What part does scent play in your home? In your life? While many of us don’t focus on our sense of smell in the way we do our hearing or our eyesight, it is a powerful part of the way we perceive the world.
A waft of a familiar perfume from across the room. The detergent your mother used on a stranger’s clothes. The smell of sea air and hot tarmac. Scent is intimately connected with our memory, transporting us to another time and place in an instant.
Aromatherapy is where the power of scent meets the healing properties of the natural world. Plants have been used in traditional medicine for millennia. Aromatherapy takes the essence of the plant and distills it, creating concentrated oils that are believed to support both our physical wellbeing and our mental health.
This form of complementary medicine is embraced around the world as part of a holistic approach to wellness and self-care. Essential oils and the products made from them are used to promote relaxation, boost our moods, and support a good night’s sleep.
Other scents are thought to clear and focus our minds and may be used as part of a mindfulness practice, such as meditation or breathwork.
Aromatherapy may also support our physical health. Although this is still a largely unexplored field, there’s evidence that some of the compounds found in essential oils have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-cancer properties.
How Does Aromatherapy Work?
Aromatherapy uses different essential oils to stimulate our sense of smell. Scent is strongly linked with our limbic systems – the parts of our brain responsible for our emotions. So, it is thought that inhaling essential oils can produce a psychological effect, such as lifting our mood or reducing stress.
Essential oils can also be applied topically to the skin, although they must be diluted first. Some practitioners suggest ingesting oils, but this should only be done under the supervision of a trained professional. Most essential oils are not designed to be taken internally.
Our understanding of how aromatherapy may affect our bodies has increased. More research has been done into a group of potent compounds called terpenes, many of which are now known to benefit our health. Examples include menthol, limonene, alpha-pinene, and terpinolene.
These terpenes occur naturally in plants, giving them their aroma and taste. When large amounts of plant matter are distilled to make essential oil, the final product is extremely concentrated and has high levels of terpenes.
Terpenes are volatile molecules, meaning they easily evaporate and can be absorbed by our olfactory systems – our sense of smell. This may explain some of the health benefits of using essential oils, as many terpenes are anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.
How to Practice Aromatherapy at Home
Incorporating aromatherapy into your daily routine is both simple and rewarding. Essential oils are now easily available. You can also find ready-made blends developed for a specific purpose, such as promoting relaxation or aiding concentration.
Products containing essential oils, such as candles, incense, and body and bath oils, are other easy ways to start using aromatherapy at home.
It is worth doing some research before buying essential oils. The industry isn’t yet regulated, so there are plenty of cheap products made with low-quality or synthetic ingredients.
The supplier you choose should be able to tell you the country of origin, and both the common and Latin names of the plant should appear on the label.
You might look for oils associated with a specific benefit: Lavender for calm, rosemary for thought and memory, bergamot for stress reduction. Peppermint to energize, lemon to boost your mood, rose to manage anxiety.
Alternatively, you might start with the scents you are drawn toward. Aromatherapy is as much about creating a calming and welcoming environment as supporting your health and wellness.
Once you have chosen your scents, there are many ways to use them in your daily routine.
Perhaps you start your morning by lighting a stick of incense while you take ten minutes to sit in meditation or write in a journal.
Or maybe you end your day with a warm bath scented with your favorite oil. You could also light a candle or oil burner to transform your bedroom into an oasis of calm before you settle for sleep. A spritz of lavender across your pillow may help you find a more restful night.
Diluted with a carrier oil, you could use essential oils to anoint your pulse points throughout the day. This small ritual can help you regain your balance in times of stress.
You can also use diluted oils as a massage oil. Combining the relaxing effects of massage with the therapeutic benefits of essential oils can become a lovely way to honor your body and help you unwind.
Used with intention, aromatherapy can become an essential part of your daily routine.