Aromatherapy massage is a combination of two therapeutic, holistic practices incorporating essential oils into a massage, providing numerous health benefits for overall health and wellbeing. Many essential oils have been used for millennia, due to their medicinal benefits like being anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-spasmodic.
Aromatherapy works by stimulating the receptors in the nasal passages responsible for smell, sending signals via the olfactory nerves to the part of the brain in charge of the limbic system, whose role is to control several unconscious physiological functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. The pressure and touch of the massage offers healing and stress relief by stimulating the lymphatic, circulatory, nervous, and musculoskeletal systems.
Aromatherapy massage therefore amplifies deep relaxation which the body needs to heal, and the massage offers the nurturing effect easing physical tension. It increases the body’s levels of oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, which play a major role in stress and mood management.
Plant extracts have been used as medicine, for religious purposes and as perfume for thousands of years in Ancient Egypt, India, Pakistan, Iran and China, Greece, and the Roman Empire.
However, it was not until 1830, in France, that the study of essential oils came into being. Leading scientists of the time, such as Louis Pasteur, took an interest in it, and from 1887, a disciple and assistant to Pasteur, Charles Chamberland began scientifically measuring the antiseptic effects of oregano, clove and cinnamon essential oils on anthrax.
The actual term"aromatherapy" was invented by the French chemical engineer Rene-Maurice Gattefosse after a laboratory incident in which he suffered major burns, and healed himself effectively with lavender essential oil. Inspired by that “miracle", he founded the French Society of Aromatic Products and published around twenty works that are still considered references today.
In 1929, Sévelinge, a pharmacist from Lyon, demonstrated the antibacterial efficacy of certain essential oils. Then in the 1950s, a military physician used essential oils to treat injured soldiers in Indochina, and in 1975, Pierre Franchomme, a pharmacologist and aromatologist, introduced the concept of “chemotypes”, proposing each plant has its own “chemical ID” and started listing the key aromatic compounds characterising each plant, their properties and the effects.
Today, aromatherapy is recognised as a fully-fledged branch of medicine, and is the focus of many scientific studies.
The history of massage therapy dates to approximately 3000 BC in India, where it was considered a sacred system to restore the body’s natural and physical balance so that it can heal naturally, and was passed down through generations to heal injuries, relieve pain, and prevent and cure illnesses.
These healing methods travelled to China and Southeast Asia about 2700 BC, where new massage methods were developed as a combination of skills and practices of traditional Chinese medicine, martial arts and the spiritual yoga training of Buddhists and Taoists.
Massage therapy reached Egypt around 2500 BC, with evidence being depicted in tomb paintings. The Egyptians added their own bodywork techniques, in addition to developing Reflexology.
At around 1000 BC, monks studying Buddhism in China brought massage to Japan, adapted it to their needs and called it “anma,” later known as Shiatsu.
In Greece, between 800 and 700 BC, athletes used massage before competitions, and doctors often applied herbs and oils in combination with massage to treat various ailments.
In 5th Century BC, the father of medicine Hippocrates treated physical injuries with friction and was the first to prescribe a combination of massage, proper diet, fresh air, exercise and music to restore any health imbalances.