In traditional cultures all five senses were considered more or less equally. The Romans were famous for their baths, massage and oils; and The Bible is full of stories of Jesus annointing his followers’ heads and feet. Earlier than that, the ancient texts of Ayurveda prescribe ‘abhyanga’ (massage with oil) in many treatments and also as a daily self-treatment for maintaining health, happiness and balance in life.
Yet somewhere along the road this all changed. Maybe it’s to do with the Renaissance and its fine art and beautiful music, or with the advent of the intellectual scientific vision; but in some way our modern reality is that two of our senses — hearing and vision — seem to have become elevated to become the ‘higher senses’, while touch taste and smell are relegated to the second division in the pecking order: they are seen as the more basic ‘animalistic’ senses.
During a typical day in modern Western life, we are overwhelmed by auditory-visual stimulation (TV, radio, telephones, computers, iPods, etc), and unless we are carefully attentive to our mind and body’s needs and we ‘take time to smell the roses’, our lives are poorer for this imbalance.
When I first qualified as an aromatherapist, my brother-in-law, a general practitioner in Yorkshire, commented that, ‘If all my patients had an aromatherapy massage once a month, I’d probably be half as busy as I am now.’ It was a great statement. How can we encourage decision-makers in our health services to see the significance behind this simple and important truth?
Modern medicine has many admirable qualities but the ‘human touch’ can be sadly lacking. Some years ago a paper was published showing that premature babies gained weight more quickly if they were cuddled when they were in the incubators. The conclusion of the study was that ‘tactile stimulation is cost-effective’! Ah, well. Money makes the world go around.
Another example of this craving for sensory balance came from Jenny, a friend and local massage practitioner. Jenny is happy to spend some unpaid time working in a local hospice. She was gently massaging the hand of an elderly man who had a few weeks left to live, and his eyes filled up with tears. ‘Nobody has touched me like that since my wife died’, he said, ‘And that was 35 years ago’. You will probably have a similar story of your own.
The so-called ‘British Approach’ to the use of essential oils was pioneered by Madame Maury, an Austrian-born biochemist married to a Frenchman, who had a practice in London. This approach centres around the use of aromatic oils in massage and so combines the two senses of touch and smell in a wonderful synergy of sensory delight. (Maybe the reason that this tactile use of essential oils was popularised by the British is because on a deep level we recognise it as an antidote to our ‘British reserve’!)
So perhaps the real future of healthcare is, in reality, not in the hands of the multinational players in the pharmaceutical industry but owes more to the simple daily practice of aromatherapists, massage practitioners and anyone who really listens to what their own body is asking for, and who with their sensitive hands and caring touch releases tension and instils a sense of balance and peace.
We are all enthusiasts in aromatherapy. We love essential oils! And our interest in the liberating effects of these little droplets of sunshine together with the extraordinarily powerful healing effect of touch points the way to health, happiness and balance in life.