Aromatherapy is a practice that dates back many thousands of years carrying on from one civilization to another. Ancient Egypt, China, and India being of the first cultures to bring forward and utilize this form of medicine in a visible way. Plant extracts such as essential oils were highly respected and for much time carried a higher value than gold. Chemists would also agree that plant extracts are in fact the predecessors of modern pharmaceutical medicine.
Aromatherapy is often seen as a whimsical or novelty approach in contrast to conventional treatments. Nevertheless, the past few years have proven that the use of plant-based therapies continues to gain substantial mainstream interest. This being said, let us look a little closer at the relevance of aromatherapy as a form of self-care.
Aromatherapy as a Form of Self-Care
Aromatherapy is based on the use of plant extracts like essential oils to stimulate both body and mind. The essential oils themselves are derived from plants of all kinds from all over the world. Through the delicate process of steam distillation or cold-pressed expulsion, specific parts of plants such as leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, resins, woods, and rinds are extracted until all that is left is it’s essential oil. These extracted plant oils are as potent as nature can be and are used in a variety of ways to support the physical, mental, and emotional needs of an individual.
In order to understand how aromatherapy actually works with our body, we must first understand our sense of smell.
How Does Sense of Smell Work?
When an odor travels up the nose it comes into contact with a group of nerves that collect and deliver information about the aroma to the olfactory bulb – consider the olfactory bulb to be our brain’s odor processing center. From here sensory information about the odor is sent out to different parts of the brain which will insight various responses. Some parts of the brain will respond by producing new neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), while some will secrete specific hormones. These are responses that will inform your body and mind how to feel.
When an aroma reaches the Limbic System in our brain it’s of significance because this is the emotional center of the brain. This is why certain smells remind you of your childhood, and can elicit good or bad memories or feelings. Aromatherapy allows us to get very specific about what kind of responses we’d like our brain chemistry to engage with. Certain aromas are very uplifting, some are grounding, while others are highly detoxifying. Depending on what you’re experiencing, the idea here is that there’s an aroma that can deliver information to the body to help remedy it.
The Value of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is used to treat a wide range of common symptoms and conditions. Popular treatments include:
- treating insomnia
- supporting concentration and focus
- managing indigestion or bloating
- supporting mental health conditions like anxiety and depression
- alleviating headaches and migraine
- soothing muscle aches, soreness, poor circulation
- steadying energy-levels
- managing hormonal imbalances
- supporting mood
- and countless other everyday ailments.
Every essential oil has its own unique characteristics based on its structural identity. A single oil will have a number of medicinal compounds that ultimately work together to make each other stronger. This is why an essential oil can have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties all at the same time while co-existing and working in harmony.
2 Key Ways to Use Aromatherapy
Two simple ways to incorporate aromatherapy into our daily routines are through aromatic and topical use.
The most common way to use essential oils aromatically is through a diffuser. Diffusers are easily found online or at your local health food store. Just a few drops of the essential oil into water and soon the entire room will be draped in the aroma. Not only does this help clean the air of your home, but also supports the function of your body.
If choosing to apply essential oils topically, it’s advised to dilute them with a carrier oil first to not irritate the skin– almond oil, sesame oil, and jojoba oil being a few examples of carrier oils. Topical use is helpful for treating ailments directly due to the skin’s rapid absorption qualities. For example, you can apply a few drops of peppermint to the temples when experiencing a headache, or massage over the belly to support indigestion. Massaging essential oils into the bottoms of the feet is also an incredibly effective method for full body support, since we have access to nearly every body system through the soles of the feet themselves.
Other ways to enjoy aromatherapy from home:
Baths – apply a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your bath salts for therapeutic effect
Aromatic Spritzers – make a DIY home spray using non-toxic ingredients and essential oils
Body Care – add essential oils to your body lotions, serums, and creams
Shower – add a drop of eucalyptus or peppermint to your shower while it steams to open up respiratory airways
Cleaning Products – make non-toxic cleaning products with essential oils
Quality and Compatibility
Keep in mind that whatever you put on your skin is absorbed into the bloodstream affecting all body systems, so always aim for quality. The reality is that essential oils are not properly regulated, so it will take some discernment in choosing a reputable source. Labels simply do not offer enough trustworthy information, so we suggest looking into the sourcing methods and value systems of the companies themselves. Once you have essential oils that you can trust with your body and mind, the aromatherapy self-care can really begin.
We are all being called to do extraordinary things for the collective caring of our families, communities and the world in response to the unique coronavirus pandemic. Whether home bound or providing critical services, everyone is stretched to adapt like never before. All of us are in this together. Now more than ever, caring is what we need most. Caring for our self. Caring for others around us. Life is going to require new routines, resilience and compassion. We invite you to join us in creating a caring movement to respond to local needs.
By Melissa Aparicio, contributing author