smelling exercises: 5 posts

Olfactory Training May Reduce The Risk of Dementia

I’ve always heard while working in the perfume industry that the incidence of brain-degenerative diseases among perfumers is fairly low. Given the amount of effort our brain expends during smelling, it seemed reasonable that this activity helps to stave off the processes that ultimately lead to dementia. However, a number of recent clinical studies reveal that this is not merely anecdotal evidence and that there is a link between improving our sense of smell with training and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In their article Bolstering our sense of smell may reduce the risk of dementia, The Guardian shares these findings. First, it’s important to note that a deterioration in one’s sense of smell is an early sign of Alzheimer’s and other dementia conditions. While the decline happens gradually, when it sets in and becomes obvious, it’s too late to address it. Which is why monitoring your ability to smell should be part of your constant health routine, the way we address our vision and hearing.

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Putting Scents Into Words : Smelling Exercises

Describing aromas can be difficult. We’re used to associating a scent with something concrete–an orange, a rose, a steaming bowl of pasta, so when we encounter even a familiar smell disconnected from its source, we are lost for words. Orange smells like an orange, right? Yet, the more one smells, the more one tries to put scents into words, the easier it becomes. In this post, I would like to put together the videos I’ve recorded of basic smelling exercises that teach how to sharpen one’s sense of smell and to put scents into words. I’d like to have everything in one place for reference and also to add extra notes to each demo.

Why does putting scents into words matter? First, by describing a smell to yourself, you memorize it more easily. This scent memory bank, or olfactory vocabulary, if you will, will help you to recognize scents faster and to recall them at will. Second, any sensory experience is enriched when more than one sense is stimulated, and the ability to describe smells will make your olfactory perceptions richer and will heighten your enjoyment overall, be it the enjoyment that comes from savoring a glass of wine, a piece of cake or from taking a walk in the park. So, let’s start!

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Exercises to Sharpen Sense of Smell : Cloves and Roses

Starting one’s morning by smelling consciously is the best and the easiest way to sharpen your sense of smell. I’m sure that many of you who are reading this blog on a regular basis are already using your nose to its full potential, but if you would like to improve your olfactory vocabulary, distinguish scents better and learn to smell with more focus, I would like to share short videos with professional tips. The sense of smell becomes less acute with age, but by introducing such exercises into our routine, we’re ensuring that our noses remain as sensitive as can be possible given our genetic makeup and lifestyle. I’ve already posted a video on the basic principles of smelling in Bois de Jasmin’s YouTube channel, and the next installments will cover different techniques in more detail–smelling in images, looking for nuances in scents, etc.

This is a typical exercise I use in the morning. I pick anything scented–it can be a box of spices, a packet of coffee or a blotter dipped into an essential oil and think of images it evokes. It’s easier to do this exercise blindly (place spices in unmarked jars and smell with your eyes closed), but even if you know what you’re smelling, try to think only of the smell. What does it evoke? What does it smell of (other than the object you’re smelling)? It helps to write down your impressions, and if you like, you can share them in the comments here.

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A Classical Experiment : How to Learn to Smell Better

In my September 2018 newsletter, I shared an experiment with three perfume classics. While re-reading the Odyssey (see my fall reading list), I was inspired to turn to another favorite book, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. I lingered over the scene when the sultry red-haired witch enticed women with the promise of “Guerlain, Chanel No. 5, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, evening gowns, cocktail dresses...”  Why not revisit them, I thought?

I decided to devote a few days to each perfume, wearing it every day and studying it closely. I also applied the three perfumes on blotters and kept them within reach to smell as often as I remembered, noting down the changes in scent and its intensity. In my newsletter, I proposed that you also do the experiment with these perfumes, but on reflection, you can repeat it with any fragrance you like. I recommend classics, because they are usually complex and they have elements that you’ll find in modern fragrances. It’s like reading The Odyssey to understand the famous tropes of Western literature.

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Smelling Exercise : Perfume Around You

In Workout for the Nose : How to Improve Your Sense of Smell I outlined several exercises that will improve your sense of smell. They are guaranteed to give results if you devote at least some time to smelling consciously. But  as I’ve found in my own training, the best results come from doing these exercises with someone else. Not only do you get more motivated to follow through, but you also learn from the observations of others.

chestnuts

So, let’s devote this week to the most basic–and the most effective–smelling exercise. It involves noting the scents you encounter in your day-to-day life and writing them down at the end of each day this week. We can then comment on each other’s fragrant experiences, share our own, and learn to use our noses more often.

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