10/20/2016 Mind-Body Health
Scent can be powerful and beneficial to your health. Learn how to use essential oils to reduce stress or alleviate insomnia, ease tension, or boost your energy.
It’s no secret that scent can have a powerful effect on your life. Just a hint of a particular aroma can conjure memories—both good and bad. It can even have a physical effect on you, depending on what you associate with that aroma.
It’s why cultures for centuries have used the sense of smell as a pathway to encourage health and healing. They recognized the relationship between the nose and scent as a way to help unify the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of ourselves.
Aromatherapy is the art of using naturally extracted aromatic oils from plants and is often associated with alternative medicine. While the scientific evidence is lacking regarding the physical healing properties of essential oils, there is increasing evidence of aromatherapy’s mood-altering effects. This is due to the olfactory system’s primary pathway involving the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system and is linked to emotions and memories. It’s no wonder scent can invoke such powerful feelings.
According to Ayurveda and many cultures around the world, the mind and body do not operate independently; they are in constant concert with one another. It would make sense that if one’s state of mind is uplifted with the use of aromatherapy, our body would respond likewise by shifting its trajectory towards improved functioning, too.
Sometimes we need to go back to our roots and rediscover the effects of time-tested techniques such as the use of aroma as a complement for healthy living.
If you’re feeling like you could use some extra help to improve overall well-being, the aromatic path might be for you. Here are some tips on how to incorporate armoatherapy into your life.
Read the Label
There is an abundant amount of information—as well as products on the market—relating to aromatherapy. It can be hard to know where to start. You can begin by learning how to choose a high quality oil. Look for labels that list the following information:
- Common name, Latin name
- Country of origin
- Part of the plant processed
- Type of extraction
- How it was grown (organic, wild-crafted, or unsprayed is ideal)
Companies that truly care about their product will gladly reveal this information. There is little regulation around the creation and usage of aromatherapy products. However, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) and the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) are two organizations that exist to enhance public awareness and encourage responsible and safe practices. Educate yourself and know where your products are coming from; there are a lot of synthetic products being sold at cheap prices. The closer to the plant you can get, the better.
7 Scents to Spice Up Your Life
The fun part is choosing the appropriate plant or essential oil for you. Remember to listen to your own body’s intuition. Nature speaks to us as individuals in different ways. What works for your friend may not work the same for you. Here are a few of my favorite essential oils with some of the commonly known benefits to get you started:
- Peppermint – improves focus, boosts energy, alleviates muscle pain and headaches
- Rosemary – uplifting, improves brain function and memory
- Lavender – stress reducing, calming, helps with insomnia
- Eucalyptus – invigorating, improves respiratory issues, enhances concentration
- Sandalwood – grounding, eases tension, calming
- Rose – helps with depression and anxiety, aphrodisiac
- Citrus (Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin, Orange, Tangerine) – uplifting, immunity boosting, cleansing, boosts creativity
Check out your local health food stores, co-ops, and farmer’s markets for essential oils. Take a moment to test various scents by different companies. Trust your nose to tell you when you have found the right one.
When to Use
The great thing about aromatherapy is it can be used anywhere and anytime. Using lavender while traveling can help you stay calm and relaxed amidst the rush. If you’re feeling a little sluggish in the morning, try some eucalyptus; it’s like a splash of cool water for your brain.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and having a hard time thinking clearly, use rosemary as a natural and effective way to gain clarity and clear brain fog.
Whether at the office, in the kitchen, or by the bed, having your oil readily accessible and in view will increase usage, and can be a powerful tool to alleviate some of the daily travails of life.
How to Use
To benefit from plant aromatics, it doesn’t always have to be in oil form. One of my favorite ways to enjoy rosemary is to pick it fresh and roll it between my fingertips to release the aroma. The smell of herbs while cooking can be beneficial for the senses, making the mouth water in anticipation.
The world is alive with fragrance, you just have to take notice. As far as essential oil, there are different applications you can use:
Topically (the most common technique)
- Place on pulse points such as temples, inner wrists or elbows, back of the neck, or anywhere where you can enjoy the scent
- Place a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together and inhale deeply
- Use a diffuser (ultrasonic)
- Make your own spritzer
- Steam inhalation (good for respiratory issues)
Baths and Compresses
- A few drops of oil in your bath or steeping a washcloth in water infused with essential oil can do wonders to sooth and relax
- A little goes a long way when using essential oil and in most cases, 1 to 2 drops will be sufficient
Dilution is Important
Essential oils are highly concentrated so it’s important to do a skin test before using. Place a drop anwhere on the inner part of your arm and wait a few minutes to see if there is any discomfort. If there is any reaction, coat the area with vegetable oil and then wash with warm, soapy water.
In general, when using aromatherapy topically, it’s beneficial to have a carrier oil on hand such as olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil to dilute the essential oil and make it more gentle on the skin. Dilution increases the surface area of absorption and can prevent skin reactions. This does not reduce the effectivenss of the essential oil.
A good ratio to use when making your dilution is 5 drops of oil per ½ teaspoon of carrier oil. Reduce or increase this based on your preference.
Note of caution: Aromatherapy is not meant to cure all ills; it can take the edge off so your body and mind can function in an optimal state. The plant world has offered us numerous medicinal benefits, but improper use can be hazardous. Be sure to read all labels and warnings. Keep essential oils away from little children who may be enticed by the smell and want to ingest. If you have a specific health problem or concern, talk to your primary care physician as well as a practicioner who is knowledgeable about aromatherapy to ensure there are no unexpected side effects.
Overall, aromatherapy is a great and inexpensive way to help promote well-being. Not only will you be enjoying the benefits, those around you will too once they get a whiff of whatever you’ve got going on.
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