Thinking about smell: the power of three

I went to see a mindfulness and meditation trainer several months ago.  I consulted with her about the link between mindfulness and smell training, and I will discuss more about that in another post. She asked me this interesting question: what is the one thing that you think helped you the most in your smell training and recovery?

It was a good question with a lot of answers. I suppose I could say it was getting the habit that helped. Or setting myself challenges. Or perhaps finding a way that I could judge whether or not I was making progress (all of these things contributed).  But the real answer that underlies all these things is simple: thinking about smell.

As I considered this, I realised that thinking about smell is something that happens on so many levels. There is scientific evidence to suggest that just *thinking* about lemons for instance fires the same parts of your brain as if you were *smelling or tasting* a lemon. That is a very powerful notion, because those with smell loss will have fewer signals going to the part of their brain that governs olfaction, and these will eventually become dormant through underuse. The thinking may therefore in itself be a therapy.

So thinking about smell is so important, both in a general sense and when you are training. Smell training needs to be done with your full attention, and when you smell something, you really need to “peer down into it”. I have had to start using this expression because I can’t think of a better way to put it. Smells you are training with need examining closely.  You need to linger there and wait for things to develop. If you take a whiff and don’t experience anything, linger longer. Go “looking” for that smell.

A great way to focus on the character of something you are trying to understand smell-wise is to smell things in threes. I try to do this as often as I can. You’ve seen the photograph heading this blogpost, but I encourage you to try things in threes that interest you. Maybe you should be comparing different kinds of crisps. Or juices. Or different kinds of honey. Or nuts. Try each one and then switch back and forth--either smelling or tasting. Keep swapping around and look for the subtle differences between the two. Maybe there aren’t any for you. But even if you don’t immediately see the difference, you will have spent a few minutes looking, and that is the most important part of the exercise.