by Brad C. Davis, Mercury Learning Systems LLC
Olfactory stimulation can change our brain waves and mood in powerful ways. Certain types of stimulation like food smells tend to influence our thoughts in ways that are not conducive to learning. Chemical smells from air fresheners, perfume, and even some essential oils can also be distracting to the point where they inhibit our brain's ability to concentrate properly for learning.
Olfactory Stimulation Forms Powerful Memories
Studies were done on the effects that certain scents have on our brain chemistry and its tie to our moods and emotions. It's a fascinating subject. I know a gentleman who owns an aroma therapy company. He works with major hotels, resorts and casinos. His aroma systems emit pre-selected scents in the environment that are reported to stimulate certain moods in visitors. For example, at one resort, his system releases a special "tropical blend" in the lobby that invokes noticeable happy festive moods in its patrons. He's making a living simply by triggering people's olfactory senses and making them feel more happy!
A Little Science behind Olfactory Stimulation
When we breathe in an aroma, the particles that make up the aroma are detected by the part of our brain that governs our emotions. Often, this has an instantaneous effect on our moods and emotions. Some experts tell us inhalation is the most direct route between the outside world and our brains.
How our Sense of Smell is Important for Learning
Our right brains have the ability to trigger extremely fast memory recall and other accelerated abilities. In many children, this potential goes untapped or underdeveloped because the pathways between their right and left brains haven't been properly stimulated to form strong connections.
When working with our children, it's important to incorporate the correct kinds of stimulation that create positive memory associations. And, when we consider scents, we don't necessarily want the smell of burnt toast, for example, to be associated with their math studies. It's much more effective to have the gentle scent of rosemary in the air, which is one scent that stimulates calm and alertness. See below for a list of scents that stimulate positive states of mind.
An Olfactory Stimulation and Brain Strengthening Exercise for Your Baby
A fantastic way of stimulating brain connections in babies is gathering the essences of flowers, herbs, wood, etc. and placing them inside small labeled bottles. Be creative but don't mix two essences together - they need to be pure essences of one item per bottle. It can be as little as a drop per bottle. We just need a gentle aroma.
When your baby is in a happy, receptive mood, sit in front of him/her and announce, "We're going to smell some scents together." Open one of the bottles, smell it yourself and tell your baby what the scent is, then put the bottle under your baby's nose and tell him/her what it is again. Close the bottle and open another, doing the same. Do as many as you can while keeping your baby's attention. Stop when he/she shows any disinterest or looks uncomfortable. (We made a box of over 40 different scents for our children. They absolutely loved this exercise!)
So, in short, your child's learning environment should be free of all smells that can distract their focus and concentration. Include aromas that can enhance the learning experience in a positive, memorable way. Some essential oils can be helpful olfactory stimulation if used properly.
The Best Essential Oils for Learning
Below is a list of oils that have been known to stimulate the brain's learning functions. This information comes from: Essential Science Publishing, "Essential Oils Desk Reference".
Frankincense. This oil stimulates the limbic system of the brain as well as the hypothalamus, pineal and pituitary glands. It has also been used to relieve depression.
Rosemary. This helps clarify the mind and emotions.
Peppermint. This is used to awaken the mind and heighten the senses. It is one of the best oils to boost energy, creativity and learning skills.
Vetiver. This oil provides a grounding, stress-relieving and calming action for the mind. It is also used to relieve depression and helps children with ADD and ADHD to focus and learn.
To use these oils, inhale a drop or two from cupped hands or use a diffuser to spread the fragrance through your room or house.
If used topically, put a drop on the back of the neck at the base of the skull. This is the most effective place to apply oils for clear thinking and learning.