Aromatherapy: An Ayurvedic Perspective

Aromatherapy is steeped in Indian culture for over centuries. Men and women adorned flowers and leaves not just as an ornament but also for the purpose of aromatherapy. According to Ayurvedic therapies, there are three modes of healing- Daiva Vyapasraya, Yukti Vyapasraya and Satvavajaya. Daiva Vyapasraya is healing based on divine power. This includes chanting mantras, observing fasts, performing fire sacrifices (Homa), and more. Yukti Vyapasraya is a treatment with medicines and lifestyle changes.

Specific flowers are offered to specific deities and this varies according to the season. When one entered the premises of the temple, the aromas imparted by the flowers, incense sticks, diyas (lamps), camphor, and the prasad (offering) are very healing in nature. This can make it seem like aromatherapy falls under Daiva Vyapasraya, however, it is actually mentioned in Yukti Vyapasraya.

It is interesting to note that aromatherapy did not focus only on fragrance inhalation. Dried herbs in certain proportions were ground into a paste and applied on the body or on the wound area. For instance, sandalwood and rose paste. Unani school of medicine emphasised on therapeutics and palatability. This was why Unani medicine was very popular among the royals. Herbs with strong aromas along with their abundant healing properties played a role in therapeutics.

There has been extensive research on aromatherapy and its impact on the neuroendocrine system. Inhalation of fragrances causes a change in the electroencephalogram. A particular fragrance or a blend of few scents can give rise to different types of brain waves. According to the waves, there is a change in the physiological functions. For instance, delta waves can cause a state of deep relaxation and sleep. Aromas ca be introduced to change the wave functioning. When there are more theta waves, the person is drowsier. If an aroma that can cause beta waves is introduced, the person becomes alert. This alertness is not just a physiological phenomenon but also a host of neuroendocrine changes that have taken place.

In Ayurveda, specific fragrances have a direct correlation with the tridoshas. Ayurvedic scholars, Charaka and Vaghbhata have mentioned various aromas and their healing purposes in their books. One of the earliest mentions of using fragrances in Ayurveda can be found in the 13th chapter of the Sutrasthana in Ashtanga Hrudayam.

It says, “A person who has vitiated Pitta dosha, there are physiological changes in the body that affect metabolism and also the neuroendocrine system. To treat this imbalance, a phytochemical combination of herbs that are sweet, bitter, and astringent in taste. Apart from this, sweet-smelling fragrances that are cooling in nature, and are close to one’s heart is used.” Choosing a fragrance that is adored by the person makes the therapy more individualised.

Apart from fragrances and their correlation with the tridoshas, fragrances are also season-specific. The science behind this is noteworthy. Each gland in the body has varied activation according to the season. For example, the adrenal gland is more active during the months of December and January, following which the activity slowly dips. Thyroid glands function very well during winter. Estrogen and growth hormones also have varied activity based on the seasons. The pituitary gland shows strong seasonal activation. Every country experiences seasons at different timings and at different intensities.

We picked six different fragrances for this article that will showcase their therapeutic purposes based on their doshas and the season they are best suitable for use.

Sandalwood
Commonly known as Chandana, sandalwood is a native to India that grows to a height of 30ft. The oil is stored in the heartwood or the centre of the trunk. The colour of sandalwood becomes more yellow as the intensity of the fragrance increases. Sandalwood is considered sacred for many rituals. Deities are adorned with sandalwood paste on many occasions. In Ayurvedic therapies, sandalwood is used to soothe and calm the body and mind. It alleviates wounds and burns. It can also help heal skin infections such as ulcers, acne and rashes. It is used in pastes, lotions and soaps and other cosmetic products. Sandalwood in combination with other fragrances and herbs can be used in different seasons. For instance, sandalwood with saffron and lotus is best suited in winter for better hydration. A bath with Sandalwood, saffron, camphor, and jasmine mitigates Kapha and increases Pitta that is usually diminished at the start of spring.

  1. Rose
    Rose was cultivated in India for centuries. The flower is edible and rich in aroma with over three thousand aromatic compounds. Rose is mentioned in Ayurvedic texts; it balances Sadhaka Pitta dosha that is associated with emotions and their impact on the heart. Romantic much? It is extensively used in aromatherapy and has an impact on hormones and overall health. Rose is best suited during summers. An imbalance in the Sadhaka Pitta dosha during the hot, humid weather increases heat and can cause indigestion and other metabolic troubles. It also balances Vata-Pitta disorders. Rose essential oil has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-haemorrhagic properties. Rose oil and petals are used in many cosmetic products ranging from soaps, lotions, lip balms, and more. It enhances the seven dhatus or the body tissues. It also has a cooling effect on the skin and thus prevents it from erupting. Gulkand, a popular preparation with rose petals and milk helps to alleviate gastric troubles and other Pitta dosha prominent disorders.

Jasmine
Jasmine, also known as the Queen of the Night, has a delicate and relaxing aroma that is used in aromatherapy. Over a thousand flowers are required to make one gram of the oil. In South India, jasmine is adorned by women. In Ayurveda, jasmine is used for mood and devotion. Jasmine essential oil can be applied to the lower abdomen to relieve menstrual pain. Can be used even during labour. Jasmine finds its mention in the Shalakya Tantra, a branch in Ayurveda that specialises in matters above the clavicle. It is used to soothe oral issues such as gingivitis, mouth ulcers, and gum troubles.

Blue Lotus
In India, Blue Lotus, is associated with Bhagawan Shri Krishna and is used as a symbol of purity. Blue Lotus is used to make high quality perfumes, room fresheners, incense sticks, deodorants, candles and other products in the perfumery industry. The essential oil extracted from Blue Lotus is used to relieve muscle cramps and lowers anxiety levels. The two active components in Blue Lotus are Apomorphine and Nuciferene. Blue Lotus also provides better sleep and enhances lucid dreaming. It is used in Panchakarma to remove excess heat in the body.

Champaka
Champaka has a citrus aroma and extends a delicate and seductive fragrance. For this reason, it is also known as ‘Joy Perfume tree’. The essential oil from Champaka is a great skincare ingredient and slows down aging. It is anti-inflammatory in nature and soothes skin troubles, and has antispasmodic properties. The flowers have been used as a source for exotic perfumes and hair oils. Its flower buds have analgesic (alleviates pain) and antipyretic (brings down body temperature) properties.

Ketaki
Ketaki is found all across the country and can be seen growing near the coast to a height of 18ft with as many as 30-40 flowers. It’s the male flowers that possess a rose-like sweet and fruity fragrance. More than a thousand flowers are required to extract 400 pounds of oil. It is used in the perfumery and cosmetic industry. Women also adorn their hair with Ketaki flowers. They are also kept in between clothes to mildly scent them. The essential oils are used to treat eye disorders and congestion.

 

With insights from Arunima Gupta and Tanya Chaudhary