Scents and Sensibility

64 Arts

Have you ever walked into a room and remembered someone or someplace else because of the way your environment smells?

My grandfather’s house had a certain smell. A mix of cigarette smoke, frying oil, the fields outside and pork roast studded with garlic and green onions. Sometimes I’ll catch a whiff of that mixture elsewhere and I’m transported 300 miles back home.

The smell of damp, fresh-cut grass on a Fall evening reminds me of the four years spent in marching band, waiting on the sidelines to take the field for our halftime show. Memories flood in of old friends, the surety that we knew everything, the hindsight that proves we knew nothing.

Old perfumes remind me of the people I wore them for and the person I used to be.

Smell is one of the strongest memory triggers. Those memories can alter our moods based on the emotions our brains associated with them over time. Mood–emotion–has a lot to do with our sense of well-being, our health and our productivity (sniff a fresh-cut grapefruit or lemon–or a bit of their zest–and see if you don’t feel a little more alert).

So, if scents can take us back to our past and affect our present, what effect could they have on our future?

Aromatherapy is, technically, the use of natural plant oils to improve ones mood or physical well-being. A lot of products have aromatherapy claims attached to them, but (among the purists) direct use of essential oils in all natural products is the only way to go.

Now, how you use these oils depends a lot on the purpose of the oil and the oil itself–some are more effective when applied to the skin (but only when mixed with a carrier oil!) and others work better dispersed in the air via a diffuser,  incense or even added to your bathwater.

There are a few cardinal rules to using essential oils:

  1. Never apply them directly to the skin without diluting them–essential oils are concentrated to a point that they could do real damage to your skin on their own. Sweet almond oil is probably the most common carrier oil but grape-seed and even certain types of olive oil also get the job done.
  2. Fragrance oils are (generally) cheap imitations created in labs and don’t give the same benefits from a holistic healing point of view.
  3. Check any warnings of an oil before using. Some essential oils are irritating to the skin even when diluted so are better diffused in the air, instead. Certain essential oils can be problematic to pregnant women and should be avoided. Others are out-and-out toxic. Do your homework and check with your doctor if you know you have allergies or health issues that might be affected by any holistic or homeopathic techniques. In other words: Be Safe!

Which oils or scents to choose is a subject best left to the books and websites dedicated to aromatherapy. In the mean time, here are some common scents and what they are purported to mean or influence whether in essential oil, their natural state or even a candle–who am I to say that if the scent of roses makes you happy and relaxed that a scented candle isn’t going to do the trick?

  • Vanilla: sexual arousal (there was a study that showed more men got frisky around vanilla-scented candles than any other!)
  • Pine: purification (no wonder we smell it in so many cleaning products!), money (almost anything green is linked with cash) and energy (one of those ‘up’ scents)
  • Coffee: stimulates the mind (morning cup as aromatherapy, nice!), heals you make decisions
  • Rose: love (it’s associated with both the planet and the goddess Venus), peace and beauty
  • Orange: purification (citrus is the other biggie in cleaning scents), joy and energy
  • Chamomile: sleep, meditation and peace (how often has someone suggested chamomile tea when you’re nerves are frayed? exactly!)
  • Melon: promotes healing and health (take a deep breath before your next slice of cantaloupe or honeydew to get the full effect)
  • Lavender: love, peace and the conscious mind (it’s a thinking scent, relaxing you into new thoughts and ideas)

What do you think: how important is scent to our well-being, our productivity or our ability to shape our future? Have you ever dabbled in aromatherapy or do you regularly light incense or spritz an atomizer before you begin a yoga practice or get down to work?