Fragrance is perhaps one of Nature’s greatest gifts to humanity. From earliest times, humans have delighted in the scents of flowers and other aromatic plants and have surrounded their dwellings with gardens, recognizing the soothing, calming effect that pleasant odors have on both the body and the mind.
In modern times, the beneficial effects of pleasant smells have been rediscovered and are now used widely in the practice of aromatherapy. This form of therapy, which began in Europe in the early 1900s, uses essential aromatic oils from flowers and other parts of plants, such as leaves, roots, stalks, fruit rind, and even tree bark to bring about physical and psychological well-being. While aromatherapy focuses mainly on the sense of smell, the essential oils used can also be applied to the skin, where they are absorbed into the bloodstream and bring about holistic physical and mental healing.
Aromatherapy is thought to work in a variety of ways. The process begins when the fragrance molecules of the aromatic oils enter the nose and stimulate various nerves in the nasal passage. These nerves then send signals to various parts of the brain, either stimulating or calming that brain region. Certain fragrances can stimulate the brain to produce various neurotransmitters (chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins), which regulate our moods and emotions and can produce a sense of well-being, or dull our experience of pain, or even slow our heart rate. Fragrances may also stimulate the brain to release various hormones, such as melatonin, which puts us into a state of deep relaxation and induces sleep. When essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin, they are thought to interact with the body’s enzymes and hormones and produce physiological changes, such as the lowering of blood pressure and pulse rate, and the regulation of breathing and digestion.
Essential oils can be administered in a variety of ways. They can be sprayed into the air, inhaled directly (often through steam inhalation), poured into bathwater (and used in combination with hydrotherapy), or rubbed gently into the skin (in combination with massage therapy). The essential oils can be used individually or in combination. They are often most effective when blended together in various carefully created combinations.
Aromatherapy has a wide range of uses, from relieving stress, to the treatment of pain, to the promotion of relaxation and the lowering of blood pressure. It has also been used in treating cognitive impairments, depression, insomnia, and other physical and mental conditions. It is especially beneficial to the elderly and will form an essential part of the service provided by the Himalaya Club at AlfredHouse.
Veena J. Alfred, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer and Administrator