Scent is the fastest way to affect mood. When we inhale an essential oil, the aromatic molecules travel to the olfactory bulbs which are directly connected to the emotional (limbic) area of the brain. Your sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any other sense. Scent, memories and emotion co mingle as they are stored in the same area of the limbic brain.
It takes only 22 seconds for the essential oil to reach the brain - therefore when we inhale an essential oil we feel good fast. Powerful to have in your self-care toolkit.
the brain on yoga and essential oils
Yoga and meditation works wonders on the mind, body and soul. Asana, pranayama and meditation all increase physical strength, flexibility, mental calm and clarity as well as overall peace both inside and outside the body. Yoga is a science that harnesses the innate capability of the body as a vehicle for transformation.
figure 1. “seat of consciousness”, processing sensory information and activating the corresponding responses, learning and thinking. Largest part of brain.
the largest part of the brain and divided into left and right hemispheres. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body and the left hemisphere controls the right. On the subtle level ida nadi (the lunar energy channel) is connected to the right half of the brain, and pingala nadi (solar energy channel) is connected to the left side of the brain. Interesting fact - the cerebrum is 90% of brain volume but only holds approximately 20% of your brain's total neurons.
Pranayama and cross patterning yoga poses can strengthen the bridge between both hemispheres of the brain to create a more balanced individual – neither strongly left or right brain dominant. I read somewhere that new yogi’s start with engaging the left side of their brain – focussing on technicalities/alignment and after a while move more into the right side of brain - intuitively knowing the feeling in the body in proper alignment. Proprioception is a skill you develop in time also. The proprioceptive system is composed of sensory receptors in the muscles and tendons that inform the central nervous system of where your body/limbs are oriented in space.
Cerebral cortex lobe – the main information processing part of the brain. Made up of four lobes – the Frontal lobe, Parietal lobe, Occipital lobe and Temporal lobe. Research has shown that mediation increases your grey matter – specifically the area responsible for regulating emotions. Chilled out yogi’s.
2. frontal lobe
figure 2. frontal lobe – Movement, planning and execution.
the pranayama technique - Kapalabhati is also known as frontal brain purification/cleansing or skull shining breathing (kapal = forehead; bhati = shining) – it has a rejuvenating effect on this part of the brain. During your yoga practice your frontal lobe enables you to plan, execute and adjust your yoga poses. The frontal lobe is located in front of the brain and is in the forehead area - it is associated with the Ajna Chakra, Hypothalamus and Pituitary gland. Yogi Bhajan (Kundalini yogi) said that the frontal lobe controls the personality. The frontal lobe of the brain goes offline during meditation.
3. parietal lobe
figure 3. parietal lobe – sense of touch and pain, sensory information processing, visual-spatial processing, language processing.
associated with limb movement, understanding speech and sensing pain. It processes sensation in the body whilst in the various poses, your position in the room – where your limbs are in poses etc. During meditation, the parietal lobe of the brain slows down (the sensory processing).
4. occipital lobe
figure 4. occipital lobe – Sense of sight
this is the primary visual processing centre of the brain. Able to follow visual cues in yoga class. Allow you to focus on your drishti (focal point) whilst in a challenging balancing pose.
5. temporal lobe
figure 5. temporal lobe – Auditory and visual processing, visual memory retention, language, emotional response, memory.
Further info – process verbal cues as responsible for auditory perception. Remember sequences, celebrate the achievement of challenging poses.
6. pituitary & pineal gland
figure 6. Pituitary & Pineal gland – the endocrine master control gland. Hormones for growth, metabolism and regulating other hormones. Essential oils affect the pituitary gland and the pineal gland.
Further info - The pituitary gland controls all the other endocrine glands in your body, including the thyroid, parathyroids, pancreas, reproductive glands and adrenals. Regulates the hormones involved with growth, metabolism, digestion, protein absorption and blood pressure. In yoga, the third-eye chakra governs the pituitary gland. The third eye deals with intuition and teachings — it's your internal compass. Activate the pituitary gland with yoga poses (forward folds, inversions), breath work - Brahmari (bumblebee breath) and mantras that stimulate this third eye.
Pituitary gland & Essential oils:
Essential oils can reach the pituitary gland through inhalation, through roof of mouth (thumb press), under the tongue, middle of eyebrows (third eye chakra), crown and back of head – will raise the frequency of the pituitary.
Pineal gland & Essential oils:
The pineal gland is a small endocrine gland also associated with the third eye chakra. It produces melatonin and serotonin two hormones involved in the regulation of moods as well as wake/sleep patterns. It is located near to the centre of the brain between the two hemispheres, tucked in a groove where the two rounded thalamic bodies join. Unlike much of the rest of the brain, the pineal gland is not isolated from the body by the blood-brain barrier system. The pineal gland can easily get calcified from heavy metals, petrochemicals, fluoride and other toxic chemicals in our day to day environment. Because essential oils are lipid soluble and have properties that can assist the body in decalcification, they can aid one in maintaining a healthier pineal gland. Furthermore, just the inhaling of essential oils is stimulating to the pineal. A healthier, stimulated pineal gland allows for deeper spiritual experiences.
7. brain stem
figure 7.Brain stem – Vital functions – digestion, heart rate, breathing and eating. Connects brain and spinal cord. Great area for topical application of essential oils.
the brain stem performs a pivotal role in digestion, heart rate and breathing. Nerve impulse running along the brain stem initiate inhalation. It is the primitive/vegetative part of the brain and critical for autonomic bodily functions. It relays sensory information from the body to the brain for processing – it allows us to the alert and attentive and affects posture.
Brain stem & Essential oils:
The brain stem (an area known as the “Suboccipital Triangle”) is a great area to apply essential oils topically as they penetrate straight into the brain and the blood vessels along the spine. Essential oils for tension relief (PastTense, Peppermint, InTune) are ideal in this location. Cedarwood, frankincense and other essential oils are high in sesquiterpenes which have the ability to pass the blood- brain barrier and have a therapeutic benefit.
figure 8. cerebellum – Motor control – balance, muscle co-ordination, reflexes, movement.
the cerebellum is working in every yoga practice as we move through poses and stay balanced. Our “muscle memory” of knowing poses without thinking comes from this part of our brain. It receives and relays messages from the body to the brain and vice versa. Interesting fact - the cerebellum is only 10% of brain volume but holds almost 80% of your brain's total neurons. This is a powerful "little brain" and it is vital it is kept active through yoga, creative expression, dance and social interactions.
Memory and emotions and is associated with our sense of smell. Essential oils directly impact this area of the brain. Research shows limbic system is affected by meditation.
Further info –The limbic system is referred to as the “old brain” as the structure and composition has not changed from primitive times. Our sense of smell is the only one of our five senses directly linked to the limbic brain – inhale essential oils to calm everything down and tune in deeper to ourselves. A key structure in the limbic system is the amygdala which acts like an “emotional alarm” and is associated with the “fight or flight” response. A 2010 study on meditation found a reduction of grey matter in the amygdala (linked to fear and anxiety) and increase in grey matter in hippocampus (vital role in memory formation). Yoga is a wonderful tool to cultivate happiness and manage emotional turbulence adding essential oils supports this process. Part of the limbic system is the hypothalamus, which in addition to regulating the limbic system, has direct links to neurochemistry stimulation throughout the body. So, when we inhale the aroma of Lavender, not only will it calm our mood, but will benefit the entire body.
the brain chemical messengers, relay information between nerve cells.
Further info – regular yoga practice increases GABA. GABA (Gamma-aminobutryic acid) chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mammalian nervous system. GABA cools things off and chills things out. GABA inhibits stressful, negative thoughts and is associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety. It is good to raise GABA production. Essential oils used aromatically have a massive impact on your mood and emotions and they also increase GABA production. Aromatic use is the fastest way to get to the emotional brain. Lavender, marjoram, vetiver all the relaxing calming essential oils will increase GABA.
Blood brain barrier:
The blood–brain barrier (BBB) is a highly selective semipermeable membrane barrier that separates the circulating blood from the brain extracellular fluid in the central nervous system (CNS). Essential oils containing sesquiterpenes (frankincense, black pepper, ginger, cedarwood) have the ability to pass the blood-brain barrier and have a therapeutic impact on brain health.
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