Aromatherapy is more than just smelling pleasing scents and a relaxation technique. It is a holistic therapy that can be used to treat many health issues. It works by treating the mind, body, and spirit. Aromatic essences from plants’ essential oils are extracted naturally from herbs, toots, barks, seeds, flowers, and other plants. These oils can then be inhaled or massaged into the skin where they circulate around the body once absorbed into the skin. These oils can be used to promote, balance, and harmonize as well as provide relaxation. Clinical studies have shown that aromatherapy is a complimentary method of therapy. In addition to its effect on health, the benefits of aromatherapy are also applied in massage, compresses, clay masks, baths, steams, or inhalation.
History of Aromatherapy
Anthropologists believe that using aromas began with burning gums and resins for incense perfume and smudging with aromatic plants. Egyptian culture used fragrant oils, resins and balms with their priests who were also doctors, as part of embalming, offerings to the gods, and magical and religious ceremonies. Hippocrates recognized the benefits of scented oils, saying 2,500 years ago that good health relied on having a ‘daily aromatic bath and scented massage’. Oils were also used in China and India at the same time as Egypt and play a big part in Ayurvedic medicine, which would use Jasmine for tonic, rose for antidepressants, chamomile for colds, headaches, and dizziness.
The Persians also distilled essential oils in the 10th century, and evidence for distillation goes back to other ancient cultures. German physician Hieronymus Braunschweig composed several books on essential oils and Europe experienced an aromatherapy renaissance in the 16th century. French physicians tested the anti-bacterial properties that essential oils contained and Rene Gattefosse discovered the healing properties of lavender in 1910, going on to use essential oils to care for soldiers who were healing in military hospitals during World War I. A French army surgeon named Dr. Jean Valnet also used essential oils to treat war wounds during the events on the French Indochina War and wrote a book, Practice of Aromatherapy,, while a French nurse and biochemist, Marguerite Maury, gave seminars throughout Europein the 1930’s about the rejuvenating properties of essential oils and sense of well being they provided.
Part of why aromatherapy works is that the sense of smell triggers a response on an emotional level. The Limbic part of the brain associates both smell and memories. The olfactory nerves in the nasal cavity responds to aromas, sends the information to the Limbic system, and the Limbic connects to the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, which rule the hormonal systems. Thus, aromas can trigger chemical reactions in the body and create a sense of well being, relaxation, stimulation and calm.
Benefits of Aromatherapy
- Reduces stress
- Fights depression
- Manages pain
- Enhances the mood and feeling of well being
- Balances hormone production from the endocrine system
- Strengthens the immune system and helps kill viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections
- Encourages restful sleep
- Improves digestion
- Stimulates and refreshes
- Maintains healthy muscles and joints
- Can create feelings of tranquility and seduction
- Revives mind and body
- Improves circulation of the blood and lymph system
- Can lower blood pressure
- Soothes and balances the mind