What is Aromatherapy?
Plants produce essential oils to protect themselves against disease and rot, and to ward off pests. These powers can be harnessed to benefit us in our day to day lives. Depending on the essential oil, it can calm us down, cheer us up, help us to sleep, or sharpen our mental focus. They can soothe dry or irritated skin, help fight infections and boost the body’s natural healing process.
It can even make you smell wonderful.
How does aromatherapy work?
Like everything else in the world, scents are made of molecules. When you stop to smell the roses, you’re actually inhaling molecules that the roses have released into the air.
These molecules travel up your nose to specialized nerve endings called olfactory receptors. There are millions of these receptors capable of recognizing millions of different scent molecules. After the molecules activate the receptors in your olfactory membrane, they are absorbed into your body through your sinuses, trachea and lungs.
When a particular scent is recognized, a signal is sent to your olfactory bulb, which signals your cortex and limbic system to process the information. Your cortex is where information is processed, the center of your thoughts, perceptions, creativity and language. Olfaction (smelling) is only one of your five senses that affect your cortex directly. That’s why scents can evoke such immediate reactions.
After the information is processed based on the scent, a mixture of hormones and neurochemicals are released. Because different blends of hormones and neurochemicals create different reactions in your body, they can evoke many different feelings. This means, for example, if you smell a rose and the rose reminds you of romance, you’re going to be flooded with romantic thoughts and sensual sensations.
If the scent of a lavender relaxes you, your brain will create soothing neurochemicals and your body will be filled with relaxing hormones. When your body relaxes, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated and feel-good hormones are released allowing your body to rest, restore and heal.
There is another way your body can absorb essential oils – through your skin. The skin is wonderful at keeping things out, but it’s also great for absorbing fatty, lipid-like substances like oils. The best way to get the therapeutic components of essential oils directly to your internal superhighway through your skin and get them working for you, is by using the body’s pulse points. These points are right above your veins and arteries – temples, throat, inner elbow, wrist, behind the knee and inner ankle.
The history of aromatherapy
Just how old is the art of Aromatherapy? It’s definitely not a new age phenomenon! Aromatic plants, herbs and oils have been used for longer than recorded history, but some of the biggest developments have happened in the last 50 years.
20,000 years ago – Paleolithic peoples in Lascaux, France created cave paintings depicting herbal and aromatic medicines.
1,000 years ago – The Egyptians used aromatic substances like myrrh, frankincense, cinnamon and cassia for perfumes, healing and preservation.
The ancient Greeks and Romans – Aromatic oils were used for healing, home care, body care and beauty. Hippocrates used the power of massage and Dioscorides’s book, De Materia Medica contains a treasure trove of information about aromatherapeutic healing, many recipes of which are still popular today.
1,000 A.D. – The alchemist and healer Avicenna of Persia developed a method for distilling essential oils. Many modern distillers in the Middle East are still using these methods with little of any variation today to produce quality essential oils.
1910 – A French chemist Rene-Mauricé Gattefossé had his arm badly burned when he was working in his family-owned cosmetics firm labs. His burn healed poorly and became infected. It’s not known how it came about, but he applied lavender essential oil to the burned area and the wound healed quickly and completely.
At this point, Western science-based medicine is the major player in the healing arena. During the past 50 years though, aromatherapy which is now being used in clinics, hospices and hospitals as a complementary therapy.
Present Day – There have been four mentors of the industry who have taken the art and credibility of aromatherapy to new heights…
Robert Tisserand – has turned the practice of aromatherapy into a profession and transformed speculation about its efficacy into science. He wrote the first Aromatherapy book in English and was the first to write about the oils’ chemical properties, safety concerns and verifiable actions. His works have been translated into 12 languages and his is considered the guru of Aromatherapy.
Andrea Butje – runs Aromahead Institute, one of the most respected aromatherapy schools in the world and her work is changing the face of the aromatherapy industry. She is an advocate for independent distillers and focuses on developing and strengthening the international relationships between distillers, consumers and distributors.
Rhiannon Harris – teaches doctors, pharmacists, nurses and students all over the world. Rhiannon is the editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy and the director of Essential Oil Research Consultants. She is a guide for those new to the field and organizes events to bring established leaders in the field together to compare research, discuss developments and plan for the future of aromatherapy.
Gabriel Mojay – has played a leading role the shaping the aromatherapy community. He has many credits to his name, amongst which he is the Principal of the Institute of Traditional Herbal Medicine and Aromatherapy in London, Associate Editor of the International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy, author of the acclaimed Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, as well as a master of many holistic healing practices.