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Inhaling Through the Left Nostril Increases Happiness

By Jodi Cohen

A woman in a blue top using nasal spray.

Inhaling essential oils through the left nostril increases happiness!

Research backs this up, finding that the left side of the frontal lobe – known as the left prefrontal cortex – is more active when people feel happy. In contrast, the right side of the frontal lobe – the right prefrontal cortex – is more active when people feel sad, anxious or depressed.

Stimulating the left prefrontal cortex (by inhaling essential oils through the left nostril) can encourage or train you to be happier. Similarly, by learning what calms the activity in your right prefrontal cortex can help calm anxiety and reduce sadness.

Anxiety and panic attacks can be triggered by over-activity and dominance of the right hemisphere of the brain.  The right brain processes the emotional aspects of the human experience, giving us empathy and compassion, but in overdrive in the right brain can contribute to anxiety.

Inhaling an essential oil through the left nostril helps to stimulate the left frontal lobe and create balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which then balances the over-activity of the right frontal lobe and leads to feelings of calm. This also strengthens the left prefrontal cortex – the feel-good center of the brain.

Your Frontal Lobes and Emotions

Your frontal lobes are involved in both higher-level thought and emotion, which suggests that your thinking affects the way you feel and vice versa.

Emotions and feelings were thought to be located in the most primitive area of the brain, known as the reptilian brain in the limbic system, which is in charge of regulating emotional processes in conjunction with your frontal lobes, the structures involved in more complex thought processes.

More specifically, the frontal lobe of your brain coordinates thoughts and actions to support executive function, mental flexibility, and problem solving, along with personality features, emotional regulation, initiative, and judgment. It also plays an important role in the process of attention and controlling impulses in social situations (inhibition of inappropriate behaviors).

The different lobes of the brain control different functions.  The left frontal lobe is the area in the brain that correlates with joy. When you feel excited, full of energy, positive, and hopeful, the area that presents the most neural activity is your left prefrontal cortex.

The right prefrontal cortex is related to hypervigilance, which you experience when you are feeling highly stressed.  As mentioned above, happiness lies in the left frontal lobe. When you’re feeling calm, optimistic, relaxed, and hopeful, the right frontal lobe begins to show less activity due to the intense neuronal activity going on in the opposite one.

People who describe themselves as optimistic, engaged, ‘the kind of people who jump out of bed in the morning and are ready to tackle the world, have consistently higher levels of left prefrontal lobe activity.

The biochemistry in the hemispheres supports these different functions. For example, the right hemisphere has an abundance of the stress supporting neurotransmitter norepinephrine, while the left hemisphere has more of the pleasure-and-reward  neurotransmitter dopamine.


Research on the Prefrontal Cortex and Emotions

University of Wisconsin professor Richard Davidson found that a high ratio of activity in the left prefrontal cortex (i.e. the left side of the frontal lobe) correlated with happiness, joy and enthusiasm. Those who are prone to anxiety, fear and depression exhibit a higher ratio of activity in the right prefrontal cortex.

MRIs mapping the brain of Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard while he was engaged in compassionate meditation showed that his left prefrontal cortex was predominantly more active compared to his right prefrontal cortex. His activity was so enhanced in the left frontal region, the scientists performing the study said that he must be the happiest man alive.

Additional research found a pattern the correlated feelings of happiness with decreased activity in the regions of the brain committed to forethought and planning (located in the right prefrontal lobe, just behind the forehead). In other words, when we feel happy, we stop fretting about the future.

The research on “Mood Improvement Following Daily Left Prefrontal Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Patients with Depression”  found that daily stimulation of the left frontal lobe “had an antidepressant effect”.


How Smell Stimulates Your Brain

Your sense of smell connects directly to the part of your brain that regulates the release of several major hormones.  These hormones directly impacting how you feel and how you function.

Smell travels through your olfactory system to your hypothalamus a region of your brain that acts as your hormonal control center, by way of your amygdala in your limbic system.  When you smell an essential oil for the hypothalamus, it stimulates your hypothalamus to release hormones that trigger a rapid emotional response.

Your brain’s rapid response to smell based stimuli like essential oils is best explained by research which estimates your sense of smell to be 10,000 times more acute than your other senses.

Scent has direct access to your limbic system with only two synapses separating your amygdala from your olfactory nerve.  No other sensory system has this kind of direct and intense contact with the neural substrates of your brain’s emotional control center, also known as your limbic system.  Your other four senses, including sound, sight, taste and touch must travel to other regions of the brain first, before reaching your limbic system.


My Favorite Oils to Inhale Through the Left Nostril

Choose your favorite scents to inhale through your left nostril. Some of my favorites include:

Orange essential oil smells great and  “demonstrates acute anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) activity” in an animal rat study on the Anxiolytic-like effect of sweet orange.

Rose essential oil is known to calm, relax and soothe nerves and demonstrates strong stress management and anti-depressant qualities. Research reveals the anxiolytic-like (anxiety reducing) properties of rose oil. “Inhalation of rose essential oil produced an anxiolytic-like effect similar to diazepam (a medication used for anxiety first marketed as Valium).

In addition, Nobel Prize–winning researcher Linda Buck found that Rose essential oil can counteract your brain’s fear response to predator odor. Her research found that smelling rose essential oil in the presence of predator odors (or other fear stimuli) can suppress your brain’s stress responses and hormonal signals, often triggered by the amygdala. This research gives some insight into how essential oils can influence your hormonal responses, by either suppressing or activating your brain’s hormonal responses to specific odors.

Frankincense is an aromatic resin derived from the sap of trees in the Boswellia that can stimulate the limbic part of the brain to help elevate mood and release negativity and painful emotions.

Frankincense oil has also been shown to offer a natural solution for mild to moderate cases of depression. Frankincense contains the chemical constituent Incensole Acetate, which has been found to stimulate Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid (TRPV3) channels in the brain that “may play a role in emotional regulation.” Research found this constituent of Frankincense to relieve anxiety and depression in animal studies.


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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.