After a severe allergic reaction during a trip to India, an Indian doctor treated me with aromatherapy. For over two hours he applied essential oils, which seemed at the time, completely far-fetched. The treatment was labor-intensive, appeared imprecise and low tech. But the treatment worked. The doctor explained that essential oils are multi-dimensional, filled with homeostatic intelligence that works to restore the body to a state of healthy balance. When body conditions change, oils adapt, raising or lowering blood pressure as needed, stimulating or repressing enzyme activity as needed, energizing or relaxing as needed. “Oils possess an intelligence that we can’t comprehend,” he said. “Nature does not need to read a text book.”
Rene’ Gattefosse’, a French chemist, coined aromatherapy over a hundred years ago. He worked with volatile plant essential oils, developing fragrances for the perfume industry, until one day he had an explosion in his lab and was badly burned. He plunged his arm into the nearest vat of liquid, which happened to be lavender. To his amazement, the pain stopped immediately, and no blistering or scarring occurred. As a result, he changed his focus completely to the medicinal effects of these oils.
Alchemists labeled aromatic plant oils as essential because they believed that the fragrances reflected the plant’s true inner nature. Throughout history, the oils have been used for healing and are still key elements of many of the world’s non-Western healing traditions.
The difference between aromatherapy and essential oils is the application and intent. You cannot have aromatherapy without essential oils, but you can have essential oils without it being aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils with the goal of causing a positive change physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.
Utilizing the wisdom of plants and trees medicinally pre-dates written history. Early man, as a hunter-gatherer, must have sampled different plants to find out if they were edible and if so, what effects the plants had on the body. He would have learned quickly that some herbs bring on stupor, some enliven, others purge and of course, many nourish the body. A deep understanding and connection would have been formed between man and plant. As anyone who has lived close to the land soon learns, plants have a spirit of their own and can commune their intent if one is open enough to listen to their energetic frequency. In early times, man probably had a much keener awareness of his environment and worked more closely with the rhythms and vibrations of the earth. His sense of smell would be more honed, the odor entering the brain allowing him to intuit the efficacy of the plant by tuning into its vibration and sensing whether it would be a healthy fit for his body.
After a full recovery from my allergic reaction it occurred to me that our medical practices are in many ways a product of our culture. Western medicine sees the mind and body as two different entities. Eastern traditions see the mind and body as coming from the same energy source. In the West this disconnect between the mind and body has directed the clinical evolution of Western Medicine and also affected how patients are perceived and are treated.
I have a deep respect for Western medicine but for over a decade I have been embracing holistic healthcare and natural medicine. In a recent conversation with my husband, an orthopedic surgeon, I told him I was going to Santa Fe to study to get my aromatherapy license which will take me about a year, but after that I would be able to heal people through the utilization of aromatherapy.
He said, “Wow, why did I go to Stanford for four years and major in biology then get a masters in biology from Stanford, then four years of medical school, and another five years in residency, I could have just studied in Santa Fe for a year.”
I replied, “Sucker.”