The Science of Smell
Did you know that what we smell can actually influence our mood?
Aromatherapy is a complementary field of therapy that incorporates the use of incense and essential oils from plants into other therapies. This basically means that aromatherapy is best used in conjunction with other treatments. For instance, a masseuse may put pleasant aromas into their massage oil, or during a guided meditation, the leader may choose to have essential oils dissipating into the room.
Interestingly, not only can aromatherapy be a part of healing practices, but it can also be used in day-to-day life to promote a sense of calm!
The History of Aromatherapy
People have been using aromas for thousands of years for their spiritual and medical benefits. The first recorded uses include examples of incense, such as Bakhoor, being used in ancient Egypt, Arabia, Greece, and Asia. In fact, the ancient Egyptians were among the first people to extract oils from plants for both spiritual beliefs and medicinal reasons. So, every time we break out that diffuser or those incense sticks, we’re participating in a very old form of therapy that has been with humanity since the first known civilizations!
In the medieval era, many hundreds of years after the first recorded uses of aromatherapy, herbs were used in plague masks and monasteries for their health benefits. However, essential oils and other aromas were widely shunned, and even banned in Europe, as they were considered a form of witchcraft. Nevertheless, many of these practices survived to this day and are still used all over the world for their holistic health benefits!
Fast forward to the 20th century, when the term aromatherapy was first coined by renowned chemist and perfumer Rene Maurice Gattefosse, in 1930s France. Also known as the “father of aromatherapy,” Gattefosse was an intriguing character who, after studying chemical engineering at The University of Lyon, sought to bring healing aromas to the wider world. He expanded the science of the field and helped to develop many industrial processes that are still used to this day.
Today, essential oils are created as a potent way to introduce the benefits of certain plants to the body, but what effect does this actually have on the body and mind?
3 Ways That Aromatherapy Can Help the Mind and Body
1. Improves Sleep Quality
There is a huge amount of scientific evidence supporting the notion that certain aromas can help to improve the quality of our sleep. One recent study, published by researchers in the Journal of Affective Disorders, showed that aromatherapy had a significant effect on people suffering from acute insomnia by helping to calm them before bed either through massage, or through simply enjoying the smell!
Follow this link to learn more about improving your sleep.
2. Improves mood
In an experiment which sought to explore the connection between aromatherapy and mood, it was found that certain aromas could “consistently enhance emotional health, including lowering anxiety and depression.” These smell-based therapies work by allowing the body to absorb chemicals, such as vitamin C, more readily into the brain, than for example active ingredients in foods that must be eaten. This results in an anxiolytic effect, (anxiolytics are a form of anxiety reducing medication), which studies have demonstrated can consistently improve mood.
3. Helps to Curb Feelings of Stress
In another study, a group of hospital workers in Vienna were asked to use a roll-on containing 12 aromatic oils on the pulse zones of their wrists. They did this at least 3 times a day over 1 month. In almost everyone who took part, they found a marked reduction in levels of stress. It’s amazing that a few nice smells applied to the wrist every day can help to manage stress and aid relaxation!
Having said that, it’s important to remember that aromatherapy is a complementary therapy to be used in conjunction with other treatments, and that living with prolonged stress can be detrimental to wellbeing. If you’d like some more guidance on this, check out our virtual coaching session on coping with stress!
Who’d have thought that some simple aromas could have so many positive impacts on our health? But, how do we know which smells are right for us and our homes, and what are the best ways to use them?
How to Use Essential Oils
There are many different ways to use essential oils, and each has its own benefits. Before trying any of the methods below, it’s important to remember that allergic reactions are possible. If you’re unsure, it’s always recommended to speak to a doctor about having a patch test.
- Diffusers: These are very easy to use and can fill an entire room with pleasant smells and benefits. They can be electric, or use reeds to carry the scent, and you can easily buy them in many places. All you need to do is open them up and place them somewhere in your house. They’re often used to enhance spiritual activities, such as meditation or yoga.
- Ingestion: For more potent effects, ingestion is recommended, though be sure to use the correct types of oils, as not all of them are edible. Garlic, lemon, basil, and cinnamon are just a few! Try adding a drop or two to some of your favorite dishes!
- Baths: This is another easy, and very relaxing way to use essential oils. Put a couple of drops into a bath and have a soak!
- Steaming: Steaming is an ancient and trusted way to use essential oils. Today we can use little machines, called facial steamers, but the traditional hot water in a bowl works just as well! Put a few drops in your steamer, or the hot water, then put a tea towel over your head and take a few deep breaths. Always check the oil’s packaging to ensure you use both the correct oil and the correct amount, and be careful not to use water that’s too hot!
- Rubbing oils into the skin/massage: This can be done by yourself, with a partner, or at a professional massage parlor. All of these can provide you with the many benefits of essential oils! Check whether you need a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, before applying any oils directly to the skin.
- Perfume: One of the easiest and most common ways to use essential oils is by using certain, essential oil-based perfumes. A quick spray in the morning and you (and those around you) could be feeling the calming, aromatic effects all through the day
Top Five Aromas:
There are hundreds of different essential oils and aromas, so knowing where to begin can be a little bit daunting. Each comes with its own benefits, so here are my top five!
Lavender promotes relaxation, improved mood, sleep, and pain reduction. Researchers who published a review in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine even showed that lavender’s mood stabilizing, neuroprotective, and anticonvulsant properties can help with more serious disorders like epilepsy. Remember that using essential oils to treat serious disorders should be discussed with a doctor or another appropriate health professional beforehand.
Rosemary is mostly known for its ability to improve memory, as well as short-term information retention. So, whether you’re studying for an exam, or just trying to have a bit more order in your life, a little bit of rosemary can’t hurt!
This one’s a doozy. It’s been used across Asia for thousands of years for its spiritual and health benefits to improve mood, sleep, and stress levels. It also makes delicious tea.
The scent of lemon oil has been shown to reduce feelings of nausea and anxiety. Maybe you’re feeling unwell, or you have an interview, or have a big date on the horizon. Try rubbing a little lemon oil onto your wrists, or put a couple of drops into your food to reduce anxious feelings!
Thanks to its medical and spiritual benefits, sage’s popularity dates back many years. When burned as incense, it’s thought to be great for cleaning the energy of a room. When ingested in small amounts as an herb, it can help with depression, asthma, bronchitis, angina, digestive problems, and circulation disorders. It has also been shown to fight certain bacterial infections. It’s not recommended to be ingested as an essential oil, as it can be poisonous in potent doses. But that’s okay, as the aroma alone has been shown to boost mood and improve memory!
So, the next time you’re trying to relax after a long day at work, or you need to bring in a little calmness to your home, why not try a little scent-based remedy? Stick that diffuser on and participate in the ancient tradition that is aromatherapy.
Looking for ways to introduce more calm to your life? Check out our interactive virtual coaching session on managing stress!