Feeling weary or down in the dumps? Or perhaps you’re just looking for a psychological boost. The fragrance of essential oils may be just the pick-me-up you need.
It’s common knowledge that smell effects how we feel. What we consider as “good” smells can lift our spirits, while “bad” smells can drag us down or even agitate us. In fact, the French word sentir means “to smell” and “to feel.” We tend to “feel” scents rather than logically process them-understanding them more through associations and images than by analytical methods. This is because the human brain processes smells in its limbic region, which appears to be primarily responsible for our emotions. Interestingly, the limbic system is often called the rhinencephalon or “smell part” of the brain. Several studies show that emotion and odors are directly linked and have been found to produce some of the same electrical impulses.
Essential oils contain natural phytochemicals that impact the limbic system. When you inhale the scent of an oil, the brain releases various neurochemicals to create physiological changes in body, mind and spirit. When you smell lavender, for example, serotonin gets released, producing a calming influence in the body.
Pure essential oils are extracted directly from plant parts, including flowers, leaves, stems and roots, as well as the rind of their fruits. Outside of their direct healing properties these oils simply smell good, make us feel happier and serve as great stress and pain relievers. The easiest and most common way to benefit from their essence is through aromatherapy-placing a few drops of diluted oil directly on your skin and inhaling the aroma. (Note: Always cut the essential oil with a base oil–see suggestions below.)
Or you can add drops to your bath or to a special aromatherapy diffuser, which heats the oil and allows the smell to permeate the room. Choose from a multitude of oils, ranging from bergamot (Citrus bergamia), which has a balancing effect, to sandalwood (Santalum album), which is known for its sensuous properties.
Base oils, also called carrier oils, make essential oils more versatile by cutting their strength without greatly reducing their effectiveness or aroma.
Some recommended base oils include:
Sweet Almond Oil (Prunus dulcis, P. amygdalus). With no scent of its own, sweet almond oil is mild and well tolerated by most people. Make sure you have sweet almond oil, though, never bitter almond. Use this oil by itself or blend it with other carrier oils to make a base. It’s especially good as a base for massage oil. Use caution if you have nut allergies.
Rose-Hip Seed Oil (Rosa rubiginosa). Used alone or as a base oil blend, rose-hip seed oil is like liquid velvet. It especially nourishes and benefits the skin, making it wonderful for a facial oil blend.
Avocado Oil (Persea nubigena, P. americana). Excellent as a softener for hair and skin, avocado oil absorbs nicely and is rich in vitamins A and B. Create a base blend using 10 percent to 30 percent avocado oil for a luscious addition to any body or bath oil.
Jojoba Oil (Simmondsia chinensis). Jojoba is actually a liquid wax; it resembles our own skin sebum. Hair, nails and skin respond well to it, making it excellent for sea salt scrubs and massage oils. Jojoba also gives a longer shelf life to products and is perfect for blending into more expensive oils. A blend of up to 95 percent jojoba can be used.
ESSENTIAL OIL RECIPES
Refreshing Massage Oil
3 drops bergamot
2 drops grapefruit
3 drops rosewood
Add oils to 1 ounce of base oil and mix well. Store in a dark glass bottle and avoid exposure to heat, light and air. This blend can provide a boost when you’re feeling weary. It’s refreshing without being either over-stimulating or sedating. A note of caution: bergamot can darken your skin if exposed to the sun, so rinse well before going outside.
Foot Massage Oil
3 drops patchouli
3 drops sandalwood
4 drops lavender
Add oils to 1 ounce of base oil and mix well. Store in a dark glass bottle and avoid exposure to heat, light and air. This deep, rich, earthy blend is a perfect foot massage oil for those times when life leaves you up in the air. These pure essential oils are believed to be relaxing, centering and calming.
Whether you use essential oils for their therapeutic properties or just because they make you feel good, remember to choose a scent you really resonate with. Do you prefer an earthier aroma or do you gravitate toward the floral or fruitier blends? There’s obviously no wrong choice. Whatever you pick, simply allow yourself to relax into the essential experience of pleasure and goodness.
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By Colleen K. Dodt, Natural Solutions magazine