an individual by giving them more energy, allowing them to release their troubles, or allowing them to relax.  Aromatherapy works upon the concept that aroma has a powerful effect on the brain through the olfactory system.  Aromatherapy does not cure diseases, but it balances the body in such a way that the body can learn to heal itself and to increase its immune response.

There is a serious lack of any well crafted studies regarding the efficacy of aromatherapy, but preliminary clinical studies of aromatherapy alongside other methods of treatment have shown positive effects.  As an example, lemon essential oil is popular for its uplifting and anti-depressant effects.  In a Japanese study, lemon essential oil was found to relieve stress in mice when diffused.  Research at Ohio State University also indicated that lemon oil enhances the mood and helps in relaxation.

Essential oils are highly concentrated, and can irritate the skin or the body when not diluted.  Many are particularly dangerous if taken internally.  Therefore, if you are interested in beginning to work with aromatherapy for your own health and well-being, it is highly recommended that you first visit a licensed aromatherapist who can help to treat you in a safe and appropriate way.  Once you have worked with a professional for some time, you should have a safer handle on how to treat yourself using particular essential oils.  Always be careful when using a new oil, as different essential oils can have vastly different properties, and always be very careful to keep essential oils out of the reach of children and pets.  Aromatherapy can be a very powerful tool for allowing the mind and body to heal themselves, and it therefore must be treated with respect.  If you are looking for alternative methods to balance your mood and your spirit, aromatherapy is definitely something to look in to!
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