The sense of smell is one of the five key senses for man. It not only tells us about pleasant and unpleasant odors, but our sense of smell is a powerful tool that can affect our body physically and psychologically. Aromatherapy then, is the use of volatile plant oils and essential oils to ensure our physical and psychological well-being.
What Is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy literally means 'treatment using scents'. Aromatherapy thus, is the use of essential oils in Holistic healing to restore the emotional and physical balance of the human body.
Essential oils are aromatic oils extracted from plants, fruits, bark, seeds, flowers and grasses. More than 150 essential oils can be extracted in this way and they all have some therapeutic benefits. Different essential oils have different applications. It is important to remember that essential oils differ from fragrances. Fragrances use artificial chemicals and thus have no therapeutic benefits whatsoever. Essential oils on the other hand are pure oils and stimulate the mind and trigger a physical and emotional reaction.
Aroma oils can be inhaled, absorbed or consumed. A concentrate of the essential oils is not greasy. It is in fact more like water n texture and evaporates into the air very quickly. Aroma oils can be very expensive in nature. A process called maceration is used to extract the oils. They are then purified using a process called defleurage and in some cases fat is used instead of oil. The final process of purification is called enfleurage.
Aromatherapy has finally achieved the status of an alternative medicine. While one cannot be absolutely sure if this method can cure major illnesses like heart diseases, diabetes and cancer, there is no doubt that aromatherapy has proved to be beneficial for mild headaches, common colds and other common ailments.
Origin Of Aromatherapy
The history of Aromatherapy goes back more than 6000 years all the way to the ancient Egyptian God of Medicine and Healing - Imhotep. He recommended the use of essential oils for bathing and massaging. The Egyptians also used myrrh and cedarwood oils for embalming their dead. Cedarwood is a natural fixative and contains strong antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Indeed, when Tutankhamen's tomb was opened in 1922 the air was permeated with the smell of essential oils standing testament to the amazingly in depth knowledge of the Egyptians.
Hippocrates is also believed to have used aromatic baths and massages to ward off plague in Athens. Nero, the infamous Emperor of orgies and feasts frequently used rose oil to help him recover from his headaches and hangovers. During the 1655 London plague, people burnt bundles of lavender, cedarwood and cypress in the streets and carried posies of the same plants as a defense against the deadly disease.
However, Aromatherapy really received a great boost and was recognized as a valid method of treatment only in the early 1930s. Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist discovered that if he dipped his burnt hand in lavender oil it healed very rapidly. There was no infection or scarring either. Gattefosse's discovery was the beginning of Aromatherapy as we knot it today.
How Do Essential Oils Heal?
Essential oils have an immediate and direct impact on our sensory system specifically our sense of smell. When essential oils are inhaled the olfactory cells are stimulated and send messages to the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is connected to important functions such as memory, breathing and blood circulation. It also connects the endocrine glands or hormonal glands. The properties of the oil, the scent and its effect on the olfactory system all determine the exact effect the oil will have.
Application Of Aromatherapy Essential Oils
Aromatherapy oils can be applied in a variety of different ways dependent on your preference.
Inhalation: This is the most common way of applying essential oils. Aroma oils can be inhaled by adding 2-3 drops of the oil to the steamer and inhaling as you would normally. Since steaming also helps to open up pores in the skin, the oils are likely to get absorbed faster and have a positive effect quicker.
Diffusers & Vaporizers: Diffusers are extremely popular at spas. They are usually made of clay or ceramic and look aesthetic as well as serving a functional purpose. When aroma oils are added to a diffuser the smell permeates the entire atmosphere through the process of evaporation. Lavender oil used in a diffuser is just about perfect to help you relax after along day at work.
Vaporizers are similar to the insect repellants that use mats. You need to add 2-3 drops of the aroma oil to the mat every day and let it stay on. The scent is released into the room slowly and creates an extremely invigorating environment.
Massage: A method that has single handedly revolutionized the spa industry. With massages clients can get the dual benefits of aroma oils and a healing touch. Massages are a great way to tone the body, improve blood circulation, detoxify the body and in general to make you feel more energetic. Generally essential oils are mixed with carrier oils in the proportion of 1:3 to avoid any negative reactions or side effects.
Baths: Add a few drops of aroma oils to your bath and enjoy the benefits. Inspired by the Egyptians this has to be the most indulgent application of Aromatherapy.
Foot Soak: If you cannot have a full bath, make time for a quick foot soak by adding a few drops of the aroma oil to lukewarm water and soaking your feet in it.
Potpourri: Potpourris are a mixture of dried herbs, flowers, grass and seeds. Add a few drops of aroma oils to a potpourri and keep it in a bowl for 4-6 weeks of subtle Aromatherapy. This is great as a car atomizer or to keep your closet smelling great.
Beauty Treatments: Aroma oils are extremely popular for beauty treatments and are commonly used for manicures, pedicures, facials, scalp treatments and hair washes.
Benefits Of Essential Aroma Oils
Here are some of the benefits of popular aroma oils.
Basil is great for students and executives. It helps in relieving nervous tension, stress and anxiety.
Chamomile is a popular oil. It is often used to relieve symptoms of PMS.
Eucalyptus is popularly used to clear a stuffy nose and chest congestion.
Lavender is very popular for treating wounds especially minor burns and scalds.
Rose is of course the choice of the romantics and a great option if you want to create a dreamy mood.
Thus, Aromatherapy has come a long way from the ancient Egyptians. Yet, the basic applications of Aroma massages and baths continue to grow in popularity.