Heart-J Stories: The Nose Knows

The Nose Knows
by Terry Burton, Heart-J Center Strategy and Communications Manager

I know you just started reading this, but I want you to stop. Stop, and take a moment to notice what you smell. For example, before I sat down to write, I opened the refrigerator and smelled something -- I’m not sure what -- but it didn’t smell bad, so I didn’t look any further.

I was just outside on this cool and wet morning, and I can faintly smell the outside air that I brought in on my body.

I’m so accustomed to the smells here inside my house that I have to confess that I don’t even notice them anymore; but if you walked into my house, I’m sure you’d notice its own unique olfactory profile.

Broadly speaking, we don’t usually consciously tune into our senses unless something is out of the ordinary. But it’s those ordinary sensory inputs that can have a huge impact on us, whether we realize it or not. We all know how a smell can suddenly bring back a vivid memory -- of all our senses, our sense of smell seems to have a particular power on memory and emotion, whether it makes us feel good or it stresses us out (like a co-worker who insists on reheating fish in the office microwave for lunch). Smell hits us directly in our primal, emotional brain.

Being in nature can definitely have a “feel good” impact on us. Japan and South Korea both have a tradition of what they call “forest bathing,” which doesn’t mean skinny dipping in a river, but rather bathing all our senses in the living space of nature. It’s not just a fluffy idea; scientific evidence supports the healthy benefits of time in nature, including lower blood pressure and decreased levels of cortisol (also known as the “stress hormone”).

One of the ways nature heals us is through our nose. The smell of pine trees sends me instantly to my happy place. I feel relaxed, connected to the world, and disconnected from the noise and stress of daily life. I love being immersed in that fragrance when I’m camping or hiking, or on those summer days when a strong west wind brings a whiff of pine forest scent down here to the city. I always figured that was because I have such wonderful memories of camping and being in nature from a very young age, but it turns out that there’s actual science behind the happiness.

Studies in Japan and South Korea show that exposure to the chemical compounds in pine and other aromatic conifers have measurable health benefits. In controlled experiments, researchers found that the smell of pinene, the major component of the hiroki cypress trees that dominate their forests, lowered subjects’ heart rates, cortisol levels, and blood pressure more than pharmaceuticals. Longer term effects included boosted immunity and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Sign me up!

After this last year, no matter how hard or easy it was on us, we all need the kind of healing that nature can provide. Here at Sylvan Dale Ranch, thousands of acres of healing await. Heart-J Center at Sylvan Dale Ranch has all sorts of fun outdoor programs scheduled -- treat yourself and join us! Come take a walk through the Ponderosa pines and breathe that blood pressure lowering, de-stressing, and anti-anxiety aroma deeply, right into your brain, body, heart, and soul. When you need a refill, come back and explore some more; take in the fresh smell of the Big Thompson River, the rich loamy smell of the damp earth just beginning to imagine spring, the smell of sage. And yes, more pine smell. I can never get enough.

Fun Fact!

The bark of Ponderosa pine trees have a wonderful fragrance as well. To me, some smell like vanilla, and others like butterscotch. The aroma will be stronger if the bark has been warmed in the sun. Try it! And if you see me out hiking around, sniffing a Ponderosa, don’t be surprised. (Although that's not me in the photo!)

Share this post