Aromatherapy massage combines two powerful and popular techniques for increased healing power, stress reduction, and pain relief. The vast array of essential oils that can be inhaled or applied topically can provide healing, soothing, and relaxing effects. You may find that aromatherapy massage provides the extra therapeutic and psychological care you need to get the most benefit from your massage session.
What Is Aromatherapy Massage?
People have been practicing massage for at least four millennia. Massage was introduced to the United States almost 200 years ago and has grown in popularity in recent decades. Researchers have found that massage therapy sends calming and healing signals throughout the body, triggering a wide variety of positive changes. Massage can affect all body systems, but primarily stimulates the circulatory, nervous, lymphatic, and musculoskeletal systems.
Aromatherapy may be an even older form of treatment, ranging back almost 6,000 years. The Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Romans, and Greeks used aromatic oils for healing, as perfumes, and in religious ceremonies. Over the last century, scientists have demonstrated the healing qualities of many essential oils. In World War I, practitioners used these compounds to treat burns, wounds, infections, and even gangrene. In addition to physical healing, essential oils offer many personal and psychological benefits.
Aromatherapy practitioners treat their clients with a wide variety of essential oils:
- Frankincense, lavender, and rose to diminish fear and anxiety
- Neroli oil for blood pressure and stress
- Orange blossom oil for peace and calm
- Peppermint or lemon to soothe nausea and vomiting
- Tea tree oil to fight bacterial/fungal infections and inflammation
- Rosemary oil for flexibility and motion
- Ginger or dwarf pine for pain
When combined with massage techniques, aromatherapy can provide an additional level of relaxation and healing. Inhaled scents may work on patients’ minds and emotions to encourage relaxation and stress release. When rubbed into the skin, massage oils containing essential oils (in proper balance) can provide potent relief from pain and inflammation.
Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage
Many massage therapists use aromatic and essential oils to complement their massage practice. People who experience depression may see improvements when adding aromatherapy massage to their current regimes of psychotherapy and medication. The brain areas responsible for scent, emotion, and memory are closely related. Experts believe certain aromas trigger positive memories and feelings and may contribute to anxiety relief. Everyone has different personal associations with various scents. This, coupled with a certain level of belief in aromatherapy treatments, helps determine the amount of healing a particular person may experience.
Researchers have conducted a number of clinical studies on aromatherapy. They’ve found that essential oils have a positive effect on many people, especially pregnant women (who may not be able to use other forms of relief).
Practitioners may also use essential oils to treat hair loss, insomnia, agitation, constipation, pain, itching, and psoriasis.
What to Expect from an Aromatherapy Massage Session
Massage therapists often use scents in the massage space to encourage relaxation and stress release. If you have a favorite scent (or blend of scents), you may want to bring some along and ask the practitioner to use it during your massage session. If you’re unsure which scent to pick, your therapist should be able to choose one for you that matches your individual needs.
Before your session begins, talk with your therapist about your goals for the session and how they can use aromatherapy to maximize the effects of your massage. Find out whether they mix essential oils with the massage oils they will use on your skin, or disperse them into the air for inhalation. Be sure to share your scent preferences as well as any allergies or sensitivities you may have.
Aromatherapy massage sessions can last as little as 15 minutes and as long as 90 minutes. Your massage therapist will allow you all the privacy you require and pause or stop your session if you become uncomfortable or need to ask a question.
Once you and your practitioner finish your intake evaluation and resolve any questions and concerns, your therapist will likely leave the room so you can disrobe. You can choose the level of undress you’re most comfortable with and then cover yourself with a sheet. Your massage therapist will use discreet draping techniques to move this sheet aside only from the body areas currently being worked on.
Be sure to communicate with your practitioner throughout the experience and share any discomfort you may feel. After your massage, get plenty of water and rest and try to stay in a relaxed state of mind.
Aromatherapy Massage Precautions
If you’re a highly sensitive person, you may want to avoid skin contact with essential oils (and possible even avoid inhaling them). If you have an aversion to heavy smells and perfumes, ask your practitioner to use only a small amount of essential oils during your massage. As with all types of massage, be sure to avoid treatment if you have deep-vein thrombosis (blood clots). Talk with your doctor to see if aromatherapy massage is right for you, especially if you have a history of allergies.
If you’re pregnant, essential oils and massage can offer much-needed relief. However, be sure to get your physician’s approval. When selecting a therapist, it may be most helpful to choose a massage therapist with specific training for working on pregnant women.
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- Ehrlich, S. Aromatherapy. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/aromatherapy
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