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One of the most alluring aspects of this natural health boon is aromatherapy. Beauty salons offer aromatherapy head massages. Cosmetic counters hype skin care and body oils extolling the benefits of "aromatherapy." Massages include "aromatherapy treatments." Even car washes offer "Aromatherapy for your car," though presumably facetiously. With its prevalence and the term bandied about as it is, what's the truth about aromatherapy? Is it effective? Or is it just an empty catch-phrase?
"A pretty smell does not aromatherapy make," Tom Begley of Omaha reminds us. Begley is a certified aromatherapist. "There are three basic levels of oils or essences and only two can be considered therapeutic." "Remember, aromatherapy is based on the essential oils and that means they should be produced in such a manner as to preserve the essential qualities," Begley said.
The lowest level of essences is used to manufacture "pretty smells." These would include fragrances and perfumes. Nice to smell but not really therapeutic in nature. Unfortunately, some people purchase oils that are actually only good for fragrance purposes and expect them to be therapeutic.
"A second grade of essence is actually aromatherapy level - there are some therapeutic uses but still not pharmaceutical quality," said Begley. "But the highest, grade three, is grown, picked and processed only for therapeutic use; organic, ethically produced, handled and distilled specifically for therapy use."
Begley is certified by the Fairfield, Ia.-based Amrita Institute of Aromatherapy, Education and Research. Amrita is a Sanskrit word meaning "ambrosia or divine nectar." Students of Tantra may recognize that it is also the word used to describe the most essential female essence. There are four levels of certification and they cover elemental science, application and blending.
Angela Howard, B.S.N. is also an Omaha aromatherapist and is a certified Deepak Chopra Mind/Body health educator. She agrees that education in the use of aromatherapy is ... essential.
"I use essences blended using recipes that date to the Egyptian temples," said Howard. "Dr. Gary Young is an aromacologist and naturopathic physician who produces these oils. The Dead Sea scrolls include a 150 foot medicinal scroll that details treatments for everything from heart disease and diabetes to immune system. A major part is aromatherapy."
Research is currently showing promise in the use of aromatherapy for such diverse ailments as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and chronic pain. Anecdotal evidence supports the use of essential oils for a number of emotional and physical dis-eases. French physician Jean Valnet treated hundreds of cases of battlefield injuries with aromatherapy during WW II and wrote about it in his classic, Aromatherapié, now available in English. The jury is still out on whether aromatherapy will help your car at the car wash.
But, kidding aside, it seems the essential truth is that Gertrude Stein was wrong. "A rose, is a rose, is a rose," is not the case when it comes to essential oils. Some are better, some are just a pretty smell.
Michael is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.
Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.