We pick up where we left off in the previous sensory balance post by exploring the opportunities to be found in our fourth outer sense—smell.
Smell: An eclectic array of aromas—sweet, spicy, floral, fruity, earthy, pungent—seasons my journey.
When I began to be intentional about feeding all of my senses in a balanced way so that my sense of taste would stop leading me to fat-and sugar-laden foods in an attempt to fill sensory voids it could never hope to fill, I quickly shifted from being a sugar addict to being an aroma junkie.
Based on the findings of The Sense of Smell Lab (2013), it’s no wonder aroma proved such a compelling alternative:
“The sense of smell is thousands of times more sensitive than any of our other senses. In less than a millisecond, just one whiff of a familiar smell can trigger memories of childhood, home, and family. Smell impulses travel faster than signals from sight or sound because the olfactory system is the only part of the brain that is directly exposed to the air.
The brain processes sensory information delivered through sight, sound, taste, and touch by identifying the incoming information first, which in turn generates an emotional reaction.
But our sense of smell is different. It does the opposite. The information of incoming odors is first processed by the emotions and subsequently identified. This places our sense of smell at the root of our emotional being.
Aromas delivered directly to the smell receptors in our brains have a powerful effect on behavior. Just think of your response to the smell of a cup of coffee in the morning or your reaction to a dead skunk on the side of the road.
Since birth, our smell receptors have catalogued every scent that passed through our nostrils in an area of the brain the size of a postage stamp. The average adult is able to process approximately 10,000 different smells, with each odor having the potential to evoke a memory.
Smell influences our moods, our emotions, and the choice of our mates. It is the main organ that contributes to our enjoyment of our sense of taste. Smells warn us of dangers such as fire, poisonous fumes, and spoiled food and give us awareness of our place in the environment.
Our sense of smell contributes enormously to the quality and enjoyment of our lives, our health, and our well-being. It is the mind-body interface.”
The persuasive power of our sense of smell is the reason some realtors bake bread or cookies just before an open house. Your special treat may be the scent of fresh flowers, evergreen branches, or citrus potpourri.
Many people who now find themselves living alone for the first time in their lives confess that they get into a rut of not cooking real meals for themselves. They feel the preparation time just isn’t worth the effort if it’s only going to feed one person. Like everything else, if you don’t cook because you don’t enjoy it and would rather invest your time in other activities, then love is the core energy under your decision. But if you adore cooking and routinely produce fabulous, elaborate meals for guests but feel you are not worth more than a microwaved frozen dinner, it may be that fear is underneath your choice. Get curious; decide for yourself. Because you do matter; you are always worth the effort.
Yesterday morning I cooked a batch of homemade vegetarian chili in the crockpot. It smelled wonderful during the five hours that it bubbled away while I was preparing and broadcasting my weekly radio episode, enticing me with anticipation of the wonderful dinner to come. The aroma continued to linger for hours after I had put it all away in the refrigerator, greeting me each time I returned home after running errands. A gift that kept on giving by reminding me of the love I had demonstrated for myself by investing a little extra energy to prepare a home-cooked, healthy meal just for me alone. I matter. I am worth the effort.
Aromatherapy oils proved very beneficial. I found I didn’t need to eat sugar cookies; I could be just as delighted by heating sugar cookie scented oils in my aroma burner. I became the queen of layering the same scent of shower gel, rich lotion, and eau de toilette on my body so the aroma lasted longer. I feed my passion for variety by switching styles every two weeks, rotating through sets that are sweet, savory, fruity, floral, spicy, and musky to keep my scent life interesting. The day Bath & Body Works came out with their limited edition iced cinnamon bun line of body care products, I was in ecstasy. So was everyone who encountered my sugar-and-cinnamon-drenched person. Total strangers, men and women alike, would stop me on the street and proclaim, “You smell fabulous! What is that scent?” Alas, in answer to your unasked question, that particular line is no more. But there are many other fruit-and food-scented options available in its place.
The same guidelines apply to sense of smell as the other outer senses. Be intentional; remember the findings of The Sense of Smell Lab. The scent of everything in your life matters: laundry soap and fabric softener, shampoo and conditioner, shower gel and bubble bath, dishwashing detergent and hand soap. Get curious and discover what works for you. Learning how to set and enhance your mood with scent is a skill you will be glad you developed. Calm, invigorated, sensual, or happy—there are aromas that can help you get there and stay there as long as you like. This applies especially to those of you who are highly sensitized and believe yourselves allergic to scent. Invest extra energy in figuring out what type and quantity of scent enhances your life. Your happiness matters. You are worth the effort.
In the next sensory balance post we’ll explore some of the potential sensory balance implications of our fifth outer sense—taste.