Have you been overcome with an emotion when you’re met with a certain smell? Ever walked into a room that just smells inviting or relaxing? Do you have sharp, vivid memories attached to some scents? The science of scents and their impact on our brain chemistry and overall health is called aromatherapy.
Using natural scents to calm, invigorate, balance, or focus throughout the day is a beautiful way to bring wellness into your routine.
A little science on aromas
The chemicals that are responsible for scent are very small and often come in a ring shape (in chemistry terms, they’re called aromatic structures). These small airborne molecules travel into our noses when we breathe in and can pass through the olfactory nerve into the center part of our brain. This place in our brain is called the limbic seat and controls our moods, emotions, memory and learning. So it’s no wonder that smell is strongly related to all those experiences.
Scientists have found scents like lavender increase our alpha brain waves (which is associated with relaxation), and scents like jasmine increase our beta brain waves (causing a more alert state).
Nature is chock full of thousands upon thousands of scents, each composed of many different molecules that can impact our well-being simply by breathing them in.
Simply getting out in nature and turning our attention to the variety of smells is a calming and balancing act. As you walk around your backyard, try taking some leaves and crushing them in your fingers to release their odor, and begin to sharpen this underused sense.
Targeting aromas to work with our moods
Beyond the plants themselves, a simple, satisfying way to use aroma is with the essential oils of pure plants. Plants contain complex and powerful substances called essential oils, which act for the plant much like our blood does for us.
Essential oils feel and work differently than vegetable oils (like olive or sunflower oil). Vegetable oils are pressed from the seeds of plants and feel slippery and greasy to the touch. Essential oils are distilled from plants and are highly concentrated extracts from all the plant parts; flower, tree, root and shrub. They are light to the touch and evaporate rapidly. Because they are so concentrated, a little goes a long way.
Photo by Shine
A Beginner’s Mood-Scent Menu
Relaxing and Calming :: Lavender, Roman Chamomile
Invigorating :: Peppermint, Sandalwood, Lemon, Orange
Balancing :: Cinnamon, Basil, Parsley
Uplifting :: Rose, Bergamot, Geranium
Focus :: Cedarwood, Frankincense
Some ideas to get started
There are many ways to engage your sense of smell and benefit from the healing powers of specific scents in nature. Here are just a handful to get you started.
1. If you are using an essential oil, start with just a drop or two in your palms, cup your hands over your nose and breathe in for a few seconds.
2. Dab some essential oils on your neck or wrist as a natural perfume. Sometimes I even run a bit through my hair — there is something romantic about perfumed hair.
3. Freshen a whole room by using a diffuser or add a drop or two of an essential oil on a tissue and place in a vent of the room. The forced air will circulate the smell throughout the room.
4. Start an aromatherapy garden. Growing these plants and herbs, even in a window sill, can bring their natural scents into your home all day long, a natural way to infuse your home with nature’s healing smells. You will also have them on hand to crush a few leaves in your fingers for a deep breath.
5. Add scents to your daily routine with children. Before nap or bedtime, bring out a calming or relaxing aroma. Before homework time, bring out a scent that helps with focus. Children tend to respond well to natural scents used in moderation, but always be sure not to overwhelm them with aromas that are too strong.
Explore the impact that different natural scents have on your moods and emotions. It is a simple, enjoyable, elegant way to enhance your day.
Do you respond well to certain scents? What emotions, moods or memories do you have that are strongly connected to smells?