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The Easygoing Benefits of Aromatherapy

AS EASY AS BREATHING:

The Easygoing Benefits of Aromatherapy

by Peter Friis, CEO, www.essioshower.com

What’s Old is New

When it comes to addressing the most common human issues, spas reflect this perhaps more than any other industry. For example, today spas call upon the ancient traditions of Ayurveda and pre-Columbian meso-American rituals and ingredients and everything in-between, from applying heated stones to marma-points to burning sweetgrass and sage “smudges”, to bust stress and re-energize, for balanced body and radiant skin.

Most exciting case in point: aromatherapy. The ancient world valued the effects of aromatic barks, roots, leaves and blossoms, and the use of aromatics in both ritual and secular life may be found in cultural records of Egypt, Greece, Persia and China. A bit later, in Rome, the public baths became the center of social life, where the extravagant use of scented oils, incense, body and hair perfumes, pomades and sachets made from exotic botanicals imported from Asia and Africa was a sign of wealth, prestige and power.

Then came the Dark Ages. The medieval period produced a decline in the use of aromatics almost literally overnight. The cultural shift to Christianity proclaimed bath-house culture sinfully hedonistic, and aromatherapy went underground. Only recently has this ancient art re-emerged. Today, scientists are exploring why and how aromatherapy works.

Element #1:  Neurochemical Effect

The aspect of aromatherapy receiving the most scrutiny today is its neurochemical effect. Because aromatherapy essential oils have traditionally been made from wild-crafted botanical specimens, large controlled studies have been impossible. However, now science has undertaken to clinically quantify the effects of breathing in essential oils via an aromatherapy diffuser. The primary reasons relate to stress and productivity. The vast majority of Americans complain of chronic stress, which not only reduces their quality of life but also reduces their productivity on the job. In response, employers and institutions worldwide, including hospitals and other facilities interested in reducing trauma and speeding the healing process, are integrating aromatherapy into their environments as a natural stress-reducing agent.

Element #2:  Associative / Experiential Effect

The other element in the effectiveness of aromatherapy is associative and experiential. It’s difficult to separate the neurochemical effect from this second, more subjective effect, which has to do with memories, associations and feelings.

In the last century, early researchers colorfully named various parts of the human brain the limbic system, and the reptile-brain or lizard-brain. These evocative terms have since been dismissed as non-scientific, but they do capture the concept that there are areas of the brain which are impulsive, reflexive and non-rational. Structurally, the olfactory process relates to so-called “primitive” areas in the brain, which is why aromas are believed to trigger deep stored memories. Marcel Proust’s writing of the almond-scented tea-cake in his classic “Memory of Things Past” is the most familiar example, where a buttery whiff of a plate of freshly baked madeleines triggered decades of the author’s dormant memories and thoughts.

Aromas in our Environment

While the exact analysis is forthcoming, we do know that particular aromas in the spa, in the shower and in our environments may result in particular psychological and physical effects.

  • For instance, Peppermint has been demonstrated in current studies to reduce pain and increase our ability to retain and memorize information, making it a valuable study-tool—and perhaps a future additive to the ventilation systems of the workplace for greater technical performance. Peppermint, like Eucalyptus, is also experienced as energizing, and as a nasal decongestant; some aromatherapists extend this experience to say that these two oils are good for emotionally “clearing the air” as well when conflict or tension are present, and for clarifying confused mental energies.
  • Citrus essential oils are associated with optimism and breaking up the gloom of depression, perhaps because we recognize their sharp, pleasantly acidic aromas as hailing from sunny climes which we may associate with tropical vacations and upbeat, carefree attitudes.
  • The deep, lingering spicy aromas which traditional parfumiers call “Orientals” – Sandalwood, Musk, Myrrh, Frankincense, Patchouli, Cinnamon, Clove, Coriander—are perceived as warming, dissolving to the inhibitions, and sexy.
  • Lavender is regarded worldwide as mildly sedative, and this has been demonstrated in a few small contemporary studies. Again, the effects of Lavender may be associative as well as neurochemical: we may simply remember the dreamy floral aroma from being peacefully tucked into the freshly-laundered sheets of early childhood.

As science moves forward to isolate the chemical causes for aromatherapy’s effectiveness, look for genuine 100% USDA certified essential oils as opposed to synthetic fragranced products made with artificial perfumes, as they are not aromatherapy. In fact, they may pose health hazards, including sensitization and irritation of the eyes, skin, nose and throat. And though they may smell pleasantly of vanilla cupcakes or gleaming new cars, the beneficial effects of these manufactured smells are literally all in your mind.

About Leslie

Spas2b Inc. is a full service Spa Development company, specializing in Online Spa Management Distance Learning Courses, Spa Business Manual Instant Downloads & Resources, and Spa Consulting Services.
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