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Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Basics of Aromatherapy

Many people use aromatherapy and don't even know they are doing it. Lighting a scented candle, putting on scented body lotion, perfume or body spray, sinking into a warm scented bath, simmering potpourri or enjoying a walk through a scented garden are all forms of aromatherapy.

Medical research has uncovered what aromatherapists have always known: Odors have a significant impact on how we feel. The sense of smell is strongly tied to the area of the brain that controls our emotions. A scent can take us back in time and make us recall a pleasant or even unpleasant memory. Learned odor responses are our brain's reaction to odors that have memories attached to them. The limbic portion of the brain controls the processing of memory, emotions and odors. Learned odor responses can be to synthetic or natural scents. However the scientific research of aromatherapy focuses on natural scents, pure essential oils only.

The experience of essential oils is different than that of learned odor responses. Essential oils can cause physiological changes in the mind and body of a person. "Smells act directly on the brain, like a drug," says Alan Hirsch M.D., a neurologist and psychiatrist. "We know from brain wave frequency studies that smelling lavender increases alpha waves in the back of the head, which are associated with relaxation," says Dr. Hirsch. "An odor such as jasmine increases brain waves in the front of the head, which are associated with a more alert state."

The therapeutic uses of smell seem endless. Experts believe that inhaling essential oils can benefit conditions linked to nervous tension, respiratory complaints and many other problems.

Essential oils are highly concentrated essences of aromatic plants. Aromatherapy is the art of using the oils to promote the healing of the mind and body. The essential oils can be used alone or in combinations. The oils are found in different parts of the plants, such as flowers, leaves, twigs, bark or the rinds of fruit. The methods used to extract these oils can be very time-consuming and expensive, so it is better leaving that to the professionals. Essential oils can also be expensive, but a few drops go along way. Small amounts are extremely effective.

Essential oils have an immediate effect on olfaction, our sense of smell. When essential oils are inhaled, olfactory receptor cells are stimulated and transmitted to the limbic system, the emotional center of our brains. The limbic system is connected to areas of the brain linked to memory, breathing, blood circulation and the endocrine glands that regulate hormone levels in the body. The properties of the oil determine what stimulation occurs and where in these systems.

Essential oils are effective not only through inhalation but also when used topically. When used in massage, the oils are inhaled and absorbed through the skin. They penetrate tissue, find their way into the bloodstream and are transported to the organs and systems of the body.

Essential oils have absorption rates between 20 minutes and 2 hours, so it is best not to take a bath or shower right after receiving an aromatherapy massage. You want the oils to be able to penetrate and do what they are supposed to do.

Synthetic oils, or oils reproduced chemically in labs, do not have the same properties or effects as natural essential oils and experts believe they are not effective in aromatherapy.

There are many ways to use and enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy. Essential oils can be added to humidifiers, vaporizers, candle wax, diffusers, spray bottles of water, baths, light bulb rings, inhaled directly from the bottle or added to massage oils, bath oils, bath salts, powders or body lotions. Essential oils used properly can have very beneficial effects on your life.

Essential oils can be purchased in health food stores, from catalogs and from many Web sites. Some regular stores now also carry essential oils, but usually only a few scents. When shopping for essential oils, make sure you only purchase them from reputable sellers and verify that they are pure essential oils and not chemical reproductions. Pure essential oils will vary greatly in pricing from one type to another. Some are common and relatively cheap, others are much harder to extract and will cost a lot more. If all the oils are the same price they are most likely synthetic. The oils should also be in small, dark-glass bottles and contain warning labels.

The basics are pretty easy to learn, and once you get the hang of it you can benefit greatly from using aromatherapy.

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