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Home >> Wellbeing  >> A whiff of good health
 

A whiff of good health

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee or the buttery fragrance of hot toast can make us get out of bed in the morning. Likewise, the smell of rain on a parched land, or the salty scent of the ocean breeze, or the musty scent of an old book can evoke a sense of excitement or calm in us.

Fragrances affect us in different ways: besides arousing various emotions in us, they also bring back memories. For instance, the smell of waffles may remind us of the first time our loved one cooked us breakfast. The scent of the sea could take us back to a memorable vacation we had. It is incredible how fragrances can make all this happen.

Our olfactory sense, through which we perceive fragrances, is quite powerful. Unlike the other senses, this one works on a subliminal and intuitive level. Aromatherapist Elizabeth Anne Jones explains how the sense of smell works in her book Awaken to Healing Fragrance: The Power of Essential Oil Therapy. When we inhale a fragrance, she notes, its molecular information first registers in the limbic system–the primitive part of our brain. This neuronal information breaks the barrier of blood vessels, travels via our nervous system and directly reaches the amygdala in the brain, which governs our emotional responses. From there on, it travels to the hippocampus, which stores away the fragrance with its associated emotions as memories. The information then reaches the hypothalamus, which alters our metabolism, our autonomous nervous system and even our endocrine system. And finally, it reaches the right temporal lobe of the neocortex. This is when we become conscious of the smell itself. Long story short, fragrances affect our emotions, alter our state of mind and affect our bodily functions even before we become consciously aware of them!

Given the impact fragrances can have on our body and mind, several kinds of them have been manufactured and sold for our benefit. A lot of them, in fact, have been extracted from medicinal herbs to enhance their therapeutic effect. The branch of healing that uses herbal fragrances and aromas to enhance wellbeing is called aromatherapy. Says Amy Anthony, an instructor at the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies: “I approach aromatherapy as a sub-set of herbalism. Herbalism is a branch of medicine that uses herbal preparations for health purposes. Here, an individual’s constitution is considered alongside their current medical condition and symptoms. And aromatherapy focuses on aromatic plants and specifically, their distilled essence. Many aromatherapists work with essential oils and aromatics that belong to one or the other plant groups used in herbalism.”

Aromatherapy, incidentally, is nothing new. Fragrant concoctions have been in use for their therapeutic benefits since time immemorial. Several famous people are known to have used aromatherapy to enhance their overall wellbeing. One among them is queen Hatshepsut of Egypt who is known to have anointed herself with a fragrance called myrrh to enhance her mind-body vitality. This fragrance not only helped her remain calm and poised, but also stimulated her immunity and strengthened her spirituality.

Although fragrances have been an essential part of healing for ages, aromatherapy itself has gained wider acceptance only in the early 20th Century. In this article, Soulveda explores how fragrances improve our overall wellbeing by looking at its impact on our physical, mental as well as our energy bodies.

Fragrant concoctions have been in use for their therapeutic benefits since time immemorial. Several famous people are known to have used aromatherapy to enhance their overall wellbeing.


Physical wellbeing

Fragrances and aromatic compounds have always been used to treat a variety of physical ailments such as skin disorders and digestive problems. This is because fragrances are known to increase our immunity, and rid the body of viral, bacterial and fungal infections. Says a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Various essential oils have been reviewed to possess different biological properties such as anti-inflammatory, sedative, digestive, antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant as well as cytotoxic activities.”

Besides boosting our immunity, fragrances (especially in the form of essential oils) also help mitigate pain when applied topically on affected areas. Aromas can hence help treat chronic body pain–be it in the back, knees or neck. According to a study published by the NCBI, patients observed significant reduction of back pain when given massages with fragrant ginger oil. Similarly, rose oil significantly reduced pain resulting from renal colic.

Mental wellbeing

Inhalation of fragrances affect brain function since the fragrant compounds directly interact with the autonomous nervous system. Even our hormones are regulated, since fragrances affect our endocrine system as well. This is confirmed by a study published by the NCBI. The study says, “Fragrance can deeply affect our ability to feel and think, taking us into mental alertness or into a peaceful meditative state. (…) The electroencephalograph studies clearly revealed that fragrances significantly modulate the activities of different brain waves and are responsible for various states of the brain.”

Therefore, aromas can treat a variety of psychological disorders ranging from stress-induced anxiety and sleep disorders, to depression and dementia. For instance, it is proven that the aroma of jasmine helps one feel active and romantic, whereas peppermint enhances alertness. What’s more, “In patients with severe dementia, an aroma stream with lavender oil shows modest efficacy in the treatment of agitated behaviour,” the study says.

Chakra wellbeing

A lot has been written about how fragrances affect our physiology and psychology. But can fragrances affect our chakras (energy junctions of our body) and enhance our auric wellbeing? Turns out, they can. Alternative therapist and author Shalila Sharamon explains how certain fragrances stimulate our chakras in her book The Chakra Handbook: From Basis Understanding to Practical Application. “The subtle ethereal substances of flowers and plants touch the energy body of human beings, the seat of chakras, and unfold their healing harmonising energies,” she writes.

Citing examples, Sharamon says that the tangy fragrance of sage relaxes the throat chakra and facilitates self-expression. This fragrance essentially helps us understand and communicate the inner messages of the soul. Similarly, rosemary is said to stimulate the solar plexus chakra, thereby helping us overcome inertia and jump into action.

Every day, we are bombarded with a plethora of fragrances–some good, and others not so good. And they invariably affect us. For instance, we may have noticed that the smell of vehicular smoke affects not only our respiratory health, but also our mood. The fragrance of flowers, on the other hand, enhances our mood and our overall wellbeing. Unfortunately, seldom do we take these effects seriously. If we only paid attention to each scent that comes our way, be it good or bad, we’d become aware of how various aromas make us feel. This awareness could empower us to alter our physical, mental and energy states by simply coming in contact with certain fragrances. Now, isn’t that a superpower we would all like to possess?

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