Can smell help us control our emotions, improve our memory and even show us our way in the world? The science of scent tells us yes.
We often appreciate how important our eyesight and hearing are to our lives.
Every language is filled with references to seeing and hearing that take these two senses for granted. Phrases like, "I can see what you mean," or "I want to hear from you," are such a part of the common lexicon, were we to lose either of these senses we'd still speak as though they were intact.
Every breath we take is filled with scent particles and their sensory data. Yet smell is
one of the most overlooked or least considered of our senses. The animal kingdom relies on smell to identify their young, find food and navigate terrain.
Chemical scent is what enables mother ducks to keep track of her ducklings; is what directs ants to build their homes and defend their queen; and is what alerts birds to impending storms, just to give a few examples of the sensational role of smell.
With us humans, we'd be pretty darned lost too without our sense of smell.
Although you can't see it, hear it, taste it or even touch it, smell is just as important as our other four senses. In fact, smell may affect our moods and energy more than any other sense. A whiff of a fresh baked muffin can elevate us into euphoria with the memory of staying home from school on a sick day and baking cookies with mom. Or, the sharp scent of clove can shatter our calm with memories of fearful visits to the dentist's office.
In a study from Rockefeller University
, researchers discovered that our noses are more sensitive to smell than we ever knew. They determined that the human nose, or olfactory center
, is capable of discerning more than 1 trillion separate smells. That's a lot for one whiff of air!
According to smell research scientists, odor is the only sensory information that goes straight to our brain's limbic system, which is the part of the brain that processes emotions and memory.
And, scientists also discovered, we don't all experience the same scent from the same object. How we perceive scent depends on our genetics
. To some people, for example, cilantro smells fresh and herbal while others think it smells like chemical soap.
Odor also plays a role in our ability to recall a memory without our conscious awareness, another study found. Smell can bring up helpful or hurtful memories and physical sensations. But they can also be psychologically centering or energizing.
Here are six common scents that you can use to be powerfully energized, peaceful and centered or calmly connected to your sense of place in time.
Rosemary and other sharp scented volatile oils increase mental clarity and recall. Placing a sprig of fresh rosemary nearby while you study for a test will greatly enhance your ability to recall the information when you smell it again while taking the test. Try it, it really works. Other volatile essential oils include eucalyptus, thyme and pine.
Peppermint Pays Attention
Curb cravings or chase away invasive thoughts with peppermint. Peppermint is an anchoring scent that helps relieve mental fatigue and distress when you feel buffeted around by the changing tides of life.
Orange Overcomes Anxiety
Sweet and bitter orange essential oils, or the even the spray from pulling apart a fresh orange, is uplifting and reduces anxiety. If you're feeling anxious or stressed, a spritz of orange, grapefruit or other citrus fruit can really lift your mood.
Pine for Peace
Inhaling the fresh smell of pine trees can be like an energizing walk in the woods. When you are under the mental stress of modern life, the scent of pine is like a nature meditation
that brings your mind back to a peaceful, meditative state.
Lavender is a Lullaby
Lavender is well known for its soothing and sedative qualities. Lavender flowers are commonly used in potpourri, bath oils and even in cooking to create a soothing atmosphere and to relax muscle tension. Take a nice long whiff of lavender when you want a deep and restorative sleep or calm your mind.
Native Plants are Nurturing
It may sound silly, but if you're ever feeling out of place in the world, just inhale a handful of grass that you've pulled out of the ground or smell the blossoms of a native tree. Wherever your attention wandered, it will be immediately pulled back to the present moment and remind you of your roots, even if you are a transplant.
Rose is Reminiscent
If you miss your elderly aunt or grandma but not the toxic perfumes they wore, breathe in some of the natural ingredients of their favorite fragrances. Rose petals, the base for rose water, jasmine, honeysuckle, lily of the valley and gardenia are just some of the flowers used in floral fragrances. Rub your petal of choice between your fingers, hold it up to your nose and just imagine your nana giving you a great big hug again.
Sandalwood is Satisfying
Sandalwood, ylang ylang, patchouli and other highly aromatic candles and incense
can evoke that calm, oh-so-satisfied feeling you get at the end of a massage or yoga class. Just smelling these commonly used scents that signals the end of a well earned workout or healing touch can instantly relax you and release endorphins, those hormones that make you feel good and well loved. It's like reliving your class or session, free of charge!