Modern science does not yet fully understand or appreciate the subtle healing powers of aromatherapy. In contrast, in Ayurveda, we speak of Sugandha Vigyan – the science of how scents or aromas (whether pure or chemically adulterated) enter into and effect the mind and body. Obviously, when a scent is chemical and synthetic, it will cause toxicity and damage. When it is natural, pure, and unadulterated, it will deliver balancing properties.
Through the ayurvedic science of Sugandha Vigyan, we learn that the scents of flowers and other plants contain “sookshma bhag” or micro-molecules, extremely small, sharp and fast-moving particles, that instantly penetrate into and travel in our physiology, reaching the brain center to procure immediate impact. When you inhale an aroma, it communicates with your limbic system instantaneously affecting molecular chemical changes in your brain chemistry and firing up neuronal pathways that generate waves of well-being. The immediate result is pleasure or repulsion – depending on what you are smelling! In addition, right after the brain, the aromatic molecules enter the blood stream and are delivered to the whole body.
Beyond the Scent : Prabhava
Only natural aromas can deliver healthy-benefiting or balancing effects. But that’s only part of the story. To deliver a therapeutic action, an aroma – whether delivered through the skin as an essential oil, or inhale as an incense – must retain the subtle prabhava, or subtle vibrational effect, of the herbs. The scent is one thing. The balancing therapeutic impact is another.
The oldest references to incense in the Vedas are found in the Atharvaveda and Rigveda. Incense burning was used to create soothing aromas for the environment; but also used as a powerful medicinal tool – fumigating for bacterial cleansing; or to purify and cleanse the environment for spiritual purposes; alternately, incense burning has also been used as ritual tool during sacred rites, or meditation. Did you know that there is a whole chapter in the Charak Samhita, the sourcebook of Ayurveda, fully dedicated to the therapeutic effects of herbal remedies delivered in smoke form?
Ayurveda uses many different kinds of herbs, flower, barks, etc. to make essential oil blends and incense. Depending of what materials are used and what their prabhavas, ultimate subtle effects on the mind/body complex, an incense can have any number of effects on us. For example, incense can be used to cool the physiology in the Summertime, or warm it in the Wintertime. It can ground and stabilize our mind when we are stressed out; or it can energize and stimulate our mind when our thinking becomes slow and lethargic. Essential oils and incense have also been known to be used for spiritual growth – strengthening our connection and coordination with our sattwa – our inner divine core that reverberates as light. Breathe in the goodness of Mother Nature and release your stress…. sometimes it’s as simple as that!