Retreats are a vital part of healthy recovery and overall wellness. They come in all shapes and sizes; with varied costs, time commitments, and focus. Taking time for a retreat encourages rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Integrating a mini-retreat into your daily self-care routine is a simple way to manage stress and enhance your overall wellness.
Aromatherapy is an effective and accessible wellness tool that can be easily incorporated into your lifestyle. So let’s explore aromatherapy, essential oils and how they work, and how you can start to use them right away to take that much needed retreat.
What is Aromatherapy?
The Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) defines aromatherapy as “the inhalation and topical application of true, authentic essential oils from aromatic plants to restore or enhance health, beauty, and well-being.”
There are a variety of ways to use essential oils. The most common are through inhalation or applying them to the skin.
With the guidance of qualified aromatherapy practitioners, essential oils are used in integrative medicine for symptom management for stress, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, trauma, pain, and also addiction. The next time you go to your hospital or clinic, ask what aromatherapy options may be available to you.
How Does Aromatherapy Work?
For thousands of years, humans have been using natural plant materials for medicine, spiritual and cultural rituals, beauty treatments, and perfumery. It has been said that a human’s sense of smell is the strongest of the five senses. The olfactory system is a direct link to areas in the brain that regulate the body’s reactions to stress, as well as emotion and memory.
Think back to a positive memory, perhaps even of a retreat, or a vacation. Imagine yourself in that place. What do you see? What do you hear? Are you touching anything? How about taste? Now, what do you smell? When you encounter that smell again in a different environment, does it take you back to that fond memory?
Aroma and olfactory experiences differ between individuals. It is important to know that, what works for one person, may not necessarily be effective for the next. Different memories and emotions can be attached to distinct aromas, and this can result in either pleasant or unpleasant responses.
This is particularly true when it comes to aromatherapy and using essential oils. A good example of this would be with Cedarwood, Atlas (Cedrus atlantica). One person may smell it and immediately think “It reeks like cat pee! My old cat used to pee all over the house. I hated that cat!” Another person may smell it and say, “I love it! It reminds me of my favorite vacation when I spent time hiking in a forest.” Two very different responses to the same essential oil!
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils come from aromatic plant material such as: bark, roots, rinds, leaves, buds, seeds, flowers, and needles. They are extracted from plants by either steam distillation or expression (cold pressing). Each essential oil has its own special make up based on its chemical constituents, therapeutic properties, and aroma profile.
The results of human and animal research studies support various therapeutic properties of essential oils. Some are known to be more calming or sedative, while others are known to have more uplifting or stimulating qualities.
Essential Oils for Your Mini-Retreat
Essential oils can overlap in some of their chemistry and therapeutic properties. What this means is that if you don’t like lavender (or, you’re one of the people that finds it stimulating instead of calming), you could try frankincense instead.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the celebrity of essential oils. It is usually the gateway into the world of aromatherapy. Commonly used for calming and relaxation, it is versatile and generally safe to use. It has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, and pain perception. Its aroma can vary depending on the variety you purchase, but overall, it has a lovely fresh, herbaceous, and floral aroma.
- Orange, Sweet (Citrus sinensis) essential oil is made by expressing the rind of the fruit. It has been shown to uplift mood, decrease anxiety, and aid in stress management. If you’re looking for an oil that is both cheerful and upbeat, this may be the one to start with. Its aroma is light, refreshing, citrusy, and sweet. It is one of the few citrus essential oils that is not considered phototoxic and it is generally safe to use.
- Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioids) is distilled from the roots of a grass. It has a deep, heavy, rich, earthy, and smoky aroma. Anecdotally, it is known for grounding and centering, just as the roots are to the plant. Some people enjoy blending it with other essential oils to help balance it out. A little goes a long way.
- Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) comes from distilling a tree resin. The resin itself can be burned as incense. Throughout history, frankincense has been incorporated into spiritual practices by various religious groups. The chemistry of frankincense supports its calming and relaxing effects. It has a woody, fresh, earthy, and slightly spicy aroma.
Additional essential oils that could be used for a mini-retreat include citrus oils like grapefruit, lemon, and mandarin. Other pleasant additions could include sweet marjoram, rose, patchouli, ylang ylang, and petitgrain. There are many different essential oils that are available for you to explore.
Mini-Retreat with Aromatherapy
Taking time out for yourself doesn’t have to be an elaborate and time consuming process. A mini-retreat with essential oils can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. Think about incorporating the essential oils with other self-care practices that you already use such as meditation, stretching, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation. Essential oils can enhance the benefits and boost your overall wellness.
The quickest and most convenient way to experience the effects of your essential oils is by breathing them in through your nasal passages. This method is considered the most effective for managing stress and enhancing overall emotional wellness. Options for inhalation can include using an aromastick, cotton ball, tissue paper, aroma jewelry, and diffusing.
For your mini-retreat, try any combination of the four essential oils — lavender, sweet orange, vetiver, and frankincense. Enjoy connecting with the essential oils and the various combinations of the aromas when you blend them together.
To ensure that you are the only one that is inhaling the aroma, use a more contained method, such as jewelry, or an aromastick (also called an inhaler). There are a few local Twin Cities based aromatherapy companies that sell pre-made aromasticks. You can find affordable and fun aromatherapy jewelry online. Another option is to take an aromatherapy class and learn how to make your own personalized aromastick or aromatherapy jewelry. Another great idea for a mini-retreat!
Other aromatherapy mini-retreat ideas
- Place one to two drops on a cotton ball or tissue. Close your eyes and breathe in as you connect with the aroma and also your higher power. You can also leave the cotton ball or tissue in a small glass bowl to allow the aroma to fill a space around you. Proceed with some additional deep breathing, stretching, or other calming activities that you enjoy.
- Drop one to two drops on a wooden clothes pin (or a diffusing car vent clip), and place that in the vent of your car. Breathe in the aroma to reduce your stress level during traffic. Turn on some relaxing music to enhance feelings of peace and calm.
- Dilute one drop of essential oil in a teaspoon of carrier oil or lotion. Rub onto your back, shoulders, and back of the neck to reduce tension. As you connect with your higher power, breathe in the aroma, and imagine all of the muscles in your body relaxing.
If you have more time available for a longer respite, you can incorporate other ways to use essential oils such as an aromatic bath, using them in a diffuser, or getting a massage.
Additional safety information: be mindful of medical history, allergies, medications, pregnancy, age, application method, dilution, knowledge of the particular oil, and phototoxicity. If you begin to have an adverse reaction, stop using the essential oils immediately and seek medical attention. The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consulting with your medical professionals, and a qualified aromatherapist, prior to using essential oils can help ensure that you have a safe and positive experience.
References and resources:
Authentic Aromatherapy by Sharon Falsetto
The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness by Nerys Purchon and Lora Cantele
The Heart of Aromatherapy: An Easy-to-Use Guide for Essential Oils by Andrea Butje
Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals (2nd ed.) by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young