Why does a distinct aroma become so inspiring? How can something so fleeting as the scent of spring lilacs make such a lasting impression? It’s because our physical sense of smell is powerfully and inextricably tied with memory, more so than sight, sound and touch.
If you see a photo of a campfire, hear someone describe that fire or are only able to feel the warmth of the fire’s flames, you won’t be impressed nearly as effectively if you unexpectedly caught a whiff of sweet wood smoke on the quiet, evening breeze.
Think about where you’re mentally transported to when you smell cool rain on hot pavement, a bouquet of red roses, freshly baked bread or recently cut pine. Chances are you have a distinct memory waiting to be spontaneously triggered by scents like these.
The aroma and memory link is so powerful because our sense of smell is the only one of our five senses that is directly connected to the central nervous system. The nasal bulb, an area of densely packed neural receptors, sits near the center of our heads behind the nasal cavity and interfaces with the brain. Conversely, our experience of the world through our eyes, ears and fingertips is a much more remotely processed affair, with the information moving through great lengths of nerves and many connections before it is finally relayed to, and interpreted by, the brain.
It makes sense then, that if we were able to consistently tie our visual and auditory experience of the world with a distinct aromatic experience, the visual and auditory data could be much more effectively processed, retained and recalled.
The inspiring and memorable aromas of the botanical world are due to essential oils, the essences plants manufacture to perform functions like attracting pollinators, warding off disease and deterring predators. Essential oils are extracted from plants using steam distillation. They are completely natural, widely available, and can be great tools for stimulating mental clarity and the enhancement of memory.
The oil most associated with memory is rosemary. Consider Ophelia's quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, pray, love, remember…” Part of this regard may be due to rosemary’s bracing, fresh-herbal aroma. The scent invigorates and refreshes while it stimulates the mind. Try occasionally sniffing a small bottle of rosemary essential oil while studying for an exam. Then, before the test, place two to three drops on your pencil so that during the exam, the aroma might rouse your recall and up your test score.
Sweet basil is great to diffuse at your desk when that inevitable post-lunch lethargy starts to sap your productivity. It’s as easy as placing two to three drops on a sticky note and positioning it near the exhaust fan of your computer.
Bergamot orange is loved by almost everyone who smells it, and the scent can inspire fantastic brainstorming sessions. Combine five to six drops per ounce of water and make a mist to occasionally spritz the atmosphere during your next meeting.
Peppermint oil is regarded as a cephalic oil — it's associated with the head, brain and nervous system. Use your fingertips to massage a single drop into the temples to clear the mind and dispel tension.
You might be in the habit of fueling mental clarity and alertness with cup after cup of coffee. That's fine, but perhaps not as interesting, inspiring or delightful as the beautiful scents and extraordinary benefits provided by pure, botanically derived essential oils. Try infusing your old work routine with some new clarity today.