We may not realize it, but our sense of smell can affect our emotions and behaviours. What happens when we smell something pleasant to our senses? We relax and feel comfort and joy.
For over 4,000 years, aromatic plants have been used to treat ailments and other conditions. Fragrance has also been used over hundreds of years to induce desired spiritual states and therefore creating intense mental and emotional impact. For example, Buddhism using sandalwood, Daoism using aloeswood (Chen Xiang) and Judaism/Christianity using frankincense and myrrh. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also frequently uses aromatic herbs not only internally, but often for external conditions. In fact, the use of aromatic herbs in TCM such as ginger (Sheng Jiang), cinnamon (Gui Zhi) for example, date back to the era of the first pharmaceutical classic, “Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing” (Shen Nong’s Pharmacopoeia Classic), written in 2,800 B.C.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are not like the oils we know and use freely like vegetable oils, massage oils, etc. Essential oils are the ‘vital substance’ of the plant, i.e. the synergy of the plant and the sun, or matter and energy. In TCM, the “vital substances” of our body are composed of Qi, Blood, Body Fluid and Essence (Jing). These vital substances are a vortex of energy and substance, interacting with each other to form an organism, and the basis of all is Qi. “Qi” is the “vital energy”, and all vital substances are manifestations of Qi in varying degrees of material . Applying the oils on our body, or into our body via inhalation and other methods, is using them as messengers of that oils’ vital substance and energy.
What is Clinical Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the controlled use of essential oils to maintain and promote physical, psychological and spiritual well-being. Clinical Aromatherapy on the other hand, is using high quality essential oils to enhance the health of the body and mind, and treat disorders through application in the general environment and on or in the body itself. It is NOT equivalent to esthetic aromatherapy, which is for pleasure only, not healing. In addition, in Clinical Aromatherapy, the practitioner needs to consider the oil function, exact dosage, correct dilution, what medium it is carried in, cautions and contraindications, application and duration of treatment, thus it is much more involved that esthetic aromatherapy.
Moreover, Clinical Aromatherapy must use oils of 100% natural, unadultered form, and of high quality. Perfume and cosmetics manufacturer quality standards are entirely different from Clinical Aromatherapists.
Using Essential Oils
Essential oils work as trigger therapy, like acupuncture, working primarily by triggering healing response in the body and mind. They are not like herbal or nutritional therapy, and the function and indications of an essential oil are not always identical to that of the same whole herb, used in herbal therapy.
Essential oils have been used particularly for many psycho-emotional conditions, because of the affect that smell has on our emotions and behaviour. In the past, this was not understood, but today, we know that when we smell, the aroma goes to our Limbic system via the olfactory pathway (our nose). The Limbic system is the region of the brain that acts as the link between higher cognitive function, and emotional responses. The Limbic system provides the hypothalamus with emotional input (both input and reactions to sensory information), which can affect homeostasis and physiological responses. The Limbic systems’ link to emotions and physiological functions, is important in the use of aromatherapy and psycho-emotional uses.
From the TCM perspective, fragrances greatly affect the Lung and Heart energy system and the Spirit (Shen), mainly because of its direct access to the brain (through the nose) and its resulting psycho-emotional effect on the Spirit (Shen). The use of Essential Oils in TCM is first from a TCM diagnosis, and then from the TCM function of the oil, the appropriate body type and the syndrome.