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Aromatherapy and the Mind-Body Connection

By Rachel Hogancamp

Human beings gather information with the privilege of our five senses and learn to navigate the world around us with the benefit of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Our senses, rooted in the physical world, also mitigate the immaterial world. Phenomenon that's less tangible, like memory, can be directly influenced by aromatherapy. The olfactory system, linked to the olfactory bulb in the anterior region of the brain, signals the limbic system in the brain where memory recognizes odor. Aromatherapy effectively taps into our sense of smell and all of those learned memories we’ve stored throughout our lives as a way to regulate mood and emotion. If you have childhood memories of baking Thanksgiving pies with your grandmother, for example, it’s very likely that, years later, the smell of a fresh-baked apple pie instantly draws that memory to mind.

When this phenomenon occurs our brains release chemicals that relax and calm us. This direct connection between mind and body is the essence of aromatherapy. Even more exciting, when aromatherapy is used in conjunction with other healing arts, such as massage, the healing experience is enhanced.

How is aromatherapy used in a therapeutic setting?

Aromatherapy utilizes natural essential oils to promote psychological and physical well-being. Essential oils have different properties and convey a myriad of benefits depending on the specific oils and the ways in which they are blended and used. People receiving massage often request essential oils because they add another level of complexity to the healing experience. Essential oils enter our bodies through the nose and through the skin to promote health and to restore a sense of balance in our bodies and minds. Some oils have restorative qualities that help reduce inflammation and pain, while others are thought to boost our immune systems.

One of the most valuable aspects of aromatherapy is its accessibility. A hot bath enhanced with a few drops of lavender oil can provide a calming, therapeutic respite. The lighter notes of ginger, grapefruit, and peppermint can help relieve fatigue. The aromas of cypress, basil, and lemon are believed to improve cognitive function.

Where do essential oils come from?

Essential oils are extracted from the flowers, stems, leaves, bark, and roots of plants. The whole plant is capable of producing oils and this whole plant mirrors how aromatherapy treats the whole person. Because essential oils are highly concentrated, they are typically diluted in carrier oils such as jojoba oil, grape seed oil, or avocado oil. In this form, they can easily be added to massage oils and skin creams or diffused into the air via candle or incense. When diluted with water, essential oils can be sprayed into the air in an aerosol mist. Some essential oils are toxic in pure form and can irritate the skin, which is why they are best used in small amounts and with the guidance of a professional. When acquiring essential oils it is best to select high quality natural oils, steering clear of artificial, chemically produced fragrance oils. Again, a professional who understands the nuances of essential oils guides and directs proper use.

The practice of aromatherapy is a mixture of art and science. At Rasa Spa, our aromatherapist has hand crafted and hand blended three signature oils: Shanta, the peace rasa, to inspire calm, deep relaxation, and internal balance; Shringara, the love rasa, which is heart-centered and helps connect us to feelings of love, devotion, and beauty; and Adbuhta, the wonder rasa, which energizes us by evoking feelings of curiosity, mystery, and expansion. Each blend combines seven or eight essential oils to meet different needs. Our aromatherapist also works with people to create individual blends specifically for that person.

Aromatherapy can act as a gentle agent of change during times of stress and illness. I urge you to explore the possibilities for balance and healing offered through aromatherapy. You may be pleasantly surprised at the impact it can have.

Rachel Hogancamp is the co-founder of Rasa Spa, in partnership with Cayuga Medical Center and Island Health and Fitness. She is a licensed massage therapist and has taught classes at the Finger Lakes School of Massage. She can be reached at (607) 273-1740 or at


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