Aromatherapy uses aroma-producing oils from plants, placed on the skin, sprayed, or inhaled to promote relaxation and to relieve stress. Researchers are not entirely clear how aromatherapy may work. Some experts believe our sense of smell may play a role. The “smell” receptors in our nose communicate with parts of our brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) that serve as storehouses for emotions and memories. When we breathe in essential oil molecules, they stimulate these parts of the brain and influence physical, emotional, and mental health. For example, scientists believe lavender stimulates the activity of brain cells in the amygdala similar to the way some sedative medications work. Other researchers think that molecules from essential oils may interact in the blood with hormones or enzymes.
What to Expect
At an aromatherapy session, the practitioner will ask about your medical history and symptoms, as well as any scents you may like. You may be directed to breathe in essential oils directly from a piece of cloth or indirectly through steam inhalations, vaporizers, or sprays. The practitioner may also apply diluted essential oils to your skin during a massage. In most cases, the practitioner will tell you how to use aromatherapy at home, by mixing essential oils into your bath, for example.
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