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The power of aroma is stunning. On its most basic level, the sense of smell is an unmatched way to protect one from the nastier things in life—an elemental “don’t put that filthy thing in your mouth” reaction. But the sense also provides a real, physical connection to the brain, and a scent can evoke compelling memories and powerful emotions. Because smells are actual, physical molecules, they produce physical responses—notably to memories.
According to Horst Rechelbacher, in his book Rejuvenation: A Wellness Guide for Women and Men, the sense of smell works in three steps—reception, transmission and perception. Reception is fairly self-explanatory, transmission is where the brain interprets the aroma and provides feedback, and perception is the reaction to the aroma. This is the step in which the brain releases chemical messages that activate hormones and regulate body functions.
The essence of plants and flowers, a molecular gas in which their fragrance lies, stimulates a reaction through sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which then causes a corresponding psychological reaction. According to Rechelbacher, different aromas produce different psychological and physiological reactions. Essences in their purest form function as natural remedies because they re-establish mental and physical balance.
Rechelbacher states that aromatherapy, the therapeutic use of essential oils, is appropriate for the treatment of physical imbalances. Aromatherapy products are created by distilling plants that are harvested in full bloom to their pure essence, and a true essential oil must be isolated by physical means—distillation. It is only in this process that plant material releases the enzyme-bound essential oil. The idea behind aromatherapy is that the purity and potency of this distilled essence are active as the molecules disperse to create a revitalizing effect.
Aromatherapy is based on the principles of ayurveda, which, although thousands of years old, has garnered growing interest at spas over the past decade. Ayurveda is described as harnessing the energies of nature to establish a harmonious relationship between the individual and the environment, and it is this relationship that promotes overall well-being.