Have you ever walked into a place with a horrid smell and felt your face curl up in distaste, your stomach curdle, and your entire feeling of well-being diminish until you leave the room? Alternatively, have you noticed that places with pleasant smells like a rose garden, or lavender bush increase your mental satisfaction and sense of peacefulness? That which we smell can certainly influence our mental, emotional, and even physical well-being. Incense, sage, and essential oils have long been used therapeutically and spiritually, dating back six thousand years ago. Ancient Egyptians burned incense from aromatic woods and herbs to honor their gods, believing that certain smells would elevate the consciousness and promote tranquility. Egyptians even utilized essential oils such as frankincense and myrrh in the mummification process. Ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, and Indian cultures also used aromas for healing purposes. Hypocrites, known as the Father of Medicine, believed that a daily aromatic bath and scented massage would promote good health. During the 19th century however, when modern medical science flourished, uses of scents for healing diminished. In the 1920’s, French chemist Rene Maurice Gatefosse revived this practice, coining the term “Aromatherapy”. Aromatherapy refers to the use of aromas for healing purposes.

India was one culture that never lost its practice of aromatherapy, which is sometimes included in Ayurvedic treatment. Ayurveda refers to the ancient science of natural, holistic healing originating in India, but currently practiced around the world. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, that which the senses absorb on a daily basis impacts one’s overall health and well-being. Ayurvedic treatment thus prescribes various sense therapies (taste, sound, color, and aroma therapies) as part of treatment. When the senses receive input that is in harmony with one’s unique physical constitution, good health will result. Alternatively, the input of sounds, smells, tastes, and sights that are disharmonious to an individual can lead to disease or sickness. For some people, for example, a walk in nature can be soothing and healing, whereas spending a day surrounded by traffic, bright lights, and the hustle and bustle of the city can be draining and stressful. What is harmonious for one however, may be disharmonious for another. The science of aromatherapy involves discovering the scents that bring each individual into his or her unique balance, as that which we inhale directly affects our subtle bodies, specifically the chakras (energy centers), and nadis (channels for the flow of consciousness).

Aromatherapy is not practiced with artificially produced smells, but with natural, essential, aromatic oils found in plants – in their flowers (rose for example), roots (ginger), leaves (mint), and bark (cinnamon). Essential oils can be smelled, or digested internally. They can be found as ingredients in soaps, lotions, air fresheners, incense, and other common household and beauty care products. Essential oils in their pure and original form are very strong, and can burn or cause irritation to the body, and should thus be diluted before use. Essential oils can be diluted into massage oil (1 drop of essential oil to 1 TBSP of base oil), into water in a spray bottle to create a homemade air freshener, or added to a vaporizer for steam therapy. Essential oils can alternatively be purchased in already diluted forms which can be directly applied to the skin.

Following are some general guidelines for choosing scents best suited to your personal needs. When vata (air) is out of balance in the body, and one feels ungrounded, anxious, weak, or confused, warming, sweet, and spicy aromas are recommended such as cinnamon, lavender, and camphor. When pitta (fire) is out of balance and one feels irritated, angry, passionate, and hot, cooling oils are indicated such as rose and sandalwood. When kapha (earth/water) is out of balance, and one feels lethargic, sluggish, and heavy, warming and stimulating oils are recommended such as cinnamon, patchouli, wintergreen, and sage.

If you are feeling depressed, try using patchouli, wintergreen, and rosemary scents to help you feel uplifted. To increase calmness and reduce fear and anxiety, try lavender and sandalwood. Fever can be brought down by the cooling properties of rose, jasmine, sandalwood, and basil. Pain can be eased with the aromas of wintergreen, camphor, cinnamon, and mint. Calamus purifies negative energies, while lavender soothes symptoms of PMS and aids in restful sleep. The scent of rose increases love, compassion, and feelings of devotion, while saffron increases faith and forgiveness, and can also be useful in the treatment of cancer and AIDS. Wintergreen is anti-inflammatory, and is helpful in easing pain, arthritis and headaches.

Next time you are feeling out of balance, physically, mentally, or emotionally, reach for an appropriate essential oil to help bring you back into harmony. Or add aromatherapy to your daily routine to increase an overall sense of well-being. Namaste.

Sara is a certified Ayurvedic Educator through California College of Ayurveda and a certified yoga teacher for adults and children. She likes to meditate, sing devotional music, and spend time in nature.

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