Many people who try aromatherapy for the first time are amazed that a pleasant smell can make them feel so good. I always tell them the same thing: Long before Western science proved it, Ayurveda has taught that the scent of essential oils has the power to lift your mood.
This is undeniably true. Even rigorous traditional medical publications acknowledge that lemon essential oil promotes a happy, anxiety-free mood, lavender essential oil promotes relaxation, and the list goes on. The only question was how.
Now, fortunately, we are starting to have access to the neurological data that demonstrates how this actually works. So let’s break down how essential oil aromatherapy affects your brain–starting with what happens when you smell.
Why Smell and Emotion Are Connected
When you inhale a scent, the oil’s molecules travel to the olfactory membrane in your nose–the system lining the inside of your nose that allows you to smell. In the olfactory membrane, thousands of receptors send electric signals to nerve endings, or glomeruli, in the clubs of your nose.
You have two olfactory bulbs inside the top of your nose, one above each nasal cavity. The nerve endings in the olfactory bulbs carry this electric signal up the olfactory tracts and straight into the brain–specifically, the amygdala.
The amygdala is a region of the brain that gets its name from the Greek word for almond, amygdale, owing to its small, almond-like shape. The amygdala is located within the medial temporal lobe, the region at the center of the brain responsible for balance and memory. But the amygdala itself is the emotional center of the brain.
Scientists used to believe that the amygdala was responsible purely for producing and regulating negative emotions. More recently, however, scientists have come to understand that the amygdala produces and regulates positive emotions too.
Because your body channels smells directly to the amygdala, a good scent has the power to quickly and effectively improve your mood. But what is it about essential oils specifically that causes positive emotions?
Why Essential Oils Improve Your Mood
Before I explain this fully, I must point out that the only essential oils that have the power to improve your mood are those that are tested and proven to be 100% pure and natural, such as those sold by my company, GuruNanda. Oils that are diluted, or made with imperfect materials, can have a negative impact on your mood and your health and carry the risk of causing an allergic reaction, or worse.
With that out of the way, the understood science is quite simple: When you smell something good, your brain releases serotonin, a chemical that promotes happiness and relaxation. Pure and natural essential oils smell totally pleasant–with no dangerous, synthetic chemicals disrupting your brain chemistry or response.
Therefore, aromatherapy with essential oils has the unique ability to quickly improve your mood without side effects (unless you are allergic to the plant the oil comes from, of course. In that case, please consult your physician before trying aromatherapy).
Thanks to modern Western medicine, the wisdom and benefits of Ayurveda are being appreciated by more people than ever before. If you ever need a pick-me-up, diffuse your favorite essential oil and you will immediately breathe easy.