Natural Living Articles - Aromatherapy
What is Aromatherapy?Peppermint, lemon, pine, lavender, roses…think of these words and you’re likely to think of the scents they create and possibly even memories they evoke. Our olfactory membranes (scent detectors) are made up of brain cells and are the only part of the central nervous system exposed to the environment. They exist to smell our fragrant world and tell us about it, but they are also linked to the emotional centre of the brain. That’s why certain smells can take us back to an exact moment with just the faintest of whiffs. Different smells can bring forth strong emotions – either positive or negative – and can envelope us quickly. For me, whenever I smell grapefruit, I return to my early teen years to the night before I moved from my childhood home. I can picture the friend with me, the feelings overwhelming me and even the warm summer air. It is perhaps the most vivid memory I have and brings many emotions to the surface with just a little of the scent. Perhaps you have a similar scent/memory connection that can sweep you away.
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote the body’s natural ability to achieve optimal health. Essential oils are the highly concentrated extracts of aromatic plants. They are so concentrated it is not unusual for 1 ton (and much more for some plants) of raw material to create only one pound of essential oil. Because they are so concentrated, the golden rule of aromatherapy is less is more.
The use of aromatic plants and herbs to heal body and soul was practiced in many ancient cultures and is gaining respectability in our own culture. While the effects are scientifically confirmed, the essential oil also works within each individual’s framework of the world and so is also very much an individual experience. For example lavender, which has been proven scientifically to promote a calm sense of well-being, can create much anxiety for anyone who has had a traumatic and/or extremely unpleasant experience associated with the scent.
This is so because while inhaled and/or applied essential oils cause the release of various neurochemicals in the brain, strong memories do the same. Neurochemicals create physiological changes felt both physically and emotionally. If you know that a particular scent has negative associations for you or you simply do not like it, it is best to avoid that particular essential oil. For regardless of what properties it possesses, your body and mind will likely keep it’s original imprint of negative association.
Chemical reproductions of various scents do not have the same biochemical effects as essential oils and therefore it is important to use a high quality product for aromatherapy. Synthetic reproductions are just aromatic chemicals and some may come with the various side-effects of chemicals including suppression of the immune system (rather than the aromatherapeutic goal of enhancing the immune system).
Pure essential oils are extracted directly from various parts of plants. Depending on the plant itself, the oil may come from the flowers, the leaves, the rinds, the berries, the resin, the wood, the roots, the bark or the seeds. Because the oils are extremely concentrated, they require copious amounts of raw material and can be quite costly, but quality should supersede all other concerns. If a pure essential oil is too costly, one is better off using a different oil or a blend rather than an artificial chemical.