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Massage Today
January, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 01

Subtle Aromatherapy

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT

Even when a client's physiological state is the primary focus, it's important to take into account their life circumstances and current emotional state when making an aromatherapy blend. This approach includes awareness of subtle aromatherapy, one of the aspects that makes aromatherapy an art as well as a science. The practice is called the individual prescription, championed by French aromatherapist Marguerite Maury. The understanding is that the most effective treatment in the moment cannot be achieved by using a pre-blended, one-size-fits-all mix of essences labeled "relaxing," "pain relief," etc. The foundation of this system comes from the fact that each essential oil, along with physiological properties (such as analgesic, antimicrobial, detoxifying, sedative or stimulating) also has application for very specific life issues.

For example, chamomile is an anti-inflammatory that can be used to relieve gastritis, dermatitis, acute arthritis, muscle sprains, strains and so on. But we also may call on chamomile to treat the inflamed emotional state called anger, both expressed and repressed with signs of depression, irritability, anxiety and insomnia. (Contemplate the potential for repressed anger to generate the clenched jaw and chamomile could well be a specific ally for TMJ clients.) Geranium is another essential oil with analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It also promotes circulation and balances the female hormonal system with a specific therapeutic affect on the type of anxiety and depression which afflicts the Type A or workaholic personality. Anti-inflammatory, analgesic lemongrass is especially helpful where there is nervous exhaustion, mental fatigue and lack of concentration.

Allow subtle aromatherapy to create the individual treatment blend; that is, the "relaxing" blend for an older woman going through a difficult divorce will differ from one of a younger woman about to interview for a new job. The first would address potential issues of loss, rejection, low self-image,and anger. It might include rose or another of the floral notes along with lavender, chamomile or even the intoxicant clary sage to loosen the grip the mind has on the issue. The second blend would focus on mental clarity and uplifting encouragement, and veer away from sedatives that could interfere with performance. Citrus oils would come into play here along with a grounding essence like sandalwood or vetiver, and might include the flower jasmine for the capable career woman. All these oils have relaxing, anti-anxiety effects but the specifics make the important difference.

The same approach clearly reveals how a blend for back pain would differ for the client recovering from a recent car accident as compared to one who wants relief from a chronic condition before playing a sport. The first needs a pain-relieving essence specific for inflammation and spasm but also shock, anger and trauma. The second client needs pain relief that also provides circulation, stimulation and strengthening effects. Paying attention to these details will result in a truly effective therapeutic experience.

The intake form should include questions that will help pinpoint the individual circumstances. Ask what the client hopes to achieve through the aromatherapy massage and communicate: If you seek relaxation or stress relief to help choose the right essences for your needs, please indicate what you feel is the cause of your tension. Leave room for them to fill in the pertinent details. If they don't indicate anything here, dialogue with the client before making the blend can quickly reveal the life experience that creates their need to relax or what specific area of life holds stress for them.

Helpful Resources

A full understanding of the subtle properties of essential oils can be found in the following books: Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, by Gabriel Mojay; Subtle Aromatherapy, by Patricia Davis and The Fragrant Heavens, by Valerie Worwood. Other books might list the subtle qualities along with the physiological.

As always, the nose (and the limbic region of the brain) makes the final judgment, so smell the essence before adding it to the blend. Read more about blending, specific essential oils and safety issues by searching previous articles on

Click here for previous articles by Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT.


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