What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is one of the ancient healing methods used for nearly 6000 years by the ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. A big part of aromatherapy is essential oils, which have been used for spiritual, therapeutic, hygienic, and ritual purposes.
Before we talk about how aromatherapy works, let’s first talk about “aroma” (or “scent”). Have you experienced a time when a scent brought you back to a distant memory? One time, I was at a parking garage in NYC when the attendant pulled up the car and was very moved by the familiar scent in the car. He asked what that scent was since it reminded him of his childhood home. For me, a song that I grew up listening to can take me right back to my past. Suddenly my past self and past thoughts resurface, and I can see how much I have changed over the years.
After some research, I found that there is an explanation for this. To keep the long story short, the organ that we use to process scent is somehow linked to the part of our brain that holds memories. This explains why the smell of something can sometimes immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion.
Not only does scent have the power to take us time-traveling. Distinct aromas can also invigorate different parts of your body. Let’s take lavender as an example. The aroma of lavender invigorates the activity of brain cells in the amygdala in a similar way that sedative medicine does and is known to promote better sleep quality.
It always fascinates me that the vast array of beautiful aromas that exist in nature with free access to all. Through herbs, tree barks, or animals, nature provides us with an abundance of aromas. In many philosophies, aromas are interpreted as a gift from the divine. And in many cultures, people light herbs or incense as a way to send prayers and hence connecting the two worlds.
Why are essential oils so significant?
Essential oils are the essence of a plant extracted from its roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits. These are highly potent and concentrated chemical compounds and make up a huge part of aromatherapy. There are different ways to extract essential oils, such as through distillation, solvent extraction, cold press, or aromatic extracts. Since essential oils are volatile, they can be combined with a carrier oil to be used in massages, diffused in the air, heated over a flame, or burned as incense.
Through medieval times, the ancient people believed in the spiritual aspect rather than the chemical aspect of each plant, its spiritual meaning, and its healing elements. For example, people in India hang lemons and chilies on their doors to ward off evil spirits.
What are the benefits of aromatherapy?
You may or may not have thought of this, but the act of smelling is another method that our body digests the molecules around us. It can penetrate through the skin, nasal passage, and lungs and can affect our nervous system, moods, immune system, and digestive system. So it’s important to understand aromatherapy and how it can help you.
- Reducing stress: Lavender essential oil is known to help destress and unwind, it helps calm the nervous system and rewires the brain that can help you relax more.
- Improve concentration and focus better.
- Improve sleep: Aromas can impact our central system and herbs like sage, chamomile and lavender are very good for calming us and can do wonders in providing a good night’s sleep.
- Ease physical pain: Be it a muscle pull, menstrual pain, or neck pain, aromatherapy can help.
- Cleaning: With great antimicrobial properties, aromas can help with sanitization.
- Aids digestion and strengthens the immune system: Ginger oil and peppermint oil have properties to help stomach problems but it should not be ingested.
- Toothaches: Cloves or clove oil can help.
- Fight depression: Many aromas are very much capable of elevating your mood. Lemon, rose, and sandalwood essential oils are known for uplifting your mood and making you feel better.
How can I use aromatherapy in my daily life?
Now that we know all of its benefits, how can we adopt aromatherapy in our daily lives? Here are 5 ways!
One of the best ways to inhale the amazingness of nature is by using diffusers. Now the question comes, what is a diffuser? The diffuser is a device that disperses tiny oil molecules into the air, which we can breathe in and absorb into our bodies. One of my favorite diffusers right now is The Atomiser by Aromatherapy Associates. It looks so aesthetic, and the body is made of ceramic which adds a touch of earthiness to my room. It’s easy to swap the essential oils and get to diffusing it, super simple to use.
2. Indian Dhuni / Oud Bakhoor Burner
One of my favorite things to do is to use the Indian Dhuni, especially during Diwali, when we clean the whole house and cleanse everything. After cleaning or repainting the house, we would also ignite the Dhuni and waft it throughout the house, including the curtains, to purify the house’s aura. This ritual started in ancient times, with women sometimes depicted using this method to cleanse their hair.
It is a bit of a process to start it. We need a charcoal pellet and a torch to ignite it, add it to the Dhuni, along with any of your favorite incense – agarwood/oud or resins are readily available in the market.
With a bright, dense, and almost lemony scent, this resin has been used since ancient times to send prayers to the heavens, and it’s said to reduce stress and help with anxiety.
This brownish resin has an earthy scent. Throughout history, it has been used to strengthen prayer and worship of the divine and has health benefits such as easing stomach tension, nerves, and asthma.
Agarwood has a deep woody scent and has been used across several regions and traditions. When a tree is infected with fungus, in order to heal itself, it oozes out this special fragrance which we now use as incense because of the beautiful scent.
3. Essential Oil Heat Diffusing
Another way of diffusing oil into our air is using a fumer. It diffuses essential oils into the air through the process of heating and hence leaves the room full of aromas. In this, we need a tea light candle that needs to be placed at the bottom, and the essential oil goes on the top. Once you start the candle see the magic begin.
4. Scented candles
I’m filled with amazing smells, great memories, and self-care moments whenever I think of a candle. We all know how mood-elevating candles can be to take it a step higher, when we add aromatherapy elements to it, then it can have health benefits as well, this intensive skincare candle from Neom has become my personal favorite not only it is a great touch to my self-care time but it adds to it. When the wax melts, it can be used for massages and help improve blood circulation. Especially during winter, the jojoba oil and other ingredients leave my skin well hydrated.
I am sure all of us know or have used incense in our daily life. Personally, it is very similar to making coffee, and you take some time for yourself and burn incense, and sometimes I like to stretch and relax at the end of the day with the amazing smell of incense. It acts as a natural air purifier that can help in reducing stress, stimulating creativity, and helping relax and unwind. As Kiyoko Morita in her wise words sums it really well.
The 10 Virtues of Incense (Koh):
From The Book of Incense, by Kiyoko Morita
- It brings commuication with the transcendent.
- It purifies mind and body.
- It removes uncleanliness.
- It keeps one alert.
- It can be a companion in the midst of solitude.
- In the midst of busy affairs, it brings a moment of peace.
- When it is plentiful, one never tires of it.
- When there is little, still one is satisfied.
- Age does not change its efficacy.
- Used everyday, it does no harm. (Morita, 1992)
There are a few other ways to dive into the beauty of aromatherapy the old fashion way (direct inhalation or steam inhalation), Pillow mist, Bath and shower oil, household hygiene, travel support, ambient diffusion, chest rub, direct application, perfumes mists, sauna, etc.
Let us know if you have any more unique ways to embrace the blessings of nature in our life.
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