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Using Aromatherapy for Mild-To-Moderate Depression

Jul 11, 2008
The miraculous relationship between plants and their environment is continuously unfolding. These organic, colorful entities are ceaselessly participate in a magical process, in a dance with water, earth, air and sunlight. The nearly immeasurable possible combinations of plant genes and environmental conditions have allowed for incredible diversity in floral expression, resulting in a vast array of natural botanical materials. These include gourmet fruits and vegetables, complex spices, medicinal herbs, natural perfumes and therapeutic essential oils. Man continues to explore further into the jungles and rainforests, knowing mother nature is the true master of creation.

The distinction in plants between food and medicine is blurred at best. Researchers regularly report new medicinal properties in plants once considered salad fixings, or even just weeds. Fruits and berries once thought supremely plain nourish us with some of the world's most potent anti cancer agents. The same goes for common teas and spices; green tea is arguably the most effective anti oxidants known. The Indian spice Turmeric has fantastic anti-inflammatory properties...and this list continues to grow. This lack of distinction also exists between natural fragrances and therapeutic essential oils. The oil of Lavender flowers, rich in ketones, does triple duty as a perfume, an effective anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agent, and calming aromatic that can help ease tension and allow restful sleep.

The use of so-called 'alternative' therapies is on the rise; more individuals are turning to the wisdom of nature for assistance for all types of ailments, both physical and psychological. Interestingly, the source of most ills, from a naturopathic point of view, is being out-of-balance with nature. Eating unnatural things, following unnatural cycles,and living in unnatural environments. Lack of balance with the earth, from which we are made and upon which we live, leads to 'dis-ease' in our bodies and minds. As plants have created their wondrous botanical materials in a process guided by the rhythms of the heavens and earth, we may look to 'plant wisdom' to lead our way back into balance.

A depressed mental state is a common reasons for seeking treatment through alternative therapies. A wide range of psychological and physical issues can result in feelings of depression and an outlook of negativity. Further, once in this state, patterns can persist that make relief much more difficult to come by. Many natural healers believe depression to be a result of, like many other ills, of being out of balance; being unable to 'sync up' with the natural state of harmony that permeates the universe. Using the concentrated aromatic oils of plants for uplifting one's mental state is truly mainstream in some parts of the world due to essential oils' significant positive effects. Aromatherapy itself may or may not directly affect the underlying cause of depression, but it may provide just enough support so that the depressive cycles can be broken.

Our olfactory region is located in each of the two nasal cavities between and below the eye sockets. Containing nearly fifty million primary sensory receptor cells, this part of the nervous system is highly intricate, being ten thousand times more sensitive than the sense of taste. We find that olfaction is more complex than the sense of sight as well - it is able to distinguish a nearly infinite number of aromatic molecules at very low concentrations. Visible light is sensed using only three types of receptors, whereas the sense of smell relies on several hundred distinct classes of sensors.

Modern research has shown natural plant oils stimulate multiple regions in the brain, including those controlling endocrine, immune, and limbic (emotional center) functions. Essential oils have a direct and profound effect on the deepest levels of the body, emotions, and psyche. Through inhalation, essential oils have a strong and immediate influence. Passing through the capillary beds of the sinuses and activating the olfactory nerves, volatile plant oils enter the brain, producing direct and powerful systemic effects - the most immediate being on the emotions. Our emotions and our sense of smell have very strong ties - perhaps more than with any other of the other four senses.

In both Naturopathy and Ayurvedic Medicine (The Science of Life), essential oils are considered to enhance the flow of prana (essential life force), enhance and nourish ojas (sustaining energy and immunological essence), and brighten tejas (clarity and mental luminosity). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, essential oils in general are medicines for the Shen, the spiritual essence that resides in the heart and guides and governs consciousness. Used consciously, essential oils powerfully enhance positive mental and emotional states.

Further, the medicinal properties of essential oils, through their ability to support physiological healing, can also be of great benefit to the heart and mind. A Korean study on the effect of aromatherapy on pain in patients with arthritis found that receiving massage with lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary, and peppermint oils significantly decreased both the pain AND mental depression levels.

Following are some oils that have a reputation for uplifting Shen, enhancing prana, nourishing ojas, and brightening tejas - combinations that may have marked effects on symptoms of depression. These oils can be used alone or in combination in a nebulizing diffuser (producing a fine mist of oils for inhalation), or in aromatherapy massage, thereby inhaled and absorbed through the skin concurrently.

Bergamot oil, cold pressed from the rinds of bitter oranges, has a great reputation uplifting the mind and spirit, while bringing calm. For this reason, is suitable for many types of depressive states, particularly those with a strong current of negativity.

Neroli oil, steam distilled from the flowers of bitter orange trees, like Bergamot, comforts the mind and heart. Neroli may address depression at it's source, as it provides support for the type that comes from nervous and emotional exhaustion. Neroli assists in retrieving and releasing repressed emotions, with potential to nourish and unify a fragmented psyche. Neroli oil is used with individuals who have cut themselves off from their feelings in order to escape from emotional pain.

The essential oil of Chamomile flowers is used when the depression manifests in a moody, irritable, dissatisfied outward expression. Chamomile essential oil is earthy, rich, and grounding with significant calming and uplifting qualities.

When depression is of a Fire (overly aggressive) nature, it often involves an imbalance of joy and love - the root emotions of the heart and mind. Joy is an extension of Shen's (spiritual essence's) innate sense of harmony and perfection, an experience of emotional and spiritual well-being. The depression that afflicts the heart and Shen involves a loss of one's natural sense of joy. There is often an accompanied lack of enthusiasm and interest as well as an inability to become inspired. Rose otto - steam distilled rose essential oil - or Rose Absolute may have a profound effect on this state. Rose is thought the premier heart opening aromatic, bringing joy, uplifting and restoring balance.

What follows are a few recipes for uplifting and releasing depressed emotional states - use your intuition to find the right one. Often, the single essential oil or blend you find most attractive will be the one that serves you best. Experiment, explore, and have fun with these fantastic gifts of nature. These blends may be used in a diffuser or candle lamp, unless where a carrier oil is indicated - blends with carriers are intended specifically for aromatherapy massage (self-massage is very effective, as well as a simple massage from a friend or loved one).

For opening the heart:1 part Rose 3 parts Sandalwood 1 part Sweet Orange or Bergamot3 parts Jasmine 1 part Ylang Ylang 1 part Sandalwood. For brightening, refreshing and uplifting:3 parts Bergamot 1 part Ylang Ylang 1 part Grapefruit2 parts Bergamot 2 parts Clary Sage 1 part Frankincense3 parts Bergamot or Sweet Orange 2 parts Clary Sage2 parts Frankincense 1 part Lemon 1 part either Jasmine or Neroli. For nourishing:1 part (Roman) Chamomile 1 part Vanilla 10 parts carrier oil of choice. If you like floral and earthy (uplifting and softening to Spirit):1 part Neroli 1 part Vanilla 1 part Orange or 1 part Sandalwood1 part Chamomile 1 part Bergamot 1 part Helichrysum.

Single oils can also be used, and should be investigated so one can learn the different energies of each plant. For depression associated with negativity: Bergamot, Chamomile, Helichrysum, Neroli, or Sweet Orange. For a profound lack of joy, try Rose, Jasmine, Patchouli, or Ylang Ylang. For overthinking and worry, try Frankincense, Lemon, Marjoram, Myrrh or Vetiver. For pessimism, regret and remorse, try Clary Sage, Cypress, Hyssop, or Pine needle. For doubt of one's capacity to cope with overwhelming situations, try Juniper Berry.

For cases of moderate to severe depression, professional help should always be sought. It is important to consider if you one requires professional help if the depression is overwhelming - while aromatherapy can provide support in a significant number of situations, it may not be for everyone. Essential oils can safely be used in conjunction with other treatments - consult your care giver to ensure there are no conflicts if medications have been prescribed.
About the Author
The author regularly employs pure aromatherapy essential oils and Bach flower essence therapy in her practice.
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