Have you ever had a smell trigger a memory – of your grandmother’s strawberry jam, of clean laundry or even of a moment of your life you’d rather not remember? Your sense of smell can take you from the present to a moment or to an emotional feeling that you didn’t even know you remembered.
Aromas play a large role our everyday life. They give our brain cues on how to feel and what to think. Some aromas are more potent, influencing not just our memories but also our psychological and physical responses. This is where aromatherapy comes into play.
What is aromatherapy exactly?
Aromatherapy takes advantage of the influence fragrances have on our brains to set a mood, stimulate “cognitive function” and make you feel good mentally and physically. The aromas come from plants and other organic sources in the form of essential oils, making it a natural way to help you keep a positive outlook on life.
The concept of aromatherapy isn’t really a new one. Essential oils have been used in medicine since the first century; in 1936, René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist, coined the term “Aromatherapy”. His book, Gattefossé’s Aromatherapy,
outlines the early uses of essential oils in the treatment. The start of a new science for well-being.
His book, and the practice that evolved from it, created a new dimension to our sense of smell. No longer just perfumes, aromas are powerful tools that can provide relief from stress, pain and tension. If used correctly, that is...
How does aromatherapy work?
Your brain is an amazing machine. It processes a million different pieces of information simultaneously and smell, being one of the five senses, is pretty important. The “limbic system” of the brain is particularly vulnerable to scent - since this is the section of the brain responsible for feeling and sensation, that means that hitting the limbic system with a specific smell will release chemicals (good ones) that make you feel relaxed, calm or even stimulated.
There are three ways of hitting that limbic system of yours with aromatherapy:
Aerial diffusion: essential oils are sent into the air via a diffuser.
Direct inhalation: essential oils are sniffed, either directly from the bottle, in steam, from your palm, in the form of smelling salts, in a handkerchief or through tubes.
Topical application: probably the most common form of aromatherapy, essential oils are rubbed into your skin via lotions, oils, soaps or a soak in a bath (when combined with a massage, this is probably the most relaxing!)
What is aromatherapy used for?
There are many different reasons to use aromatherapy
. Possibilities include:
- Promoting sleep
- Fighting depression
- Easing muscle and body aches
- Promoting blood circulation
- Aiding with digestive problems
Aromatherapy, especially if it’s done at home, is a complement to medical treatment. While the science behind aromatherapy has progressed with leaps and bounds, it is still better to be treated by an expert for a medical problem!
Keep in mind that there are risks to using aromatherapy; people who have allergies, like hay fever, or asthma, eczema, psoriasis, epilepsy, hypertension and DVT, should consult a doctor before trying out a new aromatherapy technique. You should also check if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant, just in case.
How are aromatherapy fragrances made?
Well, it really depends on the type of fragrance you’re using. The word “essential oil” has been thrown around, but that’s only one type - there are also “absolutes”, “infusions” and a few others. Each is a different way of extracting the “essence” of a fragrance from the plant or organic material. The key, of course, is to use something from nature as the base material. Synthetic smells – like chemical flavoring – don’t really play a part in aromatherapy, much in the same way a strawberry candy isn’t considered fruit.
Aromatherapy scents comes from many different things; here is a brief list – we’ll explore these more in future blogs!
Aromatherapy is an art and a science; it’s a complement to a lifestyle, an aid to helping you live a happy, fulfilling life - exploring the effects a smell will have on your brain is an exciting journey! Aromatherapy 101 is just the start. So take a deep breath and jump in.