Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Plai – a natural anti-inflammatory

I first heard of Plai essential oil from a fellow Aromatherapist. I totally forgot all about it until I went on an essential oil course with Julie Duffy, lecturer in Aromatherapy at UWIC, where I was reminded of this oil. I learnt a little about it on the course and got to try it out in a massage. I really liked it so I decided to do some research on what the oil is used for and some of this research can be found in this post.

Plai (Zingiber cassumunar Roxb.) belongs to the same plant family as Ginger but instead of it having a warming affect on joints and muscles like Ginger, it actually has a cooling affect on them helping to reduce inflammation.

There has been a lot of research in to the efficacy of Plai as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory when applied directly to the affected area. The majority of this research has been carried out in Thailand as this is where the plant originates from and it is used extensively in Thai massage and herbal medicine.

In one research study, the anti-inflammatory activity of a compound found in Plai extracts was assessed and compared with aspirin, and two other lesser known anti-inflammatory drugs. The results obtained showed that the anti-inflammatory effect of the compound (compound D) mainly occurred in the acute phase of inflammation. (Panthong, A et al., 1997). Another study compared another compound found in Plai extract with the anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac and found that when applied directly to the affected area, it was twice as potent as Diclofenac (also known as Voltarol). (Pongprayoon, U, et al., 1997). A gel containing Plai was tested on 21 subjects with wounded ankle joints and was compared with a placebo gel. The Plai gel was shown to reduce swelling and pain significantly in the first 2-3 days of the treatment. (Laopatarakasem et al., 1993). Since 1997 when the first two of these studies were published, there have been numerous more studies highlighting Plai’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.

As an anti-inflammatory and analgesic, Plai can be used to help joint problems, inflammation, sprains, strains, sciatica, arthritis, rheumatism, muscular aches and pains, piriformis syndrome, bursitis, tendonitis, gout, bunions, muscle spasms, and torn muscles and ligaments.

Just add 20 drops of Plai essential oil to 10ml of carrier oil and massage in to the affected area. It can also be applied directly to inflamed joints undiluted but take caution with this especially if you have sensitive skin as it could cause irritation. If you have a reaction to the undiluted oil, wash off immediately and use diluted in future applications. When applied undiluted, Plai has been found to ease pain for upwards of 18 hours which makes it a lot more affective as an analgesic than any over-the-counter drug, with less side affects, and a lot cheaper too!

Besides its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, Plai is also anti-histamine, anti-neuralgic, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, diuretic, febrifugal, laxative, and rubefacient. I will discuss some of these other properties and uses in future posts.

Plai essential oil is an invaluable addition to my aromatherapy kit and it takes its place along side Lavender and Tea Tree in my home first aid kit!

The citations for the studies mentioned above are listed below:

Anti-inflammatory activity of compound D {(E)-4-(3',4'-dimethoxyphenyl)but-3-en-2-ol} isolated from Zingiber cassumunar Roxb., Panthong, A; Kanjanapothi, D; Niwatananant, W; Tuntiwachwuttikul, P; Reutrakul, V. Phytomedicine (1997) 207- 212.

Topical antiinflammatory activity of the major lipophilic constituents of the rhizome of Zingiber cassumunar .2. Hexane extractives, Pongprayoon, U; Tuchinda, P; Claeson, P; Sematong, T; Reutrakul, V; Soontornsaratune, P. Phytomedicine (1997) 323- 326.

Efficiency of “Plai Gel” (PlaiGesal) in treatment of wounded ankle in asthlics. Srinakarin Medical Bulletin, 8(3) Mokkhasmit, M., Ngarmwathana, W., Sawasdimongkol, K. and Permphiphat, U., 1971, Pharmacological evaluation of Thai medicinal plants. J. Med. Assoc. Thailand, 54: 490-504

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Monday, 27 April 2009

Balance Holistics’ Top Five Most Read Posts

Top Five Holistic Therapy Posts
Photo by pontuse.
I meant to write this post at the beginning of the year giving a rundown of the top five most read posts of 2008 but I never got round to it. So I thought I’d write the post now and report on my top five most read holistic therapy blog posts since starting the blog last year.

The top five most popular posts were based on the number of views per post. The title of the post links to the actual post and I have also included a few sentences from the post to give you a brief idea what the post is about (although the titles are pretty self explanatory).

1. Hopi Ear Candling and Flying
“Are you jetting off on your Summer holidays but not looking forward to the pressure pain you get in your ears during take-off and landing? Then why not try Hopi Ear Candling. It is an excellent treatment to have before you fly to help ease these symptoms…”

2. Bunions From a Reflexology Point of View
“According to the TheFreeDictionary's Medical dictionary, “a bunion is an abnormal enlargement of the joint (the first metatarsophalangeal joint, or MTPJ) at the base of the great or big toe (hallux). It is caused by inflammation and usually results from chronic irritation and pressure from poorly fitting footwear.” From a Reflexology point of view, Bunions are an indication of congestion along the spleen/pancreas meridian…”

3. What is a Healing Crisis?
“Sometimes after a Holistic treatment, you may feel your symptoms get worse before they get better. For example, if you suffer from psoriasis, you may experiences an increase in breakouts for a period of time while the body eliminates any toxins from the skin. Occasionally after a holistic treatment, you may also experience reactions when the body begins its self-healing process and elimination of toxins. This is called a healing crisis…”

4. The Wonder of Tiger Balm
“There are two varieties of Tiger Balm available – white and red. Each has the same ingredients but the amount of each differs. The red version also contains Cassia. Tiger Balm Red is the original product and is better for stronger pain. Tiger Balm White is a gentler product but is still very effective. It has so many uses – a lot more than it says on the pot. I carry it with me everywhere…”

5. Using Hot and Cold Compresses to Relieve Pain
“Hot and cold compresses play an invaluable role in the management of pain. They are particularly useful in helping with acute pain, but are also beneficial if you are suffering with chronic pain. They can also help with stiffness and muscle tension…”

My favourite post. It is hard for me to pick one favourite post as I have written so many (46 since starting the blog in July 2008). I have enjoyed researching and writing all of them. I quite like The Wonder of Epsom Salts Baths . I regularly use Epsom Salts at home and I’m always recommending them to clients to help reduce inflammation, soothe aches and pains, and relax the muscles. Another favourite is The Wonder of Tiger Balm (fourth most read blog post) – I think Tiger Balm is amazing!

What post did you enjoy reading the most? Which one did you think was the most informative? What would you like to see more on the Balance Holistics blog? Please share in the comments section.

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Saturday, 25 April 2009

Skills update – Essential Oils for Pregnancy and Childbirth

Aromatherapy Pregnancy Massage with Essential Oils
Photo by noblec.
Today I attended a one day workshop on Essential Oils for Pregnancy and Childbirth which was run by TEACH Therapy . The course was run by Julie Duffy who also teaches Clinical Aromatherapy at the University of Wales Institute.

The course covered the different conditions which are common during pregnancy such as indigestion, stretch marks, oedema (fluid retention), back pain etc. and how essential oils can help. It covered essential oils which can be safely used during pregnancy, dilutions and blends, massaging techniques and positions, and essential oils to help during labour.

When I first trained in Aromatherapy, I was taught that there were certain oils which shouldn’t be used on women who are pregnant at any stage, some which could only be used in the second and third trimester, and some which could only be used during labour. On this recent course, I was taught that the majority of essential oils can be used safely at any stage during pregnancy and that there hasn’t been a single case of any harm coming to mother or baby from using essential oils in massage – only when they have been ingested.

I was also originally taught not to give massage to women in the first trimester as this is when miscarriage is most likely. But I have recently learned that this is not the case. There has been no evidence to suggest that neither massage nor essential oils can cause miscarriage.

I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It was very informative and was quite an eye opener for me. Many therapists shy away from treating pregnant women due to the misconception that massage and/or essential oils can harm the baby. But now I am no longer one of them! The training providers (and also many books state this misinformation) are to blame here by not teaching the correct information to their students. Massage is very beneficial to women at all stages of pregnancy and is very soothing to the baby.

On the course, I was also introduced to several new oils which I haven’t smelt or used before which was quite exciting including Myrtle, Plai, and a different variety of Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus Radiata. I’m going to be adding these to my collection soon along with a few others.

Although I have treated many pregnant women with various holistic therapies including Aromatherapy, after this in depth training in essential oils for pregnancy, I feel very confident in massaging and using essential oils on pregnant women.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

My Essential Oil Top Ten

Here is a list of my top ten essential oils. They are my “essential” essential oils and I wouldn’t be without them in my collection.

1. Lavender
2. Eucalyptus
3. Mandarin
4. Roman Chamomile
5. Ylang ylang
6. Frankincense
7. Clary sage
8. Geranium
9. Peppermint
10. Rosemary

I do have many other favourites and ones which I use very regularly including sandalwood, cypress, rose, tea tree, juniper, and neroli.

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Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Thermo-Auricular Therapy and Me

Ear Candling (Thermo-Auricular Therapy)
When I first heard about Hopi ear candles I thought that it would only help with ear problems. I wasn’t aware that it could help with a much wider range of ailments as it does. I became interested in the therapy because as a child I suffered with hearing problems, recurrent infections, compacted wax and various other ENT problems. Although I became interested in it due to the affects it could have on me, I hadn’t actually had a treatment on myself prior to the training course.

Although beneficial to people, I didn’t think that it could be very relaxing having a lit candle placed in your ear nor did I think that it would appeal to people who do not suffer with ENT problems. My opinion of this changed very rapidly as I experienced the treatment firsthand on the course and delivered the treatments to my case studies. The ear candling combined with a face massage was extremely relaxing. Once you get past the initial part of the candle being lit and put in place, the soothing sound of the herbs infusing with the flame produces a feeling of deep relaxation and calmness. It allows you to empty your mind completely.

After experiencing the treatment for myself and having realised how relaxing it was I thought that thermo-auricular therapy would be a very popular treatment with clients and that it worked on both a physical and a mental level. At this point I couldn’t see how it would help on a spiritual level nor did I expect it too. Again, my initial opinions were proved wrong when my clients started to experience tingling sensations in various parts of the body, feel energy flowing around the body, and see colours and in one case a presence in the room. It was then that I realised that thermo-auricular therapy was a truly all encompassing and powerful holistic treatment which affected the mind, body and spirit.

One of the things I love about the treatment is that it is so flexible and can be combined with any other holistic treatment depending on the clients needs at the time, be it a face massage, a back massage, reflexology or even some reiki.

From my point of view as a therapist, it is a very relaxing treatment to give and it doesn’t put any pressure on the hands, wrists, elbows and back like normal massage does.

I would like to develop my skills further by learning how to use an otoscope as I feel this would enhance the treatment and allow me to give more detailed feedback to my clients.

I much prefer thermo-auricular therapy as a method of ear wax removal over orthodox treatments i.e. syringing and I hope more and more people will start to realise this and experience this truly amazing treatment for themselves.

I trained in Thermo-Auricular Therapy (the theurapeutic use of Hopi Ear Candles) in February 2007 with Linda Stokes from The Thermo-Auricular Therapy Association . The above article formed part of an assignment that I wrote which was required for the course in Thermo-Auricular Therapy.

More information on Thermo-Auricular Therapy (Ear Candling) can be found on the Balance Holistics website.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Bunions from a Reflexology Point of View

According to the TheFreeDictionary's Medical dictionary, “a bunion is an abnormal enlargement of the joint (the first metatarsophalangeal joint, or MTPJ) at the base of the great or big toe (hallux). It is caused by inflammation and usually results from chronic irritation and pressure from poorly fitting footwear.”

Bunions also run in the family but it is important to note that it is not the bunion which is hereditary but the foot type. People who are flat footed are more likely to develop a bunion than those with high arches. I think this is why I developed one on my right foot at the age of 16 despite always wearing well fitted shoes – I have flat (ish) feet and my grandmother has bunions too. Other causes include leg length discrepancies, trauma to the joint, and bone displacement (hallux valgus). There is also more chance of developing a bunion as you get older.

From a Reflexology point of view, Bunions are an indication of congestion along the spleen/pancreas meridian which starts on the outer edge of both big toes. From the big toe, it runs up the leg, up through the pelvis and abdomen, and ends at the shoulder. Congestion in this meridian can also cause fungus, stiffness, and ingrowing toenails especially on the big toe; shinbone, knee, and thigh pain; varicose veins, psoriasis and eczema particularly on the legs along the meridian; groin pain and hernias; menstrual problems and other gynaecological problems such as infections, fibroids, and cysts; abdominal pain; problems in the underarm area such as eczema and lymph node swelling; and breast problems such as tenderness and lumps.

The reflex points at which a bunion occurs are the thyroid and thoracic spine. The internal branch of the spleen/pancreas meridian runs through the throat and thyroid reinforcing the bunions connection to the thyroid gland.

One of the reflexology books I own (The complete illustrated guide to reflexology by Inge Dougans) says "Most people with bunions also have problems along the spleen/pancreas meridian or pancreatic disorders, such as problems related to sugar metabolism such as a sweet tooth; cravings for stimulants such as tea, coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol; and constant hunger."

There is no specific reflex for the big toe to help relieve bunions, but massage on and around the affected area can help to relieve any pain or discomfort felt and to help reduce any inflammation in the joint. I would work on the sacral and lumbar areas of the spine reflex as these areas of the spine supply nerves to the big toe (from the lumbar and sacral nerve plexuses) and the kidney reflexes to ensure that the kidneys are functioning properly ridding the body of uric acid (this can build up in the joints especially the big toe causing gout which is a form of arthritis. Arthritis can contribute to or result from bunions). I’m sure working the leg/knee/hip reflexes would also help the condition. To help balance the spleen/pancreas meridian, I would work on the pancreas and spleen reflexes.

An interesting article on the relationship between bunions, sugar, and the spleen can be found on the Acupuncture Today website. Another interesting site about bunions is The Bunion Experiment - One woman's search for bunion cures.

Monday, 13 April 2009


Hydrolats and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Photo by Raven3k.
In this months Today’s Therapist Journal there was an article about Irritable Bowel Syndrome and how Hydrolats can help the condition. It was written by Penny Price who is a world renowned Aromatherapist, as is Shirley Price.

I briefly learnt about hydrolats in my training and used them to cleanse the feet before a reflexology session and knew they could be used in making face masks but I never knew exactly how many uses they had and how beneficial they can be. They can be used as a cooling spray in the summer, to cleanse and tone the skin, as a mouth wash or gargle for a sore throat, as an eye wash, and taken as a tonic to help various ailments such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome as mentioned above.

I was aware that there were many hydrolats available – not just rose, lavender, or tea tree which are most common but I didn’t realise just how many there were. The article in the journal mentioned Peppermint, Angelica, and Fennel hydrolats to help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Penny Price recommends adding 10ml of hydrolat to a glass of warm water and drinking slowly.

Hydrolats are a by-product of the steam distillation process of producing essential oils. They consist of mainly water along with micronized droplets of essential oils (This means the particles of essential oils are reduced down so that they are only a few microns in diameter). Because of this, they are gentle and safe to use, with less contra-indications than the stronger, more concentrated essential oil. They are easily absorbed by the body both through the skin and when ingested. That’s right! Hydrolats are so safe that they can even be taken orally to help with various ailments. This is something I did not know about Hydrolats and I’m really excited that I stumbled across this fact – it has opened up a completely new side of Aromatherapy for me.

Penny Price runs an Aromatherapy Academy which holds courses nearby in Cirencester so I think I might have to book on to the Hydrolats course as I think they will be an invaluable addition to treatments – something that I can advise my clients to take in between treatments to help with their complaints.

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Saturday, 4 April 2009

Stress Busting Essential Oils

“Today the use of essential oils is becoming increasingly popular as people realise the benefits the oils have in helping to de-stress the mind and body.” Francesca Gould writes in her book Aromatherapy for Holistic Therapists.

Stress can cause many physical and psychological health problems including: headaches, anxiety, can trigger asthma attacks, high blood pressure, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis, lowers the immune system making you more susceptible to colds and flu, nervous breakdown, indigestion, depression, menstrual problems, heart attacks, stomach aches and ulcers to name a few.

Following on from a previous post about combating stress during the economic downturn , I thought I would discuss a few essential oils you can use at home that can be very beneficial at stress busting and helping you to relax. I will also discuss in this post various ways to use these essential oils.

Top Note Essential Oils

Basil is an anti-depressant and neurotonic (helps strengthen the nervous system) and can be helpful for stress-related problems, insomnia, mental fatigue, and anxiety. It is also anti-spasmodic and digestive so can help with irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, asthma, and muscle tension. It can also help with tension headaches and migraines as it is an analgesic. It helps poor memory by improving concentration something which tends to be a problem when we have a lot on our mind.

Bergamot is a nice oil which can be both uplifting and calming. It is excellent for anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and stress-related problems. It is also a neurotonic and an anti-depressant. It is great for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis which can be triggered by stress.

Clary sage is an anti-depressant, sedative and a relaxant. It can help with depression, anxiety, shock, hysteria, stress-related illness, and can help lower blood pressure which is often higher when we are stressed. It also helps to balance the hormones. More information on Clary sage can be found in the Essential Oil of the Week: Clary Sage post.

Middle Note Essential Oils

Lavender is a relaxant, sedative, and anti-depressant. It helps to lower blood pressure which can often be high when stressed. More information on lavender can be found in the Essential Oil of the Week: Lavender post.

Chamomile is sedative in nature and can be useful for insomnia, anxiety, stress and tension. It is also an anti-depressant. All forms of Chamomile can be beneficial for stress-related conditions. I personally prefer Roman Chamomile but it tends to be more expensive.

Geranium is a very balancing oil, especially for women. It is an anti-depressant and relaxant and stimulates the adrenal cortex of the adrenal glands helping to relieve stress, anxiety, fatigue, shock, depression, pre-menstrual syndrome, menopausal symptoms and other stress related conditions.

Base Note Essential Oils

Ylang-ylang is beneficial for over rapid breathing (hyperventilation) which can occur during anxiety/panic attacks or just from an increased level of stress. It also helps palpitations, insomnia, over rapid heart rate, and other stress related conditions. It is one of my favourite oils.

Frankincense is good for emotional problems, tiredness, anxiety, confidence problems, depression, headaches, irritability, hyperventilation, and stress-related conditions. More information on frankincense can be found in the posts Essential Oil in focus : Frankincense and the Frankincense – The New Antidepressant.

Patchouli is an anti-depressant and neuro-tonic

Ways of using the oils

Bath: Dilute the chosen essential oils (4-6 drops) first in a teaspoon of milk and then add to the bath just before you get in.

Oil Burners: Further information on how to use an oil burner can be found in a previous post. If you can’t find a suitable burner or don’t want to pay out for one, you could just add a couple drops of your chosen essential oil on to a piece of cotton wool or tissue and place on a radiator. The heat will cause the oil to evaporate and the relaxing aroma will be released into the room.

Massage: Add 5 drops of your chosen essential oils to 10ml (2 tsp) of carrier oil (grape seed oil or sweet almond oil are good choices). There are many self-massage techniques which you can use or you could get someone else to do it for you.

If you are not sure whether the oils are suitable for you or not, especially if you have any medical conditions, it is best to consult a qualified Aromatherapist first. Also, before using any essential oils on the skin, it is advisable to perform a patch test first.

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Wednesday, 1 April 2009

How to Perform a Patch Test

Aromatherapy Essential Oils Patch Test
Photo by eggybird.
Allergies to essential oils are unusual. However, some essential oils can irritate sensitive skin which is why it is important to perform a patch test prior to using essential oils on a large area of the body. Everyone is different so one oil which irritates the skin of one person may not affect another.

To perform a patch test, mix one drop of the essential oil that you wish to use in a teaspoon (5ml) of carrier oil (grape seed or sweet almond oil). Rub a small amount of the blend on the inside of your forearm and leave on over night. If you are sensitive to the oil, redness, inflammation, or itching may occur. If any of these occur, discontinue use of the essential oil. If no reaction occurs, it is safe to use the oil.

If you are going to make a blend of essential oils for use, it is best to test each individual essential oil as above so that you can work out which oil if any is causing a problem and then you can amend your blend accordingly.

Essential oils must never be applied undiluted to the skin except tea tree and lavender.

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