Mind-Body Health

Aromatherapy: The Secret to Relaxation

Aromatherapy: The Secret to Relaxation
We could all benefit from a bit of relaxation, whether it’s enjoying a spa day or taking moments to unwind. Making time for rest and relaxation is an important part of maintaining good health and well-being. For some, relaxing comes easy, while for others, it’s a bit of a challenge to suddenly shift gears, especially for those that are constantly on the go.

You are not alone if the latter applies to you. It is no coincidence the market for stress relief and relaxation aids are in huge demand. One such treatment that is often overlooked is the use of aromatherapy, which can be a great complementary practice to help diffuse stress and enhance relaxation.

Aromatherapy, the use of fragrant oils for therapeutic purposes, most often includes using essential oils, which are aromatic oils that have been extracted from plants. If you have ever cut a lemon, you have experienced aromatherapy. It’s hard not to miss the strong scent of citrus in the air. For centuries, fragrant plant oils have been used in resins and balms for both medicinal and religious purposes. It is a gentle tool that can encourage a bit more of the good stuff you need in life to help with everyday stressors.

Why It Works

You are constantly taking in energy and information from the environment through the senses. It is how you connect with the world, helping to give you vital clues on a primitive level as to what is good or not good for you. Of course, people no longer pay attention to these clues as much as they used to, but the effect is still there. Used consciously, however, the senses can be a direct pathway to help trigger the body’s own healing system.

Aromatherapy with essential oils utilizes the sense of smell to promote healing and is especially beneficial as a treatment for coping with stress, which is usually the culprit for an inability to relax and let go. When inhaled, the various aromas stimulate the smell receptors in the nose, which then sends messages through the nervous system to the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls emotions. As a result, aromatherapy benefits can have positive effects such as being uplifted, relaxed, calm, invigorated, or rejuvenated, depending on the aroma used.

Think of your favorite scent(s), such as:

  • Rose
  • Sage
  • The smell of the earth after a rain
  • Bread fresh out of the oven
  • Coffee
  • Peppermint, etc.
More than likely just thinking about the scent brought up a memory or a feeling. There is usually an associated bodily response and depending on the memory you may find yourself smiling, or you might feel some clenching in the stomach. The mind and the body are inextricably linked—what affects one, affects the other. Accessing this connection through aromatherapy is the secret to better relaxation.

Aromas for Relaxation

Aromatherapy is a highly individualized experience. What smells great to one person might be a turn off for another. When looking for essential oils, start to notice what you are attracted to; it usually means it can benefit you in some way. In the case of relaxation, there are particular fragrances that contain calming properties and are known to help. Take time to discover which one below you might like to work with:

  • Lavender
  • Vanilla
  • Rose
  • Jasmine
  • Sandalwood
  • Frankincense
  • Citrus
  • Lemongrass
Be sure to purchase high-quality essential oils. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cheap options that take you further away from the health benefits of the aromatic plant. Keep a lookout for the following, the more information provided the better:

  • Label: Botanical name, country of origin, distillation date, and/or expiration date
  • Cost: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is
  • Testing: Gas chromatography (GC) and mass spectrometry (MS) testing performed
  • Description: Organic, unsprayed, or wildcrafted
  • Memberships: National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHAO) or other association memberships

How to Use Aromatherapy for Relaxation

Aromatherapy stands out from other natural healing techniques through the process of neuro-associative conditioning. As mentioned earlier, there is a strong link between scent and memory. Neuro-associative conditioning is a process by which you purposefully link a scent with an emotional state. This has great potential to increase the body’s response to an experience. For example, if every time you sat in meditation you used sandalwood fragrance, you would very quickly learn to associate the calming feeling with that aroma. This same technique can be applied to deepening a sense of relaxation in whatever form you choose.

There are many ways to add aromatherapy products into your life to help with relaxation. Here are some suggestions:

  • Add a few drops of essential oil to your bath.
  • Use during meditation.
  • Use during a massage.
  • Apply just before bed to help get a restful sleep.
  • Use anytime you need a moment of calm.
You can use an essential oil diffuser which will disperse the fragrance in the room. There are recipes on the internet for making your own mist or you can purchase one. You can also apply the aromatic oils to the body directly such as on the wrist, behind the ears, or wherever you’d like. Using a few drops in massage oil can also have quite gratifying effects.

A Note of Caution

Essential oils are highly concentrated so it’s important to do a skin test before using. Place a drop anywhere on the inner part of your arm and wait a few minutes to see if there is any discomfort. If there is any reaction or skin irritation, 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 gentler on the skin. Dilution increases the surface area of absorption and can prevent skin irritation. This does not reduce the effectiveness of the essential oil. A good ratio to use when making your dilution is five drops of oil per 1/2 teaspoon of carrier oil. Reduce or increase this based on your preference.

The power of smell has so much potential. Research on the health benefits of aromatherapy products has only just begun but the results so far are positive. Next time you decide to take time for yourself, try practicing aromatherapy and find that perfect essential oil that takes the edge off just enough so you can begin to experience true relaxation.