In 1998, I was introduced to aromatherapy. There were not many aromatherapy schools in Japan then, but I took reflexology, aromatherapy, and massage lessons with a teacher who had studied in England. When I finished school, I began working at a major Japanese spa before joining the Ritz-Carlton and Swissotel's Amrita Spa with an internship. With these groups, I earned valuable experience as a manager and hot stone instructor. When I first started, I was planning to open my salon after a little bit of time. However, working as a professional at a salon and studying in school was completely different. Many things that cannot be learned in school are learned on the job. Every day was a series of discoveries and learning. From this experience, I became more interested in all types of natural remedies.
After some time, I found an opportunity with a spa in San Francisco. Unlike Japan, in the United States, a state license is required for both massage and esthetician work. So I enrolled in a California school to acquire a massage and esthetician license, essentially redoing my education again. There are differences between the Japanese and the US massage industry, both culturally and professionally. Although I was puzzled by these differences, over time it allowed me to take good points from both countries, informing my own unique style.
I was eventually inspired to become a British IFPA (International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists) Qualification Aromatherapist because of reading a book by the clinical aromatherapist, Maxell Hudson. Hudson was an aromatherapist and is active in the UK as a medical aromatherapist visiting hospices, general hospitals, and cancer patients. Through this study, I learned specialized knowledge intending to use the pharmacological effects of essential oils to treat skin diseases, infectious diseases, and neurological diseases, as well as to enhance the natural healing power and lead the body and mind to a healthy state. IFPA Certification required 250 hours of curriculum, full body treatments, aromatherapy theory, anatomy and physiology, practical tests, written tests, a thesis, and the completion of 60 case studies. I was so enthusiastic about this study, that I was able to find a balance between work and my life more easily than when I was first in school. When I'm doing the treatment without thinking, my own heart relaxes. A test in Japan showed that the oxytocin level of the practitioner increased more than that of the person receiving the treatment. “Aren't you tired of offering massage?” I am often asked. I am not and am still here. This became even more pronounced when I changed from reflexology to full-body aromatherapy massage. Medical aromatherapy is the core of my aromatherapy practice.
After this, I became independent from salon work, rented a small space in San Francisco, and started my own aromatherapy salon. In parallel with starting a solo business, I also attended workshops and seminars on business to bring to fruition long-cherished ideas. Although I held a lot of experience already as a therapist, I still had a lot to learn about business.
In the summer of 2017, I moved to San Diego and opened my private practice there. My treatment focuses mainly, but not only, on the elderly, expectant mothers, and professional therapists. Before I knew it, 20 years had passed since I began this work in Japan.
Aromatherapy is a natural therapy that can be used safely at home, not just for treatments. My vision is to create a place where people can experience from various directions. It is a salon, but I have also developed my own aromatherapy product line called, Essence Dot. I am dedicated to using high-quality natural materials and essential oils. I studied extensively how important the ingredients are in medical aromatherapy, so I source from only ethically handled and developed materials and oils. I teach an aromatherapy class within my salon. During the pandemic, like many, I was able to move those to online lessons.
I would like to continue working as an aromatherapist for the rest of my life even after I become a grandmother. I want to always be with love and I think it would be wonderful if many aromatherapists could work as stress care specialists in their own practices, in clinics, and in hospitals. Studies have shown that the body is more effective. Skin-to-skin contact should have a synergistic effect on one another. Non-verbal communication is born by touching and being touched. There is also interesting research indicating that when one is touched by a person who secretes oxytocin, that oxytocin secretion is also stimulated within the receiver. From this, it is evident that the mental health, condition, and self-care of therapists are very important.
In my work, I consider the "action of aromatherapy" which includes the following:
(1) Work on the mind: It is said that endorphins, serotonin, adrenaline, etc. are secreted when you sniff essential oils. The limbic system, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland, which are stimulated by scent, control the functions of the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system.
(2) Actions on the body: Essential oil components are known to have the effect of stimulating each organ of the body and improving its actions.
(3) Work on the skin: You can expect the beauty effect of essential oils on the skin.
The route of essential oils into the body includes:
(1) Respiration: Taken into the blood
(2) Smell: Sent to the brain via electrical signals
(3) Skin: mucous membrane: permeates and is taken into the blood and circulates throughout the body
Since essential oils have small molecular weights, they penetrate deep into the skin. Essential oils circulate in the body and are transported to the kidneys and liver for detoxification. It is metabolized and finally excreted from the body through urine, feces, and sweat. I also consider how a scent affects our minds and body in our lives.
For example, the aroma of ripe fruit, coffee, freshly baked bread, and food stimulates salivation, increases appetite, eliminates irritation, and brings back old memories.
On the other hand, some things make you feel uncomfortable and dangerous. These are individual to each person’s life map, but common ones are the smell of disinfectant and of burning tires. Many people choose their favorite scents for perfumes, soaps, and shampoos because the scent is very important and has positive effects on emotional states. From asking clients over time, I’ve learned a lot about what people experience from aromatherapy massage including relief from physical fatigue, mental depression, stress, insomnia, and pain.
The olfactory sense and the power of touch is a very important senses for animals to live. A combination of aromatherapy and massage with the scent of plants and the warmth of human hands, relaxes one's tense body, heal one's mental and physical fatigue, and restores one's balance. An experiment in Japan, after having athletes smell grapefruit essential oil, found that they performed better when they smelled the essential oil than when they didn't. Excessive tension was relieved and the athletes were able to relax and perform.
In 2020, the pandemic shook the world. Like all manual therapists, I could not continue as I had been working and living. It was difficult for everyone, we all lived this together. Yet it was especially difficult for the elderly as the isolation exacerbated their loneliness. I was not able to visit my family in Japan. My grandmother had benefited from my hand massage, so I started visiting hand massage at elderly care facilities in the San Diego area. Thanks to the cooperation of the staff at the facility the people looked forward to receiving hand massages every week and were happy with the treatment. There were times when there were lockdowns and I had to skip treatments, but during those interruptions, people learned that they could heal each other.
Not just the elderly, but people of all ages are still suffering from mental and physical stress due to the changes in life due to the pandemic. Losing communication with loved ones, family, friends, and other people can be a great stress for people. Human-to-human touch creates feelings of well-being, and being touched creates a sense of relief that people treat them with care. It's not just that a newborn baby needs the warmth of its mother's skin to grow, but it's important for everyone to have contact with other people. We perceive the boundary line between ourselves and the outside world and others on the border of our skin. The skin sensation is connected to the brain and promotes hormone secretion, working on the mind and body. Massage is a very primitive therapy that can be healed by hand through the skin of the largest organ of the human being, by non-verbal sensations. What a fascinating type of therapy! I continue to be fascinated by this work. There is a lot of burnout in tissue massage work. I believe that the reason why I have been able to continue doing this work for so long is that, like my clients, I have benefited from aromatherapy together with massage.
The story of the Love Bar
In 2003, I started making soap. At the time, my mother was suffering from idiopathic dermatitis. I visited a dermatologist and tried products that were said to be good for the skin. While trying various natural remedies, I began making handmade soaps. It took a long time of trial and error, but the result is the Love Bar Soap.
Love Bar is a skin-friendly soap that does not dissolve easily, has a fine texture, foams well, and has moisturizing power. It doesn’t tighten the skin as soap is known to do but brings softness. This soap uses plenty of ingredients that have been used for beauty since ancient times in Japan, such as organic and natural plant oils, adzuki beans, charcoal, and mugwort. I wanted to use only healing natural ingredients to try to help my Mom. When she started using her soap, her skin condition improved. People with skin conditions began asking for the soap, and people would pass the soap on. I was so happy with the results for my Mom and then others that I became absorbed in making more soaps. My soaps are not animal tested, but….while developing the Love Bar, my Labrador pup, who was at home at the time, ate some. He was fine though, he didn’t get sick. And it’s noted that he was never interested in eating his commercial dog soap!
While developing the Love Bar, I also imagined how soap would flow into the Ocean along with the water, and how the packaging materials would become garbage, so this was another reason to use only natural ingredients and minimize waste. I do not want to harm the earth or our waterways.
I have continued through the years to make small-batch soaps and continue to develop different recipes. This is an added part of my practice that supports my clients and my bottom line. I stumbled into this out of love for my Mom. And this lesson of working in a state of love was a great lesson.
In soap making, each step is done manually. First, the ingredients are measured, spread over time, poured into a mold, and left to rest for 24 hours. After cutting it to size, it is slowly dried for a month and a half to two months or more. I try to make soap in the early morning when it is quiet and I can concentrate. It will take some time before this soap can be used, but I like the whole process, and I hope that people who use this soap will have a pleasant experience not only for their skin but also for their hearts. I still continue to make it carefully, gently, politely, and with love. I keep in my mind what my Mom and Grandmother taught me. From my experience so far, what I think is good for the skin is very simple. And as a therapist, it is holistic.
``To keep the skin healthy, 90% from the inside and 10% from the outside'' It means that the outermost skin is affected from the inside. What can we therapists do in that 10%?
This is what I learned in Japanese beauty school. All my facial treatments are all hands-on, using aromatherapy, quality botanical bases, and natural clays. They are simple and very powerful. What I want to cherish is holistic. Not only the beauty of the appearance but also the overall health. As a result of continuing to do what I am interested in, what I like, and what I want to do, I am blessed with various jobs and connections, and I am still working. I have met a lot of people, received a lot of support, and even now, I feel that I have been helped by many people. I feel grateful every day. Many therapists are active as stress care specialists in each place and site. As a therapist, I hope that I will continue to learn and progress and that I will continue to play an active role no matter how old I become.
Learn more about Ai Tauber in her contributor bio.