Sensory Saturday: Aroma

Back in massage school, we had one fabulous day with a Chinese Medicine Practitioner who taught us some basics of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). One of the most fascinating parts of her presentation was about the Five Element system, and in particular, the five main smells of the human body.

Pause now (and don’t look down the page yet) and write down what you think are the five main smells we humans emit in this world.  Got ’em down? It’s fascinating to think about, isn’t it?

Okay, are you ready? Here are the five smells according to the Five Element Chinese Medicine system:


Each human being has one or more of these smells emanating from his or her person, regardless of lotions, shampoos, and other scents that may be used on a daily basis. So, what do you say? Are you more of a putrid kind of guy? A rancid sort of gal? Go for it: sniff your significant other, best friend, or co-worker. Is she a little scorched? Is he a little fragrant?

To get a handle on what the smells themselves might be like, here’s an idea:

Scorched is like the smell of old pennies.
Putrid is like the smell of murky water.
Rotten is like the smell of a butcher shop.
Rancid is like the smell of oil that has gone off.
Fragrant is like the smell of flower blossoms turning sour.

TCM Practitioners are trained to be able to smell these odors beneath what we put on our bodies. And each odor corresponds with an element and many other things such as colors, sounds, emotions, seasons, and organs. There is a lovely chart on Mary Zhang’s page here if you want to see each element and the corresponding details. The smells we emit correspond with the state of our wellness.

I’m going to switch gears a bit to some theories from western medicine regarding the scents that we smell in the world (not our body’s smells).

From three different online sources, I found these seven smells:

camphorous (like mothballs)
musky (like perfume/aftershave)
minty (like mint gum)
etheral (like dry cleaning fluid)
pungent (like vinegar)
putrid (like rotten eggs)
rose (like flowers)

Your homework: Activate your nose!  What in your environment smells pungent or musky?  What memories do these smells invoke?  Allow your sense of smell to guide you as you move through the world. What comforts you?  What aggravates you?  What makes you sleepy and calm? What stimulates you?

When we activate all of our senses fully we experience a 3-D perspective of our world. Add your sniffer to the mix and see what happens when you smell your way through your day. What do you notice?


About Courtney Putnam

I first came to healing work through art and writing. Creating collage art and poetry in particular allowed me to deeply understand the benefit of self-expression in the healing process. But, I also began to see the benefit of bodywork (manual work in the form of massage and energywork in the form of Reiki) as keys to unlocking the emotional stresses we hold in our bodies. I became a Reiki practitioner in 2002, received an MFA in Creative Writing in 2003, received my massage license in the spring of 2006, and became a Reiki Master in 2010. In my practice I bring together these three areas -- the body, the mind, and the spirit (or energy body) -- so others may experience profound and positive change in their lives.
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