I have always been fascinated by aromatherapy and the power of smell to evoke happy memories. Whenever I smell jasmine I am reminded of my first holiday in Corfu. A large jasmine plant covered the walkway to our room. When we sat outside or left the room, the smell would envelop us. And when I smelled freshly baked bread, I am taken back to my childhood and the utter delight of seeing that our housekeeper had baked a loaf of bread while I was at school. She always left it on the kitchen counter, covered in a damp tea towel and the mouth-watering smell filled the whole house.
If aromas can help recall memories and recreate the feelings associated with those memories, it would make sense that we harness it as a tool for increased wellbeing.
Essential oils are used topically in face creams and lotions to rejuvenate, heal and soothe. I can attest to its benefits from my skincare routine, but for this assignment, I wanted to focus on its benefits for enhanced emotional wellness, calmness, mental focus or rejuvenation.
The science behind aromatherapy
When inhaled, the scent molecules in essential oils travel from the olfactory nerves directly to certain areas of the brain. For example, clary sage oil stimulates the thalamus in the brain to release dopamine that creates a sense of euphoria and gives pain relief. Lavender, chamomile and neroli stimulate the release of serotonin, which has a positive effect on mood and reduces anxiety.
Past experiences with aromatherapy
A few years ago, I purchased Aromatherapy Associates Inner Strength rollerball to help me through a difficult time at work. I applied the roller to my pulse points when I felt stressed during the day and before meetings, but I can’t say that it made me more relaxed. However, applying the essential oils and breathing in deeply to inhale the aroma was a soothing ritual.
A month ago, I started to use The Body Shop Satsuma shower gel in the morning. It very soon became my favourite for the invigorating and uplifting effect it had on me. No matter how groggy I was or how tired from my morning Pilates, as soon as I smelled the satsuma essence, it was like an energising switch had been flipped. I was not expecting it to be so effective, and it continues to invigorate me no matter how many times I use it.
Comparing these two experiences made me wonder how important is the aroma of the essential oil (as in the satsuma shower gel), versus the calming effect of deep breathing and performing a ritual (as in the Inner Strength roller ball). And if you know what the aroma is meant to do for you, would that determine what effect it has on you?
I asked my husband to randomly choose an essential oil from the Holland & Barrett website for me to try. He chose black pepper. Neither one of us looked at the description of the essential oil, so we had no idea what its benefits were.
I applied the black pepper essential oil in the form of a body mist three times a day for one day. I made the body mist by combining water, a pinch of Himalayan pink salt to act as an emulsifier and 25 drops of the oil in a 100 ml spray bottle. On the second day I used it in an Aromatherapy Diffuser.
When I smelled it the first time, my immediate thoughts were “warm and comforting”. It also reminded me of men’s aftershave. After two days I had not experienced much of an emotional benefit, but it did open my airways. On the second day I combined it with lavender and sandalwood oil but I still didn’t like the smell that much. If I do use black pepper again, it will be in a small quantity (1 drop to 4 drops of any other oil). After two days I looked up the benefits online. Aromaweb says:
‘Therapeutically, Black Pepper Oil helps to improve circulation and can help to ease the pain of aching muscles. Emotionally, Black Pepper Essential Oil is stimulating and is a good choice for inclusion in blends intended to help enhance alertness and stamina. Black Pepper should be avoided before bedtime.’
Neil’s Yard Remedies also mention the effectiveness to relieve muscle pain when used in massage. Emotionally the key benefit is that it is energising.
My experience of black pepper essential oil didn’t match what aromatherapy suggests the benefits are. I do however think this may be down to the fact that I just don’t like the smell of black pepper.
As I am writing this assignment, I am using lavender oil in the diffuser on my desk. I noticed that it has made me calmer. Unlike the Aromatherapy Associates rollerball, I didn’t have to inhale deeply because the vapour from the diffuser, fills the room. The calming benefits I felt was therefor from the lavender oil, and not from deep breathing.
I will continue to experiment with essential oils in a diffuser. I look forward to trying tangerine, rosemary and peppermint. Studies have shown that rosemary improves memory and focus, which makes it ideal to use when I am working. Peppermint is effective in preventing fatigue and improving exercise performance, and as mentioned before, citrus aromas have an energising effect on me. I will combine peppermint and citrus oils in the diffuser when exercising.
In a coaching environment, I would try to combine visualisation techniques with smell. Visualisation is more effective when combined with one of the other six senses. For example, if someone is trying to overcome a fear of public speaking, they can use an essential oil while creating the mental image of themselves giving a flawless speech and enjoying being on stage. Before going on stage, they could smell the essential oil, and the smell would quickly help conjure that mental image. Different essential oils can also be sprayed in a consulting room depending on the type of session and needs of the client. For instance, to create a feeling of calm, focus or to enhance intuition.
I believe aromatherapy to be a useful wellness intervention that can easily be incorporated into a coaching practice.
*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 11 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies.*