Aromatherapy Explained

7-17-12-aromatherapyDespite being widely accepted as a mere “smelly” practice or method of natural treatment for various minor issues, the science and art behind Aromatherapy practices actually goes much deeper than typically acknowledged. In this brief post, let’s clear up a little what exactly it is, where it originated, what it does for a person, and who can work with it.

Origin & Description of Aromatherapy

The actual study of Aromatherapy was begun by a French chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé in 1928 and further utilized by health care providers, (i.e. Massage Therapists, Doctors, Nurses, Physiotherapists, etc.), and beauticians by the 1950’s. The term “aromatherapie” itself was coined in 1937. Essential oils, (concentrated extracts from plant roots, seeds, blossoms, and peels through a couple different methods), were studied for their chemical properties by Gattefosse for the first documented time after he effectively treated one of his own burns from a laboratory explosion with Lavender oil. Technically speaking, however, essential oil usage is actually an ancient practice that has been around for over 6,000 years in China, India, Greece, Rome, and Egypt and has been used multi-purposefully in therapy, spirituality, rituals, and hygiene. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the United States really accepted and marketed this avenue to wellness…and simple desirability.

The best description comes from Miss Jade Shutes:

“Aromatherapy can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. It is an art and science which seeks to explore the physiological, psychological, and spiritual realm of the individual’s response to aromatic extracts, as well as to observe and enhance the individual’s innate healing process. As a holistic practice, Aromatherapy is both a preventative approach as well as an active method to employ during acute and chronic stages of illness or ‘dis’-ease.

It is a natural, non-invasive modality designed to affect the whole person, not just the symptom or disease, and to assist the body’s natural ability to balance, regulate, heal, and maintain itself by the correct use of essential oils.”

How does it work?

What really makes this practice so interesting is the way it works with the brain and the olfactory system, (the part that is responsible for olfation: smell). When one inhales scent, the odor molecules are trapped in olfactory membranes, a wave of nerve cells in the nose which sends electrical impulses to the olfactory bulb in the brain, whereupon, the bulb then distributes the impulses to other parts of the brain, mainly the limbic system. (FUN FACT!: The limbic lobe of the brain, our emotional control center, is only directly stimulated by the sense of scent! The limbic system is athlso “directly connected to the parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, strained levels, and hormone balance.” Emotions are stored, however, in the amygdala part of the brain, which, of course, works within the limbic system to induce physical/psychological effects.)

The whole process, of course, is slightly more complicated, but the key point to note when speaking about Aromatherapy and the brain is this: sight, touch, taste, and hearing are routed through the part of the brain called the Thalamus, this part dealing with motor skills/coordination and voluntary movement. Having said this, scent is the only sense we have that is different in the respect that it “reacts first and thinks later”, because it works through the Hypothalamus. This essential part of the brain, (a.k.a. “the master gland”), is responsible for neurotransmitter, (hormone), processing and control, and everyone knows or has felt the energetic changes through this part with various stimuli …such as digested foods, (think Thanksgiving turkey), scent, etc.

What can Aromatherapy do for me?

In layman’s terms, Aromatherapy works with emotionally-stored information from the past in order to process the present experience. This practice is excellent for mental and energetic health: some oils promote excitably, while others work to calm or ground the mind and spirit, (excitatory vs. sedative effects). It can help you focus, boost your memory, relax, fall asleep…physically, the body may benefit from the properties of different oils in any of the additional following number of ways, (often hitting two birds with one stone):

-balance hormone levels

-enhance blood and lymph circulation, thus boosting toxin removal

-aid in blood vessel health

-reduce inflammation or water retention around joints,

as well as the aches and pains of such issues as Arthritis & Gout

-break up of mucus

-moisturization of skin cells

-relieve muscular fatigue/ soreness

-work with seasonal allergies and various symptoms of colds/flus, etc.

-kill infections and bacteria

-help with pregnancy symptoms, (*use caution…do your research!)

As you can see, there are a lot of general benefits that can definitely be applied to many, many forms of sickness, disorder, and pains. Have you ever found relief through mint tea while suffering from nausea? Or felt refreshed after peeling an orange? Or woke up to the glorious scent of coffee brewing in the morning, which, as is turns out, is basically the modern elixir of life? 🙂 These are everyday examples of Aromatherapy!

How can I receive Aromatherapy?

As of this moment, the United States does not have an official national board or certification program to grant recognition to those practicing Aromatherapy. There are, however, a prominent selection of institutes and a vast array of Continuing Education classes available to health care providers such as Massage Therapists, who can offer diluted essential oil blends to their clientele to be absorbed in the skin, (most effectively through a Massage Therapy session), or inhaled through a blend or a difuser, (or under a Doctor’s care only, also ingested). Places focused on holistic healing, such as “hippie stores” can help out a great deal as well most times. Do your research and ask around! Nearly any issue with your mind, body, or spirit can be helped in some way through Aromatherapy…”there’s an oil for that!”

*Be especially careful when pregnant or if you have any kind of neurological or skin disorders, and be wary of fragrance oils: they are NOT the same as essential oils!

Namaste, friends! Take a few minutes to smell the roses today 🙂



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