Healing with Aromatherapy
Smells are associated with our memories. You can smell something and it will instantly transport you back to a time or place where something significant happened, even if it was something as small as watching cartoons and smelling your mom make pudding.
How does that work? Let’s get science-y.
We experience smells attached to memories in our Limbic system, which is the area of the brain that regulates memory and emotion. The Limbic system directly connects our higher and lower brain functions. Our emotions related to survival such as fear and anger are there, as well as pleasure and pain.
There are a few different types of memory. When we’re talking about the facts of an event, that’s called Declarative or Explicit memory. A memory that you just can’t quite put into words, an Implicit or Nondeclarative type, is where the conditioned or emotional responses would be categorized.
A part of our Limbic system, called the Amygdala, is in charge of making connections between visual images and smells. The Amygdala communicates with the Hippocampus, which takes what you’re thinking about right this second and decides where to store it – long-term or short-term memory. How huge your emotional response to an event is can determine where the memory is stored.
The Amygdala and Hippocampus send their info to the Hypothalamus. Your Hypothalamus mostly cares about the status quo. Too hot? Your Hypothalamus tells your temp to lower. Getting low on protein? It tells your stomach to start getting ready for some food. The term for this is called Homeostasis, or the process of returning something to its “Set Point.”
Your Hypothalamus is your regulator for hunger, thirst, pain response, pleasure, anger, sexual satisfaction, anger and a ton more stuff. It’s also indirectly in charge of regulating your pulse, blood pressure, breathing and the response you have to emotional circumstances via your Autonomic Nervous system. It also helps regulate your hormones via the Pituitary Gland.
And last, but certainly not least, the Hypothalamus is a major contributor to the loud, uncontrollable laughter you sometimes get caught up in.
Why does that all matter? Because we know smell is tied to our emotional health and our memories, using it to heal by evoking feelings makes sense. It’s a short cut to those areas of the brain, bypassing language, which can make us get caught up in critical thinking. We can affect our blood pressure, pulse, relaxation state, and a lot of other bodily functions simply by putting an essential oil on our body, in our body, and around our body to inhale.
The specific smell of particular essential oils, when used in conjunction with their physical healing properties, is a very powerful tool. You can use a scent to set the tone of the room for a meditation session or when you are doing your affirmations/afformmations. You can massage the oils into your skin for relaxation or for releasing toxins, which can also include built up toxic emotions.
When you consider that our smell-triggered emotions go through the Amygdala, which asks the Hippocampus how stressed out to be about something that happened in the past, it’s easy to see how PTSD comes in to play. If the Hippocampus has stored something too close to the surface, because it was a traumatic experience, that small whiff of something can bring it up and BAM it smacks us in the face repeatedly, no matter how many years go by.
Now, it seems like the Hypothalamus would be on our side in all of this and help us “just get over it” so we could get back to our original “Set Point,” but in fact, trauma creates a *new* set point, and from that point on, when that smell comes along (or in other areas of the brain, someone says a certain phrase etc.) our heart rate rises, our throats clench, and we lose blood from our brains and it rushes to our stomachs. We may experience confusion or anger. We may just simply shut down.
Using aromatherapy to bring those emotional memories to the surface in a controlled environment, using the healing properties of the oils physically, emotionally and mentally, we can desensitize and begin to heal. Those too-tender layers can begin to get peeled off, gently, and we can safely get through it to the other side. I recommend this book and the help of someone who knows aromatherapy.
Inhale Something Good
Put a couple of drops of Rosemary and Grapefruit together oil in the palm of one hand, then rub your palms together. Cup over nose and mouth and inhale deeply for three inhales/exhales. In your mind, use the affirmation, “Inhaling love and new knowledge, Exhaling love and healing to the earth” Visualize letting go of old thinking patterns.