The Aroma-Memory Phenomenon

Seeing as next Tuesday is Remembrance Day, it is a perfect time to reflect upon how aromas can increase access to unconscious thoughts, feelings and memories. When people inhale aromas, they have an immediate reaction to the scent. Sometimes it is a body sensation, image, thought, sound or emotion. How can aromas create so many different reactions? The answer lies in our Limbic System.

The Limbic System is a unique structure in the human brain. It connects several areas in the brain responsible for the recognition and processing of emotions, thoughts, human drives and wants (yes, that includes sex), creative abilities, learning and memories.   And aroma has a direct connection to the Limbic System through the olfactory bulb in the brain. Olfaction means smell, so when we inhale an aroma, the aroma molecules first enter the brain at the olfactory bulb for processing. These molecules are then sent as a bio-electrical impulse to the Limbic System.   And from there, they can immediately affect and influence any of the areas of the brain which are connected via the Limbic System.

This is why some people have several reactions to certain smells. For instance, Rose may remind them of an auntie who used Yardley’s Old Roses soaps and powders. They can see her in their mind’s eye and “smell” her. Depending upon their relationship, this memory may bring comfort or discomfort! Some churches use Frankincense and this aroma may remind the person of a funeral or some other religious occasion. They see the funeral proceedings in their mind’s eye and recall how they felt being there. Depending upon their relationship with the deceased or others at the event, the aroma may bring a sense of peace or unsettledness. Most citrus aromas are associated with fun, candies and good times!

With one whiff of an essential oil, you can be transported to a world of fantasy, folklore or familiar times and places. This “escape” can provide you with a moment to relax and recharge. This is why so many people enjoy an aromatherapy massage. Not only do you get the benefit of the massage itself, but your unique blend of essential oils can transcend your daily worries, aches and pains or sense of overwhelming responsibility. Not forever, but just long enough for you to re-set your stress meter and take on the world again!

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