The mindful way to stop and smell the roses
By Luke Vorstermans
This is not a blog about why you should stop and smell the roses. I mean, you should heed that advice for your own health and well being, but I want to bring your attention to what it is that you are actually doing when you are engaged in smelling those roses.
Sitting smack in the middle of your face is your unadorned, and under-appreciated nose – your sense of smell. I won’t get into all the dynamics of how the scent of a rose delivers that, “Aaaaaah” sigh of scent pleasure, but there is something you should know about your sense of smell that will bring a new, elevated relationship with this enigmatic sense.
eHere’s the thing. There’s no quicker or easier pathway to present-moment mindfulness than deliberating taking a momentary pause to smell something. This simple activity -- something you already engage in frequently throughout the day -- has the power to transform your world. You just need to know how it works and use that knowledge to bring your inner being into your outer world.
There is no hocus pocus or sleight-of-hand here. It’s simple, basic human sensory behavior responding to the stimulus it receives. When you become aware and understand what you’re already doing unconsciously, your sense of smell opens a pathway to present-moment mindfulness. A deliberate, mindful whiff delivers your focus to the present moment. You cannot smell something and not be wholly in the present moment. Just try it! And it is in those moments of awareness where the power of healing, balance and empowerment lie.
Here is a simple exercise that will help you understand the power of your olfactory sense and its helpfulness in meditation and mindfulness practices, and as a tool to help manage your moods. While you can think through this exercise, if you really want to engage with it, find something to smell. A rose is perfect. But any pleasing aroma will do.
Find a comfortable spot. Relax, and close your eyes. When you’re ready, bring the rose to your nose and slowly inhale. Put all of your attention on the scent as it streams through your nostrils. As you inhale, you’ll feel your body relaxing but stay focused on the scent. Your mind will go quiet. When you reach the transition point to the exhale, hold that moment to let any residual scent settle. Now, slowly exhale and repeat.
Take the time to thoroughly enjoy this activity a few times. Remember, the exercise is to create awareness of your sense of smell, so there’s no need to fuss over breathing techniques, sitting positions, or hi-tech clothing. Just put your focus on the scent as it passes through your nose.
Since birth, your smell receptors have data-based every scent that passed through your nostrils in an area of the brain that is the size of a postage stamp. So, if in this exercise you were smelling something familiar, let’s say a rose, unless it was the first rose you ever smelled, your emotional response to the scent was on auto-pilot. You knew what the rose would smell like from previous experience and because it was pleasurable, you keep coming back to smell them. That’s the attraction of roses! We believe their scent is their blessing to the smeller, but spoiler alert: roses could care less about the people who smell them. They are only interested in attracting pollinators.
Let’s examine what happens at the transition point… that ‘layover space’ between inhaling and exhaling. From a breathing perspective, the entire inhale is a springboard for the exhale. Our breathing is unconscious of course, but when we deliberately smell something, we add a layer of scent. Within those two or three seconds of inhaling, we trigger millions of smell receptors to activate the associated emotional memory. At the point of transition, all that physical and emotional energy created by the inhale and the scent, is ready to explode into expression through the exhale.
Presumably, contained within the reactive exhale to smelling a rose, would be an “aaaah!” of sheer delight. We usually engage for another two or three whiffs of smelling pleasure, and then move on. But that’s just Smelling 101. There are much deeper layers to unwrap and explore.
When you deliberately take the time to smell and make them mindful moments, you become aware that you control the transition point. In that moment of mindfulness you can consciously decide how you will empower your exhale. Remember, the “aaaah!” is a reactive response based on your conditioning. You could choose to disrupt the automatic reaction and create a new response, i.e. “This scent brings calming to my world”. But that requires overriding your habitual response; not an easy thing to do! But you could empower the transition point by arriving there without any preconditioned responses, i.e. smelling an entirely new scent that your smell receptors have no association with.
With this simple exercise you can quickly see the potential that’s available when smelling becomes a mindful act. With every breath you take, odors flood your smell receptors with information. How you respond to that information will determine your experience.
Now that you have a better understanding of why your sense of smell is a powerful ally in mindfulness, in the next blog you’ll discover why your sense of smell is at the root of your emotional being.
Luke Vorstermans has been lost in the world of scent since meeting his muse in 2008. His research and mindful meditations on the power of our sense of smell to bring mindfulness and a readily-available tool to manage our emotions. www.sniffngoaromas.com
Breaths comes in pairs except for two times in our lives – the beginning and the end.