Aromatherapy, or the use of essential oils, is an ancient practice. An essential oil is a liquid that is generally distilled (most frequently by steam or water) from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots, or other elements of a plant. Essential oils contain the true essence of the plant it was derived from. Essential oils can be compared to the hormones of the plant and therefore they possess powerful therapeutic properties.
The chemical composition and aroma of essential oils can provide valuable psychological and physical therapeutic benefits. These benefits are usually achieved through methods including inhalation and application of the diluted oil to the skin. Using essential oils is a natural and healthy alternative that can be applied to vast areas of daily life.
The pathway of aromatherapy starts in the nose where millions of olfactory receptor cells vibrate and absorb the invisible molecules present in all living aromatic substances.
From the nose, these impressions or nerve messages are then relayed to the olfactory nerves, bulbs, tracks and next on to the cerebral cortex and the limbic system, also known as the emotional brain. The olfactory nerves, on the other hand, have a direct connection to the limbic system. The limbic system is the area of the brain, which controls emotions and mood states.
The olfactory centre is located close to memory circuits in the brain. Most researchers in this field have attested to the fact that essential oils have the ability to evoke memories. The sense of smell is closest to the Hippocampus, one of the brain structures responsible for the establishing of memories. Indeed aromas have been demonstrated to have a direct effect on mood and behaviour. External mood regulators (eg: sedative, tranquillizing, antidepressant) mimic opiate drugs and are called endogenous morphines. Certain fragrances stimulate the brain to release these neurochemicals which the body needs to stay balanced, such as:
- Serotonin, that has a calming effect
- Noradrenalin, that is stimulating and
- Endorphins, these have a euphoric and aphrodisiac effect as well as being effective in pain management.
This direct connection between the nose and the nervous system makes one understand the powerful effects of aromatherapy on the mind, emotions and the psyche. The spiritual dimension of aromatherapy, deals with the expansion of consciousness, the discovery of psychic moods, and the development of a meditative mind.