How do you smell?
Laurens Van Der Post once said "Smell... is not only oldest of our biological senses but it is also the most evocative of all our senses. Humans, like animals communicate with each other non-verbally through scent."
The sense of smell along with hormones humans are constantly exuding and sharing information with those around us. Humans are complicated animals to say the least. We as a race have accomplished so much in the last 2 - 3 centuries that weren't even a thought hundreds of centuries ago; yet with all these technical advancements we have not truly evolved from using our senses to guide us in our daily lives. Our sense of smell may not be as powerful as a hungry lion or a slithering snake; but we do rely upon it without noticing it days and night. The human body is complicated to begin with; throw in how dependent we are upon our senses and you get a witches brew! The power of smell has an emotional impact on our psyche; certain scents have the ability to recall early childhood memories or lost loves from the past.
To further understand how aromatherapy works we turn to science on how the Olfactory System operates. There are three separate stages to scent:
Our Olfactory System receives the scent or odour through the nasal system; once it reaches the Olfactory system the scent is processed by over 20 million scent receptors.
Limbic System is the second part in the human scent processing system. It is here that the odour molecules are further assessed by the hypothalamus, hippocampus and the amygdala for identification.
Perception, the last stage of odour processing. It is here that the scent is understood by the brain and then shared with the rest of the human senses. Imagine how complex this must be for the brain to comprehend and send back an answer within seconds. You ask how does all this relate to Aromatherapy? To say that the human body uses scent to heal itself. Dr. Luca Turin penned a book titled "The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell" says that our scent receptors act like switches; they are either turned On or Off depending upon the strength of the smell. When this supposed switch is turn on; it allows for communication to flow between the scent receptors and the brain. It is this process that allows us to understand scents in our own way. Dr. Turin goes on to say "We don't smell with our noses, we smell with our brains so we should not be surprised that fragrance has a direct impact on our feelings and moods. " Some researches say the fact that odours have a direct affect upon our minds is incredible and needs to be explored further. Especially when studies that suggest essential oils have a direct impact on the human central nervous system. If we are to believe this, then what we stated above has truth to it. The ability of a scent to change or modify the brain through the central nervous system using scent borders on the edge of an incredible discovery!