The term “aromatherapy” was coined by French chemist and perfumer Rene- Maurice Gattefosse in 1937 with the publication of his book “Gattefosse’s Aromatherapy.” Simply defined, aromatherapy is the therapeutic application of natural oils derived from plants to promote an enhanced state of physical and psychological well-being. Traditionally, the natural oils used in aromatherapies are extracted from the bark, flowers, roots, stems, or other parts of a desired plant selected for its therapeutic effects. These extracted natural oils or “aromatic substances” are also commonly referred to as essential oils. Gattefosse coined the word aromatherapy to distinguish that the aromatic substances are derived for medicinal or therapeutic benefits in holistic healing as opposed to being used for their perfumery applications. There is a remarkably wide variety of therapeutic essential oils on the market, each having its own range of specific healing properties. When inhaled, the aromas form essential oils stimulate brain function depending on what oil is selected for its desired effect. Some oils have calming or relaxing effects, whereas others have energizing effects that increase cognitive function and enhance mood when inhaled. When applied to skin, essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream promoting physiological or “whole-body” healing effects, including pain relief. Through the years, aromatherapy has gained momentum and is growing in popularity as a form of alternative medicine.
The essential oils used in aromatherapy can be inhaled, applied to the skin, or ingested depending on the desired effect one wants to achieve through aromatherapies. The most direct method to administer essential oils is by inhalation through the nostrils. This, of course, is because of the close proximity of the nasal cavity to the brain and also because of the instantaneous communication “smell” receptors dispatch to the brain. More interesting is that our nose communicates with the parts of the brain responsible for mood, emotions, and memory. Research indicates that, aside from reacting with the nose and brain, essential oil molecules also interact with enzymes and hormones in the blood. This is of importance because mood, growth & development, metabolism, and many other bodily functions are chemically mediated by hormones. When used in a topical application (directly on the skin), essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream where the oil’s molecules are delivered to the systems and organs on which they work. Also, while in the bloodstream, the aromatherapy’s molecules influence the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems. Aromatherapy incorporated into a massage is a very beneficial way to utilize essential oils in close to their full capacity. Your skin absorbs the essential oils at the same time that you’re breathing them in. Additionally, you benefit from the physical therapy of the massage itself.
The benefits of aromatherapy, whether inhaled, ingested, or applied topically, are numerous and can bring about drastic changes in one’s emotional, physical, mental, and physiological well being. Aromatherapy is a major catalyst in strengthening one’s own body’s natural responses. Some examples where health is benefited by aromatherapy is in the improvement of digestive function, easing of depression, pain management/reduction, greater circulation capacity, anxiety alleviation, improvement of cognitive performance, reduction in stress, cured headaches, and increased energy levels, just to name a few.
There are many products, suppliers, and resources available in the arena of aromatherapy, essential oils, and there’s even some walk in bathtub models that offer aromatherapy upgrades.
As one distributor says, “aromatherapy and essential oils are some of the most potent healers for the mind and body.” The message here is one of taking charge of your own body, finding what works, and trying a new approach to self healing. Many aromatherapists exist who can not only consult and help guide you to the right blends of oils for what areas you’re seeking to be well in, but also with experience in aromatherapy you’ll learn when, how, and where to utilize aromatherapies independently in your daily life. On a side note, if you’re unsure about how to find the right essential oil to help yourself independently or to explore essential oils for the first time, many distributors and health food retailers that sell essential oils are also knowledgeable about their use and what oils alleviate specific issues and may even be able to help direct you in the application of the therapy. Lastly, there are numerous websites that offer lists of which oils work for what condition(s) you’re investigating. A little research goes a long way.