Have you ever stopped to consider the role that your sense of smell plays in your daily life? While it may be easy to take this particular sense for granted, the truth is that it is vital to our growth as humans. Smell enriches our lives by providing enjoyment through food and perfume and is vital in keeping us healthy and safe.
Our sense of smell is a unique and complex process that involves the work of specialized sensory cells called olfactory sensory neurons. These neurons are located in a small patch of tissue high inside the nose and connect directly to the brain. Each neuron has one odor receptor stimulated by microscopic molecules released by environmental substances.
The brain receives messages from these neurons and identifies the specific smell. With more smells in the environment than receptors, any given molecule may stimulate a combination of receptors, creating a unique representation in the brain and registering it as a particular smell.
Smells can reach the olfactory sensory neurons through two pathways: the nostrils or a channel that connects the roof of the throat to the nose. When we chew food, the aromas reach the olfactory sensory neurons through the second channel.
Using Your Nose
One of the primary functions of our sense of smell is to alert us to potential environmental dangers. The olfactory receptors in our noses are finely tuned to detect airborne chemicals that could indicate fire, gas leaks, or other hazardous situations. In fact, research shows that people with a decreased sense of smell may be at a higher risk for accidents or injury due to a lack of early warning signals.
Smell also helps to protect us from harmful substances and toxins. Our sense of smell can detect spoiled or rotten food, smoke, or even mold, preventing us from consuming or inhaling potentially harmful substances. A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that individuals with a strong sense of smell were less likely to experience food poisoning because they could detect the presence of spoiled food more efficiently. That’s right– people with a good sense of smell are basically superheroes!
The Emotional Necessity of Our Sense of Smell
Beyond protecting us from danger and toxins, our sense of smell also plays a vital role in our emotional and mental well-being.
Think back to your fondest memories. Was there a particular scent that stood out? Perhaps the aroma of freshly baked cookies or the scent of the ocean. Smells can uniquely trigger memories and emotions crucial to our experiences.
Smell is so closely linked to our emotional and mental states that it has even been used in therapeutic practices, such as aromatherapy, to help improve mood and reduce stress. Scents like lavender, chamomile, warm linens, and various other fancy scents lining the aisles of a candle store are ideal for creating relaxing-smelling spaces in one’s home.
Many witchcraft practitioners rely on certain herbs’ scents to manifest their spells. Insects like bees are attracted to the floral aroma of flowers to continue their pollinating mission. All of this is to say: our sense of smell is essential for our emotional regulation and health.
Take Embodied Alchemy to the Next Level
Our senses are what keep us aware of the world around us. Many of the world’s dangers can increase without senses like smell, touch, sound, taste, or sight. Learn to appreciate your senses for what they are, and you may be able to see a new universe not yet tapped by others around you. Find a center with your sense of smell, and watch everything start to smell better, one meditation at a time.