As an holistic treatment, aromatherapy can have a profound effect on physical and psychological wellbeing. There exists the belief that scent, as the most enduring of our senses, has the power to transform our emotions, and heal our bodies.
What Are Essential Oils?
An essential oil is a highly concentrated plant extract.
Every plant contains a therapeutic oil which it uses to protect itself from insects or shield itself from a harsh environment. This therapeutic oil along with its healing properties is what is known as an essential oil. The most common method for doing this is an extraction process known as steam distillation, which helps separate the oil from water-based compounds in the plant.
Since essential oils are so potent, you’ll always find them in small quantities. For example, you would need around 30 kg of rose petals to make just one 15ml bottle of rose essential oil! Subsequently, the more of a plant that’s required, the more expensive it will be.
How do Essential Oils work?
Most of us will be familiar with the experience of a smell being able to trigger an old memory or evoke a certain mood. For example, it could be a tropical scent that takes you back to your last vacation. This is because the olfactory bulb in our brain (responsible for our sense of smell) is directly connected to the limbic system (the part of the brain that processes memory and emotions).
Similarly, it is theorized that the chemical components of essential oils have the ability to bind to receptors in the olfactory bulb (sense of smell), which can then impact the limbic system (our emotional centre) . For example, research has shown that lavender essential oil is associated with a greater release of the brain chemical serotonin (the happy, mood boosting neurotransmitter).
The link between our sense of smell and our emotions is both deep and profound. No other sense has the ability to directly tap into the primitive part of our mind that is the centre of our moods and emotions. It is through such intimate connections with the primitive mind and by influencing the more subtle energies, that aromatherapy is able to impact so positively on relieving stress and promoting wellbeing.
Essential oils may be chosen for their perfume or therapeutic properties. They may be calming, balancing, stimulating, antiviral, detoxifying, antiseptic, tonifying, grounding or uplifting.
Aside from inhaling essential oils, there is also the topical application to consider that can have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-numbing) effects as well. Since essential oils are made up of very small molecules, they can easily penetrate your cells and even cross the blood-brain barrier.
How to use Essential Oils
You can inhale essential oils straight from the bottle e.g. if I want to help calm anxiety or stress, I may take a few inhalations of ylang-ylang or lavender. Probably my favourite way to use them is to add an essential oil(s) to a diffuser to spread the scent throughout the room.
There are also some creative ways to inhale essential oils. For example, you can add a few drops of eucalyptus oil on the shower floor for a very refreshing and invigorating shower experience. Or if your sinuses are congested, you can add a few drops of eucalyptus to a pot of boiling water and do a steam inhalation by standing over the pot with a towel on your head.
The basic rule of thumb for topical application is that it must be diluted in a carrier oil. Essential oils on their own are extremely potent and can irritate or burn the skin. In addition, dilution increases the surface area of absorption so it is actually going to make your mixture more effective.
Note: essential oils are hydrophobic, which means they do not mix well with water. This is why you always want to dilute with a carrier oil.
A basic ratio for dilution is 1 drop of essential oil for every 2ml of carrier oil.
Below are some good carrier oils to get started (you probably already have some of these at home):
· Almond oil
· Apricot oil
· Jojoba oil
· Grape seed oil
· Olive oil
· Coconut oil
Boosting wellness naturally
A diffuser is often the best option to support certain health issues. However, you’ll want to make sure you follow the basic guidelines below:
Each diffuser will have a different requirement for how many drops to add; typically between 2-10 drops, but pay attention to the instructions for your model
The optimal length of time for diffusion is between 30-45 minutes; after this the therapeutic value of the essential oil diminishes
There are certain oils which are not safe for babies, children, pets, and pregnant or nursing women. Always do your research before diffusing a particular oil.
Below are some examples of my favourite wellness boosters:
· Sleep: Lavender, Roman chamomile, vetiver, sandalwood, cedarwood, marjoram
Tip 1. Purchase them in small quantities – not only will a small amount last a long time, but the oxygen inside bottles will oxidize the essential oil over time and cause it to deteriorate
Tip 2. There should be one ingredient on the bottle. In order to evoke a true biochemical response you need to use a 100% pure botanical extract, no chemical reproductions.
Tip 3. Essential oils should never have one price 'fits all' for all their oils – that’s a big red flag. There should be a big price variance across essential oils since some are more expensive to extract e.g. rose essential oil can retail for $300 (5ml), whereas you can get lavender for $20 (15ml).
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