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Less Stress: Aromatherapy

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You’ve probably seen one of those aromatherapy displays in health food stores and thought, “One of these days, I’m going to learn something about aromatherapy.” I admit that confronting the 40-odd different oils put me off aromatherapy for a long time. Too many options paralyzed me into indecision. I’d open a couple of samplers, sniff, put them back, forget which scent went with which name, wonder if I should get a diffuser or try them in a bath, get genuinely confused, and leave the whole display behind.

Here we’re going to keep it simple and quickly eliminate 35 of the 40 oils–not that they don’t serve good purposes. If after trying the first five you decide to take up aromatherapy seriously, you can always explore the other scents. But good oils cost about ten dollars a bottle, so informed buying is a worthy idea. The five oils that alleviate stress, tension, frazzled nerves, and the like are lavender, geranium, melissa, clary sage, and the unpronounceable ylang ylang. Breathe a little bit of each and see if one calls out to you. If you need some direction and you’re going to try a single oil for relaxation, start with lavender.

While you’re still in the store, get a small bottle of unscented carrier oil, like sweet almond oil (you’ll need it later) and a simple diffuser. The easiest diffuser is a device that positions a shallow dish above a candle. A few drops of the oil placed in the dish and heated will fill a room with the oil’s aroma.

At home with a few bottles, here’s what to do next:
• Open the bottle and inhale the scent, or shake a drop or two into a handkerchief and carry it with you, breathing deeply of it when tension knocks. For a less intense but still pleasant effect, use your candle diffuser. People with too much money can opt to buy electrical diffusers that disperse microparticles of the oil throughout a room.

• Make an aromatherapy massage oil by adding a few drops to a small amount of the carrier oil. Gently rub it into your tense muscles, like your neck and upper back. Then lie down and listen to some soft music. If you’re planning a visit to a massage therapist, take your personalized massage oil with you.

• Add the oils to your bath Adding 8 to 15 drops of an essential oil to your bath after the water has finished running creates a relaxing atmosphere and allows the oil to seep into your skin. It’s best not to use soap in an aromatherapy bath, because it may interfere with the oil absorption.

Since the bath is my personal favorite, I’ll offer a few steps to an incredibly relaxing bath.
A slow warm soak can make bath time the most peaceful part of your day, an escape from noise, worry, and tension. Your muscles relax and your mind wanders. And with a few simple touches, you can transform an already pleasurable experience into a heavenly one.

• Plan ahead This is your time. Turn off your phone, get a sitter for the kids, ask your partner to take a hike. Don’t rush through your bath because dinner needs to be prepared or you’ve got theater tickets.

• Get the bathroom ready before you undress You want everything as comfy as possible before you slide into the tub. Have towels at hand and a robe too. Light a candle. Music is lovely and a glass of wine too.

• Test the water temperature Use your foot, not your hand. Your foot is far more sensitive to temperature.

• Two useful items From a bath and bed store, buy a drain block and a back pillow. You’ll be able to fill the tub and lean back with something soft to support your neck.

• With the tub full, add your essential oils The hot water and the warm, steamy room will yield the richest effect from a just few drops added to your bath. As you soak, the oils will soften your skin while the scented air calms your mind. Try one oil alone, or combine two or more. Close your eyes, inhale, and empty your mind. Combine your bath with guided imagery or meditation for an extraordinary escape from your hectic life.

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