My life’s been hectic recently. Health visitor training is a full time job, and the essay deadlines have been coming thick and fast. In between seeing clients and revising for a prescribing exam, I’ve been filling every spare moment with preparing to launch my Gentle Yoga workshops.
And then there’s the little matter of my family. Seven children and a husband take up plenty of energy, both physical and emotional. There have definitely been moments when it has all felt a bit much. Sounds familiar?
So … I’ve been using all the stress-management strategies I know. Daily yoga and meditation, journalling, spending time in nature, prayer, chilling with friends, creative stuff … the list goes on. All these things make a real difference when life starts to feel a bit overwhelming. But right now I’m going to focus on how surprisingly effective aromatherapy has been at helping me cope.
It actually works!
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising. But I must admit, before I went on an aromatherapy training course a couple of months ago, I was vaguely under the impression that it was just about nice smells. All a bit warm and fuzzy, but unlikely to make much real difference. I’m scientifically trained, so I like to see some hard evidence before I commit to something. I like to understand how and why things work.
The course, taught by an aromatherapist and a midwife, convinced me that essential oils can have a real and measurable impact on our bodies and minds. In fact it makes perfect sense really. Molecules are absorbed through the skin and olefactory passages and directly affect the brain and metabolism. There is an impressive and growing body of hard scientific evidence to prove it.
Memories and smells
One fascinating fact is that the amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for strong emotional memories – is also where our sense of smell resides. That explains why a whiff of roses or the odour of an unaired room can be so incredibly evocative. Sometimes we can’t put a name to a smell, but it transports is instantly to a time and place many years ago. All those memories – happy, angry or carefree – are immediately reawakened by a few molecules wafting up our nostrils. It’s powerful stuff.
Into the bloodstream
The biochemically active elements in essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream and interact with the metabolism of the organs, nervous system and brain. This happens (to varying extents) whether essential oils are inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Because of the potent qualities of many aromatherapy oils, they should never be eaten or drunk, and only a few oils can safely be used undiluted on the skin. It’s a lot more than just a nice smell. Essential oils will alter your body chemistry. Treat them with respect.
Ever since the aromatherapy course, I’ve been starting each day with a couple of drops of lavender essential oil on a facecloth in my shower. It feels really relaxing and luxurious – like a mini spa treat every morning. Lavender has cleansing and calming properties, and it helps me begin the day feeling positive and balanced. I’ve found it very helpful- especially on days I know are going to be challenging.
Ouch – that burns!
Ever burned your hand with steam from the kettle? Painful, isn’t it? The last time I did it, it seriously hurt. Cold running water, ice, aloe vera gel …. nothing seemed to get rid of the pain. In desperation I googled what to do for burns, and came up with lavender essential oil. I had some in the house, and I knew it’s one of the few oils than can safely be applied to skin undiluted. So I used a couple of drops of lavender oil on my burn, repeating every 15 or 20 minutes, and within an hour all the pain had vanished. My hand healed really fast too, with no blistering or scarring.
Now I always keep a bottle of lavender essential oil in the kitchen drawer with the first aid kit. Wouldn’t be without it! It turns out that lavender has antimicrobial, pain-relieving and anti-aging properties, and can even help prevent some skin cancers*.
Rosemary for remembrance
“Rosemary for remembrance” is a quote from Shakespeare. For hundreds of years, people have known that this aromatic herb helps with focus and concentration. I tested this out while revising for my recent exam. I put a few drops of rosemary essential oil on a cotton wool pad and kept this in a screw top jar. Every time I sat down to revise, or when I felt my focus flagging, I would open the jar, stick my nose in and inhale a big whiff of rosemary. I took a tissue with more rosemary oil on it into the actual exam. Well – it’s not cheating, is it?! This isn’t a scientific trial, but I’m happy to report I passed the exam with a very pleasing grade. Plus, the rosemary oil made the whole experience quite a bit more pleasant.
Mandarin makes me smile
😊Mandarin is reputedly a cheerful oil. It certainly makes me think of a sunny day. I’ve got another jam jar with mandarin oil on a cotton wool pad. I sniff that one if I’m feeling a bit low or weary, maybe after a long day at work. It doesn’t change my outward circumstances, but it definitely lifts my mood. It’s really hard to smell mandarin oil and not smile!
Gentle Yoga workshops – with frankincense and more
I’ve been planning the Gentle Yoga workshops for this summer. Each one will be a deeply relaxing multi-sensory experience. I was really keen to include aromatherapy, so every class will feature a different essential oil. At the first session we’ll be enjoying frankincense oil, which promotes deep breathing, inner calm and healing. I’m keeping the oils for the other classes a secret for now. Come along and find out!
A fascinating art and science
Aromatherapy is a complex and fascinating art and science. I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface, but I have been loving discovering how these wonderful essential oils can help me cope better with daily life. Definitely more than just nice smells!
Karen is a yoga teacher and mum of seven, with a background in midwifery and health visiting. She will be teaching Gentle Yoga workshops in Stock, Essex this summer, and pregnancy and postnatal yoga from October 2018. To find out more visit www.thecalmspace.co.uk.
Karen is also a consultant for Neals Yard Remedies. You can order high quality essential oils and other aromatherapy and skincare products at https://uk.nyrorganic.com/shop/karenlawrence.