Tag Archives: Mindfulness


Making Aromatherapy Work for You

I often hear friends and others saying that this or that therapy doesn’t work for them.  I have heard this said of Massage, Osteopathy, CBT, Psychoanalysis  Acupuncture and quite a few others.

Now clearly, the areas I can address why therapy might or might not work are Massage and Aromatherapy, though I suspect the reasons for other therapies not working may  be similar. Some years ago,  I read in a psychotherapy journal some research that found the relationship between the therapist and the client made far more difference to the outcome than the type of therapy. To me this makes a lot of sense given that my personal experience of working in therapy from both sides is that where the relationship is good, the therapy is much more effective. Indeed, when I worked with adolescents in in-patient mental health units, there were some patients, I formed a strong relationship with and was able to do a lot of effective work with and others whom any work I did was of little effect.  Others on the teams I worked with found they did more effective work with different patients from myself.

This doesn’t make my approach or theirs right or wrong, just different. However, there are some common threads that I believe are important. All of us who worked effectively really listened to those we worked with. Not only did we listen but we respected what we were told. This is a cornerstone of my work in Massage and Aromatherapy. It doesn’t matter that a client has been told by a GP, pain clinic or whoever that their pain is all in the mind. The pain is real, whatever the cause.

With physical pain, I believe that psychological factors are usually more important than physical ones in improving matters whether or not there is an identified physical cause but if I don’t believe my client, I am not going to be able to help them.

The other cornerstone of my practice besides a knowledge of the oils I use and of Massage is Mindfulness.  by practising this, I can give better attention to my clients both during the consultation and during the actual massage. It is an interesting though not particularly pleasant exercise to be massaged by someone who is being mindful and by someone who is doing mental arithmatic at the time. When being a client it is very easy to tell the difference.

I also encourage my clients to be mindful during a massage. That way they can tell me more quickly if something is not right for them. I also believe that even if they don’t have anything to tell me about how I am massaging them, it still helps them to get more out of the massage. I find these two cornerstones of listening and mindfulness to be if anything even more true of my Massage and Aromatherapy Practice than when I worked in Mental Health in the NHS. This holds for working with both the physical and the psychological, the latter making up eighty percent or more of my work.

So, make sure the therapist you choose is one you are comfortable with. If you are not comfortable with a male therapist for massage don’t come to me. If you are not comfortable working with a male, maybe don’t even come to me for a consultation to choose oils to use in a balm at home. Also tell  your therapist what you are and what you are not comfortable with. I had one client who had been bought the massage as a present who was uncomfortable with much of her body being seen by a male therapist so when she turned over, I left the room. Any therapist should respect their client’s sensitivities. Sometimes it is OK to challenge them but only if this can be done in a respectful way. It is not our job to make our clients see the world in our way!



Who is to blame?

Out of every ten clients I see, I can guarantee that at least five will be blaming themselves for something that is not their fault. More often than not this is because either at a very young age or at a point when they were extremely upset about something and unable to psychologically defend themselves they were told, “This is all your fault.”

Attacks like this do far more than hurt at the time, indeed often at the time some other hurt is so much the attack is not really noticed, certainly not noted as an attack that is entirely unjustified so it can be dismissed for what it is or defended against.


Rose oil is good for these situations, helping to heal the psychological wounds. Massage helps to add to the sense of being nurtured and cared for. On top of this it is important to care for ourselves in other ways as well as taking time out for Aromatherapy or other nurturing. We need to learn to be discerning and spend more time with people who are nurturing to be around and less time with those who have a negative effect on us. Ideally we need to do this without being judgemental. Just because someone is not nurturing for me to be around does not make them a bad person, just not good for me to spend too much time with.

Lessons like this are ones that most of us, certainly myself often need to re-learn or remind myself of. Like mindfulness exercises where if my mind wanders, I notice that this has happened and bring myself back, I need to do the same and be mindful in my choices of whom to be with.


When I see any clients for Aromatherapy massage, I strive to not make judgements of their behaviour or ways of being in the world. Rather, I try and help them identify patterns that are not helping them and help to choose oils that might help in changing those patterns.

Returning to an earlier point, very often the first step in changing patterns that have a negative effect on us emotionally or physically (usually if one then also the other) is to just notice it and then to consciously do something different. When (and most of us will at some point) we go back to those patterns again when we notice it make the change again and eventually we will keep the change.


Anxiety follows a good time. Why?

I was asked this question by a client recently. She suffers from panic attacks, usually at home and in situations which shouldn’t (in her mind) be a cause for any anxiety. This has reached the point where she sometimes avoids good things because of her fear of having an attack later. This pattern is one I see both in my Central Cambridge and my Trumpington Practice.GEDC1747.JPG

As well as giving a massage using oils which help with anxiety we also talked about some of the things she had been taught about dealing with her panic attacks. Mindfulness exercises had been suggested including concentrating on her breathing. However judgements made her give this up because she thought she was no good at them.

What went wrong? Well as someone who has taught mindfulness to others over many years before leaving the NHS I quickly discovered that my client had not been taught what to do if her mind did wander. The thing to do is to on noticing that one has started to daydream or think about something else, just notice it and return to concentrating on one’s breath (or other mindfulness exercise.) Mindfulness is not a competition! The exercise is about returning to full concentration on noticing that it has gone. There is nothing wrong about having one’s mind wander!

As to the question about why a panic attack often follows feeling good the clue is in the research on the body’s response to anxiety. Thy physiological response, including raised pulse rate, the chemical changes etc to anxiety is exactly the same as the body’s response to excitement. The only difference is the label that we put on the sensations.

At first this doesn’t make much sense unless we look at some examples where the two sensations where the dividing line between the two is very thin. A white knuckle ride at a theme park is one example. Is it fear or excitement? The same is true of a difficult ski run.

A friend of mine who used to be an Olympic gymnast at one point could not do a good performance with an audience of less than about five thousand. With this number his adrenaline levels got up to the level he needed!

Of course another factor is that fear of panic attacks makes them more likely so work on realising that panic attacks do not kill or whatever her fear behind them is will also be important.

Mindfulness is important for me as a practitioner too and when working I too have to notice if my mind does ever wander and bring it back to my client and their needs. This helps me to stay more focussed and to improve the quality of massage I can give.

To book an aromatherapy massage for anxiety or any other reason

call 07939273569 or email dave@cambridgearomatherapy.com




Today I will be melting down more wax along with olive oil to make some more skin balm. Beeswax has many healing properties as well as being an antifungal agent in itself. Combined with essential oils, this I am sure is why one client finds it the only effective agent against athletes’ foot.IMG_0016

My standard mix is with Frankincense and Geranium. These oils together are good for relaxation and for aiding mindfulness. Also good for depression.

They also have an anti-inflammatory action making them good for arthritic conditions.

If asked I can also make this with Tea Tree oil which is good for helping the immune system as well as having a direct anti-viral and anti-bacterial effect. The bees are kept on my allotment in Trumpington Cambridge so about as local as it is possible to get! Essential oils used in this way provide an alternative for those who are not comfortable with massage for any reason.


A journey of discovery.

This is what I embark on each time I see a new client or more accurately it is what we embark on together. This is just as true for the client with the utilitarian request that I help them with their back pain that they have had since lifting something badly as it is for the client with a morass of complex emotions from PTSD.

This journey that starts with my greeting the client in the waiting room at the Salus Wellness Centre in central Cambridge or my front door if I am seeing them at home in Trumpington. On this journey I am learning something of their beauty as a person and my task is for us both to learn something of this, avoiding obstacles like political opinions I might find distasteful on my part and doubts that anything can help on my client’s part. These are not the only possible barriers to a treatment that helps my client but examples chosen from a list that contains many many more.

The majority of my clients come to me with issues that are more on the emotional side rather than physical but the two are always tied together. Most with chronic pain suffer from depression. Chronic emotional problems often lead to physical problems which can be anything from headaches or shoulder pain to constipation or other digestive problems.

So, where does beauty come into this? On the physical side, there is something wonderful about helping the human body to function at it’s best. Far more complex than any car and yet most of them are thrown on the scrap heap long before the average age of my clients and even longer before their average life expectancy!

On the emotional side, I see my clients increasingly letting me see their vulnerability and in doing so also their strength. All too often when they tell me things that bring tears to both of our eyes, I find myself saying, “Where did you find the strength to survive?” In choosing oils for the Aromatherapy Massage I might choose ones to help them remember that strength or perhaps ones to help still their mind and help them to just be mindful of what they have achieved.

When I say, “I” I really mean that we choose the oils together depending on what the client wants to achieve. When I worked in mental health, I would often ask the young adults and their carers/parents, “What would have to happen during this admission for each of you to say it has been worthwhile?” We would re-visit that question regularly during their stay.

I like to keep that question sometimes posed as what would be the minimum change that would make it worthwhile alive during the journey. Often we make new discoveries together of the client’s beauty that make it worthwhile but neither of us had thought of them at the outset. These are moments that make the job really worthwhile!



Breathing properly is seen as key to so much. Singing, playing wind instruments, Yoga etc. Yet many of us rarely think about it except when there is a problem with our respiratory system  and yet most of us if observed by a singing teacher would probably be told that we are not breathing properly!

However, this post is not about judgements. In myu massage and aromatherapy practice in Cambridge, I always observe my client’s breathing. When they lie on their front, I can observe the movement of their back and how low that movement reaches.  I don’t teach Yoga or other breathing exercises to my clients but sometimes I suggest yoga classes to them.

For now without trying to change anything just spend two minutes being mindful of your breathing. Don’t try and change it but just notice it. If it changes, notice that. If your mind drifts notice that and return to observing your breath.

Afterwards, you may want to not down your observations.

Now take an essential oil, it doesn’t matter which one and let a couple of drops fall into a mug or glass with some warm water placed where you can smell it. Repeat the breathing exercise.

Again it can be useful to not down your observations. Was your breathing different the second time? Was it easier or more difficult to keep your attention on your breath?

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers in this. I like to try this exercises with different essential oils and note the differences as a way of learning more about how I react to different essential oils.

And if you don’t have any essential oils in your house, you can put  a pinch of thyme or some other herb in boiling water or peel an orange releasing the essential oils.


Don’t rely on a therapist to fix you.

An aromatherapist, massage practitioner or other therapist can be an important fixture in your life to improve or maintain health.

While there are those who do it, I do not however advocate seeing a complementary health practitioner just to get you out of trouble. Excessive drinking and the liver damage that results is not going to be fixed by a massage with or without essential oils. It can help as part of your programme to reduce this or other problem behaviours however.

In the same way, if you have a very bad diet, your doctor is not going to be able to make your body function exactly as it should if you continue the same diet.

A similar thing is true psychologically. If you are in a very stressful job massage and aromatherapy can make you feel better but will not take away the stress. For this you need different therapies or techniques such as mindfulness which can help in enabling us to deal with difficult situations without suffering the same level of stress. For some the only healthy answer may be a job change but there are some jobs which are very necessary but will always be stressful. I would put my former occupation of mental health nurse working with in-patient adolescents in that category. Then finding something to balance the stresses is important. For some that would be massage/aromatherapy, for me it used to be catching for flying trapeze!

My plea is for you to see therapists as a way of enhancing a healthy lifestyle rather than fixing the results of an unhealthy one.