I can’t smell cinnamon rolls without thinking about my grandmother baking sweet pecan sticky buns in our kitchen. Just catching a whiff of a familiar scent, our brain can transport us back in time, connecting smells to people, places, or experiences from various times of our lives. We can utilize this powerful phenomenon to connect us with the wonders of the world around us. Mindful smelling, using our “olfactory” sense to be more aware of our environment, can help us to carefully observe our world and sharpen our memory, as well as reflect on memories we have that are associated with specific scents.
Although our sense of smell is perhaps one of the most powerful, practicing focused awareness with all of our senses, including smell, taste, sight, sound or touch, helps us strengthen our ability to observe and enjoy simple life experiences. When we slow down and “stop to smell the roses,” we practice taking in new information, appreciating it for what it is, without jumping too quickly to judgement. When we teach our children to mindfully observe, we give them a chance to be fully present in what they are doing; it helps them intrinsically be self-aware, which in turn supports their ability to exert self control. Children will also discover how memories can be triggered by smells, and you can even show them how the smell and memory centers of the brain are in close proximity!
A fun way to explore the power of scent is to pay attention to smells in everyday life: at the park, in the kitchen, at school: Do you notice the smell of a lemon being squeezed into a cup of hot tea? The scent of freshly cut grass? The smell of essential oils diffused in a store? They may notice that the simple smell of challah baking in the oven springs us straight towards the excitement of Shabbat approaching. Parents can talk about how those scents make us feel, and you can exchange stories of memories associated with those smells.
A fun activity to do at home is to do “scratch and sniff” art with “special” paint of coffee, grapefruit juice, or fruit punch. As you explore, your child can identify scents that make them feel energized and those that help them feel calm, and maybe incorporate them into their day to help them feel relaxed or refreshed!
The practice of Mindfulness is to intentionally open ourselves up to be attentive to our surroundings, live in the moment, and, when we share our associations with each scent, it helps develop perspective taking. It also shows children that they can control their own mindset. When children are able to understand their own thinking, they can also see that they can control and even change it. Instead of being imprisoned by negative thoughts, children can be freed by their awareness and understanding of metacognition. By using the strategy of mindfulness they find themselves in control of changing any negative thoughts to positive thoughts and for also appreciating the smallest but sometimes most special part of our lives.
TAMMY KECES IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.