Need to relax? Try lavender. Need a boost? Try spearmint. Chances are you’ve heard about aromatherapy. After all, retailers promote the therapeutic properties of scent in everything from candles to alarm clocks. In fact, its use is growing, especially in fighting stress, anxiety, fatigue, depression and anger. But how does aroma alter the way you feel scientifically?
It’s based on this simple premise: We all have a very strong sense of smell, and smell can trigger reactions in the brain. It’s not so much that a specific oil will relax or stimulate you as much as the aroma of a certain oil will help cause the brain to do it internally.
Unlike the other senses, which pass through several regions of the brain first, a whiff of fragrance travels from the olfactory track directly to the response center, leading researchers to conclude that smell has the most ability of all the senses to evoke an emotional response.
Over the centuries, people have learned what smells help trigger the body’s own defense and self-healing systems–what smells help the body relax, stimulate, arouse or heal itself.
There’s an evolutionary component to aromatherapy, too. Mammals are constantly enticed by fruit and flowers–their scent lets us know they’re ready to be eaten. We find their scents pleasing because we must eat them to survive.
Aromatherapy is the world’s gentlest form of medicine. It also happens to be of the oldest. It started more than 4,000 years ago, and was practiced in ancient Egypt, India, Greece and throughout the Arab countries.
This science of scents involves the use of essential oils–including bay, jasmine, chamomile and sandalwood–made by boiling down certain plants, roots, flowers and leaves. Modern science has discovered that, aside from producing powerful aromas that trigger the brain to perform certain actions, a number of the essential oils have definite antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Most libraries and health food stores have numerous books about the properties of various oils, how to use them and how much of each to use.
Oils can be mixed in different ways, and many health food stores sell them as preblended oil compounds. Keep in mind that the way you use the oils will have a major impact on how effective they are.
For example, massages can be very calming and relaxing all by themselves, but add an essential oil that promotes relaxation and the entire experience is enhanced. Likewise, a warm bath can soothe an aching body and an anxious mind. Drop in some lavender, ylang-ylang and rose absolute oil and your bath becomes a spa.
To retain the quality of your essential oils, buy small bottles. Air trapped in bottles can accelerate the deterioration of oils.