Aromatherapy is a practice that uses two of our senses, touch and smell. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on the power of smell.
Why are there certain smells we do like?
When we smell certain aromas they stimulate an area in our brain that can instantly recall a moment in time and the associated emotions. In other words, smells activate our memories. This happens subconsciously (without you actually thinking about it) because the information contained within the smell bypasses the frontal (logical) part of the brain and goes straight to the limbic (emotional) part.
This makes your sense of smell the most powerful way of 'anchoring' you to an experience … whether you're aware of it or not.
For example, eucalyptus (or menthol) often reminds people of their mother and the love and comfort they received when they had a cold. So it’s no surprise, that when we use eucalyptus to alleviate cold symptoms, we quickly start to 'feel' better – not just physically, but emotionally as well. In a similar sense, many people who smell lavender are reminded of their grandmother and the associated feeling of being nurtured and cared for.
Why are there certain smells we don’t like?
Aromatherapy is subjective. If you think a certain smell stinks, then it simply won’t work for you. And who knows why some people like the smell of flowers or plants and others don’t? It could be as simple as a group of bullies pushing you into a lemon bush in third grade, or something that you aren’t even aware of that has been passed down from before you were even born. Yep … you may laugh, but research suggests that we may inherit our smell likes and dislikes. One particular study showed that mice three generations down, had been passed on a learned dislike for cherry blossom. Read it here.
Perfume manufacturers understand the power of smell and use it to their advantage when marketing to consumers. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of smelling a certain brand of perfume or aftershave cologne that somebody you know wears? You immediately think of that person and, depending on how you feel about them, you experience emotions – love or happiness if they are close to you, or if they are an 'ex' ... well, you get the idea.
Scientifically it is very hard to measure and prove these emotional changes, but the physical effects of essential oils – their individual chemical constituents – are now being substantiated with 'proof'.
In other words, it’s amazing just how much the nose actually knows.