“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”― William Shakespeare
I found myself noticing the scent of the orange blossoms in the air this week. It is one of my most favorite scents and I make sure to stop and smell the small, delicate white flowers on my neighbors’ trees as often as I can. It is a reminder of why our county was named “Orange” and how grateful I am to be living in Southern California.
However, as we march (pun intended) in the direction of Spring, many of us still remember the direct experience of coming down with the flu or that nasty head cold or at least, being around someone that was sick and doing what we could to stay healthy. Then, with Spring, comes the experience of seasonal allergies, when many of us are challenged to take in full, deep breaths without sneezing and are unable to enjoy the Neroli oil in the air. It is not a pleasant time when our nose is inflammed and we are cut off from our natural breath, restricting our connection to our life force energy, and from experiencing all of the wonderful aromas that are blossoming at this time of year.
The connection between our nose as our scent sense organ and the brain is different than our other sense organs. Our senses of sight, hearing, touch, and taste all pass information through the thalmus to the cerebral cortex, allowing thoughts to be a part of our response to the external stimuli. On the other hand, scent data is sent to the olfactory bulbs in our brain, which then relays information to the limbic system, including the amygdala, which is our emotional memory center. And, as we age, our sense of smell, along with our sense of taste, begins to fade as does our memories. And when our sense of smell fades, like when we experience a head cold, life is not as pleasant.
In fact, studies have shown that losing your sense of smell can actually be dangerous, such as when you are unable to detect a gas leak or lose interest in eating. Therefore, below I offer some intention-setting ideas to help maintain the healthy function of your nose and support a full five-sense experience of life:
- Eat more nuts, seeds and dark chocolate!. What do these three food items have in common you might ask – ZINC! If you diet does not include enough daily zinc, it will impact your sense of smell. With meat being a big source of zinc, many of us who are vegetarians or vegans just might be experiencing a zinc deficiency and not know it. Consider adding flax and/or sesame seeds to your morning cereal or shake, eating a handful of dark chocolate covered peanuts and cashews as a mid-day snack and adding pumpkins seeds as a bed time snack (they help you to sleep better at night!) to make sure you are getting enough zinc in your diet.
- Eat only when you’re hungry! Our sense of smell and taste are heightened when we are hungry. Research has shown that olfactory function improved when fasting and demonstrated reduced activity during satiation. All of our body systems are impacted by the nutritional balance and chemical state of the body, including our olfactory system. It serves as an internal sensor, so when we are hungry, our ability to perceive odors is enhanced.
- Invest in an essential oil diffuser or humidifier. Science has begun to focus on experiences that up to this point where mostly anecdotal, like how our sense of smell seems to be sharper when it rains in the spring. Well, the research is now able to confirm that humidity acts as a transporter of smells in the air, bringing the odor molecules to our nose. So the higher the humidity, the more odor molecules in the air, the more intense the scent perceivable to our noses.
- Try using a Neti pot for a week. In Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, this daily nasal cleansing practice is encouraged, similar to and along with teeth brushing and tongue scraping. The warm, saline water washes away any irritants (think air born environmental allergens), reducing inflammation, and moisturizing the sinus passages, once again improving the sensitivity of the olfactory nerves. I recommend this practice if you tend to suffer from allergies or are prone to sinus infections as well.
- Stop and smell the roses. Don’t take your sense of smell for granted. It is a major source of information and pleasure. Since our sense of smell is tied so closely to our emotional experiences, when we lose our sense of smell we may begin to experience more sadness, increasing the risk of depression. Give your sense of smell as much attention as you would your senses of sight and hearing. And, if you are experiencing a decline in your sense of smell, possibly consider exploring more structured retraining of this sense by working with the four scent groupings: flowery (i.e., rose), fruity (i.e., lemon), spicy (i.e., clove), and resinous (i.e., eucalyptus).