Ever since I was a young teenager I have been fascinated by Aromatherapy. I love the potion-like characteristics of the essential oils: the tiny dark-glassed bottles they come in, their potency and their delicate nature.
I am always amazed that three little drops of an essential oil can hold their own in a bath filled with steaming water. How those tiny drops dance defiantly on the surface of the water, change the aroma of the steam and transform the entire experience. As a curious, young person I was fascinated by the special qualities of the oils, and as a gentle rebellion, I appreciated aromatherapy as a natural practice and an alternative to modern medicine to enhance my wellbeing.
Aromatherapy is the therapy of smell, using aromatic plant extracts, such as essential oils, as the main therapeutic agent. The essential oils are extracted from plant resins, flowers, bark, leaves, peel, stalks, fruit and/or roots. The word Aromatherapy is self explanatory “aroma” “therapy” but I was always confused as to why the oils were called “essential” oils. The answer made my heart swell. According to a number of sources, it stems back to alchemists in medieval times bouncing off the concept introduced by Plato and Aristotle. The fifth element: the element of spirit, soul or life force, which sits alongside the other four being fire, air, water and earth. The element of “quintessence” - the purest essence of life. Magically, those little dark-glassed bottles hold the spirit of the plant.
The spirit of plants have been used for thousands of years by humans through both Ayurvedic practices in India and by the Ancient Egyptians to enhance our mind, body and spirit; treat certain conditions; alleviate certain ailments; and create an overall state of harmony and wellbeing.
The forgotten fifth sense
In a world that is so visual, oral and tactile, it is easy to forget about the importance of your sense of smell. And, yet our sense of smell is, at times, the most dominant sense, it just does it in a humble way. A recent study published by Nature, the international journal of science, found evidence that what we see is influenced by what we smell. You don’t need a research study to convince you of the connection between taste and smell. Anyone who has lost their sense of smell, say through a bad cold, knows it has an impact on how food taste. Although separate senses, the neural messages of taste and smell converge for us to detect food flavours. Without a sense of smell, our sense of taste is diminished. Hearing and smell are an unlikely pairing but do collaborate together according to a recent study, where music was shown to influence what we smell. An aromatherapy massage is the perfect example of smell and touch working together, where the benefits of the massage are enhanced by the smell of the oils as you breathe them in and they affect your limbic system, the part of your brain which is responsible for motivation, fear, pleasure and processing your emotions.
The power of smell
It seems you cannot underestimate the power of smell. Smell can influence how well we sleep and what we dream. It’s been proven, through a study which has shown the scent of rose will result in more pleasant dreams, compared to rotten eggs. I am not surprised!! We also use our sense of smell to identify fear and find true love. Pretty powerful stuff. Smell can also help you relax, reduce your anxiety (even during childbirth) energise you and help your concentration.
Want to reduce your coffee intake at work? Put a few drops of lemon or sweet orange oil in a bowl of hot water, or diffuser. Or eat an orange and leave the peel on your desk. Your workmates might think you are a bit of a slob, but the smell of oranges can help boost energy and alertness. Sweet orange oil also settles a stomach or two, can tone skin to reduce breakouts, is a fantastic oven cleaning agent to remove grease and is said to lift your mood. A pretty good all round kind of oil if you ask me!
I’m doing a one-day aromatherapy course in a couple of days time. I’m really excited to learn a few more things, and hope to get to make my own potions, oops, I mean oil blends! No doubt I will come home with a few more bottles of oils, and a few more ideas for using essential oils, and aromatherapy, the ancient and magical craft of scent for well being and life. Hey, who knows, maybe I’ll deliver on Christian Dior’s request to ‘make me a fragrance that smells like love.’