It is through the sense of smell that we gather messages about the environment around us. We are attuned to our environment with every breath we take by the automatic function of smell that detects dangers, food, and other people. (Think about common phrases we use – “I smell trouble in the air!” “Did you get wind of that?” “She is a breathe of fresh air.” “It stinks that we can't have the day off”) Our noses are like little radars that can detect odors from a distance (which can give us advanced warning of spoiled food, broken sewer lines, baking pies, and so forth). Our sense of smell plays a powerful role in the way we recognise each other, are attracted to mates, recall memories and even warnings about the environment around us.
There are studies that assert that physical attraction itself may literally be based on smell. The importance of scent-communication is often underestimated because it occurs on such a unconscious level. The sense of smell affects such things as the ability to taste and the proper functioning of a human's immune system. Steiner asserted that things around us reveal themselves and their nature through smell. Whereas the lower four senses tell give us information about our own body, the middle four senses give us information about another’s body and surrounding environment.
I love looking at the science of the senses. The organ of the sense of smell is the olfactory mucosa at the root of the nose. The sense of smell is considered a chemcial sense become of the chemical nature of what we experience through the nose. The human nose uses millions of cells to detect nearly 10,000 odors (which is much less than many animals). In fact, the function of smelling is carried out by two tiny odor-detecting patches that are made up of almost five or six million yellowish cells. However, we have nothing on hound dogs! A dog has 220 million of these olfactory receptors and a rabbit has 100 million!
The recognition of smell is immediate. The sense of smell is intimately connected to the parts of the brain that process emotion and associative learning. The sense of smell is a shared reality that we can talk about – such as the smell of bread baking or smoke from a fire. It is interesting to note that we are only able to smell because odor is carried by the element of air. Steiner said every odor held a truth about its originating source.
Smell is the gateway to cellular and body memory. Smells can release memories – in order to identify an odor, we must remember it. We cry with our eyes and nose. Smell is strongly bound to the awareness of body. It can stimulate sympathy or antipathy. Some researchers are looking into the role of olfactory deficits and dysfunctions and its role in depression, migraines, schizophrenics and even eating disorders.
Implications in education:
- be very aware of the quality and “truth” of smells in your classroom environment
- purchase pure essential oils vs. artificial scents
- choose oils to purify the air and support the immune system – lemon, mandarin, tangerine
- oils to support the sense of life – thyme, wintergreen, balsam fir, cedarwood
- be mindful that some children will have allergic reactions to artificial scents
- use any scent sparingly! use lamp rings or a nebulizing diffuser system to prevent skin contact with students, keep oils out of reach of children at all times
- mark the seasons with smells through nature’s natural gifts – flowers and herbs
- as you prepare your environment, be aware of the smell and it’s impact
- keep a notebook of how specific smells impact the dispositions of the children
- begin to notice how your sense of smell tells you of the health and well-being of the children in your care – it is amazing how much we smell illness and upset!
I have researched specific essential oils to help certain students in my classroom. I use a diffuser in these cases. This kind of “nose” treatment is always extremely subtle in its application.
One final thought – often in my classroom I am alerted to trouble brewing by my sense of smell. Steiner said that the sense of smell was connected to the sense of touch. I sometimes wonder – how is it that I do “smell” trouble? Something is in the air that touches my awareness. I think teachers and mothers don't have eyes in the back of their heads – they just have a keen sense of smell! Interesting stuff!