The word “scented” appears on everything from perfumes to household cleaning products. Increasingly, people are aware of the benefits that can be achieved through our sense of smell and are incorporating aromatherapy into their beauty and holistic health care regimens.
Aromatherapy is a completely natural form of therapy that promotes relaxation, relieves symptoms of certain ailments and promotes mental and physical well-being. In its practice, essential oils are inhaled, massaged into the skin or added to a hot bath. According to many aroma therapists and holistic health practitioners, the fragrances of the essential oils, which are highly concentrated plant extracts, have a soothing effect on the brain’s limbic system, the part of your mind involved in memory, emotion and control of hormones. Many experts believe that aromatherapy relaxes the muscles and quiets the brain when applied correctly.
Aromatherapy, though, is not a new concept. Ancient civilizations used plant extracts and fragrances for anointment in religious ceremonies, as healing ointments, and to boost the overall mood of citizens. We have plenty of archaeological data regarding Egyptian culture, which used resins and plant extracts in their ceremonies and medical practices. Western medicine, however, discarded the evident health benefits during the 1800’s, which generally rejected holistic medical practices in favor of their newer scientific discoveries.
Then, in 1928, Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, applied lavender oil to a burn on his hand, easing his pain and minimizing the scar. This led him to continue to research this lost art of healing, and he soon coined the word “aromatherapy,” citing the many positive benefits that aromatic oils had on the human body.
What makes aromatherapy make sense as an alternative treatment? While it is rarely thought of as a cure or used as the sole treatment for any ailment, aromatherapy achieves positive health benefits for the body on both the physical and mental levels. The fragrance is carried to the brain through the body’s sensory receptors. The brain, in turn, reacts to the fragrance. When the fragrance hits the brain, the effects can be calming, invigorating, relaxing or stimulating depending upon the fragrance used. The oils can also be carried into the body through the skin via massage or submersion in a bath, carrying the healthful properties into the body through the pores. Each essential oil, highly concentrated and carefully produced for purity, either calms or stimulates the skin when applied.
The right fragrances can trigger an emotional reaction, called the “nose-brain connection.” According to scientists, olfactory nerves that connect to the hypothalamus and pituitary gland pick up odor molecules as they travel through the nose. Our limbic system creates a response to the smell, either in the form of a thought or a memory. This causes a response in our thought processes and mood, thus releasing into the body the chemicals that soothe and relax, or that invigorate and stimulate us.
This response is the reason holistic practitioners have been adding aromatherapy to their health care regimes, as have massage therapists and other health professionals. Combining the positive benefits of touch with the enhancement of essential oils and aromatherapy, massage therapists have been very successful in providing their clients with the release of tension inside the muscle tissues and the calming of the mind at the same time. Clients report that aromatherapy added to their massage sessions go deeper and last longer than without the addition of aromatherapy.
If you are interested in aromatherapy, some of these tips might help. Pour a few drops of essential oils into the palm of your hand, and then deeply inhale the fragrance. You could also pour 10-20 drops of an essential oil into hot bathwater before soaking. Infusers, oil warmers and diffusers are also effective tools in dispensing the aromas of essential oils. Remember, these oils are highly concentrated, and a few might be toxic, so never ingest an essential oil. Also, because of the high concentration—a few drops of an essential can contain the extract of an entire plant—it’s also important to dilute the oil in a carrier-oil before applying it directly to the skin. When used alone, aromatherapy is a powerful tool to promote wellness and healing. See how it can change your sense of well being.