by Liz Dose, Clinical Aromatherapist, Cht, LC
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start to awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away.”Helen Keller
Since the dawn of time humans have been under the spell of perhaps the most mysterious of the senses – the sense of smell. Our ancestors relied heavily on this gift to find food, detect a predator in the area or alert them of a nearby fire. But on another level, our sense of smell has blessed us with the ability to experience the intoxicating aroma of a freshly opened blossom, coffee brewing first thing in the morning, or fresh baked cookies straight out of the oven. Our sense of smell provides so much more than instinctual protection mechanisms. An aroma can’t be accurately described by simply comparing it to another, yet a familiar scent can act like a time machine transporting you back to another time or place. Because our sense of smell was so crucial to our early survival, the Olfactory System that starts with the nose takes these aromas on a journey through the brain, and affects every part of our body almost instantly.
How Do Essential Oils Work?
Essential oils support our healing because they are much more than simply “good smells”. The aroma of each individual plant oil comes from its unique combination of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are plant-derived chemicals that are not considered an essential nutrient in the human diet, however, they are believed to have beneficial health effects. Some oils have up to 800 different chemicals, creating an extremely dynamic natural substance! These chemicals are produced by the plant for various reasons, such as to ward off infection or pests, to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, or to heal the structure of the plant itself. Plants have a natural and biological affinity for the human body; when it comes to nutrition we know that we need to include them in our diets to thrive and feel good.
Benefits of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy employs the use of plants through inhalation, or topical application, such as during a massage. Extracting the volatile oils (which we know as essential oils) is an extremely detailed process that produces very concentrated chemicals small enough to reach every cell in the body. Some oils bring pain relief to muscles and even deep within the joints. Others activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and encourage the body to rest and digest.
The American Cancer Society’s webpage states that aromatherapy is “promoted as a natural way to help patients cope with stress, chronic pain, nausea and depression, and to produce a feeling of well-being.” Fragrances from different oils can have different health benefits, such as using lavender oil to relieve muscle tension, anxiety and insomnia.
Students at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts’ (SWIHA) learn about the benefits of aromatherapy, the specific uses of essential oils, and much more if they take and aromatherapy class or SWIHA’s Certificate of Excellence in Aromatherapy program.
At the other end of the spectrum, Spiritual Aromatherapists study the art of working with essential oils to bring peace and healing to the soul. Oils have been used for thousands of years and all over the globe in ritual and ceremony, and many practitioners use them in Spiritual Coaching sessions and prayer work among many other sacred practices. The oils can assist anyone in creating a scared space in the home for quiet reflection, or opening up a meditation practice to a whole new level of bliss and relaxation; the possibilities are truly endless!
From self-care products to household cleaners, any recipe can be enhanced with the right essential oils. It's empowering to know that we have the ability to create products for ourselves, our family and our friends, and that the power of both the chemicals and the spirit of the plants are present to support us in all aspects of life.
About the Author Liz Dose
Liz Dose is a graduate of SWIHA’s Mind Body Transformational Psychology program, and has been practicing and studying aromatherapy for ten years. She teaches many of the aromatherapy courses at SWIHA, including AR 100: Aromatherapy – Intro.