Updated: Apr 12, 2019
The sense of smell (olfaction) was one of the earliest senses to arise in evolution and is well developed in animals. In humans and animals, olfaction evokes emotional reactions that result in strong behavior changes. The limbic system is where our memories, instincts, and vital functions are controlled and processed.
When an essential oil is inhaled, the odor molecules travel up your nose where they are trapped by olfactory membranes. They are then carried to the limbic system where they pass between the major glands in the brain.
Smell is the only sense that goes directly to the limbic system, bypassing the cerebral cortex, (our intellectual part of the brain).
The other senses of sight and hearing must register with the cortex before entering other parts of the brain.
Many bodily functions such as digestive activity, respiration, hormone balance, heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, pain reduction, and memory can be regulated through the connection between the limbic system and other parts of the brain and body. Odor messages are one of the fastest ways to achieve beneficial psychological or physiological effects. The effect of essential
oils on the mind and emotions is extraordinary: uplifting depression, transforming anxiety into clarity and stress into tranquility.
When an essential oil is inhaled, the odor molecules travel up your nose where they are trapped by olfactory membranes. These impulses are carried to the limbic system and the olfactory sensory center at the base of the brain. From the limbic system, odor messages go to the hypothalamus, which sends messages to the other parts of the brain (pituitary, pineal, and amygdala) and body, stimulating the autonomic nervous system (ANS), endocrine system, organ functions, secretions of antibodies, neurotransmitters, hormones and enzymes throughout the body.
The direct effect that smell can have on the hypothalamus perhaps suggests why aromatherapy is considered one of the most valuable tools in the treatment of stress and anxiety related conditions, which can be seen as an overload of the sympathetic nervous system.
The amygdala plays a major role in storing and releasing emotional trauma. The most effective way to stimulate this gland is with fragrance or smell in order to awaken and release these memories for healing.
Each area of the brain releases a different type of neurotransmitter. The thalamus releases enkephalins, which stop pain, induce euphoria, and promote a feeling of
well-being. The pituitary gland releases endorphins, which also stop pain, promote euphoria, and may stimulate sexual feelings. There are many other mood-inducing chemicals in the brain and body; these are known as neurochemicals. Neurochemicals interface with the nervous system - for example: endorphins and enkephalins act as natural painkillers, serotonin promotes relaxation and sleep, noradrenalin s a stimulant that keeps us alert and awake.
The body and mind have an immediate response to the use of essential oils. The scent of an essential oil can directly affect our emotions and our entire state of well-being. Aromatherapy is very effective in reducing stress related conditions, enhancing, and balancing psychological conditions of depression, anxiety, trauma, and mental fatigue.
If you want to learn the true essence of Clinical Aromatherapy, Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy is a clinical aromatherapy school that integrates a holistic perspective of natural healing where you can discover the world of nature's pharmacy and natural healing methods.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shanti Dechen, CCAP, CAI, LMT is the founder and director of Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy, is a certified clinical aromatherapist, and has been a clinical aromatherapy practitioner and instructor for the last 20 years. Shanti has also been a clinical holistic health practitioner and a certified massage therapist since 1979. She has a university background in healing and the sciences—over 15,000 hours of extensive holistic training and certification in body-mind therapies.