Elevate Your Massage (or Day) with Essential Oils

June 1, 2012
Bottom Line's High Energy for Life
Joseph Feuerstein, MD

Close your eyes and imagine a pair of strong, skilled hands gently but surely massaging away the crick in your neck or the tight band across your shoulders. Nice, right? But don’t stop there—this experience is even better when it’s combined with an essential oil that lifts your mood, energizes you or calms you down, based on what you need.

You can almost “dial in” your mood in 10 seconds or so based on the oil that you choose, because the scents imparted by aromatic essential oils have a direct impact on our brains. Joseph Feuerstein, MD, director of integrative medicine at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut, often uses such aromatherapy in his practice, and he recommends it with massage.

He says that aromatherapy massage is especially effective because you not only inhale the scent (which directly affects the part of the brain that controls memory, emotion and moods), but you also absorb the oil through your skin, which means you benefit from its healing properties as well, whether it’s reducing inflammation or stimulating circulation. Here are some essential oils to choose from based on the mood you want…

To Feel Happier. If you could use a mood lift, try a massage with patchouli oil or lavandin oil, which is from a hybrid plant created by crossing true lavender with another variety called spike lavender. Lavandin oil has more powerful antiseptic properties and a sharper aroma than true lavender. Patchouli and lavandin oils are anti-inflammatory.

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To Get an Energy Boost. Rosemary and peppermint are two essential oils that are stimulating and have been shown to have cognitive benefits, enhancing memory, concentration and focus. They also boost circulation, revving you up from the inside out!

To Reduce Anxiety and Feel Calmer. Whether you are in the midst of a stressful period in your life or you just need to relax at the end of a long day, you can use citrus-based essential oils to calm down and enhance relaxation. Examples include lemon balm, mandarin and petitgrain, which is produced from leaves and twigs of Citrus aurantium, the same plant that gives us bitter orange and orange blossom oils. Chamomile oil also is calming. Used in massage, these oils help muscles relax.

Since essential oils are strong concentrations distilled from the leaves, bark, roots and other aromatic portions of a plant, they should not be applied directly to the skin. Instead, you must dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil—and then apply the combination to the area to be massaged. Carrier oils are pressed from seeds, nuts or kernels of plants, producing a fatty oil that does not evaporate. Commonly used carrier oils include sweet almond and jojoba. These oils may have a mild aroma, so do a test with a small amount of both the essential oil and carrier oil to make sure the blend is pleasing to you. To combine the essential oil with the carrier oil for massage, you’ll need five drops of the essential oil and five teaspoons of the carrier oil.

While some spas offer their own menus of luxurious aromatherapy treatments, the truth is that the right essential oil can transform any massage into aromatherapy treatment. An idea: Bring your own essential oil/carrier oil combination to your next massage for the masseuse to use.

Note that essential oils used for massage differ from so-called massage oils. Massage oils are designed to lubricate the skin during massage. They don’t necessarily provide the aromatherapy benefits of essential oils.

Essential oils and carrier oils are available online and at health-food stores. Essential oils vary in price from about $6 to $12 for a 0.5 ounce bottle.