What’s so New Age About Aromatherapy?

PC asked: “What is so New Age about Aromatherapy? Isn’t it just using a diffuser to enjoy the scents of essential oils?”

Anyone can use essential oils to make their house smell good, but aromatherapy is about a lot more than just filling the house with a pleasant fragrance.

According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, aromatherapy, also referred to as Essential Oil therapy, “can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. It seeks to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process.”

Aromatherapy is said to have originated in ancient times with the Chinese and the Greeks; however the modern term of “aromatherapy” originated with a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1937. Gattefosse used lavender oil to cure a burn he sustained while working in his parents’ cosmetic firm. This led to a lifetime of work studying the use of essential oils.

Aromatherapy has several modes of application: 1) aerial diffusion which involves fragrancing the air; 2) direct inhalation for respiratory disinfection, relief of congestion, and; 3) topical applications for massage, baths, and therapeutic skin care.

There is little or no (unbiased) scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of essential oils in any of these applications for anything other than mood improvement.

As this article in Yale Scientific states, “While there may be evidence for aromatherapy’s mood-altering effects, scientific proof for physiological improvements is lacking. Most of the evidence for reducing pain and decreasing healing times is anecdotal rather than scientifically grounded.”

A review of the Cochrane Library on recent studies of aromatherapy for conditions such as relief of labor pain, cancer, and dementia concluded that evidence of relief was insufficient and required further study.

Although there is no evidence that aromatherapy can either prevent or cure any disease, there is evidence that the use of fragrances (not necessarily aromatherapy) have been found to improve general well-being.

For example, there is a large body of published literature showing the effects of odors on the human brain and emotions. As this report by the National Cancer Institute confirms, “Such studies have consistently shown that odors can produce specific effects on human neuropsychological and autonomic function and that odors can influence mood, perceived health, and arousal. These studies suggest that odors may have therapeutic applications in the context of stressful and adverse psychological conditions.”

Perhaps one of the biggest problems with aromatherapy is the fact that there is no professional standardization in the U.S. and no license required to practice here. In other words, anyone can hang out a shingle whether they know what they’re doing or not.

As for it’s connection to the New Age, the Pontifical document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life explains that the belief that essential oils can be used to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process is based in the New Age belief that illness and suffering come from working against nature.

“When one is in tune with nature, one can expect a much healthier life, and even material prosperity . . . the source of healing is said to be within ourselves, something we reach when we are in touch with our inner energy or cosmic energy.” (2.2.3)

The document lists aromatherapy as one of the so-called “natural cures” that were fueled by these beliefs, which include homeopathy, naturopathy, essential oils, herbs and supplements, ayurvedic medicine, naturopathy and many more.

In addition to being based upon New Age beliefs about the body’s ability to heal itself, another connection can be found in aromatherapy’s association with vitalism. As this article explains, this is present in any use that advocates practices that activate, trigger or stimulate unquantifiable energies, energy fields or vibrations (chi, ki, qi, vital force, etc.)

However, a basis on this fictitious energy may not be immediately obvious because “the terms and concepts are masked in benign, and often, pseudo-scientific, language. This includes more subtle methods such as Yoga, Bach Flower Essences, Aromatherapy as spiritual healing, aspects of some purported claims to healing using Essential Oils, and Homeopathy,” explains New Age researcher Marcia Montenegro.

“Many of the practices named above stem from a belief in the subtle body; that is, energy fields surrounding the body which are directly related to healing. These energy fields are not visible or detectable but form a large part of the body of New Age and occult teachings. References to meridians (allegedly invisible channels in the body through which chi flows) and the Hindu chakras (wheels of energy) are part of these beliefs.”

This article may also prove helpful in explaining why Christians may want to avoid the use of aromatherapy.

Although many proponents of essential oils use the argument that these oils come from God and have been used since ancient times for medicinal and spiritual purposes, it’s worth noting that the average life expectancy of a human being in ancient Rome was barely 40 years. Obviously, these oils – or any other “natural” cures – didn’t go very far in protecting people from the diseases that led to these dismal mortality rates.

And even though the chemicals found in essential oils are often the same as those used in our modern pharmaceuticals, the technology to adapt these oils into usable medications did not materialize until much later in human history via scientific advances that also come from God.

As you can see, aromatherapy involves a lot more than just burning some sweet-smelling oils. If you just want to make your house smell good, you may want to stick with Airwick and Febreze.

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