Our senses are always on the job! Sight, sound, taste, touch and smell are our most important tools for learning about the world around us. Our senses are often collecting information that we don’t even think about, unless we focus our attention on any one of them specifically. Also, if we experience the loss of one or more of them (e.g. after a brain injury) we might notice the impact of not having it (ever lost your sense of smell or taste with a head cold?)
Our sense of smell
Smell is an important sense and can remind us of memories. One of my fond school memories was smelling the scratch and sniff stickers that my primary school teacher used to put in my workbooks when I had satisfactorily completed my work. It made the experience of positive feedback from my teacher all the more enjoyable to be able to scratch off the surface of the sticker, lean in and down to the pages in my book and smell deeply, the rich, often fruity scent, that lay underneath. It’s something that I would do repeatedly whenever I revisited those pages in my workbooks. Do you have any positive memories that are associated with your sense of smell?
What Is Mindful Smelling?
Mindful smelling is using our sense of smell to be more aware of our present-moment experience and environment. Of course, memories and important information can also be attached to and triggered by smells, because the smell and memory centres in the brain are inter-connected. This capability can provide another tool for learning new material, as well as recognizing and regulating emotional responses that may be triggered by a sense memory.
Think about one of your favourite smells and see if you can describe (in 3-5 words) any feelings that are associated with the smell. Now think about any memories it triggers in your mind. For me, smelling a rose evokes feelings of calm, joy, happiness and curiosity. The memories that accompany it are pleasant and are associated with people in my life who also enjoy smelling flowers in their garden.
Mindful smelling can be a focussing tool that helps to focus your attention. As you slow down to mindfully pay attention to distinct aromas, you practice taking in new information whilst cultivating a sense of patience, acceptance and non-judgement. Being more mindful with your sense of smell can interject our otherwise automatic mental processes that may render a smell as offensive without further opening up to it and considering it fully. By ‘staying with’ your smell observations, it gives you an opportunity to be more fully engaged in what you are doing and to reflect on your experiences in the moment, which can enhance your sense of self-awareness and self-control.
Select a time in your day to give it a try
The next time you stop to smell the roses (literally), or hold your coffee or cup of tea under your nose, or smell the aromas when you cook try these few steps:
a) Close your eyes and slowly inhale – notice any sensations in the body (e.g. warm air passing through your nasal passages, tingling sensations in your nose) that are associated with the act of smelling
b) Mindfully pause – take a moment and rest your awareness on the present-moment experience of smelling – describe in a few words how the smell affects your emotions, thoughts and body sensations
c) Identify any memories it triggers – notice any pleasant and/or unpleasant memories and simply open up and accept these images without judgment, criticalness or passion
d) Re-focus- bring your attention back to the act of smelling, open your eyes and continue with your day in a mindful way.
Practicing focused awareness with our sense of smell, can help to broaden our ability to observe and enjoy our experiences more fully and also bolster our ‘feel good’ chemicals, such as dopamine, in the brain. Mindfully attend to your smells whenever you can! If you would like some assistance with mindfulness, please contact us here and one of our experienced psychologists will be able to assist.
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