Our sense of smell

Have you ever had the experience of smelling something and being transported back to another time in your life?

For me the smell of sweet peas is linked to a memory of returning home from summer camp when I was 14 years old. I was desperately home sick for the entire two weeks.  My mom put a vase of sweet peas in my bedroom and the sweet floral smell filled my room as I fell asleep that night in my own bed. To this day, the smell of sweet peas evokes a “there’s no place like home” feeling for me.

Smell is the most direct of our senses (Source). No other sense has such immediate access to the brain and to our own personal museum of memory.

Since the 1920s, scientists believed that humans were capable of detecting about 10,000 different scents.  It was only recently that scientists discovered humans can detect more than 1 trillion different smells! (Source)

So what exactly happens when we smell?

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Here is a very simplified explanation.

A scent is made up of chemical molecules. When you smell your morning coffee, the molecules of its fragrance travel up your nostrils where they arrive at the olfactory epithelium –a pair of dime-sized mucus-covered patches containing olfactory receptors.

When a fragrance molecule interacts with a receptor, it fires a signal to the brain’s olfactory bulb or smell center.

The olfactory bulb communicates smell information from the nose to the limbic system, our most ancient and primitive part of the brain, which is thought to be the seat of emotion and memory. Smell perceptions are also dispatched to the cortex (where cognitive recognition occurs) only after the deepest parts of our brains have been stimulated.  So, by the time you have correctly named a particular scent, like sweet pea, the scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering more deep-seated emotional responses. (Source)

When you smell a fragrance for the first time, your brain will register not only the smell but the emotions you feel, and the people, place and/or event associated with the smell.

Aromatic Consultation

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As an aromatherapist, I am fascinated with our sense of smell – particularly our perception of a scent which is very personalized – and its effect on our mood and emotions. Creating a signature scent, like the one that I created for XO Treatment Room, is a thoughtful and unique experience for both me and the client. “Everyone should be doing this!

For an aromatic consultation, email me at 1912aromtherapy@gmail.com

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