| All of our five senses have a target area in our body: the brain. Touch, taste, sight and hearing have important nerves that connect them to their processing centers in the brain. Not so with the sense of smell, however. There is no connection between the sense of smell and the brain. The reason is simple. The sense of smell is the brain.
There is physiological architecture that makes the sense of smell completely different from the other five senses. The part of our body that detects aromas, fragrances, smells and odors is the olfactory bulbs located high in the nasal passage. These are not sense organs. They are actually extensions of our brain. Smell is the only sense that is directly perceived by the brain, no middleman. In human evolution, the sense of smell is the most potent and primal. Smell is so key to survival, it has a direct connection for the brain to the outside world. Part of the most primitive portion of the brain, the limbic system, grew along a path to the nostrils and directly interfaces with the outer world through the sense of smell.
Research has shown that memory centers in the brain are more stimulated by smell than any other sense and it is the sense that is most evocative of memory and emotion.
Smell is such a powerful sense, research neurologist Alan Hirsch found several common smells had a sexually stimulating effect on both genders. He didnt just use subjective estimates, he studied physiological changes. An increase in vaginal blood flow signified arousal in women and erectile blood flow was the criterion for men. Hirsch found that smells associated with domestic tranquility turned women on the most. Rated number one was the fragrance of the candy Good & Plenty combined with cucumber, then the fragrance of baby powder. Low on the list were barbecue and mens cologne.
And there is a therapeutic application for the sense of smell too.
Burse of the Mummy's Tomb
Early use of aromatherapy can be traced to the same physicians who conceived of organ transplants (no records of success discovered) and originated brain surgery (some success documented.) Egyptian medicos of some 5000 years ago avidly used essential oils to medicate and treat their patients. Some earlier evidence can be traced to ancient Chinese uses, but the discovery of sacs or purses of valuable anointing oils in mummy tombs showed the importance that the Egyptians placed on fragrant oils. In the same part of the world a few centuries later, three wise men carried gifts to a newborn infant. The three gifts were considered the most valuable of the time. Two of them were herbal extracts with significant aromatic qualities.
The ancient Vedic texts of India also document and classify the use of essential oils to treat ailments and balance the doshas. Later history shows extensive use by the Greek, Persian and Arab cultures. In the 10th century A.D., the great Arabic philosopher and physician, Avicenna, is credited with developing the exact process of steam distilling of aromatic plants that yields their essential healing oils and properties. It is the same process used today.
As science began to collect and slice and dice, cubbyhole and define synthetic replicas of the naturally occurring essences, aromatherapy was less prevalent in the 18th and 19th Centuries. In the early 1930's, however, French chemist Rene Gattefossé began describing the therapeutic properties of these oils and coined the term "aromatherapy" with the publication of his book, Aromatherapie.
When French physician Jean Valnet began treating battlefield wounded with aromatherapy in World War Two, he was using a method that had been used to treat ailments and wounds as far back as the Pharoah's legions. Using essential oils gleaned from plants, herbs and flowers, he was so impressed with the results he obtained that he continued that as the focal point of his medical practice until his retirement in the 1980's. His landmark work, The Practice of Aromatherapy, was published in 1977 and is considered one of the most important sources of information on the art of Aromatherapy Healing. Aromatherapy had only fell into disuse in the 19th century with science's obsession with purifying and concentrating in drug form the naturally occurring essences found in the plant kingdom.
How did Valnet facilitate such remarkable healing? How do essential oils and extracts promote wellness? The answer is not so much in the extracts and oils, but in the healing power of the human body that is unleashed by them.
The body can produce, store and release some of the most powerful chemicals known to man. Neurohumors, hormones and metabolites produced in the body can deaden and eliminate pain. For example, the word endorphin is a combination of the words endogenous and morphine. Others neurohumors can induce sleep or instill a feeling of pleasure. Both physiological and emotional well-being are affected by the body's own pharmacy. Nearly every event in the body is preceded by the production of a chemical that stimulates or enhances the effect.
When an aromatic molecule is introduced into the limbic system, either by transdermal delivery or through the sense of smell, that molecule stimulates a corresponding release of hormones and chemicals from the brain and other organs. For centuries, aromatherapists have documented the effects and carefully combine and use pure essences to facilitate the desired physiological or emotional result. So the mechanism appears to be that the aroma initiates the real healing powers that are innate.
The essential aromatic oils that are used in aromatherapy are usually used two ways. Most of the time aromatherapy introduces the essence through the sense of smell. But combining the inhalation of the aroma with the intentional use of healing massage has been found to be a highly effective tool. Margurite Muary is credited with the application of touch and therapeutic massage using the volatile oils of healing plants. German research has shown that molecules of essential oils are present in the breath within moments of application onto the skin. Further studies have shown that hormones and various neurohumors are released in the body immediately upon introduction of the aroma to the senses. Autonomic functions are greatly influenced by these neurohumors. The immune system is affected drastically by neurohumors, emotions as well.
Consult with someone who has taken the time to study aromatherapy and perhaps is certified by a recognizing organization. You may find out more from your massage therapist.
A New Age Plague
If there is a burden that comes with the popularity of alternative therapies, it is the indiscriminate commercialization of good ideas. Be aware, Glade air freshener is not aromatherapy, ok? I dont care how many candles you buy at Target that say so, the chances of them being aromatherapeutic are slim to none. They may smell good, and you may experience a delightful feeling when you light a few and take a luxurious bath, but they are not aromatherapy, get it?
Doctors and conventional practitioners have not taken the time to truly understand aromatherapy and dismiss it out of hand, thinking that these commercial applications are what alternative practitioners are recommending. They arent. Essential oils that are processed expensively and used appropriately are the only fair example of aromatherapy. You are not going to find them at Walgreens.
It takes 3000 pounds of the American beauty to produce one pound of properly distilled essential rose oil of the type used in aromatherapy. 500 pounds of rosemary or 50 pounds of eucalyptus is required for a pound of the final product of those plants. So it becomes instantly clear that, at least in the production of the oils, this is no lightweight process. It is foolhardy to dismiss the healing properties of aromatherapy based on experience with perfumed candles or sachets. Perfume and essential oils are two different things.