Our sense of smell can have profound effects on our mental and physical processes. The scent of an apple pie baking in the oven may bring feelings of happiness and calm as it reminds a person of their grandmother’s baking. On the contrary, the smell of pickles might cause someone to gag because they ate too many in one sitting and ended up feeling nauseated. The power of a scent to impact our bodies and minds is known as “aromatherapy.”
The term originated in the 1920s as a result of an experiment that went awry in the basement of French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. While conducting his experiment, Gattefosse was severely burned and applied lavender oil to his wound in an attempt to ease the pain. Much to his surprise, the oil significantly reduced the swelling of his burned flesh and also caused the wound to heal at a rapid pace.
Aromatherapy is an alternative form of medicine and has been in existence for thousands of years. The technique uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person’s mind, mood, cognitive function or health. Although oils are most often utilized, other forms of aromatherapy exist as well. For example, lighting a sandalwood incense stick or lighting a rose scented candle are also considered aromatherapy.
Licensed acupuncturist and professor East Haradin, a PCOM graduate, is an expert on aromatherapy. East explains that, “generally, aromatherapy can be applied in three ways: direct application to the skin, inhalation and internal consumption. In all three scenarios the properties of the essential oils, which constitute ‘aromatherapy’, travel through the body and eventually go to the brain where they have both physiological and psychological effects.”
When essential oils are directly applied to the skin, they enter into the lymphatic system, and then circulate to the blood stream and make their way to the brain. A very similar process occurs when essential oils are inhaled or ingested. The oils are absorbed through the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, transferred to the blood stream, and find their way to the brain.
Haradin goes on to explain that the inhalation of essential oils involves the body’s olfactory system. This particular system of the body is responsible for processing smell and sending signals to the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system is associated with heart rate, blood pressure, memory, stress levels, balancing hormones, and the processing of memories and emotions. It’s evident that aromatherapy can play a prominent role in the physical and mental health of an individual.
No matter which method you choose to apply your aromatherapy, you can be sure that your brain will be stimulated! Let the healing begin!