Essential Oils and Aging: the autumn years


Marguerite Maury, aging and essential oils: reflections on ‘youthful maturity’

 

 Heather Godfrey PGCE BSc (Joint Hon) FIFA

 

 Originally published in the International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy

Editor: Rhiannon Lewis   Associate Editor: Gabriel Mojay

2015 Volume 10 Issue 2: Aging Body, Aging Mind; IJCA ISSN 1961-723

 

Abstract


The following paper explores the process of aging viewed through a personal lens, but more significantly as reflected through the eyes and wisdom of Marguerite Maury, chemist, homeopath, aromatherapist and clinical researcher. Maury’s honest and pragmatic yet also positive and encouraging viewpoints on aging are explored, along with her remedial application of essential oils, which she exploited for their vital and dynamic rejuvenating, regenerating, restorative and protective qualities.

 
Introduction

Having recently stepped into my sixth decade, I can affirm that the journey through life is bittersweet, both obvious and insidious.  I am constantly a moment, a whispered distance from the veil of my future and the shadows of my past, its shades flickering in my memory. In reality, all I have, or am, is just as it is as I stand in this moment, here and now. (Tolle 2005; Kabat-Zinn 2004, 2002). In the moment age seems irrelevant. Yet when I glance in the mirror at the reflected face of the woman smiling back at me, lines tellingly etched around her eyes, I am acutely aware of time, or rather the rhythm, the momentum of life; each line as if the hands of a ticking clock, heralding my passage. When I was young, time seemed endless, abstract even. Yet, as I grow older, I realise how fleeting time is – the flippant expectation of youth replaced by a sense of preciousness, appreciation, the road ahead no longer disappearing into a distant horizon, but shrouded in the colours of an impending sunset. A ‘blink’ ago I was at school, leaving home to search for deeper meaning, adventure, getting married, holding my first child, watching them hold their own.  I see reflected in the eyes gazing back at me in the mirror, the happiness, joy, fulfilment, bliss, sadness, disappointment, fear, trials and tribulations, frustration and passion; yet they glint, shine, are alive with the light of the moment.  Life embodied within my frame, here, now, each breath I inhale oxygenating my soul.

It is impossible to talk about age and essential oils without mentioning the chemist, homeopath, aromatherapist and clinical researcher Marguerite Maury (1895-1968).  She eloquently delves into the subject of aging in her book ‘The Secret of Life and Youth’ (1964):

“Our main interest is not old age in itself, the accomplished fact… what we have to know is what causes it to take us by surprise… growing old is an eminently individual matter… there are as many ways of growing old as there are human beings… each aging according to his body, heredity, biological make up, mentality and, finally, evolution.” (Maury 1961: 1989, p. 19)

Maury considered that the process of life, the way we traverse the paths and roads laid before us, the things we absorb (physiological and psycho-emotional), our attitude and outlook, determine whether we endure or wither.

She speaks thus of the rhythm of life:

To live, to be alive, means to be in motion, to evolve, to transform oneself and transmute things according to the alchemy of the spirit and the body… a man must perceive his own rhythm and respect it.” (Maury 1961/1989, p. 19)

She believed it vital to allow this rhythm expression, free movement and continuity according to the individual’s natural unimpeded pace, each person owning their own rhythm.

As age ensues, this rhythm naturally slows down, but momentum of its beat remains vital to health and wellbeing.  In slowing down, according to Maury, we are afforded more time for reflection, which increases our capacity for tolerance; attitude toward oneself and life in general is a significant determinant of ‘how’ we grow old.  With age comes increasing sensitivity to noise, slowed reactions and decreasing ability to adapt and compensate, a tendency to tire more easily. Acquiescence is important but this is not the same as ‘giving in’.  Even though perhaps slower, ability to adapt and compensate remain vital components, determinants of healthy survival, along with self control and self discipline; conditions which enable and strengthen resolve and support the body’s ability to endure, in perpetual rhythm:

“It is when the body no longer makes good it’s wear and tear, no longer dominates it; when it can no longer adapt itself to new physical and psychological conditions, that the balance it broken… then aging is the punishment.” (Maury 1961/1989, p. 25)

Aging as a ‘punishment’ seems quite harsh and unforgiving. Life brings many challenges in one way or another, and we each cross the line of ‘a certain age’ in differing states of health and wellness. There are common, unavoidable factors, such as loss of skin tone, greying hair, bone mass reduction, diminishing brain cells, but our general health and wellbeing is otherwise determined by our constitution, lifestyle and the pressures, trials and stresses of everyday life and our ability to deal with challenge and the ‘ups and downs’ of living. However, no matter what has occurred up to the moment, ‘now’ is always a good starting point to affect positive improvement (even if in some circumstances change is not possible), or to reaffirm and continue to sustain an already healthy lifestyle with renewed enthusiasm.

Maury believed that in acknowledging age as a natural process, a friend and not an enemy, adapting and not giving up in the face of inevitable change, viewing age as ‘another country visited’ along the journey of life, we thus equip ourselves to enjoy it as a new, exciting untapped landscape, still holding adventure and possibility.  Such an attitude, she believed, staves off premature cellular deterioration, which lays the ground for disease and diminishing faculty, keeps us ‘alive’ and vibrant, and enables ability to adapt and deal with challenges.  Eating nutritional food, applying remedies that enhance, repair, restore and rejuvenate body, mind and spirit, also supports and protects our ability to graciously surrender, to realize our unique capacity to fully experience, enjoy and manage the bitter-sweetness of life.

Concerning the autumn years, “this second youth, or rather the state of youthful maturity” Maury states:

“On reaching this state, an immense surprise will take hold of you. The first step will be to rediscover yourself and make acquaintance once more with your inner life. Every man and woman, on seeing themselves rejuvenated, invariably forget that their face is marked by age… in the same way you will forget your old quarrels… emotional memories will grow blurred… you will be cured very gently of your griefs… Everything new will arouse enormous interest; actually it will not appear particularly new, merely contemporary. And fear, that mortal enemy of the soul, will fall from your shoulders like a cast-off clout.” (Maury 1961/1989, p. 201)

Age and faculty

Any factor that improves general health is good for the brain (Rabbitt, 2015).  However, as we age, our brains naturally begin to shrink.  Unlike other body cells, which replace themselves when they die, brain cells are not regenerated.  As our metabolism slows down, the brains blood circulation becomes less efficient, consequently cells are more likely to be starved of oxygen and vital nutrients, and toxins and waste material are removed less efficiently. In order to cope with cell loss, other areas within the brain are employed to compensate.  However, as the brain continues to lose cells, its mass and density deteriorate. Remaining cells begin to become disconnected from each other, inhibiting efficient function and impairing the speed of cognition and memory, especially short-term memory (creating dementia-like symptoms).  Exercise and activity, which stimulates circulatory flow and improves cell oxygenation and transportation of vital nutrients, eating a diverse range of fresh nutritionally rich foods, may slow the rate of brain cell deterioration. (McReynold & Rossen 2015; Hess et al 2014)

The basic elements that support health and wellbeing as we age.

 

Positive attitude: toward self, others and the environment

Healthy diet: moderate, fresh and nutrient rich

Regular exercise: this does not have to be  strenuous as long as it involves movement and respiration, oxygenating cells, shifting waste material, stimulating blood and lymph circulation and gently toning muscles, maintaining strength and integrity; improving mood and emotion

Relaxation: rest, fun and community

Sufficient income and social security:  safety, food, cloths, warmth, shelter, social activity and involvement

Sources: Godfrey, 2016; Glenville, 2015; Han et al., 2015; McReynolds and Rossen, 2004; Hess et al., 2014; Nillson et al., 2014; Vann, 2014

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are age-related diseases which cause parts of the brain to begin to ‘waste away’ (atrophy).  It is not known exactly what instigates this wasting process, but a link between abnormal amounts of protein (amyloid plaques), fibres (tau tangles) and the presence of acetylcholine found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s is postulated (Jackson, 2014; Adrade-Moraes et al., 2013; Polydoro et al., 2013; Serrano et al., 2013).  The onset of Alzheimer’s may be rapid or slow and prolonged.  Again, maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle appears to slow its progress, but does not diminish it.  Alzheimer’s is one of the primary causes of death in old age, particularly among those who are 85 years and older, especially among women, even though the gap is closing, women still tend to out live men (UK Office of National Statistics, 2012; Nillson et al., 2014; Li, 2010; Bowles, 2009; Beshara & Giddings, 2002;)

Then there are the longevity ‘wear and tear’ conditions, such as arthritis, hearing loss, diminishing eyesight, incontinence…such a lot to look forward to; Maury might be forgiven for referring to aging as a ‘punishment’!  But the above still holds true for these conditions too; that is, continuing to maintain a positive attitude (although this can be quite challenging in some circumstances), a healthy active lifestyle and nutritionally rich diet goes some way to slowing the onset and severity of such conditions and supports immunity, resilience and tenacity (if not diminishing at least supporting tolerance and reducing vulnerability to infection and rapid deterioration).  Essential oils, with their antiseptic, antiviral, anti-microbial, immune supporting, skin healing, rejuvenating, uplifting, grounding and balancing qualities are ideal additional ‘companions’ on this journey. (Bensoulilah & Buck, 2006; Alexander, 2002; Broughan, 2002; Gerber, 2001; Saeki & Shiohara, 2001; Damian & Damian, 1995)

Essential oils and aging

Maury observed the interconnectedness between mind, emotion, body and nature and the dynamic role essential oils may play as regulators that are capable of maintaining, healing, restoring, balancing, and linking ethereal, spiritual and physical dimensions – sustaining the organisms dynamic vibrancy and vitality.  She was particularly interested in the similarity in composition of human and plant cells and their life cycles and restorative ability, especially in relation to human tissue, recognising “the innate kinship” between the cells of living organisms and their dynamic integrated relationship with each other:

“Nature is sovereign: the plant is a living being with a specific energy potential. The use of this energy conforms to the law of nature… By inserting this energy force into our body, we can therefore expect an efficacious and selective action on its part. The body will thus have at its disposal a vital and living element. It will use its energy for its own ends. The great physician Ramon considered odoriferous matter as a vegetable hormone, the only one to be in a dynamic state.” (Maury, 1961/1989, p. 80 & 81)

She believed that essential oils offer a vital natural connection between man’s external and internal environment, their virtues supporting and regulating physiological and psycho-emotional health, wellbeing and sense of spiritual awareness:

“It is not surprising, therefore, that these virtues should exercise the most disparate influences on the individual. Applied to the skin these essences regulate the activity of the capillaries and restore vitality to the tissues. We might almost say that they “make the flesh more succulent”…But of the greatest interest is the effect of fragrance on the psychic and mental state of the individual. Powers of perception become clearer and more acute, and there is a feeling of having, to a certain extent, outstripped events. They are seen more objectively and therefore in truer perspective. It might even be said that the emotional trouble, which in general obscures our perception, is practically suppressed…The conscious mind is alerted, and one feels a great enrichment. We must not however, confuse emotion and sentiment. How often are our good and lucid sentiments and our best intentions literally drowned by an emotion, which is merely a psychosomatic reaction? The use of odiferous matter induces a true sentimental and mental liberation.” (Maury 1961/1989, p. 82 & 83)

Fascinated by their rejuvenating qualities, Maury re-introduced the concept of ‘holistic remedies’, honing and creating combinations of essential oils, or ‘individual mixtures’, to create personalized remedial blends that would rebalance and restore body, mind and emotion to their natural state of balance by counterbalancing excess and deficiency:

“The individual mixture is designed to reflect the weaknesses and violence of an individual; it has to compensate for the deficiencies and reduce the excess. It serves above all to normalize the rhythm of the functions. The latter risk, either by inveigling the body into excessive expenditure of energy or by an over-accentuated slowing down, preventing it from satisfying the demands made upon it. For these reasons the individual mixture may be compared to the negative of a film with its reversed shadows and light.” (Maury, 1961/1989, p. 95)

She observed, as others have too, that the body appears affected by a person’s sense and awareness of their ‘being’, their attitude, mental state and their immediate environment.  In deed, it seems, in combination, massage and essential oils form an ideal team or partnership to accompany us as we traverse life’s path, especially as we enter our ‘autumn years’; massage is nurturing as well as invigorating and essential oils support health, vitality and wellbeing.

Conclusion

Age is an inevitable process; our bodies are finite, life is transient. However, although there is some inevitable ‘slowing down’, aging does not necessarily herald debilitation.   Maury delved into the biological, psycho-emotional-spiritual process of ageing, exploring the natural relational qualities of essential oils and plants and their influence on the human (animal) organism. She advocated graceful acquiescence but emphasized the need to remain ‘vital’ and active, in rhythmic motion, to embrace age as a new territory in the ever-changing landscape of life, to explore and relish.  Each person enters this territory at their own pace, unique in their physical status, frame of mind, emotion, attitude and sense of spirituality. As history testifies, essential oils have accompanied us like guardians and companions on our ever-evolving journey through time and life: applied in the form of fumigants, incense, cleansers, antiseptics, antibiotics, anti-bactericides, preservatives, as well as psychosomatic, hedonistic perfumes, which have not only been worn to adorn, but also to protect, to symbolize intention and to punctuate and accentuate rite and ritual.  Aging is another of many ‘rights of passage’ encountered through life.  Essential oils are perfect companions (along with meditation).  Applied appropriately essential oils are safe and cost effective.  They are dynamic.  They complement the changing needs of the body and procure protective, restorative and rejuvenating qualities.

Appendix

Safe application

As we grow older, apart from the above observations, our skin becomes thinner and dryer and our bones less dense.  We are also more inclined to bruise easily as capillary walls become less tenacious.  This means that essential oils will penetrate the epidermis more readily as the skin loses some of its barrier quality. This also increases the propensity for skin irritation and sensitization.  So essential oils require application in moderation, at lower than normal dose, as a caution when applied topically (even though many elderly people are very robust).  It also means that massage pressure and vigour are considered and accordingly tempered.

I do not advocate the internal use of essential oils, unless prescribed and dispensed under strict medical guidance.  Essential oils have a ‘shelf life’ and do require careful handling as they are prone to oxidise and can become toxic.  To slow this process down essential oils should be stored in blue but preferably amber bottles, with a dropper top to ensure careful dispensation, and tightly secured screw top lids. They should be stored away from direct sunlight and sources of heat (so, do not leave them standing on windowsills); preferably stored somewhere cool such as a fridge (although some oils, e.g. rose Otto, will solidify they do liquefy again at room temperature).  Essential oils should also be used within twelve months of opening (citrus oils six months).

 Massage improves and supports:

  • Skin and muscle tissue tone
  • Relaxed muscles
  • Circulatory flow (delivery of nutrients and oxygen, removal of waste and toxins)
  • Release of endorphins (uplifting, invigorating and relaxing)
  • Self awareness and esteem
  • Communication and emotional connection
  • Mental calmness and clarity

Essential oils improve and support:

  • The immune system (anti-microbial)
  • Skin care and wound healing
  • Colds, ‘flu, bronchitis, sore throats, chest infections
  • Restoration and rejuvenation (physiological and psycho-emotional)
  • Mood, emotion and mental vigor
  • Memory
  • Sense of feeling calm, relaxed, ‘grounded’, uplifted, braced, ‘awake’
  • Inner ‘spiritual’ connection

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Heather Godfrey