Aromatherapy. You may not know exactly what it is, but you can’t escape it. Everywhere you turn, there is a plethora of scented candles, oils, sprays and incense all claiming to be good for your health and well-being. “Smell this and feel calm!” “Light this, and light his fire!” “Rub this scented lotion on your skin and re-energize your spirit!” Sounds like a bunch of nonsense just to sell products, doesn’t it?
Strangely enough, it’s not nonsense. In fact, there is more to aromatherapy than meets the nose. The use of scent to alter health and well-being for the better has been around for centuries. Now, science has confirmed what men and women have practiced for generations: scents have the ability to promote good physical, mental, and spiritual health. But how do you include aromatherapy in your everyday life? Is it easy? Does it make sense? And what exactly is it, anyway? This book will answer those questions, and more. Armed with the answers, you can change your life – and your health – for the better!
The Power of Aromatherapy
Have you ever been in a funk and then smelled something wonderful, like lavender or citrus, and suddenly felt better? That’s the basis of aromatherapy. Essentially aromatherapy is a gentle, non-invasive, natural healing art that utilizes the scents of essential oils to promote general well-being. While essential oils do, in fact, have medicinal properties, the simple act of smelling an essential oil can uplift the spirit, which can positively change feelings and outlook.
The power of aromatherapy lies in its ability to stimulate the imagination and to generate an almost instant sense of joy or peace. And, unlike other therapies, such as acupuncture or traditional Western methods, aromatherapy is non-invasive. That means, nothing to take internally, no needles, no pain. It’s also portable, so if you have recurring problems with stress, anxiety, migraines and the like, just take the applicable essential oil with you, and you have help right at the tip of your nose at all times.
Don’t let all that New Age talk fool you: aromatherapy is not just a touchy-feely, warm fuzzy type of practice; there is most definitely science behind it. Aromatherapy falls under a fairly new science called psychoneuroimmunology, which studies the interaction among the psychological, neurological and immunological systems. In layman’s terms, psychoneuroimmunology looks at the effects of both positive and negative experiences on the immune system and the psyche. Science has confirmed that pleasurable experiences like breathing in pleasant aromas or receiving a pampering massage actually strengthens the body’s immune system and uplifts the spirit. Conversely, things like unhappiness, lack of touch and stale air lowers the body’s resistance to disease and also dulls the spirit. So, incorporating aromatherapy into your daily activities can actually help bolster your immune system and promote a positive, clear outlook on life.
You may have heard of holistic medicine, which looks at the causes and prevention of illness, and not just the symptoms. It’s a whole-body approach to health, one which gives you responsibility and a certain amount of control over your health. Aromatherapy is part of holistic medicine. When married to a healthy diet and lifestyle, it’s a fabulous, sensual and creative way to keep on top of your health.
When did Aromatherapy arrive on the scene?
The way aromatherapy is all the talk these days, you’d think it was a brand new concept in health and wellness. It’s not. It’s almost as old as time itself.
While there is reason to believe that the use of aromatics has been in place since the dawn of mankind, physical evidence dates back to the ancient Egyptians. Clay tablets have been found that record the importation of cedar wood and cypress into Egypt and confirms the role essential oils played in international trade. Egyptian high priests also recorded the many uses of essential oils on to papyrus. One intriguing fact is that Imhotep, King Zoser’s chief architect, renowned physician and astronomer, is also known as “the grandfather of aromatherapy-” This great physician is credited with significant advances in medical knowledge. He regularly incorporated the use of aromatics into his practice.
Other cultures have used aromatics as well. The Chinese used aromatic herbs and massage well before the birth of Christ. The Indian therapy known as Ayurvedic medicine utilizes massage techniques, pressure points and essential oils to bring about good health. Hippocrates, the Greek physician known as “The Father of Medicine,” also promoted the daily use of aromatic baths and massage. These are just a few historical examples; the list also includes ancient Romans, various religious orders in the Middle Ages and continues through the centuries to these modern times.
Why do aromatics work?
It’s not enough to know that aromatherapy has been around for ages, we also want to know why aromatics work. It doesn’t seem possible that something as simple as the soothing smell of an essential oil could work wonders on health and well-being, yet it is not only possible, it happens because it utilizes our strongest sense: our sense of smell.
Of all five senses, sense of smell hits the brain first. Faster than a speeding bullet, it’s the “Superman of Senses” with a direct path to the brain. Unlike many of our other senses, the olfactory system’s nerve fibers do not pass through the “switching station,” known as the dorsal thalmus. Instead, these nerve fibers run directly to the limbic area of the brain, which connects to the thalmus and neo-cortex. While these words may not have any meaning to you, this bit of information is important because it’s how aromas are able to affect conscious thought and reactions. The limbic system links directly to our memories, stored learned responses, emotions and feelings.
Even though the olfactory system is linked directly to the brain, olfactory also involves other body systems as well. For example, someone breathing in an essential oil like peppermint not only absorbs it through the nasal cavity, but may also absorb it through the bronchial tract or lungs. This causes the essential oil molecules to pass into the body’s circulatory system, increasing its benefits.
There is also an additional, and sensual, way to engage in aromatherapy: through the skin. This is done usually through massage, which has three very distinct benefits: that of touch, smell, and absorption. Essential oils can also be used in the bathtub, another relaxing and pampering activity. Besides being able to smell the essential oils being used on the skin, the extremely small molecules pass through the epidermis to the dermis, the layer of the skin that gives it its pliability. From there, the oil molecules pass into capillaries and into the rest of the circulatory system.
The body is not harmed by absorbing essential oils. The oils are expelled from the body in a variety of natural ways, like sweat, exhalation and so on. The length of time it takes to expel these oils varies from 3-14 hours, depending on the health of the body.
Essential oils do come with some warnings. One is do not use them directly on the eyes or the delicate mucous membranes of the body.
How do I use essential oils?
Aromatherapy is user-friendly, so there is no excuse to shy away from it. Once you understand a few basics, the use of essential oils for a healthier, happier you is easy. While we touched on a few ways essential oils can be used, in the following chapters you’ll discover how to get the most out of aromatherapy.
For solo artists (those of you who like to do things on your own), aromatherapy through scent is the way to go. For example, we know that peppermint is good for the digestive system, but did you know that if you smell it you will get quicker relief than if you ingest it? It’s true! A 1963 Japanese experiment discovered this result. There are several ways to use scent, and one of the best and most common ways is through a diffuser. So, while opening a bottle of essential oil and taking a big whiff can be of some help, a diffuser emits the scent continually, creating a pleasant, aromatic, healing environment.
However, some benefits are best received through skin application. For instance, ginger oil, known for its bone healing properties, can be applied directly to a small broken appendage like a toe. (Of course, this is in addition to Western therapy, which may include a splint of some sort.) Keep in mind that essential oils are highly concentrated oils. Make sure you carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions for proper usage. Very few essential oils should be applied to the skin or ingested at full strength. Most require dilution, and some should not to be used on the skin or ingested at all.
For those who like to share everything with family, friends, and loved ones, massage may be the therapy you are most drawn to. Touch itself is healing and, when coupled with essential oils, massage can be doubly nurturing. When using essential oils during massage, it’s important to add it to what’s known as a carrier oil. This dilutes the essential oil somewhat, and makes it go farther. The general rule is to add anywhere from 10-30 drops into an ounce of quality carrier oil.
Inhalation, direct application and massage are among the most common ways to use essential oils, but there are many other ways as well. Some, other uses for essential oils include, but aren’t limited to, facial tonics, Jacuzzis, hot tubs, potpourri, humidifiers, mouthwash, perfume, sitz baths, face and body spray, and in creams and lotions. Once you start using aromatherapy, you’ll find that it fits into many different aspects of your lifestyle!