Ayurveda 101: Healing Through The Sense Of Smell

We’ve got one more sense to work with when balancing dosha disharmonies in the Mind. Each of our senses are potent in their own right but, scientifically speaking, we’ve saved the most powerful for last.  

Our sense of smell—the olfactory system—works a bit differently than other sensory input. Smell is intricately interwoven with our limbic system, which is responsible for triggering memory and emotion. When our nose sends signals to our brain, the limbic system is activated immediately. One tiny whiff of an aroma creates a domino effect of neurophysiological and psychological responses, and greatly affects our state of being.

It’s true that Smell activates certain feelings and emotions from our past, as aromas are often directly linked to memories themselves—Grandma’s sweet apple pie, hose water from summers of youth, a certain flower that evokes a memory of a nurturing (or toxic) past relationship. Olfactory input instantaneously awakens pathways to our deepest memories and can bring back those moments in a rush as if it were yesterday—for better or for worse.

Through the study and practice of aromatherapy, we can harness Smell as a powerful catalyst for encouraging desired feelings and emotions in the present. Thus, in turn, we have the opportunity to create new memory pathways in the future. As aromas may have a unique and specific imprint for us personally, they each also carry a vibrational imprint that can be applied universally.

How does this work for Ayurveda? We study the vibrational imprint of each aroma and use that to balance/temper/pacify excessive dosha energy when it is present. For example, lavender is well-known to produce calming effects and thus is a perfect complement to anxiousness associated with overactive Vata. Let’s have a closer look.

VATA // Mind Imbalance

  • Excess Space + Air creates a stress response of Anxiousness, Overwhelm, Worry, Fear. What did I do wrong?
  • Temper with qualities Fire, Water + Earth to influence effects that are Grounding, Calming, Warming, Comforting.

Healing Vata through SMELL

  • Essential Oils: Think in terms of aromas that are earthy, warming, and calming. Some favorites are frankincense, almond, sweet orange, vanilla, lavender, and cinnamon.
  • Aromatic Bath Soak: Place a handful of fresh lavender or a few chamomile teabags in hot water.
  • Olfactory Stimulus at Home: Burn palo santo or keep a fresh bouquet of fragrant flowers around.

PITTA // Mind Imbalance

  • Excess Fire + Water creates a stress response of Irritability, Impatience, Short Temper, AggressionWhat did YOU do wrong?
  • Temper with qualities of Space, Air + Earth to influence effects that are Soothing, Cooling, Cooperative, Heartening.

Healing Pitta through SMELL

  • Essential Oils: Think in terms of aromas that are sweet, crisp, and cooling. Some favorites are ylang ylang, jasmine, aloe, cucumber, rose, peppermint, and spearmint.
  • Aromatic Bath Soak: Place several slices of cucumber or a few bags of mint tea in lukewarm water.
  • Olfactory Stimulus at Home: Burn sandalwood or keep a fragrant sweet mint plant.

KAPHA // Mind Imbalance

  • Excess Water + Earth creates a stress response of Withdrawal, Complacency, Neediness, DenialNothing is wrong.
  • Temper with qualities of Space, Air + Fire to influence effects that are Invigorating, Uplifting, Enlivening, Motivating.

Healing Kapha through SMELL

  • Essential Oils: Think in terms of aromas that are uplifting, spicy, and warming. Some favorites are lemon, ginger, grapefruit, pine, sage, rosemary, and eucalyptus.
  • Aromatic Bath Soak: Place several sprigs of rosemary or a squeeze of citrus fruit in warm water.
  • Olfactory Stimulus at Home: Burn sage or keep fresh bundles of eucalyptus nearby.

Ready to get started? You can harness the power of healing through Smell right away.

  • Choose your favorite of the essential oils listed above and wear it in place of your perfume. Apply a few drops as needed throughout the day to reawaken the desired emotion.
  • Get an inexpensive diffuser and pump those balancing aromas into your home or office. Perhaps choose a different essential oil for variety.
  • Make a commitment to take an aromatic bath soak this week. Put it on your calendar! Your health and wellbeing is non-negotiable.
  • If you don’t have access to a bathtub, you can create an aromatic stove-top steam instead. In a large saucepan, heat water and the desired herbs/spices until just before it starts to boil. Hover your face above the pan, close enough to soak in the steam and take long, slow inhalations to absorb the healing properties of the aroma. If it’s comfortable, place a large towel over your head and the pan to create a mini sauna-like effect.