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Learning about Aromatherapy

Updated: Jul 8, 2020


If you aren’t sure what that is in the picture, it’s a diffuser. I wouldn’t blame you for not knowing: until about a year ago I hadn’t even heard of the concept of diffusing essential oils, and a visitor to my home once assumed it was some kind of knock-off Alexa and asked it a question. It’s definitely helpful, but not in that way. Diffusing oils is a fairly new habit for me and one that I’ve turned to a lot during lockdown as a simple way to instantly improve my home environment.

A good friend, aromatherapist Claire Blackie, got me into the world of essential oils. I’ve learnt a lot from her, and am very far from being an expert, so I wouldn’t presume to give any actual advice, but I’ve been thinking for a while now about what a positive impact a little bit of knowledge of oils has had on my life. The main reason I like the diffuser is the option of choosing an oil to influence our moods. If one or all of us are getting a bit aggravated, diffusing a ‘relaxing’ oil like Lavender or Bergamot really does help to calm us down and enable us to reset. When I practise yoga I like to smell Geranium as I find it energising, unless I’m doing a really slow, Yin practice, in which case I’d go for one of the chill-out ones. Neal’s Yard also does different blends, like Women’s Balance, De-Stress, Optimism and Meditation to name a few – I have the Focus one which I’ll use when I’m working or studying. Lavender gentling bubbling in the corner of the kids’ room at bedtime also usually has a wind-down effect.

One thing that’s really important to note is that if children are in the room you must use fewer drops of the oil than you would for adults only. Despite being natural, essential oils are strong, so advice must be followed about the way you use them. There are lots of contraindications too – pregnancy, breastfeeding and medical conditions will have an influence on which oils and blends are right for you so always ask a qualified aromatherapist for their recommendation.

On one of our government-sanctioned daily forest walks earlier this summer, I came home with some sort of bug bite that quickly swelled to the size of a plate and went rock hard. In the end I did have to use antihistamine on it, but until I got hold of that, I was using Lavender to soothe the bite, both in a bath combined with oats in a muslin cloth (luckily I have thousands of these feckers left over from the baby years and now I know what to do with them) and directly on the bite in a carrier oil (grapeseed, also from Neal’s Yard). More recently my son had a bad head bump, and while we sat holding ice on it and waiting for him to stop seeing stars, I also dropped some Geranium into the oil diffuser for a ‘balancing’ effect as he slowly calmed down. Essential oils are so handy for those everyday hiccups and moments of tension.

Scent also has a powerful effect on the memory, evoking emotions and enabling recall of events from long ago. The brain’s olfactory bulb processes the sensation of smell into a form that’s readable by the brain. Brain cells then carry this information to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is in charge of learning and memory. Scent is the only type of sensation that has such a direct path to the brain’s emotional and memory centres. I experienced this on the street once when I walked past a man wearing an aftershave that I could only define as ‘essence of ex-boyfriend’. I hadn’t even thought of this man in literally years, but that smell took me back to his teenage bedroom, the pizza boxes by the bed and the computer in the corner permanently switched on to continue its search for UFOs. It was strangely unsettling to have someone take up space in my brain again, albeit briefly, after so long. But it made me wonder what other memories are buried in there, never to make an appearance, unless I happen upon the right scent.

Obviously essential oils aren’t the only thing that smells good – so does an oven full of cookies, a basket of fresh laundry, a rose bush, the children’s hair – but I never realised until I had my diffuser just how easy it could be to effect a change in the whole energy of the room with something so quick and easy. I waited quite a while before investing in it as I wasn’t sure whether I’d really use it or not, but I’ve been so glad to have had it over these last few months at home. Without the support of the school and various activities, and only limited access to friends and grandparents, I’m trying to focus on the little things I’m grateful for. The humble oil diffuser had to make the list.

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