You know those days when trying to focus is like herding cats? When you’re feeling disconnected, discombobulated, like your head and your body are floating on opposite sides of the room?
Whenever that happens to me, I go for the nearest flower, open window, bottle of essential oils, stick of incense, or richly scented cup of tea.
Why? Because scent, baby. It’s a powerful ally when we're trying to shift our presence back to the present.
The infusion of scent into my awareness coaxes me back into my body - where my fierce lives.Then I can focus again. Be who I choose to be. Do what I choose to do.
What’s so special about a cluster of invisible fragrance molecules?
“Good question!” says the aromatherapist. (Hang in there with the upcoming nerdy science stuff if that’s not your thing. I promise it all makes sense in the end.)
As you inhale an aroma, the odor molecules dance across your olfactory receptors - tiny nerve endings just behind the bridge of your nose. The receptors identify the scent (“Ooohhh chai!”), and nerve cells send this information directly to the brain’s limbic system. In fact, the sense of smell is the only sensory pathway that opens directly into the brain. All other senses are filtered in some way.
How fast does this happen? FAST! Some theories say your brain registers aroma twice as fast as it does pain.
The limbic system is a cluster of functions throughout the brain. It’s networked to your autonomic nervous system - the part of your nervous system that controls stress responses (among many other things) - the “fight or flight” or “rest & digest” reactions.
Once scent reaches the limbic system it can trigger memories and influence emotions and behavior.
See? This is why scent - and aromatherapy - can be such a great ally when we are trying to change patterns or interrupt behaviors we’d rather not be doing.
The limbic system also works with the nervous system, respiratory, circulatory and immune systems of our bodies. All places where the physical repercussions of our emotional beliefs show up. More goodness!
Everyone has a unique response to scent.
It may be related to our spiritual tradition, many of which include scent of some kind. (White sage in some Native American traditions, Frankincense incense in the Roman Catholic church, Sandalwood in Hindu traditions…) Our reactions to fragrance can also be related to scents we have experienced in our past. Remember, scent is one of the strongest triggers of memory.
One of the things we tend to forget is this: our sense of smell is one of our most primal survival senses. We once used it to find food, to sense predators, to predict weather changes. Infants still use it to find their mother’s breast - their source of food and nurturing.
During the nearly 30 years I’ve been teaching and practicing aromatherapy, I’ve witnessed people experiencing states of unity consciousness and feelings of deep presence brought on by inhaling a scent. I’ve witnessed anxious people teaching themselves, with scent as their ally, to find their center, and seen people immobilized by depression work with scent to rediscover their inner fire. I’ve seen women terrified to speak in groups find solid ground and take a stand.
Because of how it works on the brain, scent touches us back into our wildness -- into our pulsing, beating, breathing, hungering, sensual bodies. And who wouldn’t want to experiment with that?
Curious? Have a groovy scent-related story? Please share! Have questions about how to do this for yourself, connect with me.