Expanding Aromatherapy: A Recap of the AIA International Aromatherapy Conference 2013

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There was a good vibe at this year’s AIA International Conference held September 19-22 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  With the theme “Power of the Past-Force of the Future,” the wide variety of presentations had something to offer those of every level of Aromatherapy training.  For the first time, massage therapy attendees were able to earn National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB) credits. The IJPHA was happy to see many members of our editorial review team as presenters at this year’s event. Within the opening statements, president Bev Day read a letter from Bill Foster, Mayor of St. Petersburg, declaring September as “Aromatherapy Month.”

Each morning began with a workshop on Kundalini Yoga led by Nancy Graves, MBA, CA.  The sessions went beyond daily exercise and breathing as Ms. Graves focused on how Kundalini Yoga could be integrated with essential oils as a healing modality, including cold depression (a systematic response to stress), self-care for the healer, and balance through breath.

Keynote speaker Rhiannon Lewis asked the question “Are you working at the coalface?”  The coalface is a reference to miners, those who remove coal from the ‘face’ of the mine, however it is now more commonly used to mean any work closest to the frontline.  Is your approach or involvement in Aromatherapy theoretical or are you engaging with clients in your practice?  With a focus on expanding clinical Aromatherapy through research-informed practice, Ms. Lewis compared the work of the coal miners to the practice of Aromatherapists working with clients directly in the field with clients.  Emphasis was placed on the necessity of Aromatherapists to actively practice their craft by putting research into practice and adding to the body of knowledge in the industry.

Cindy Black, L.Ac, gave a spirited presentation on the anatomy of the mind-body connection/Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI).  Ms. Black discussed the intricacies of the central nervous system, the hypothalamus, and how olfaction influences the brain and its further effect on the immune and autonomic nervous systems.  She presented a topic often hard to comprehend in an easily understood format with lots of humor woven throughout.  Her teaching method is one reason she is a “pillar of the aromatic community.”

We explored “The 5th Element” with Katharine Koeppen, RA, LMT. Ms. Koeppen walked us through defining the mysterious etheric temperment and its relationship to Aromatherapy.  A sense of loneliness and lack of identity are two of the archetypal descriptions of those etheric clients who are this temperament.  She discussed the use of three essential oils (Laurus nobilis, Jasminum grandiflorum, and Viola odorata) that can help to facilitate healing in those who are challenging but, when they are fully comfortable, are “beautiful to behold.”

Treating allergic, acute, and chronic inflammatory issues was addressed by Peter Holmes, L.Ac., MH.  Per Mr. Holmes, combining the knowledge of six pathogenic conditions (tense or weak, hot or cold, dry or damp) with an individual’s “terrain” is the key to essential oil selection and ultimately healing. The presentation addressed factors that cause inflammation, a variety of anti-inflammatory essential oils, and treatment examples.  His advice? Whatever you are treating you should always address the whole underlying terrain.

Lymphodema therapist and Clinical Aromatherapist Linda Ann Khan shared a holistic multidisciplinary approach to boosting immunity and the role of the lymphatic system.  The powerful synergy of using Aromatherapy and manual lymph drainage can provide healing for many conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other autoimmune disorders.  Supporting the health of the terrain, balancing body and mind, and rejuvenating the lymphatic system through exercise, breathing, yoga, and Aromatherapy are key to boosting immunity.  Various essential oil research and the importance of skin-brushing were discussed.

The first day concluded with a book signing by the authors on hand, most notably Robert Tisserand with the advance copies of his highly anticipated second edition of Essential Oil Safety.  Mr. Tisserand kicked off the conference with a pre-conference seminar on clinical safety in Aromatherapy.  The seven and a half hour presentation was a highlight of this conference.  Mr. Tisserand covered everything from key issues in safety to risk management with a larger portion of the presentation on adverse effects in cancer care, pregnancy, drug interactions, and skin allergy.  As usual, his presentation included a lot of myth busting, solid research, and a fair amount of wit.  Attendees of the workshop were the first to purchase their copy of his new book.

The next day began with Robert Tisserand and a lighter but informative look at Aromatherapy safety, scares and myths. Various research studies were reviewed within the presentations and attendees learned about evaluating information from a variety of sources.  Other outcomes included an explanation as to why safety regulations may be biased, the assumption that in vitro data can be hypothesized in the real world, and a description between theoretical risk and actual risk.  Some of the more popular controversial research and myths were discussed, as well as the idea that “ignorance, bias, profit and politics” are all involved in sustaining myths and scares in the industry.

Another lively presentation was given by Clinical Aromatherapist and educator, Andrea Butje.  Ms. Butje shared her approach to making chemistry studies easy and fun for students.  After a discussion on the benefits of teaching essential oil chemistry, Ms. Butje presented a model of four building blocks of essential oil chemistry and teaching methods to make it more accessible and to support a positive experience for the student.  By making the chemistry relevant it is easier to engage the student and instill confidence.

Author and educator Gabriel Mojay effectively illustrated the correlation between scientific and energetic therapeutics as confirmed through modern research.  “Aromadynamics” of an essential oil refers to their therapeutic effects according to established theories in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and ancient Greek medicine.  Drawing on his experience as a clinical practitioner and work with Traditional Chinese Medicine, Mr. Mojay provided a framework for several key olfactory/energetic mind/body actions to expand Aromatherapists’ use of essential oils and enhance their formulae for a wide variety of conditions.

Returning to the podium again this year, Dr. Raphael d’Angelo discussed the pitfalls often experienced in an Aromatherapy practice.  As the healthcare environment becomes more regulated, new challenges come about for Aromatherapy practitioners.  Dr. d’Angelo discussed personal, business and therapy obstacles that can arise in your practice and offered advice on how to not let yourself be derailed by them.  Information on ministerial, the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act, and 9th Amendment protection was provided.  In closing, Dr. d’Angelo reminds us that we don’t “treat”—the body heals itself with the assistance of essential oils. Also good communication is part of our best intentions—never imply or guarantee outcome and always work within your scope of practice or make a suitable referral.

The second day of lectures ended with Registered Aromatherapist and Herbalist Mindy Green, who put essential oils under scrutiny with regard to the controversy over whether they are nature’s medicine or dangerous toxins. While essential oils are both, the answer lies in dosage, duration, and administration.  Essential oils have been shown to be effective with some “Super Bugs” where conventional treatment with antibiotics has failed.  Education in clinical aspects of Aromatherapy is a key factor.

Nurse-Aromatherapist Valerie Cooksley invoked possibilities: There’s taking a bath and then there’s taking a bath.  She began the day with a fascinating presentation on aromatic medicinal bath therapies a.k.a. Aroma-Balneotheraputics.  Many of us, at one time or another, may have added sea salts, essential oils, and/or herbs to a bath without giving much thought to the possibility of possible contraindications for a variety of conditions.  After delving into the rich history of Balneotherapy and our relationship with water, Ms. Cooksley shared specific guidelines for everything from water temperature, which mineral salts and botanical extracts/essential oils to use, and time duration of a bath for therapeutic intervention.  Indications, contraindications and adverse reactions were discussed and several recipes were given.

Aromatherapist Bridget Kelley used Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and the teachings of Socrates to illustrate the progression of our experience of essential oils and that of our client.  By understanding each viewpoint, we can better serve the needs of our client and give them a better understanding of how to approach essential oils within their treatment plan.  Establishing trust and active listening are just two of many ways to promote Aromatherapy within your practice.

Ann Harman, organic farmer and artisan distiller of hydrolats, gave an interesting presentation on the chemistry of hydrolats.  Her presentation included GC/MS reports of the volatile components found in hydrolats, a rarity in the Aromatherapy community.  Hydrolats seems to be underused in the industry, perhaps due to lack of knowledge on how to buy, store and use.  Ms. Harman addressed several of those issues while advising to care for hydrosols “like a fine wine.” She pointed to current research of hydrosols in microbiology, chemistry, free radical reduction, and treating insomnia, and listed over a dozen ways to use hydrosols in therapy.

A highlight for many attendees was the presentation given by Joan Morais on creating a natural skin-care line.  Ms. Morais is an Aromatherapist, herbalist and natural cosmetic formulator.  She discussed some of the basics of skin-care and the essential oils best used for various skin types.  However, she went a bit further and shared her recommendations for using hydrolats, herbs and herbal extracts in addition to the essential oils, and her approach to a natural skin-care regime.  Scrubs, serums, lotions and steams were among many of the recipes and protocols she discussed.  She concluded with an interactive Do-It-Yourself lymphatic facial massage.

The final presentation of the conference was given by Dr. Debrah Zepf.  Working a recap of everything she learned at the conference into her own presentation, Dr. Zepf discussed her dissertation research indicating that energetic medicine and essential oils can lower cholesterol.  The power of the chakras, spoken affirmations, and therapeutic touch were some of the interventions used in her study.  Conclusions from her study indicate that energy medicine and, more specifically, the power of positive thinking can lower cholesterol.  Bringing positive thought together with other integrative interventions can bring limitless possibilities and whole body health, leaving attendees with the mantra “Change your thoughts, change your world.”

The Annual General Meeting, held during the lunch hour on day two.  The election results were announced and the new officers installed.  Two interesting announcements were made.  The first by Marge Clark of Nature’s Gift.  Ms. Clark shared information about an essential oil wholesaler in the U.S. who had their shipment of Pelargonium graveolens seized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  In investigating the shipment, the FDA used the internet to learn more about the oil and found another company’s website in which they indicated health claims of the oil.  While it was not the wholesale company’s own website they viewed, and as the distributor in question makes no health claims on their own site, the shipment was seized and set aside to be destroyed.  The wholesaler received a letter from the FDA accusing them of importing “a new drug without an approved new drug application.” Ms. Clark is seeking assistance from Aromatherapists in contacting various members of Congress about the situation. In addition, a new volunteer supported website (www.AromatherapyUnited.org) is addressing the issue from a different perspective.  The second announcement was an impassioned one given by Jade Shutes, president of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Ms. Shutes discussed the Aromatherapy community in America and suggested that perhaps members of AIA and NAHA should start a dialog about the possibility of a merger between the two organizations.  An awards ceremony was held immediately after the adjournment of the meeting.  Various awards were given to members for their contributions to the organization, however the highlight was the announcement of Andrea Butje as the recipient of the AIA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  Ms. Butje is best known for her school, Aromahead Institute, as well as her online (essential oil chemistry) Component Database.  Ms. Butje is a celebrated Aromatherapy educator, essential oil purveyor, and marketing guru.  Our congratulations go out to her!

The event was not without its social fun and networking.  Friday night saw many attendees on the dance floor, led by “Vintage Aromatherapist” Sylla Sheppard-Hanger, at the evening reception.  Ms. Sheppard-Hanger also gave an entertaining presentation during the lunch hour on the first day with a big “shout out” to Aromatherapy pioneers, several of whom were on hand.  She began with a slide presentation about her 40-year journey in Aromatherapy and her involvement with breast cancer, autistic children, and the United Aromatherapy Effort with a look at the development of Aromatherapy in the U.S.  As a thank you to those pioneers, including attendees Emilee Stewart and Colleen Dodt, she handed out “Vintage Aromatherapist” awards by decade.  In an effort to inspire those new to Aromatherapy, she concluded her presentation with a request to honor the past and keep moving Aromatherapy forward.  She coined the term “co-opetition” which inspires cooperation not competition in the industry, particularly between professionally trained Aromatherapists and independent distributors engaged in multi-level marketing companies.  She also invited newer Aromatherapists to “use” her up as well as other vintage/pioneer Aromatherapists who have much to offer with their expertise to the future leaders of our industry.

Written by Lora Cantele, CMAIA, RA, CSRT

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