I Went To An Aromatherapist To Help Me Relax And Get Focused—Here’s What Happened

It was so much more than a smell-good massage.

October 10, 2017
& Deni Mcintyre Will/ Getty

I’m an essential oils believer. I sniff peppermint when I need pep in my step. I add eucalyptus to elevate my bath. I inhale lavender to put me into a slumber state. Without fail, I use them every day, whether it’s clove in my DIY toothpaste or a dab of rose behind my ears. My medicine cabinet is so packed full of the little vials, just opening it unleashes a smell-good blast of intoxication.

In short, I’m in love with aromatherapy. So it’s a little surprising that I’ve never seen an aromatherapist for advice on how to maximize my use of essential oils, or figure out what specific aromatic blends might reduce stress and improve my overall wellbeing the most. So I decided it was time to sniff out the real deal and see what it was all about.

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A post shared by Monika (@healingmuse) on

How to find a (legit) aromatherapist

The idea first came to me when I arrived in Canada for a three-week trip to visit my family. I love traveling, but crossing the border with two little kids for an extended stay at grandma’s house isn’t my idea of a vacation. My equilibrium was out of whack.

After some online research and a referral, I booked an hour-long aromatherapy massage with Monika Meulman, owner of The Healing Muse Apothecary and a certified aromatherapist with 20 years experience (pictured above). Not only does Monika have her degree in psychology and the 1-year of schooling required of her aromatherapy certification, she’s certified in Feng Shui and Reiki, and has actively studied herbology, meditation, and Chinese philosophy. In wellness terms, she’s like the whole cast of the Avengers rolled into one. (Check out our roundup of the best herbalists in the country.)

To find a qualified aromatherapist near you, visit the National Association of Holistic Therapy (or, in Canada, the Canadian Federation of Aromatherapists). You can also ask friends and wellness practitioners for recommendations. Make sure the aromatherapist is certified with a professional aromatherapy organization. Bonus if they’re schooled in other healing modalities as well. 

Related: The 6 Best Essential Oils To Use When You're Traveling

aromatherapy store front
Allison Young
What happened during my appointment

Yes, Monika has the aromatherapist chops and the credentials to back it up, but I quickly learned that she's even more than her resume. I walked into her apothecary, a multifaceted storefront in West Toronto that doubles as an aroma garden, lotion bar, sprout nursery, seed library, and smell-good haven and my senses were overwhelmed (in the best way) with all of the the bottles, lotions, potions, soaps, and spritzers—most formulated and handmade by Monika herself. And then there was Monika, a confident, caring presence with a wealth of knowledge. It’s important to feel comfortable with any therapist, as personal rapport and trust can only enhance a session.

Related: 5 Herbalists Reveal Their Go-To Remedies For Stress, Poor Sleep, And More

The real magic happened in her treatment room, a cocoon-like space draped in billowy curtains and twinkle lights that made relaxing easy. After I got undressed and under the sheet of the massage table, the same way you do for a massage, Monika knowingly massaged my back, neck, shoulders, legs, arms, and scalp with the grounding blend personalized just for me, reading my body and working the issues in my tissues. But that was only the surface story. Essential oils not only work by inhalation, stimulating olfactory nerves and activating areas of the brain used to process memories and emotions, the powerful plant extracts work transdermally, absorbed by the skin into the bloodstream. The 6000-year-old healing art has been used to treat both chronic and acute conditions, from injured muscles and migraines to depression and hormonal issues. Many of Monika’s clients come to her after hitting a wellness wall; she wasn’t their first resort, but their last. I was glad I was visiting her first.

(Meet the registered nurse and herbalist who grows her own natural remedies:)

bottles on shelf
Allison Young
What happened once I got home

I walked out feeling firmly planted and armed with a take-home blend specifically created for me with French lavender, frankincense, cedarwood, sage, and bergamot with olive oil and jojoba oil, which was meant to make me feel focused and centered. (These 5 essential oils can help reduce anxiety too.) Monika recommended I use it once or twice a day, gently massaging it into my hands and neck (even feet) and inhaling it from my hands.

The verdict? It worked. Over the next couple weeks I started my day with a dose of it right out of the shower and any time my head got stuck in the clouds, happily inhaling the earthy, woody, citrusy scent. With each inhalation, that frenzied feeling was replaced with balance. Equilibrium restored! So yes, I’ll definitely be seeing Monika the next time I’m in Toronto—and ordering more of my custom blend until then. 

Related: 4 Simple Spice Blends For Some Mood Boosting Aromatherapy

essential oil bottles
Allison Young
Monika's at-home aromatherapy tips

When I said Monika is a wealth of knowledge, I wasn’t exaggerating. Whether you want to de-stress or dial up your creativity, there’s an oil (or an oil blend) for that. 

Boost happiness: “There’s nothing better than adding a drop of bergamot and lime onto a tissue and inhaling for an instant smile on your face.”

Improve creativity: “Try the exotic flare of lemongrass with basil and tangerine for a surge of creativity or for any brainstorming activity. Put 5 drops of each into a spray bottle with water and spritz in the air of your work area.”

Reduce stress: “The fast-acting effects of roman chamomile and French lavender have been go-to soothers for centuries. Put 2 drops of each into a dollop of cream (1-2oz) and massage into hands, neck and shoulders.”

Increase energy: “Lemon and rosemary tone and restore mind and body. Put 3 drops of lemon and 2 drops of rosemary on a tissue and inhale 2-3 minutes.

Get grounded:Cedarwood and frankincense are must-haves for grounding and balancing. Use 5 drops of each in a diffuser. Aroma will linger up to 12 hours.”

Related: The 5 Best Eco Friendly Essential Oil Diffusers