What is Essential Oil Aromatherapy?

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Q. What is Aromatherapy?

A. Aromatherapy is the use of plant derived essential oils to heal the body, mind and spirit.

Q. How much does our sense of smell define how we experience the world.

A.  Smell has essential importance in tasting food, feeling love, and experiencing friendship – more than we ever could realize.   Just think, a certain aroma can evoke vivid memories, and produce whole body sensations.

Q. Please discuss olfactation in greater depth.

A. To begin with our sense of smell works both slower and faster  than any of our other senses. Sight, hearing and touch produce instantaneous registration but the sense of smell may not. Olfactation may require a carrier such as a bypassing breeze, or a pocket of air enriched with an aroma or volatile molecules that can be read by our nasal-based odor receptors.  On the other hand s new signals detected by our eyes and our ears must first be assimilated by a complex structural system called the thalamus before reaching the brain’s interpretive regions, odiferous messages move quickly on dedicated pathways directly from the nose t into the brain’s olfactory cortex, where they are processed instantly.

Q.  Discuss the anatomy of the brain and the sense of smell.

A. Importantly, the olfactory cortex the center of the sense of smell within the brain is embedded within the brain’s limbic system and amygdala, where emotions are born and emotional memories stored. This is the reason why scents, emotional feelings and memories become so easily and intimately entangled and why a simple scent can bring long repressed or forgotten memories to the surface. 

The olfactory epithelium, the yellowish mass of mucous membrane located about three inches above our nostrils, contains about 20 million smell receptors each designed to isolate odor molecules delivered either directly through the nostrils as in when you smell ammonia or lavender oil or through the back of the mouth and upward giving specific foods meaning.

Q. Discuss the the connection between the sense of smell memory and the emotions?

A. Scientific research indicates that our memory for scents is long and resilient, much longer and more resilient than visual memories. Many of our earliest odor associations often remain with us when visual meories are forgotten.

This fact is important since it means that scents can be of value treating dementiadepression, and other emotional and memory conditions associated with ageing.

Q.  How can the sense of smell be used as a therapeutic tool?

A.  This is a complex question since there are so many techniques both in folk medicine, hydrotherapy and massage that use aromatic oils therapeutically. In the specific psychological approach known as “Inner Child Work” the sense of smell seems to be very valuable. There have been a number of studies where researchers offered three different sets of the same 20 memory cues — the cue as a word, as a picture and as a smell. These researchers found that while word and visual cues produced associations largely from the subjects’ adolescence and teen years adulthood, the cues related to the sense of smell  evoked thoughts of early childhood, under the age of 10. The researchers pointed out that it seemed that individuals describing these early childhood memories were much likelier to report the sudden sensation of being brought back in time and described the associated memories in exceptionally rich and emotional terms.

Q. Please explain what is meant by exceptionally rich and emotional terms?

A. When they smelled he spice, they were transported to a kitchen from their youth. The scent of tar brought back strong images of Tarring a roof or the bottom of a boat with dad or a friend.

Q. Is there an explanation for why the sense of smell is more profound in bringing back early childhood memories?

A. There is no definitive answer for this but the answer might be found in the fact that first of our senses to mature is olfactation. It is later that vision, words, and touch develop.  The cortical link between the sense of small (olfaction) may be the a key  to why early sensations keep their form all lifelong.

To explore these ideas in greater depth see a Conversation on Inner Child Work

Q. How influential is out sense of smell to our sense of taste?

A. Very Here is an exercise you can experiment with to understand how the sense of smell works and how it connects to taste.

  1. Get a bag of assorted multiflavored jelly beans
  2. Sample each of the flavors in the bag systematically. It is important here  to distinguish the flavor of one from another.
  3. Now pinch your nostrils shut and repeat the exercise again.
  4. You should notice that the distinct flavors of each type of jelly bean has disappeared. Every bean will still taste sweet, but there no distinction between one bean or another. It is as if without color they would be the same. It is you sense of smell that actually gave you the distinction.

As you can see by this exercise much of what we know as taste is actually more smell.