Of all the senses, smell has the most sensitive receptors, and smell is the most memorable and evocative of sensations. A whiff of a particular aroma, pleasant or unpleasant, is all it takes to rekindle all types of memories. This is because when you smell an aroma, an impulse travels immediately down the olfactory nerve to the limbic system – a tiny part of the brain where emotion, hunger, memory, and other responses are evoked.
All of us use aromatherapy without realizing it. We use smells to revitalize ourselves and enrich our lives: we give bunches of flowers as gifts; we pamper ourselves with a favorite cologne or soak in a scented bath; and we are invigorated by the fresh smell of the sea.
Perception of scent varies – our reaction to scent is emotionally loaded and highly subjective. In aromatherapy, the aim is to discover an aroma that you like and will enjoy using. If you don’t like the smell of a certain oil, try mixing (blending) different oils to create an aroma you do like. I find that the easiest way to learn about a new essential oil is to put a drop on a strip of blotting paper, then smell it, and write down your impressions. Is the aroma light and fresh, or heavy and warm? Is it flowery, powdery, woody, medicinal, or spicy? Do you like it or dislike it? Does the aroma hit you or is it subtle and difficult to distinguish? Smell it again every few hours and you will see how the scent changes as the oils evaporate. (Be careful not to expose your smelling strips to extreme heat or flame when disposing of them, because essential oils are highly flammable.)
As you will discover from smelling the oils individually, some are very strong and the general rule when blending is that a little goes a long way. A lighter blend will often smell better, and therefore be more effective in massage, than a stronger blend.
In many ways essential oil is a misnomer, because there is usually nothing oily about it. Most essential oils have the consistency of alcohol and evaporate (e.g, lavender and rosemary), but some are’ thicker and stickier (e.g, sandalwood and myrrh). Some people call essential oils ethered oils, which is a good name because when left in the open air most will evaporate and leave no trace.