Conscious and subconscious thoughts come to your mind, day and night, continuously. They are driven by your memories, your imagination, and by the events that happen in your life. A study from the National Science Foundation estimates that we experience up to 70,000 thoughts per day. Although that figure is more of a reference, the point is that our minds are constantly engaged in thinking, and these thoughts make us feel emotions.
Most of the time, our emotions guide our behaviors, the way we express ourselves, how we see ourselves and the world, and even how we feel physically. If only those thoughts could always be positive, but we know it is not the reality! In fact, our mental chatter tends to produce mainly negative thoughts, and even if we don’t verbalise them, they are weighing on our mind and influencing our mood.
Sometimes these thoughts cause us stress, brooding, anxiety, insomnia, depression; but isn’t living a stress-free life what we are aiming for? Isn’t happiness our purpose in life?
Today, I would like to share with you one approach that can help you take control over your emotions, when they seem to be controlling you.
Breathing your way to well-being and happiness
If feeling good or at least better is achievable, then I thought it was something for me to work on and learn about for myself, and for others. This path led me to Aromachology, often described as the “science of fragrances”, which we are able to explore through one fabulous sense of ours, too often underappreciated: our sense of smell.
Not only can our sense of smell guide us, it also helps us to connect with our individuality. Smelling helps us detect danger, it can stimulate our appetite, boost our sensuality or on the contrary, repulse or drive us away. Smell is the sense that actually helps us taste the flavours in food, by what we call retronasal olfaction. A carefully chosen scent (perfume) can help us express ourselves, and familiar smells are connected to our personal experience and have the strong power to make us travel within our own memories.
Most of the time, scents don’t leave us indifferent and they can provoke vivid reactions. A scent will travel quickly from our nose through our olfactory receptors to our limbic system: the part of our brain where our emotions are situated, as well as where our memories are formed. No wonder these two have such a strong connection.
Through this intricate link between our sense of smell, our memories and our emotions, breathing a particular scent will trigger a psycho-emotional response and have an influence on our state-of-being and emotions. That is where aromachology begins.
How does it work? The therapeutic approach in aromachology consists of bringing an aromatic solution to psycho-emotional distress, whereby a scent, whether it is from a single origin or a synergy, will be intentionally inhaled, in order to engage the patient’s mind.
Aromachology using essential oils
I thought I would clarify this science below, as people often ask me about the difference between aromachology and aromatherapy, and whether they are inseparable.
They can sometimes be related, but that is not always the case.
In cases where memory functions are affected, such as for patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s, from strokes or traumas, aromachology can play a role in aiding to revive memories, making use of scents that are familiar to the patient. From that perspective, the origin of the material used wouldn’t be the main focus, as it will be to connect with the memory.
I won’t go into too much detail, but please feel free to read more about related topics as listed at the end of the article.
Using plants for therapeutic purposes is one of the oldest existing practices. As far as it is possible to trace it, as early as 3,000 years B.C., indigenous cultures were already using the power of plants for healing and for spiritual rites as well. Traditional medicines such as Indian Ayurveda, Tibetan or Chinese have always relied on nature to cure, and use different part of the plants: bark, leaves, flowers, seeds, etc. for their medicinal properties.
This is what we call today herbal medicine, also known as phytomedicine, or botanical medicine, whereby the plants can be used in different forms: capsules, tablets, tinctures, dried herbs, etc.
Aromatherapy (“aroma” + “therapia” in latin) also refers to the therapeutic use of a plant, but a more specific part of it: its aromatic essence – the essential oil. There are several ways to extract the essence (distillation, expression, absolute, solvent extraction), the result being a liquid form of volatile and aromatic essence. The essence will be used most commonly topically, but also through the respiratory, oral, or sublingual routes to name a few.
When used for aromacholgy purposes, the essential oils will be used through the olfactory pathway.
If memory loss disorders are part of what neuroscientists and fragrance experts address through aromachology, we should also discuss how aromatic solutions can help dealing with emotions in every day life.
Sleeping disorders have recently caught my attention which, together with stress, is a major concern in our era. To highlight some figures illustrating this, the global “sleep aids market” was valued at US$ 58.1 billions in 2014 and is expected to expand at an average rate of 5.7%, to reaching up to US$80.8 billions by 2020, according to Persistence Market Research.
We need to take into consideration all of the characteristics inherent in each of us: our age, our family and professional situation, our experience, our nature… they will be crucial elements to understand the cause of an emotional struggle and how to approach it. However, I would like to share with you some general guidelines on how using essential oils can help.
To induce a state of relaxation to encourage somnolence, several essential oils are beneficial including those:
– Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
– Marjoram (Origanum marjorana)
– Petitgrain bigarade (Citrus aurantium ssp. amara)
– Sweet orange (Citrus aurantium dulcis)
– True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula officinalis)
Each can be used alone or combined with other essential oils with similar or complementary effects.
How essential oils work how to work with them
I personally started with learning about the chemical compositions of an essential oil. The expert I learnt from, Mr Pierre Franchomme (French researcher and author dedicated to essential oils for over 35 years), is the man who discovered “chemotypes” back in the 1970’s. Chemotypes define the chemical constitution of a specific plant and thus, help us understand their use and benefits according to this classification system.
Essential oils act at different levels:
> Through direct action: pure essential oils are made of aromatic molecules which are further classified as: alcohols, esters, ethers, phenols, terpenes, etc. These phytochemical molecules are either calming or tonifying. This approach would be close to what we know in Western medicine.
It is crucial to know the chemical composition of an essential oil, to anticipate its properties and therapeutic effects. For instance, if we take bergamot essential oil, which is obtained through expression of the bergamot peel, why is it used to achieve better sleep?
The major ester component found in bergamot (linalyl acetate, about 29%), has sedative properties and addresses insomnia. That same component is found in true lavender (about 42-52%) and in petitgrain bigarade (45-55%).
> Through informational action: the aromas of the essential oils, as mentioned earlier will make their way to the limbic system and connect with our emotions, instincts and memories.
Indeed, the association we create between a scent and a specific experience has a lasting impact throughout our life. Take the famous example of Marcel Proust and his madeleine in “Remembrance of Things Past”.
> Through energetic action: to reinforce and balance our vital energy, the life force within us, also called Qi in oriental medicine. In this approach, and following precepts of traditional medicines, there is a flow of energy going through all organic life. That applies to us and also to plants. To that extent, some electromagnetic vibrations (vibrational frequency) can be detected in all living matter. According to some studies (read article here), a healthy human body has a frequency that sits in a range of between 62-68 MHz. Sickness and disease begin to kick in at 58 MHz. Essential oils were found to have the highest frequency of any natural substance used by man.
It is now quite common to associate the use of essential oils with yoga, chakra balancing practice, and meditation so as to bring our vibrational frequency at higher levels, and “feel light” as opposed to being “weighed down” by negative emotions.
For instance, frankincense, which has been used for centuries in temples and churches has a strong spiritual dimension; it vibrates at a high frequency (about 147MHz) and will be used to connect with our crown chakra, our center for inspiration, positivity and spirituality.
The different levels at which essential oils connect with a patient can depend on his beliefs and cultural background, but also his level of involvement. In fact, in natural medicine, the word “patient” might not be the most appropriate as his role wouldn’t be to wait patiently for a solution, but his participation in the process of healing is necessary. A method and a therapist can guide, but no one can smell or feel on your behalf.
In western cultures, it is fairly recent to evoke a holistic approach to health and healing but I personally think that we humans can be defined by our physical constitution (our genetics), but also by how we adapt ourselves to our environnement, how we nourish our spirituality and respond to the flow of energy that surrounds us.
It is with that concept in mind, and by listening to what both Nature and Science have to tell us, that I have started to use aromachology as an answer to emotional challenges, and I am always thankful for the opportunities I am given to contribute to someone’s path to feeling better and feeling happier.
Once we become more aware about our sense of smell, we realise that fragrances are everywhere. For us Bangkokians, it is particularly true! How many different smells do you experience every day, or even only on your way to work?
Teaching ourselves to smell better is not that common. Those who don’t see well wear glasses, those who can’t hear well wear hearing aids, but what about those who can’t smell well, nor breathe properly?
So before I leave you, I would like to give you a little exercise… starting with a focus on breathing well.
Breathing is life, it is the only thing we can never stop doing. Yet, too often, we can find ourselves out of breath, short-breathed, or stress-breathing, which are short and shallow breaths. Going back to breathing evenly and deeply fill your lungs with more oxygen, and breathing better is one step towards clearing negative thoughts, bringing clarity to you mind. Better breathing will also help regulate your cardiac rhythm, and feel more relaxed. Many breathing techniques exist, and maybe if there are yogis among you, you already know the benefits of pranayama.
The exercise I would like you to do, now and as often as you can, is to practice diaphragmatic breathing.
It is quite similar to Ujjayi breathing, but you do not have to know anything about yoga practice, nor be in a specific posture to perform it. In fact, the more you do it, the better, so I hope you can develop a habit and maybe associate any daily activities to your breathing exercise (when stuck in traffic, waiting for the BTS, making yourself a cup of tea, washing your hands etc). With time, you can develop the habit of diaphragmatic breathing anytime you feel you are holding your breath or feel stressed out. Now let’s start, and think about how you are feeling right now.
1. Put one hand on your belly, the other on your chest.
2. Breathe deeply through your nose. Fill up your lungs with air, keeping your belly as static as possible. Feel the air pass through the back of your throat, down to your rib cage, which opens up from all sides. Some might have practiced “belly breathing” before, but here we are focussing on getting the oxygen to go as deep in your lungs as possible, and that is by expanding your rib cage, sending your diaphragm automatically down, leaving more space for your lungs to expand (not your belly).
3. Take full breaths in, exhale full breaths out. The in/out process should take a good 10 seconds.
4. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
Think about how you feel after the exercise. Did you start to yawn, is your brain less foggy? Do your senses feel clearer?
Please feel free to get in touch and let me know how this goes for you. If you are interested in adding some aromatic essences to your breathing practice, or if you would like to know more about aromachology, I would be very happy to hear from you as well.
Take care and see you soon,
– Certified Aromachologist and Healthy eater
Follow me! @eathealthybkk
Pierre Franchomme, L’aromathérapie exactement, Encyclopédie de l’utilisation thérapeutique des extraits aromatique, Roger Jollois, 2001.
Patty Canac, Christiane Samuel, Samuel Socquet, Le guide de l’odorat. Mieux sentir pour mieux vivre, Ambre editions, 2015.
T. Engen, La mémoire des odeurs, La recherche, 1989.
Nobel Prize winners: Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck, Odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system, 1991.
Mein, Carolyn L, D.C., Releasing emotional patterns with essential oils, Vision Ware Press, 1998.
Dr. Richard Gerber MD, Vibrational Medicine, 2001.
Terry Friedman, Freedom Through Health, 1998.
Moss M, Cook J, Wesnes K, Duckett P, “Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults”, Int J Neurosci, 2003.
Jimbo D, Kimura Y, Taniguchi M, Inoue M, Urakami K, “Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer’s disease.” Department of Biological Regulation, School of Health Science, Faculty of Medicine, Tottori University, Yonago, Japan.
Herz RS, Eliassen J, Beland S, Souza T., “Neuroimaging evidence for the emotional potency of odor-evoked memory”, 2004.