Aromatherapy to Relax and Refresh
One way to help ourselves relax is by using essential oils. Aromatherapy has been
used for centuries to help promote good health and a feeling of balance and calm.
The oils, which come from plants, are simple to use and have a variety of fragrances
to suit all tastes! Some like Lavender or Chamomile are floral, some like Mandarin and
Lime have a refreshing citrus smell, and others like Sandalwood or Frankincense have
a deeper or woodier smell. You can buy them from health food shops, good chemists
or, more cheaply, by mail order from reputable companies.
The essential oils that can be most helpful for anxiety and stress include: Roman
Chamomile, Clary Sage, Frankincense, Geranium, Lavender, Mandarin, Sweet
Marjoram, Neroli, Petitgrain, Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang and Citrus essential oils
such as Lemon, Lime and Orange.
How do they work?
Pure essential oils have therapeutic properties. Some, like marjoram, chamomile or
lavender are calming and can help us to sleep. Others like mandarin or clary sage can
be uplifting and help if you are feeling low. When we smell or inhale the essential oils
they affect the “limbic” or memory and emotional centre of the brain. This is why we
have such strong connections between particular smells and particular people, times
or places in our lives. By using aromatherapy oils to help us relax, say in a bath, then
at other times if we are upset the same smell will remind our nervous system of that
feeling of calm and help us to relax.
How to use essential oils:
Aromatherapy oils are not taken internally but can be introduced into the skin
through baths, massage, creams and lotions or by inhalation.
Bath therapy with essential oils can have profound
effects on the healing of skin disorders, alleviating
muscular aches and pains, reducing levels of stress, as
well as increasing and supporting blood and lymph
circulation. Essential oil baths or Aromatic bathing can
begin to facilitate healing on numerous levels both
physiologically as well as psychologically. The water
should be warm but not hot and the essential oils should
be added to the bath either once the individual is in or right before the individual is
getting into the water. Always suggest the swishing around of water in order to
disperse concentration of essential oils in the water.
Note: One can utilize essential oils neat in the bath or added to 1 -2 tbs. of
fractionated coconut oil (this oil partially dissolves in water and does not leave a
‘greasy slip’ in the bath tub) or a spoonful of cream or honey. If treating dry, cracked
skin, the essential oils can be added mixed with carrier oil, such as sweet almond, and
massaged onto the skin before immersing in water.
For babies add one drop of lavender or chamomile.
For children aged 2-10 years, add two drops of either lavender or chamomile.
For older children and adults, add four-six drops of any of the suggested oils,
though frankincense and mandarin may irritate sensitive skin.
Foot and Hand baths can be utilized in the treatment of: arthritis, athlete’s foot,
poor circulation, low energy, stress, nail fungus and other skin disorders of the hands
Dosage: 5-7 drops of essential oil in a basin of warm/hot water. Let feet or
hands soak for 10-15 minutes. Add ½ cup of Epsom salts for added benefit.
a. Direct inhalation
Use a handkerchief or tissue paper for inhalations.
Dosage: Place 2-4 drops of essential oil/s on the tissue or cloth. Hold cloth in
the palm of the hand and take 2-3 deep inhalations through the nose. Breathe in
as needed. Be careful not to touch the pure essential oil as it may irritate the
Another variation on this theme is to place 2-4 drops on a tissue inside your pillow
case during the night.
b. Indirect inhalation
How to use essential oils in the vaporiser:
If you have a ceramic vaporiser, fill the saucer on top with cold
water, add 6-10 drops of your chosen essential oils, light the
candle underneath and enjoy the aroma as it heats up. You don’t
need to leave it burning for longer than 1 hour. You can also
buy electric or battery operated diffusers to which you can add
a few drops of our chosen oil. Or place a few drops in a ceramic
ring, place on the light bulb of a table lamp, switch on and
enjoy the aroma.
How to make up a massage oil using essential oils: Essential oils will
dissolve in any light, odourless vegetable oil such as sunflower or
grapeseed oil. This is how we make a massage oil which is easily
absorbed by the skin and gives a smooth movement when massaging.
The essential oils add fragrance and their particular therapeutic property.
For children aged 2-10 years, add one drop of essential oil for
each 5ml or large teaspoon of vegetable oil.
For older children and adults, add two to four drops of
essential oil for each 5ml or large teaspoon of vegetable oil.
Note: If you do not wish to apply oil, then a plain unscented
lotion or cream can be used
Most stimulating and
uplifting. They are light
fragrant oils that are
often used for acute
problems and evaporate
Are calming and
stimulating. In other
words – balancing. Usually
the ‘doers’, effecting
physical body, the
Relaxing and grounding,
sedative and relaxing.
Heavy, strong smelling
oils that are often used
for chronic problems
and the slowest to
Lavender - balancing Lemon – can be more invigorating. May
be more irritating for sensitive skin
Roman Chamomile - soothing Mandarin-refreshing
Marjoram – naturally sedative Clary Sage - useful for anxiety and
Frankincense - can promote
deeper breathing Lavender and Geranium - balancing
Ylang Ylang - exotic and cheaper
than jasmine! Neroli/Petitgrain
Sandalwood Orange, Lime
AROMATHERAPY CASE STUDIES
1. Gabby is a tall striking young man with autism. He had been living at
home with his parents while he was at Special School but had then found
the transition from school to Day Centre very difficult and had become
increasingly violent and abusive at home. He started going to the respite
care unit of a hospital for people with learning disabilities to give his
parents a break, but at the time I was invited to work with him he was
living in the unit and only occasionally going home at weekends as his
parents were too frightened to have him at home.
The first time I met Gabby, I offered him three different relaxing
essential oils to smell: Sandalwood which has a woody fragrance,
Mandarin with a fresh citrus smell and Ylang Ylang which is floral. He
loved the smell of Sandalwood so I made it up into a massage oil and also
explained that he could use it in the bath.
I offered him some massage and he rolled up his trouser leg revealing a
scar on his knee. It turned out that he had had an operation on his knee
and had had physiotherapy as a result, so linked the word “massage” with
that experience. I gently massaged his knee and then moved onto his
hands, feet, neck and shoulders. He loved the smell of the oil and relaxed
well with the massage. I kept all other sensory input to a minimum. I
noticed that if I spoke or there was music or other distracting sounds he
became restless, but when he could just focus on the smell of the oil and
his sense of touch, his breathing settled, his body relaxed and he became
He soon came to associate the smell of the Sandalwood with a feeling of
ease. I visited him weekly arriving soon after he returned from the Day
centre. At first he would be pacing up and down, often shouting and
looking very agitated. I would go up to him and give him the bottle of oil
to smell. His face would immediately and visibly relax and he would take
me happily to the room where we did the massage. Once we had
established the connection I gave the staff the Sandalwood essential oil
and Sandalwood massage oil and taught them how to do a simple hand
massage or add a few drops of essential oil to the bath or foot spa. They
started using both regularly and found them to be very effective ways of
supporting Gabby both when he was distressed and as ways for them to
build a more trusting relationship with him.
I invited his parents in and showed them the same techniques. His
mother in particular took to the aromatherapy and when Gabby went
home at weekends she would greet him at the door with the Sandalwood
oil and offer him a hand massage. It helped them all relax and feel safer
together at home.
2. Jackie is a young woman with Dual Sensory Impairment who had lived
for many years on a ward for people with learning disabilities in an
institution in the south part of the country. A place became available for
her at SENSE in the Midlands in a smaller residential unit designed
specially for people with Dual Sensory Impairment.
However as her communication was very limited it was very difficult to
explain to her why she was being moved from a place which was her home,
where she knew the daily routines, could find her way around and felt
safe with the familiar staff. When she arrived at SENSE, she was
extremely distressed, shouting, pushing people away, pulling out her hair
and biting her hands until they bled. I was invited in to see if
Aromatherapy would help to support her at this difficult and transitional
time, and enable her to start to settle into her new home.
I carried out a full assessment with her key worker first to establish if
there were any oils I might need to avoid and any in particular that might
be indicated. The staff suspected that she might also suffer with PMT. I
made up a relaxing blend of essential oils that would also help with her
PMT – Roman Chamomile, Geranium and Lavender and offered her the
blend to smell. She was delighted and smelled the oil deeply. Over the
next few weeks I offered her regular massage which she loved and I
showed the staff how to vapourise essential oils in her room, taught them
simple hand and foot massage and showed them how to put oils in her
bath. They found it all a wonderful way for them to help her settle into
her new home, and bring some balance back into her life. She became less
frightened, the scarring wounds on her hands and forehead healed and
she developed close and strong relationships with her carers.
I worked with her for a couple of years at SENSE offering her regular
full body massage to complement what the staff were able to do. Then
when a new key worker who was committed to supporting her to lead a
more ordinary life took over, Jackie started coming to my own practice
for her regular sessions. I would greet her at the door with the bottle of
oil, her face would light up as she realised where she was and she would
lead me happily up to the therapy room. The key worker would leave her
with me for an hour, she loved her sessions and never went back to self-
injury. When I had to stop working to have my first child, I introduced
Jackie to another aromatherapist who then took over her sessions.
3. Helen is a young woman who tragically lost her new baby through an
undiagnosed condition shortly after her birth. A nurse herself, she found
herself so traumatised by the experience that she was no longer able to
work. Her self-confidence was shattered, she became obsessed with
looking for signs that something was wrong and she found it increasingly
difficult to leave her own home. Suffering panic attacks, unable to sleep
or cope with simple tasks, her doctors recommended medication but she
was very reluctant.
She started having counselling and her counsellor also suggested she see
me for aromatherapy and stress management. She was clearly finding it
difficult to cope with everyday situations, so we spent the first few
sessions practising simple breathing techniques which would help her to
settle if she was either having or likely to have a panic attack. She loved
the smells of Bergamot, Chamomile, Frankincense, Lavender and Ylang
Ylang. Interestingly, though she couldn't tolerate the smell of mandarin
oil, which she had used at the time of her daughter's birth, as it aroused
such distressing memories. She started using synergistic blends of her
favourite oils in a vapouriser or bath before she went to bed and
practised her breathing at night when she woke up in a panic. She often
started the day with a simple breathing meditation which helped to
centre her and often carried her through most of the day. When she
started to go out to the shops she carried a bottle of her favourite
blend to pull out and smell if she felt anxious. Several months later she is
now back at work, has a beautiful organic face cream with lavender and
chamomile added that she uses if she feels her symptoms coming on. She
now feels she has a wonderful array of aromatherapy and breathing
techniques that she can draw on to carry her through. Recently she was
in a meeting and felt the familiar feeling of panic. She told me excitedly
that she shifted in her chair which creaked gently making the same sound
as the massage couch in our therapy room, she was immediately reminded
of that feeling of calm, settled down and stayed for the rest of the
meeting. Simple yet profound.
FOR USE IN HOME AND OFFICE
The first step in the process of dealing with stress is recognising and acknowledging it. For
the person who has never relaxed, it is difficult to know what stress feels like. Today, I am
going to share with you some easy techniques that will show you what stress does not feel
A certain amount of stress is necessary for survival. It’s called being alive. Sometimes our
inner self, the ego, misinterprets a message or is over-burdened, taking us into overdrive.
Excess stress is the result of a self-defence mechanism triggered by reaction to living. You
can use the following exercises to help your body feel safe enough that it will allow you to
relax. Your energy, your vitality, and your mind will be freed to protect and heal you.
We will work with physical exercise, breathing techniques and touch. The following
techniques are not meant to be forced or controlled. Let your body ease into the exercise.
You will notice that most of the workouts are done in a series of three. The first time is to
acquaint you with the movement, the second time is for practice and to gain confidence.
The third time is to allow you to integrate the effect into your subconscious.
Loosen your clothes (for example, a constrictive waistband). Remove any jewellery that
might impede your movement. Take off your shoes.
All movements are to be done slowly, allowing the body to gently stretch rather than forcing
the muscles which can cause discomfort or injury.
Stand up. As you raise your arms above your head, take a deep, slow breath. As you lower
your arms, exhale loudly, blowing all the air out of your body. Repeat this action three
Shake your hands loosely. Now raise your shoulders slowly towards your ears as you inhale.
Lower your shoulders as you exhale. Repeat three times.
Turn your head to the lift and then to the right slowly. Repeat three times.
Now, sit down either in a chair, or in a cross legged position on the floor, whatever is the
most comfortable. Let your arms fall on your lap or let them hang loosely on either side of
Look straight ahead. Holding the head in this position, look up at the ceiling and then down
at the floor three times. Look to the right and then to the left three times. Next rotate the
eyes in a full circle to the left three times and a full circle to the right three times. Allow your
eyes to close naturally.
We will now breathe together. Oxygen is a natural muscle relaxant and pain killer. In a
stressful state, we tend to fall into irregular, shallow breathing patterns. The following
breathing techniques are known as POLARITY BREATHING. These breaths will balance and
calm specific areas of the body. The effect is immediate. Some people are disturbed by the
sensation of relaxation. It is very important that you allow yourself to be comfortable with
your exercises and reassure yourself should you feel some anxiety. With practice, these
feelings, if they occur, will disappear.
Start by taking several, deep abdominal breaths. Allow your waist to expand as you inhale,
and to contract as you exhale….
Start to breathe in through your nose and out through your nose…. Repeat three times.
Feel the relaxation spreading at the base of your spine, as your tailbone connects with the
ground (or chair).
Next breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth…. Repeat three times.
Feel your pelvis relaxing…..
Now breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose…. Repeat three times.
Feel your solar plexus relaxing and expanding…
The next breath is in through your mouth and out through your mouth…. Repeat three
times. Feel your chest relaxing and opening… Feel the warmth spreading around your
The next breath is a subtle, gentle breath… Loosen your jaw and breathe in through your
nose and mouth at the same time… exhale through your nose and mouth at the same time…
Feel your throat and neck relaxing and expanding as your breathing passage opens
completely…. Repeat this breath three times.
Breathe naturally now into your core… Let your body breath for itself and listen to your
breath… open your eyes when you feel ready.
These breathing sequences, fifteen in all, can be done anywhere without attracting
attention. They can be done with the eyes open or closed, on a bus, at your desk, in a public
washroom. When you are feeling tense, take the time to breathe.
We are going to finish up today with an energizing self-massage. In preparation, rub the
palms of both hands together vigorously to bring up the circulation.
Start by massaging the scalp in a circular motion moving the scalp as if you were
shampooing your hair, moving the skin over the scalp.
Clasping the hands together low on the back of your head, use your thumbs to stroke your
neck moving from the sides inward towards the centre of your neck in a downward
movement along the cervical vertebrae.
Using the right hand, starting at the neck, squeeze and knead the left shoulder working
along to the top of your arm. Continue this action down the arm all the way to the wrist.
Stroke the forearm in long downward movements finishing at the wrist.
Massage the top of the hand, then the palm and gently stretch each finger. Finish by shaking
the hand loosely.
Repeat this on the right side using the left hand.
Perform percussion (tapping) on your chest. The image is one of Tarzan beating his chest
gently. Feel free to make noises if this is convenient.
Next, to stimulate the digestive tract, do percussion on the lower abdomen starting on the
lower right-hand side (the appendix) moving upward to the waist. Move horizontally across
to the left-hand side and down the left-hand side. Complete the circuit by coming
horizontally across the lower abdomen to the starting point. Repeat this as often as you feel
Bending forward, do percussion down the back on either side of the spine starting as high
up as is comfortable and working down over the buttocks.
Now, it is time to work on the legs. Work one leg at a time including the feet.
Starting at the top of the leg at the hip crease, squeeze and knead the leg all the way down
to the ankle.
Using the fingertips, massage the flesh around the ankles in circular movements, rubbing
Place the hands in either side of the foot with the thumbs in the top of the foot near the
crease. Work down towards the toes alternating thumbs in a long, stroking movement
between the bones, spreading the tendons. This may be painful at first! Pull each toe gently
and rub between the toes.
Massage the bottom of the foot completely working first the heel, then the instep, and then
the ball of the foot. Do not forget the sides of the foot.
Fold the toes upward and then downwards, comfortably coordinating the upward
movement with an inhalation and the downward stretch with an exhalation. Repeat three
Grasp the foot firmly by the ankle with one hand so that the rest of the foot is hanging
loosely. Use the other hand to rotate the foot in a counter-clockwise circle three times and
in a clockwise direction three times.
Holding the foot by the ankle, shake the foot gently (much as you would the head of a
chicken if you were holding it by the neck).
Repeat all of these movements with the other leg and foot.
Stand up. Raise your arms above your head as you inhale and stretch. As you exhale, rise up
on your toes keeping yourself centred. As you complete the exhalation, force the last bit of
breathy out and bring your arms down quickly. Repeat this three times.
The last movement is known as “windmills” because your upper torso and arms move like
the arms of a windmill or propeller. Start by bringing your arms above your head as you
inhale. Bending from the waist, exhale as you sweep both arms to the right in a circular
movement. Inhale as you come up on the left. Repeat this two more times to the right and
then change directions, repeating for a total of three times to the left. Finish by staying
down on the third rotation. With the upper body hanging loosely continue to take three
deep inhalations. On the third exhalation come up slowly, unrolling the spine an inch at a
time until you are upright.
How do you feel now?