In today’s lesson, we’ll be focusing on the sense of smell and just how connected it is to your mood, well-being and most importantly for our purposes, memories stored deep inside your brain. To give an example on an emotional level, I’ll share a quick story about my daughter, who had a traumatic birth and lasting emotional issues around separation that stem from her abrupt entry into the world.
There was a mystery that occurred on laundry day each week. I’d just dump all of the dirty clothes from the hamper into the wash, but when it came time to fold the clothes from the dryer, I noticed that most of my shirts I’d worn during the week were missing from the clean wash. After a few weeks, while helping my daughter clean her room, I found a huge pile of my dirty shirts cut to shreds underneath her bed. I was confused, angry and very worried. When I asked her about them, she said she liked to hold them when she wasn’t with me because they smelled like me. She went and got her backpack and pulled out scraps of my clothing from all of those little pockets that don’t get much use. She thought she was in trouble. I hugged her reassuringly and we came up with a plan that did not include taking the majority of my wardrobe. Then we laughed together at the thought of me taking her to school without a shirt.
That night, alone in my bed, I thought about my own memories and the smells associated with them — I love the smell of mulch because it’s a sign that spring and summer are really going to happen. I hate the smell of salty seaweed because it takes me right back to a very difficult breakup. Whether it’s an aroma that evokes a person, event, or a place, our sense of smell transports us to a moment in time buried deep in our brains and in our emotional lives.
Today’s exercise is a collaborative effort from us here at Design*Sponge and the experts at Aveda. We’re going to take advantage of that olfactory expressway to our brain and use our sense of smell to develop good habits that help us with self-care rituals. Click through for a printable pocket guide to aromatherapy and this week’s short exercise that will have you working hand-in-hand with your sense of smell to train your brain and empower your senses. –Caitlin
Our Beauty of Self-Care series is made possible with support from one of our favorite companies, Aveda. Please join Design*Sponge and Aveda each Tuesday at 1 pm for some self-exploration + exercises to build good habits and instill positive self-care into your everyday routine. We couldn’t be more thrilled to work on this content side-by-side with a company that shares our values and has such a thoughtful approach to self-care and beauty.
Image above: Rifle Paper Co. Lookbook collaboration between Rifle’s Anna Bond + Brooklyn-based floral design and D*S alumni Amy Merrick. Circa 2013
Most of us are aware of the concept of Aromatherapy as the practice of using the natural oils extracted from flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots or other parts of a plant to enhance psychological and physical well-being. The inhaled aroma from “essential” oils is widely believed to stimulate brain function and has a long, storied history.
The “father of medicine,” Hippocrates is said to have practiced aromatherapy (before it was dubbed so) for healing purposes. Even Greek mythology claims the gods were gifted with the knowledge of perfume and fragrance.
Essential oils can also be absorbed through the skin, where they travel through the bloodstream and can promote whole-body healing. The Tulasāra™ kit from Aveda harnesses this power and is the perfect way to add ritual and meditation to your daily routine. I shared my morning ritual with the Radiant Oleation oil and brushing technique last week here. On other occasions, I center my ritual around other scents depending on my mental and skincare needs. I tend to use the Calm formula at least once weekly. Of course, the Tulasāra™ formulas incorporate specific oils into each. Guy Vincent, the Head of Aveda Pure-Fume Aroma, gave us the rundown on the fragrant essential oils he chose for each tulasara concentrate.
For the Tulasāra™ Radiant Oleation Oil, Guy used three key oils: organic rose, jasmine, and geranium.
The Tulasāra™ Firm Concentrate features a renewing aroma, comprised of organic patchouli, vetiver, and ylang ylang.
The Tulasāra™ Bright Concentrate is a “camphoracious” blend with spike lavender. Guy says “It’s like clutching a handful of wild and precious herbs.”
For the Tulasāra™ Calm Concentrate he chose a soothing aroma of organic chamomile, clary sage, and neroli, which is meant to evoke the experience of sitting on one of your favorite chairs, clutching a chamomile tea, wrapped in a blanket.
Our giveaway is still open until this Sunday at midnight, so leave a positive comment in the Comments section to be entered to win a Tulasāra™ kit. We’ll pick three winners next Monday morning!
Here’s today’s 10-minute exercise:
Step 1: Gather a highly fragranced source like a lemon, or if you prefer a floral, stop by the market and look for a bouquet of fragrant lilies.
Step 2: Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed for 5 minutes. Leave your devices in another location or silence them.
Step 3: Place the fragrant source in your lap.
Step 4: Place your hands on your belly or chest and take 5 deep breaths — inhaling through your nose while visualizing your breath rising from your belly, to your chest, and finally curling over your head to your forehead.
Step 5: Exhale as loud as you’re comfortable with through your mouth. Repeat this 5 times.
Step 6: Raise the fragrant source from your lap to a spot level with your heart and bend your head towards it so your nose is close to the source.
Step 7: Smile! (Even if you don’t feel like smiling) and repeat the breath exercise, taking in the scent of your fragrant source.
Step 8: Say a positive mantra in your head on your inhales. For example, “I am practicing self-care” or “This smell is just for me.”
Step 9: Relax your breath and continue breathing in the scent for as long as you can or are comfortable with.
Step 10: Check in with the smell a few quick times during the day and evening and smile.
Step 11: Take a break from the check-ins for one day.
Step 12: On Day 3, repeat the exercise and include a mantra that focuses on something you need, like “I need strength now,” or “I need calm now.” Note how you feel and if you experience any sensory déjà vu. If you don’t, don’t be discouraged. Keep practicing each day and explore different scents and oils, each with their own mantra you create. One day soon you’ll be squeezing a lemon or see a lily and smile to yourself. And you’ll know exactly why you’re smiling.
By doing this exercise, you’re connecting a smell with a positive affirmation so it becomes a trigger for your brain. Each time you smell that scent, your brain will return a sense of calm or strength or whatever you’ve chosen to cultivate. Think of it as an input/output process. You are evoking a psychological and physiological response that you can invoke at will.
Download our Aromatherapy Pocket Guide right here and keep it handy for your essential oil shopping!