Stress is relieved very effectively by essential oils, and their use by inhalation is especially useful for emotional support. Diffusion and inhalation is the true embodiment of “armatherapie”–the therapy of aromas.
There are three main ways to use essential oils: topically, by inhalation, and by ingestion. In this part of the series, we will discuss use by inhalation.
Essential Oils Go Directly to our Emotional Center
Inhaling essential oils is more than just smelling something pleasant.
The tiny volatile molecules of healing plants are captured in the oils. These molecules enter our sinus cavities and pass through the membranes, entering the bloodstream near the brain. Some of these compounds, for example sesquiterpenes, have been found to cross the blood-brain barrier and hold promise of bringing healing directly to the brain.
There are many types of molecular groups found in essential oils, but give an idea of the complex chemistry and amazing potential of essential oils, let’s just briefly discuss one: sesquiterpenes.
Sesquiterpenes are a group of molecules with a particular molecular commonality (three isoprene units per molecule). There are estimated to be 3000 varieties of sesquiterpenes, so generalizing about their effects is difficult. However, sesquiterpenes can generally:
- Delete mis-coded DNA information from cells
- Increase or facilitate the action of the other ingredients in the oils
- Increase blood flow to the capillaries
- Tonify the endocrine system
- Pass the blood-brain barrier, supporting blood flow to the brain
The advantage of smelling the oils is that the molecules stimulate the olfactory center of the brain, and this is right next to the limbic center, the part which controls the emotions. I picture these two parts of the brain like neighbors talking over a fence and exchanging gossip–they are very connected.
This connection between the olfactory center and the limbic center explains why the scent of fresh baked bread immediately makes us remember grandma or why a certain perfume will recall a particular starry night on the Mediterranean coast. Smells and emotions go hand in hand.
This same connection also opens the door to immediate emotional support and stress relief. The healing moleucles go directly where relief is most important.
It is important to note that essential oils do not influence just the limbic center of the brain. In fact, essential oils also help balance the hypothalamus, the hormone center of the brain. They enter the blood stream and support whatever body systems are out of balance. They go where needed by the body, reducing the damage caused by chronic stress.
How to Use Essential Oils via Inhalation
The first and easiest way to inhale the oils is to just inhale them. Open the bottle and take a gentle sniff. You can think of waving the aroma of a fine wine near your nose (no snorting please). A gentle waft of scent is excellent for triggering cell receptor sites to awaken your body and its proper functions.
The next easiest, and far more potent inhalation method is to put a drop of oil on your hands, rub them together and cup your hands over your nose. The effects of the oils are strong and immediate. Try this with pure, high quality peppermint and your sinuses will be more clear than you have ever experienced.
To put oils in the air, we diffuse them. Simple passive diffusion includes putting a drop or two on a cotton ball and putting it in your sock drawer. I keep a pretty bowl near my desk with an oil soaked cotton ball so that every now and again I get a lovely whiff (And by the way, I use a blend called “Abundance” when I’m doing business related tasks!). I put a drop of oil on a terracotta pendant and I smell the aroma during the day. To sleep, I put a drop of lavender on a tissue and put it near my pillow.
You can also get a diffuser. The best diffuser for the therapeutic benefits of the oils is a nebulizer, which uses “cold diffusion”. Heat can destroy some of the constituents of the oils, so when I want the oils for healing, I use these. Look for one which sprays the oils in fine drops and whose motor is not too loud and annoying.
Hot diffusers can be some of the most lovely, even if they are not the best for the oils. Some styles sit on light bulbs and diffuse with the heat of the bulb. Others come in many styles and shapes and generally use the heat of a small tea candle to heat a bowl of water, into which you have dropped some oil. These are great for baths, your bedroom, or anytime you need a special treat.
Take advantage of the link between scents and your memory. Pick a favorite oil, and every time you do a relaxing activity like meditation, reading a favorite book, or petting your cat, diffuse the oil. If you do this repeatedly, that scent will be associated with that activity and its calm restful atmosphere. Then when you need to regain that calm, smell the oil and you will be instantly transported to that state of mind.
Excellent Essential Oils and their Use with Inhalation
- Lavender–This is one of the first oils I grab for stress and relief of its symptoms. This oil calms, soothes, and helps with sleep. You can wear a pendant with this oil and besides feeling better, you will get compliments for smelling good.
- Frankincense–Frankincense is a very ancient oil which has many, many useful therapeutic benefits. In ancient times, it was used for curing just about everything. I think of this oil as having a sacred scent and use it for meditation.
- Valerian–Not everyone appreciates the scent of Valerian, but it is excellent for calming the nervous system. Use it for insomnia, anxiety, indigestion, restlessness, and general tension.
- Peace and Calming Blend–This beautiful blend with a light tangerine scent is both calming and uplifting. I use this as a healthy perfume.
- Ylang Ylang–Ylang Ylang is very good for balancing hormones, which frequently are whacky from high stress (cortisol levels can create hormone imbalances). I would try Ylang Ylang when your stress increases in rhythm with your cycle. It balances male-female energies, and combats anger.
- Roman chamomilee–This oil has been used by mothers to calm crying children, so it is excellent when we feel a “stress tantrum” coming on. It is calming and relaxing, good for depression and insomnia.
- Lemon, Tangerine, Bergamot, Grapefruit (the citrus oils)–All these oils are very good to clear your head and uplift your spirits. Think of a freshly cleaned, sunshine-filled house, and that is the happiness of lemon!
Does this list seem too long and daunting?
Are you stressed just reading it?
An easy solution is to read the list “lightly”, without analyzing it or engaging your brain. See if any oil stand out, attracts you or “just feels right”, regardless if its description seems right. Start with that oil.
Remember, in aromatherapy the effects are immediate. If an oil doesn’t do what you want, try another oil. You do not need to keep using an ineffective oil, hoping that its effects will accumulate. Move on. We all have different bodies and what works for one person, may not work for you.
In this series on therapeutic use of essential oils, we have discussed how to use essential oils topically, and by inhalation. There remains one more way to use essential oils: ingestion.