For Hope Gillerman, aromatherapy is about much more than pretty scents.
The onetime dancer discovered alternative healing practices like Alexander Technique while trying to heal a back injury. That led her to study essential oils and Chinese medicine and then integrate those techniques into her private healing practice over the course of a decade.
Finally, she applied everything she had discovered about the healing powers of organic essential oils to creating her own line, H. Gillerman Organics. Blended to target various stress-related conditions, the brand launched at Henri Bendel in 2008 and has since attracted myriad fans from Nicole Richie to Lea Michele.
Here, Gillerman explains why a lovely smelling world is a happier one:
Live The Process: As a dancer, you turned to noninvasive therapies to heal a back injury. How did you discover these alternative healing practices?
Hope Gillerman: It may not seem obvious that dance—whether it be ballet, modern, jazz or hip hop—is not just great exercise; it puts a dancer’s body at risk. Training has to be informed by a deep understanding of how the body works—just like sports—but this is not always the case, as it wasn’t in my case. And dance, as an art form, takes the mover into the realm of abstraction, creating shapes, textures and styles that evoke the music or the dancer’s imagination. It is not a tangible art form, so, “speaking” means choosing steps that could actually be harmful for the body. As a dancer from childhood and a choreographer from my teens on, I sought to develop my own voice in a community of performance artists who were pushing back against the limits of what was seen as beautiful and feminine. At the time of the club kid, the waif and heroin chic, instead, we were looking at beauty as an expression of health. We performed frequently, in dance studios, museums, galleries and other art houses, but eventually my expressionist style turned back onto me and injured my back.
My injury meant I had to stop dancing. Taking even a few days off from my routine had always been rough, so you can imagine how stopping altogether felt! My training did not prepare me to heal on my own, but my dancer friends were a great resource. All performing artists have to deal with pain at some point. In a way, we are the guinea pigs of new healing modalities because we will try anything to keep performing. At that time, orthopedists offered just bed rest and medicine for back pain. Desperate to get back to dancing quickly, I used my friend’s referrals to find some of New York City’s best somatic therapists to help me. I tried many different types of massage and body re-education systems like Feldenkrais, Laban, floor ballet, Mabel Elsworth Todd’s approach called “The Thinking Body,” picked up by Irene Dowd, and, finally, the Alexander Technique. Elements of these early mind-body methods are found today in Pilates training, Barre Methods, yoga and guided meditation.
What finally worked for me was a combination of the Alexander Technique and aromatherapy. The Alexander Technique is the performing artist’s go-to solution for pain, especially if he or she wants to wean off the chiropractor and resolve pain longterm. It focuses on realigning the body and developing better body mechanics. The method works by relieving excess tension to permit the body to rebalance itself. And it worked for me. I went on to become a teacher of this powerful self-care method, handed down from teacher to student through one-on-one sessions with hands-on adjustments.
LTP: How did you happen upon essential oils and discover their powers?
HG: My dancer friends also told me about an unusual massage therapist who was known to apply essential oils throughout the session. This was before aromatherapy had hit the states—before Origins or the Body Shop—when lavender was a soap, not an oil. It was a miraculous experience because it not only relaxed my body and made me feel like I could move again, it shifted my entire mind set so thoroughly that I decided to take another look at my dancer’s lifestyle. After just one treatment with these mysterious scents that evoked calm, peace and healing, I changed my diet, started regular hydrotherapy (baths with essential oils and contrasting temperatures) and went for regular sessions. The oils were so effective that the treatments lasted a month. Gradually but steadily my back pain dissolved. As I returned to dancing, so did my love of life and, even more, my love of these mysteriously effective aromatic oils. It wasn’t long before I was making my own blends, healing my friends and refining my formulations for my private clients. Eventually, I needed more guidance and went to study essential oil healing with a renowned Chinese herbalist and acupuncturist, Jeffrey Yuen. He taught me a truly holistic approach to health that fully integrates aromatic healing. In my work with my clients, all this training paid off, as I worked to refine my blends for ten years. Ultimately, the blends I created for their sinus congestion, sleep, travel issues and pain were working!
LTP: How did you come to launch your unique line?
HG: Aromatherapy—the term coined in the early 20th century by a French chemist named Gattefosse—is the art and science of working with aromatic plants in the form of essential oils (nature’s most concentrated plant medicine). My life was transformed by these medicines. Yet, as essential oils gradually found their way into our personal care and cleaning products and spas, the intention was to use them more as a soothing aroma then as a healing modality. After a burst of interest, I watched their popularity wane since these personal care products couldn’t deliver on their promises: The formulations were too diluted, the oils were usually of poor-quality and the therapeutic intention was undeveloped.
Once I had my blends in place, I realized I had a broad approach that could help not just people in pain, but everyone dealing with the stresses and strains of daily life. Why not assemble a group of remedies and release them together as a system for dealing with stress? So, I founded my company Hope Blends LLC and my brand H. Gillerman Organics.
The basis for the line is organic oils, sophisticated, holistic therapeutic formulations (not like those created by chemists or perfumers) and packaging that makes them easy to use and apply anywhere.
My upcoming book, Essential Oils Everyday, gives readers the basics they need to adapt their wellness lifestyles and incorporate essential oils with confidence and ease. The only oils I recommend are organic essential oils. These oils, though more costly, are the only ones we can trust for their authenticity and purity. Since essential oils are absorbed through the breathing passages and the skin, the pesticides used in conventional farming are more easily absorbed, as well. Essential oils can accelerate the absorption of the toxins in our personal care products. So you always want your essential oils and your essential oil-based products to be very pure and organic.
LTP: What are your personal wellness rituals?
HG: I always use a sleep oil—like my Sleep Remedy—and some variations I make for personal use whenever I can’t sleep or wake up midway through the night. In fact, I am working on a second sleep oil now! I also use essential oils every day as my personal scent, deodorant, room fresheners and in my cleaning products. If I walk in a room and it doesn’t smell right, I immediately start dropping oils on a pillow or around the sink or the floor of the shower. I want my world to be aromatically excellent: uplifting, appealing to others, healing and mood balancing. My favorites change all the time, but I come back to the grounding base notes like sandalwood and Vetiver. I also love spikenard and lavender for sleep, vanilla and all the flower oils like ylang ylang, jasmine, neroli and geranium for soothing my psyche, peppermint and helichrysum for pain or injury in combo with my Muscle Remedy, clove and lemon eucalyptus as a bug repellant (got a lot of use this summer!) and my Sinus Remedy and Chest Remedy whenever I need to ward off a bug or decongest. I like to have a lot of oils on hand, so I can be creative. But, for beginners, just one bottle of really good lavender angustofolia will take you far!
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
HG: Feeling connected to people, nature and my senses all at once. Good health is such a big part of happiness to me. And if I am not moving everyday, I don’t feel healthy—I guess that’s the dancer in me. These days I am grateful I have the motivation to move. Don’t we all need that!
LTP: What does it means to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
HG: To me, “Live The Process” means staying in touch with my senses, my body and my state of mind, no matter what it is I am doing. Since we can so easily numb out for hours at the computer or do silly things like bend our necks over our phones, it takes us away from feeling sensation, emotion, love, compassion and any hope of peace of mind. I love the feeling of walking at exactly the right pace for how I am feeling in that moment, whether it is hiking uphill or slowly walking a soft path to take in the night air. Getting outside with nature and bringing the healing power of nature into your home, your workplace and your personal space is the quickest way to get away from the drone of technology that fills our heads everyday.