2018 marks my 15th anniversary of qualifying as a professional Aromatherapist. Like any anniversary, it tends to make one reflective and take stock. For me, plants and essential oils were a part of my life for many years before I studied for my Diploma in Aromatherapy and Essential Oil Science with Neal’s Yard Remedies. I am often asked by clients what made me become a massage therapist and the answer is in part that I was fascinated by Aromatherapy and natural medicine. Before I trained formally to work professionally with essential oils, I had been qualified in massage and giving treatments for some time so it was a natural progression for me to further enhance my work by adding the therapeutic effects of oils, it added another dimension to my work.
My interest in essential oils began in my teens. I have always been fascinated by the natural world and in particular the plant kingdom. I still spend my free time reading books on the uses of plants in Herbalism and Aromatherapy. I have always been curious to learn as much as I can about the medicinal properties and folk lore surrounding not only rare exotic sounding plants but also the plants and trees that grow in our gardens which, we often take for granted. I believe that nature provides a rich and effective pharmacy if you know how and where to look!
I always consider myself lucky to have studied in the UK and overseas. Being able to spend time studying in the perfume region of France working with and alongside an experienced Naturopath and essential oil producer, I had the rare opportunity to learn first-hand from their experience of working with plants and essential oils. I use this experience to benefit my clients in treatments.
Upon my return from France and once qualified, I went on to write and deliver workshops and training for Neal’s Yard Remedies alongside my good friend and author Karen Gilbert, who later set up and now runs a very successful business teaching the art of natural perfumery alongside her series of best-selling books including “Perfume – The Art & Craft of Fragrance”, I highly recommend her work for those interested in natural fragrance!
But I digress. Over the last 15-years, I have studied and learned so much from working daily with my clients and by using essential oils to help them that I am often temped to write a book myself! I am sure that day will come but in the meantime, I thought about how I could best celebrate my anniversary and share my passion for Aromatherapy, a special and unique form of plant medicine, with all of you. This lead me to put together a special series which I am calling Aromatherapy Signature Treatments.
These treatments are a combination of nearly 20-years of experience as a massage and complementary therapist. I am fusing together some of my favourite massage techniques with a selection of special blends using some of my favourite essential oils.
This unique 2-hour massage treatment, begins with a long relaxing massage of the back of the body, using your choice of one of the oil combinations mentioned below. Upon turning, the focus then moves to the head face neck and shoulders for a lovely soothing and indulgent massage, giving you the chance to really breathe in and become enveloped in the rich combinations of the essential oils. Once I have you floating in a haze of evocative scents, I travel down the body slowly massaging the arms and hands before the legs and finally a therapeutic reflexology foot massage to help release any tension and stress. I have designed the treatment to be a complete and relaxing full body massage experience giving you the chance to unwind and drift away in to another world. The only thing you will have to think about is which blend of oils you would like to explore.
I spent a long time considering which oils would complement this treatment. I initially thought that I would focus on just two precious oils, Rose and Sandalwood but I quickly realised that this just wasn’t possible. There were just too many oils jumping up and down in my head screaming “but what about me!” So, after careful consideration, I settled on making complex blends based upon five of my favourite oils. Whichever blend you choose, I look forward to sharing them with you and I hope that you will enjoy them as much as I do.
The ancient Egyptians prized Frankincense and would pay traders handsomely for it in gold and precious stones. It was burned as an incense in temples to worship the gods as well as being used in health and beauty preparations. Where it was of most value though was during the embalming process. The mummies of ancient kings and queens were treated with a range of botanicals to help ensure their preservation as well as to prepare their spirits for their final journey to the afterlife. In modern times, Frankincense has long been a key ingredient in expensive skin creams. Known for its cell regenerative and anti-aging properties, this delightful tree gives us many different variations of its oil. In Ayurveda, Indian Frankincense (Boswellia serrata) is known as Shallaki and has a strong scent similar to black pepper. This potent form of Frankincense has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is often used to treat muscle and joint pain. The oils derived from the desert regions of the middle east tell a very different story and their fragrance varies greatly. You never quite know how an oil will smell once it has been distilled from the resinous tears of dried sap on the outer trunk of the trees. Royal Green Hojari, the most precious grade of Frankincense resin can still fetch high prices and has a rich green tinge. It can be distilled to make the most delicate of oils with a light slightly citrus resinous fragrance.
Frankincense is my personal favourite of all of the essential oils. It calms and settles the mind, softens and deepens the breathing and allows one to easily enter a deeply relaxed state similar to that of meditation. If you need to switch off and dream, Frankincense is the oil for you!
I don’t think any aromatherapist could work without Lavender, it is quite simply the most “essential” oil in our repertoire. With so many documented therapeutic benefits, Lavender is something of a chameleon. In small amounts, it has a soothing soporific effect which most of us are familiar with and yet use more and it becomes invigorating and stimulating. The best Lavender oil comes from plants grown at high altitude in France and where the plant is grown will have a definite effect on the scent and composition of the oil. One of the most fascinating things for an aromatherapist is to have the opportunity to sample several different lavender oils and to witness just how different they really are. Some lavenders are strong and intensely floral, others are mild and soft, some are rich and herbaceous and some are green and rather woody in their character.
For this combination, I am using a carefully blended mix of several types of lavender oil including a couple of the lesser known varieties, to create a rich evocative and uniquely therapeutic and relaxing blend of oils that will transport your mind to a warm sunny afternoon in the French countryside.
A while back a friend asked me if I knew how to make Eau do Cologne. Naturally, I said yes. I did know in theory but it had been many years since I had tried. I dug out some of my notebooks alongside some favourite old books on perfumery and set to work coming up with my own blend. Neroli, orange blossom, is commonly used in many classic colognes such as Aqua di Parma and there are many variations. Of course, the actual blends are closely guarded secrets but the majority will use Neroli at the heart of their fragrance. Neroli is a truly delightful oil, light and fresh with a delicate floral tone it has long been used as a key ingredient in skin creams and lotions for its skin soothing properties. It is one of those oils which is uplifting and sunny and helps one to feel more hopeful during times of stress or transition. Neroli Eau de Cologne is the most complex of the blends in this series. Based on classic perfumery it contains top middle and base notes to bring out an intricate yet therapeutic scent, it is blended and left to mature for at least 2-weeks before it can be added to base oils for massage. A delicate and intriguing treat that has a truly fresh and unisex quality making it suitable for both men and women, this combination of oils will leave you smelling of a delightful and curious perfume for the rest of the day and is sure to have people asking where your perfume came from.
Rose, known as “the queen of flowers” is perhaps the most complex of all of the oils currently known. Rose essential oil contains more than 300 chemicals in its compound making it rich complex and diverse. Like all oils, it will vary greatly depending on where and how it is grown. Think how many times you have smelled roses in a garden and how different the blooms can seem!
The finest quality rose oil comes from Bulgaria and fetches a deservedly high price for its rich scent. Known as Rose Otto, this most valuable rose has a strong sweet fragrance which will make you think of that curious first taste of Turkish delight.
Rose oil has a variety of therapeutic benefits, it is cooling and soothing to our systems and especially useful to treat heated skin conditions. It calms the senses and eases the ache of a broken heart. Rich and sensual, yet kind and caring rose oil is most often seen as a women’s oil as it is linked to regulating menstruation and balancing hormonal changes yet many men love the smell of roses and in treatment, I have found that the delicate touch of rose can settle and relax even the busiest of minds.
Close your eyes and imagine travelling to India. To wandering at night in a walled garden full of flowers and birds, the warm sultry night air caressing your skin and that sweet rich smell of incense on the breeze. Familiar yet elusive, you recognise it but can’t quite place it. Like Cedar wood but softer, sweeter and less harsh. This is the magic of Sandalwood. One of my true favourite oils and becoming harder to source as true “Agmark Sealed” Sandalwood Mysore from India is becoming scarce. Many therapists are resorting to oils such as Amyris, also known as West Indian Sandalwood. This oil is not at all related to true Sandalwood, “Santalum album”, and does not share its therapeutic benefits. Smell the two oils together and you will know immediately which is the real thing! Thankfully, there are more sustainable alternatives such as the Sandalwood oils being produced in Australia and yet, it’s scent is not as superior as the true Mysore Sandalwood from India. I am lucky to have a trusted supply of guaranteed “Agmark” oil which has been certified by the Indian government and I use it as the key note in this sultry sensual blend. Thankfully, a little sandalwood can go a long way but once it’s gone it may well be the last I am able to obtain at a reasonable price so enjoy it while you can.
Steve Mason is an Acupuncturist, Professional Massage Therapist and Therapeutic Yoga Teacher with more than 15-years Experience. Appointments are available 5-days a week Tuesday-Saturday. You can read more about him here.
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