Healing With Scent
By Wendy Sterndale
Imagine for a moment the scent of cinnamon rolls or pumpkin pie. How do you feel? Now clear your mind, and imagine licorice or citrus. How does that make you feel? Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation Center in Chicago found that men are likely to get aroused by the spicy scent of cinnamon rolls or pumpkin pie, and women are likely to get aroused by the scent of licorice or citrus. Now clear your mind, and imagine vanilla or lavender. The Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York found vanilla and lavender to be calming and to enhance our sense of personal wellbeing. Vanilla can also be arousing.
Romance, community, health and spirituality are nourished by, among other things, scent. The practice of aromatherapy has been around since Aristotle’s time, but didn’t receive this name until 1937 when a French perfumer came up with the term. He was researching the healing properties of distinct, separate scents in as close to their natural form as possible. In his perfumes, he combined multiple scents and additional ingredients.
People everywhere share a common desire for simple and direct paths to health, happiness and to fulfilling their personal purpose. Aromatherapy is an ancient way to share healthy qi. It is natural, noninvasive, and designed to assist the whole person. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy in the U.S., aromatherapy is the “art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. It seeks to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process.” This form of alternative medicine has very little risk of adverse side effects. Add aromatherapy oils to your warm bath or vaporizer for comfort and health.
the Quintessential Lifeforce
Aromatherapy makes use of the oils inside specific plants. These oils are considered essential to the life of the plant. The term “essential” also dates back to Aristotle. In his time, the qi, or lifeforce, within matter was referred to as its quintessence. The properties within the quintessential plant oils help the plant adapt to its environment. After the oil has been extracted from the plant, the adaptive properties remain in the oil, ready for use. The plant’s essential oil can be applied to heal the body, mind and spirit.
Scent Is a Communication Tool
Because scent travels quickly from nose to brain, early religions associated a keen sense of smell with a wise and shrewd mind. Jim Drobnick wrote in his book Smell Culture Reader, about the Jewish-Hellenic Book of the Secrets of Enoch, that the soul communicates through smell about what would otherwise be un-known. In these early traditions, it was thought that sight and hearing could be mistaken, but “to smell is to know.”
All living organisms telegraph their internal conditions and needs through scent. People we care about tend to smell good to us. On the other hand, under stress, some people exude an acrid or sour odor as a warning of their foul mood. When we gather with people we care about, we tend to give gifts that smell good, such as flowers or bread.
Among the many mechanisms babies use to inspire their caregivers is scent. Babies tend to smell like baked goods, and to their mothers, their poop is also likely to smell like baked goods. Among cultures around the world, that smell has been shown to encourage caring acts. The University of Southern Brittany in France repeated an experiment hundreds of times outside a bakery to study the behavioral influence of the smell of baked goods. The Journal of Social Psychology published their results, reporting that 77% of the time, passersby were helpful when the research volunteer came out of the bakery carrying bags of bread and dropped something.
Go Outside and Sit With a Plant That Smells Good
Find a plant that smells good and sit with it for a while. Notice how other living things interact with it or steer clear of it. The plant may demonstrate a “desire” to be social by drawing in butterflies, birds and bees to help it pollinate. It may throw off an unpleasant odor to fend off hungry herbivores. While you are sitting there, the plant may be emitting substances into the air and ground to prevent other plants from competing for necessary resources.
Smell of Survival
Oils within living plants help them adapt to their environment. Like people, plants can be prey to microbes, fungi and bacteria. Properties within plant oils protect the plant. It will change the composition of those oils over time to prevent predators from developing immunity. The properties within a single plant’s oil will vary throughout the year. Oil within the same species will differ from region to region. This inconsistency may be one reason why Western medicine does not sanction aromatherapy as a field of healing, even though the field is thousands of years old.
Notice What You Smell
While meditating, or just after, have you ever smelled something that was not in the area? Meditators have reported smelling sandalwood or flowers, specifically roses. Yoga and meditation teachers say this could be a sense memory coming up to be resolved. It could also be an emotional detoxification or chakra activation.
One meditator asked Grandmaster JinBodhi about his experience of smelling something sweet when practicing The Meditation of Greater Illumination. Grandmaster JinBodhi reassured the meditator that the experience is common. Some people smell something, and others hear songs or bells. The scent or sound is an indication of having entered a meditative state. He advised the practitioner to be careful not to cling to any phenomena, but to let it go. Grasping at something desired is not likely to bring it back. Instead, acknowledge your proficiency, and then observe your experiences after meditating.
Make Some of Your Own
Researchers have noticed that combinations of scents are not as effective as using a single scent at a time. Below are a few examples:
Deepen your meditation: Add sandalwood or orange to a good-quality infuser. It can be as simple as a vented candleholder that supports a small bowl for the oil on top. The heat from the candle will release the scent.
Air freshener: Add about six drops pure lavender oil into a two-ounce spray bottle filled three-quarters full with distilled water. Some prefer dark glass bottles to keep the sunlight out. Sunlight will weaken the scent of many oils, and will cause some to oxidize.
Reduce or prevent carsickness: Get a small vile of pure ginger oil for your passenger to smell while you take on windy roads that can make you nauseous. A fresh-cut piece of ginger will also help.
Reduce stress: Right before you enter a stressful environment, dab a little pure vanilla just below your nose. The smell will help to keep you calm. If anyone near you smells it, they may associate you with their own pleasant memories.
Cook with essential oils: Use only 100% pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils for cooking. They contain all of the plants’ healing nutrients and have stronger flavors than cooking oils. For instance, try adding a couple drops of basil, oregano and rosemary to a sauce as it simmers. Enhance other dishes by adding a couple drops of citrus oil such as lemon, orange or tangerine just before serving.
Experiment with expressing gratitude for an oil as you use it, and notice how you feel. Aromatherapy can make breathing more pleasant, and contribute vitality and wellness to your life.