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Celebrate the New Year with a New You

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Start the New Year with a new you and restore your inner balance for the year ahead. Boost your mental wellbeing and clear your mind of the clutter that has accumulated over the festive period with a few small changes.

 Begin 2019 with a positive outlook, creating small goals, aspirations and challenges to help focus and stimulate your mind.

No matter where you are on your wellness journey, it can be difficult to reduce stress and enhance mental clarity with our busy work schedules and life’s little distractions, but spending time by yourself to refresh can help you feel centred and less anxious. Curl up in an armchair with your favourite book and take time out from your day – for a more immersive experience switch on your aroma diffuser and choose a rich and comforting fragrance.

Our family and friends play an important role in our lives and can impact how we think and feel. By considering their wellbeing, it can have a positive effect on our own. Enhance your family’s wellness by reducing stress and promoting serenity. Spend quality time together, whether you’re catching up over coffee or watching a film – it is important to take time to re-connect with the people we love.

Feeling stressed and anxious?  Create a calming atmosphere to help clear your mind and reset for the rest of your day with Zen on the Go®. Choose your favourite calming essential oil and take time to enjoy the fragrance dispersing from your aroma diffuser.  The ideal way to achieve clarity in the midst of a gruelling day at the office or to soothe your soul whilst on the move.

Enjoy an indulgent moment to truly relax and unwind. Try painting or practicing yoga – do something you really love, to ensure you reset your mind and release your worries to prepare for a new day. If you’re struggling to wind down consider listening to music, taking a bath or switching on your aroma diffuser and immersing yourself in gentle mood lighting and delicate fragrances.

Our quality of sleep can impact our health and wellbeing, affecting our mood and concentration, which in turn can cause unnecessary stress. Start the day feeling nourished and content after a deep and blissful sleep, which can help focus the mind and lift your mood. If you are finding it difficult to drift off, limit how much time you spend on electronic devices before bed and consider using scent to aid your sleep with an aroma diffuser. Let your body relax into a fragrance enriched slumber to soothe and revitalise your mind, body and soul.

Lavender, Ylang Ylang and Cedarwood are all fragrances that promote restful sleep and have a calming effect when you are feeling stressed or worried.

 Take a look at our latest video to see how you can begin a new wellness journey in the New Year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv4Ab5YPGlo

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Why and how should we use a diffuser

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Whether you are a clinical aromatherapist looking at the most effective way for your client to use their prescriptive blend or you’re looking for a safe way of using essential oils around the home or workplace, a diffuser may be the best option.

In its simplest form it allows us to cover unpleasant odours with an aroma more pleasing to our senses. By placing my diffuser in the hallway of our home it freshens the entrance and stimulates the relaxation response when we arrive home.

Using a diffuser to project essential oils into the air around us brings many therapeutic properties, especially when appropriate oils are used. It has been known to be effective in combating headaches and stress, respiratory conditions,  physical and mental fatigue and so much more.

As a mum of three children I find my diffuser invaluable during times of illness. I know as soon as one child comes down with a sickness bug or a seasonal cold, that bug is going to try and run rampant through all members of the family. Nothing sends me running to my diffuser quicker than the risk of catching a sickness bug! I use essential oils that disinfect the air and boost the immune system to help improve the health of my precious family.

Choosing to invest in a diffuser was an easy decision as, having three young children in the house, it made burning candles a risk and as a mother, with a busy hectic life , making sure I had extinguished the candle was something else to think about for my tired mind. We teach our students in The Well School the importance of storing essential oils correctly so that the oils stay unchanged.  Heat, light and oxygen dramatically changes the molecular structure of an essential oils, so burning a candle to release the vapour isn’t the most effective way of using the oils.

When I bought my first diffuser, I chose a bamboo vaporiser from Made By Zen. It was natural looking and subtle in its beauty. That’s where my love of diffusers began.  I have subsequently bought a few other designs; a colour changing one for my treatment room to induce an aroma of relaxation before clients settled on the couch; a beautiful glass one for my office which heals me with clarity and creativity; and then another in the school massage room so that students stay alert for learning. I believe my lovely husband thinks that I have enough vaporisers now, but, like with shoes, a girl can never have enough.

A guest blog by Caren Benstead, school principle of The Well School offering professional accredited aromatherapy diploma online and in-house

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Surviving Christmas Stress

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‘Christmas comes but once a year and when it does it brings good cheer’. Well that’s the theory – in practice the cheery stuff can be in woefully short supply.

Some years it’s not quite the Pinterest-worthy, picture book epitome of Christmas perfection, more a living nightmare where everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

Family members argue and fights break out.  A melee ensues to wrest control of the TV remote as if it were the ‘The Precious’ of Lord of the Rings-fame. The children hate their presents jealously eyeing the ‘much better’ gifts of their siblings.  Despite extensive forward planning, the Christmas meal ends up, not so much a Masterchef marvel, more like something out one of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.  Worse still, over consumption of food and drink becomes rife and tipsy relatives upset all and sundry with inopportune remarks.

Perhaps for some the rhyme would be re-worded – ‘Thanks goodness Christmas comes once a year as when it does it’s a time to fear’.  At times it’s enough to wish you were a bear and just hibernate through the whole thing!

However even if things don’t quite conform to the festive ideal help is at hand! It’s possible to avoid a stressful time by equipping yourself with a Christmas stocking’s worth of stress busting strategies.

Lower expectations
Women in particular, as mothers and hosts, often have high expectations to deliver a perfect Christmas time – placed on their shoulders by the rest of family, but more importantly by themselves.  Remember we aren’t superheroes – whether it be of the Wonder Woman or Superman variety.

It has been called ‘The Problem of Perfection’. Psychologists have identified the constant quest for a flawless state as one which all too often leads to unhappiness.  It is next to impossible to achieve and so perfectionism is bound to lead to disappointment.  So called ’80-percenters’ tend to happier – they are people who lower their expectations to more realistic levels. This type of person is much more likely to meet, rather than falling short of their goals.

Be more present
To elaborate a little more on the perfectionism problem – the perfectionist is never fully present. Their minds are stuffed to the gunnels with unconstructive thoughts.  These are either replays of past events, and especially mistakes, or lists of mental to-do’s, plans and worries about the futures. One place their mind doesn’t go is to the here and now.

Many studies have shown that a sure fire-way to elevate the mood is to be mindful – to be in the present.  So rather than worrying about your Christmas going perfectly to plan or dwelling on the odd misstep – appreciate what’s going on right at this moment. Savour the good things – and don’t agonise about the bad.
Say no

Saying ‘no’ can sometimes be difficult but learning to say this simple two letter word can be one of the best ways to reduce your stress. Invitations may come in thick and fast leading to a feeling of pressure to accept.  However, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything. You’re not being selfish by saying ‘no’ and instead you’ll actually enjoy the things to you do say ‘yes’ to.

…and some practical things
If the Christmas workload makes the whole holiday seem like a hurdle to get over rather than a time of enjoyment – take some practical steps to ease the burden – for example:

  • Shop online – avoid the Christmas rush and get presents delivered to your door
  • Buy in Christmas food rather making it yourself
  • Spread the load – delegate the jobs
  • Don’t do everything at once – a bit at a time is the way to go
  • Try diffusing essential or fragrance oils to help create a calming atmosphere

The true meaning of Christmas – return to ‘happiness’ values
It has become a cliché to decry the fiesta of consumerism that Christmas has become. The fact remains that for many people the amount they spend seems to take precedence over the amount of that fabled ‘good cheer’.

What happened to love, kindness and togetherness? These are often described as embodying the ‘true meaning of Christmas’.  Feelings of wellbeing are much more likely to follow from things that engender and celebrate our human nature as social, gregarious beings.

We weren’t designed to ‘shop till we drop’ –  we were made, however, to enjoy each other’s company – and what better time to do that, than at Christmas!

Wishing you a merry stress free Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Image: ‘christmas candle snowman with lights’
Author: Digidreamgrafix – DigiDreamGrafix.com

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Searching for the Happy Place

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I really, really want to win the lottery. I’m not greedy just two or three million would do.  All the things I’ve ever wanted  would be within my grasp – my dream house, three or four holidays a  year, I wouldn’t have to work – I’d be so happy!!

Or would I?

The Science of Happiness is a fledgling amongst fields of research but has already turned up some very interesting findings. Researchers in Massachusetts tracked the contentment levels of two very different groups –  recent lottery winners and recent sufferers of catastrophic accidents, who were now paraplegic or quadriplegic.

Clearly the moneybags are going to be cock and hoop about life while the accident victims will be thoroughly miserable…won’t they? Actually no, it turns out that what we think we know about happiness often differs from the reality.

The winners did show a happiness spike in the first year following their good fortune while the accident victims displayed a slump in the same period – but after that both groups, more or less, returned to the place they were at prior to their respective strokes of fortune.

Chinese double happiness and longevity symbol

The two groups were asked, to rate the amount of pleasure they obtained from everyday activities – small but enjoyable things like eating a meal, sharing a joke, receiving a compliment, meeting up with a friend. The results showed that the accident victims reported gaining more happiness from these everyday pleasures than the lottery winners.

What this shows is that we have a kind of mental ’immune system’ – that keeps us on an emotional even keel despite the ‘slings and arrows’ that life throws our way.

This was well expressed in 1642 by Sir Thomas Browne.
“I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity, and I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me.”

Which is the happiest place on earth?

The United Nations publishes a yearly World Happiness Index which ranks countries from jumping for joy, at the top to downright miserable at the bottom. In most years Scandinavian nations vie for the top spot – the Danes and Norwegians have a cheery fight amongst themselves for top position on the table. The fact that this report is published at all is a positive development – indicating perhaps the beginnings of a shift in mankind’s priorities – from valuing the accumulation material wealth to the valuing of emotional wealth.  Already the forward thinking nation of Bhutan, has adopted Gross National Happiness instead of Gross Domestic Product as their main development indicator.

New ways are emerging of measuring the all-round health of a nation that hint at this change in thinking.  Sustainability is a relatively recently coined concept and is now being included in a further league table called the Happy Planet Index. This takes into account the cost to the planet of delivering a nation’s well-being.

Citizens in western countries of Europe and America might have relatively high happiness scores – but at a high cost to the plant. Costa Rica, on the other hand, tops the Happy Planet Index. Costa Ricans, in fact, have higher well-being than of those who live in many rich nations, including the USA and the UK, and live longer than Americans. This is achieved with a per capita Ecological Footprint that’s just one third of the size of the USA’s.

To put it simply Americans tend to be happy, but at a high cost to the planet – Costa Ricans also tend to be happy but at a much lower cost to the planet – they are sustainably happy.  Costa Rica is a world leader in environmental protection, resources from the abolished army were relocated to fund social programmes and importantly they have a culture which values social networks of friends and family.

How can we be more like the Costa Ricans – Ways to Happiness

The publishers of the Happy Planet Index have identified five things that we can do in our everyday lives to increase our well-being.

Connect
We are social animals. We were designed to interact with others of our species and to do so make us happy, while a lack of connection contributes to depression. So find time to meet up with friends and family – you’ll be making them happy too!

Be active
There are few things that can improve the mood like exercise.  Most people are able to incorporate a brisk walk (or a least just a leisurely stroll) into their daily routine. If you can carry out the walk in the woods or a park so much the better – being in and amongst nature is yet another proven mood booster.

Don’t think
A lot of our mental activity isn’t constructive, and often has downright negative effects.  Many people go about their daily business with heads that are often crammed to the brink with negative thoughts about the past – which can’t be changed – or thoughts about worrisome futures outcomes which probably won’t materialise.  Clearing your mind of this harmful mental chitter-chatter leaves you in a much happier place – the present. Be aware of what’s going on in your surroundings. Take time to dwell on the little sights, sounds, smells and feelings – be in the moment.

Keep learning
If we make the effort, life can be a continual voyage of discovery – there are always new things to learn, new skills to acquire, new hobbies to dive into.  Taking a keen interest in things, being enthusiastic –  keeping things fresh is a way to oil those wheels of happiness.

Give

Whether it be a small ‘random act of kindness’, doing voluntary work or simply being a good person – doing things for other people is mood enhancer.  Feeling good about yourself – does just that – it makes you feel good!

as the people at Happy Planet Index put it –  happiness need not cost the earth.

…and finally

Smile
The easiest way to give yourself an instant pick-me-up is by the very simple turning up the corners of your mouth – more commonly known as smiling!  Research has shown that smiling is a two-way process. You smile when you’re happy, but equally the very act of smiling sends ‘good vibe’ signals to the brain.

So, to end with a quote from Louie Armstrong –   that esteemed sage of happiness.

When you smilin’, when you smilin
The whole world smiles with you.
Yes when you laughin’ oh when you laughin’
The sun comes shinin’ through.

 

Top image ‘Definition of Happiness.   Nick Youngson – http://nyphotographic.com/

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Lagom – it’s just right

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Lagom

There are two kinds of people – those who believe ‘more is better’ and those for whom ‘less is more’.

For some people, if one pudding is a good thing then ‘double-puds’ obviously results twice in the pleasure!  For others, just the one crème brûlée, is the pathway to optimal dessert-delight.

If you find yourself in the latter camp then you might be Swedish!

Yes, there’s a new Nordic lifestyle trend on the scene. Following hot on the heels of last year’s Danish contribution – hygge – we have lagom. Both attest to a bracing Scandinavian culture that favours simplicity and balance and both resist attempts to find straightforward equivalents in English.  However they are different in crucial ways.

Whereas hygge is something of a transitory concept – an add-on if you like – something brought in to your life during a short break or something worked into each day, lagom is a concept that underpins life as a whole. Lagom is like a pet dog in this respect, not just for Christmas but for life!

Secondly, it’s easy to say! While hygge’s impenetrable cluster of consonants  proved baffling to some English speakers, lagom is a pronunciation doddle. Simply take the ‘lar’ from ‘large’ and add to it a ‘gom’ that rhymes with ‘Tom’ and you’ve got it cracked.

So what is lagom?  In living a ‘lagom lifestyle’ the concept of just enough is valued – not too little, not too much, and so the excesses of consumerism are eschewed along with their close cousins – greed and ostentation.

Other English words that come close to expressing the idea are: ‘in moderation, ‘in balance’, and ‘suitable’. There is also the positive connotation of ‘appropriateness’ but crucially without the negative ones ‘abstinence’, ‘scarcity’ and ‘blandness’.  Possibly the best summation is provided by the Swedish proverb ‘Lagom är bäst’ – ‘the right amount is best’.

The benefits of lagom, both to the individual and the planet, are clear. We are living in a world that often presents a challenging cocktail of contradictions and extremes – so something that points in the direction of a more balanced, happier, less wasteful way of life is very appealing.

At madebyzen we fully endorse the lagom virtues of balance and harmony.

Lagom and sustainability go hand in hand – consider the problem of food waste. Every year households in the UK throw away around £13 billion worth of perfectly edible food. Now imagine if shoppers adopted an attitude of ‘not too much, not little, just right’ – it’s easy to see how the baleful enormity of this mountain of wastefulness could be reduced to a molehill of moderation!

This kind of mind-set can even help people to save money. Something as simple as filling the kettle can become and an exercise in ‘just right’. Try getting in to the habit of filling the kettle to what we could call the ‘lagom level’, now extend this to every aspect of your life and you’ll soon be reaping the monetary rewards.

A lagom lifestyle is healthier too.  Amongst the biggest causes of ill-health, in the west are those caused by over-consumption.  It’s plain to see how the maxim ‘just the right amount’ applied to eating and drinking habits would have profound health benefits. Equally the psychological problems associated with a poor work-life balance – stress and insomnia – would be greatly alleviated by the harmoniousness engendered by a lagom mind-set.

Lagom even informs the world of design – a beautiful, stylish simplicity comes to mind when we think of Scandinavian creations.  This is a visual language seeped in the watchwords – ‘harmony’, ‘balance’, ‘simplicity’ and ‘stylishness’.

So does ‘living lagom’ mean an end to the occasional treat – saying goodbye to a spot of pampering every now and then?  Absolutely not, as totally depriving yourself of these pleasures wouldn’t conform to the ‘not too little’ part of the equation. In fact lagom applies to everything – just the right the amount – even to lagom itself!

Lagom design is stylish, elegant and harmonious – qualities we also value at madebyzen.

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Lavender – what’s not to like!

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Fields brimming with purple abundance – riotous swathes of floral delight. Plum-hued herbs decorating our gardens and patios. A glorious scent filling the air with its heady fragrance, each waft of the breeze delivering us a fresh new bouquet. There’s only one plant it could possibly be – lavender!

If you were able to ‘bottle’ the very essence summer – you’d probably end up with something very much like this remarkable herb.

Lavender flowers from the Summer right through to the Autumn. As well as the familiar mauve-purple flowers there are also pink and white varieties. Above all, lavender is extremely useful and versatile. This is one herb you shouldn’t be without!

What’s more – after several centuries languishing amongst the culinary ‘also-rans’ – it’s back in fashion. To pollinating insects however (being much more sensible) lavender has never gone out of fashion! Bees are magnetically drawn to the nectar-rich bounty.

Even though lavender is a common herb, some of its most useful properties are not well known. It was introduced to Britain by the Romans and was used medicinally in the middle ages. It has been used to cure a range of ailments, from headache relief to protection from the plague.

Lavender is also useful around the house and is still used for scenting laundry. Alan Titchmarsh recommends draping freshy laundered tea towels and tablecloths over lavender bushes so that they pick up a fresh floral fragrance as they dry in the sun. He also suggests dropping a bundle of lavender straw (the dried stems left over after stripping off the flowers) into your pond to help clear the water if it turns green in spring.

If you need something to keep biting insects at bay, which plant makes an excellent natural repellent? – why lavender of course. The ‘lavandin’ variety of lavender is high in camphor which repels bugs. It can be planted near to the seating area in your garden or sited besides windows to deter insects from entering the house.

However, when it comes to actual fragrances, this is one scent most of us are familiar with. Even if you haven’t knowingly encountered the plant itself, you will probably be familiar with its distinctive and unique fragrance. These days it is used in many scented products that are available in the market – skincare, hair care, body care, detergents and of course perfumes.

Lavender essential oil plays a starring role in some of the madebyzen scents. Our Classic Pure Lavender Oil is sourced from Provence, France and is light, floral and fresh. This makes an ideal aromatherapy starter oil. Lavender can help to relax, calm, reduce anxiety, emotional stress and aid restful sleep.

If you’re not yet convinced of the benefits of this mauve-marvel – why not try it for yourself?

Embark on your very own lavender journey for the senses!

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‘Sunrise on the Lavender Fields in Valensole in Provence’ photo by Matheus Swanson   (photo cropped) License Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Lemon & Lavender Possets from Delicious Magazine:
Lavender Decorative Wreath from allyou.com

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Fragrance and mood – like a cat burglar in your brain

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A fragrance is like a cat burglar in your brain, it has the key with which to pick the lock and unleash your memories.”  – Roja Dove

All our senses give us a window on to the world, but the sense of smell is different.  Looking at old photographs can be effective at evoking flashbacks, just as hearing a long forgotten song on the radio can.  However, smells have a uniquely powerful way of piercing straight to the core – the place we keep our recollections – an arrow shot straight to the centre of memory lane.

Most people have smell ‘triggers’ – aromas which, as soon as they hit the nostrils, bring a particular remembrance flooding back and these are very much particular to the individual.

For me it’s the smell of freshly laid tar! As a boy of five or six I probably hadn’t experienced this particular aroma before.  Now, decades later, just one sniff and I’m transported straight back to my childhood.

I vividly remember where I was at the time, and the other memories and emotions associated with it, come alongside  to re-create the whole picture.  It was a hot summer’s day during the school holidays, I can see and hear the noisy, tar-laying machinery which probably piqued my boyhood interest …I was happy.  So this, to me, is a pleasant smell – it has happy associations.

How are emotions and memories triggered by smell?

The way the brain is organised is considered to be the key.  Firstly particles of the thing you’re smelling enter the nose. The olfactory bulb is the part of the brain which is responsible for the processing of this sense information.  Crucially, it has direct connections to the limbic system – the  area which is the seat of emotion and memory.  This is often thought of as the ‘primitive’ part of the brain, because these structures were present in our early ancestors – the first mammals.

Processing of the other senses – sight, sounds, touch – doesn’t take this path.  This, therefore is the   thing that sets the sense of smell apart from the others.

Fragrance and mood

Scents can have a dramatic effect on our sense of well-being – and have  been shown to have positive effects on stress, sleep, self-confidence, and even on physical and mental performance.

Once we recognise these beneficial effects of fragrances it makes sense to make use of this in our everyday lives. Choosing the right scent, at the right time, to positively affect mental states, is something more and more people are doing these days.

A list of fragrances which effect the emotions

Stress & sleep problems:  Chamomile, Cinnamon, Frankincense, Lavender,  Marjoram,  Nutmeg, Orange, Rose, Sandalwood, Valerian, Vanilla, Violet, and Ylang-ylang.

Boost energy & combat tiredness:  Camphor, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Fennel, Peppermint, Pine, Sage.

Improve memory:  Jasmine, Lavender, Rosemary.

Lift the mood:  Bergamot, Jasmine, Grapefruit, Lavender,  Neroli, Orange,  Rose Geranium, Sandalwood, Tangerine and Ylang-ylang.

Increase confidence:  Jasmine, Frankincense, Sandalwood

Promote calmness:  Bergamot, Cedarwood, Cypress, Frankincense,  Lavender, Marjoram, Orange, Peach, Rose.

Finally, a brief diversion on the subject of perception of smell

When you put your nose up to a flower, it’s easy to forget that the fragrance of ‘rose’ for example,  has less to do with the plant than to the workings of your brain.  The very ‘rosiness’ of the smell is not something inherent to the plant itself, instead it’s something your brain manufactures.

In fact, it’s true to say, that smells don’t exist without brains to perceive them.  Smells, and equally sounds, colour, touch sensations etc, are inventions of the brain, rather than things that exist ‘out there’ in the world . Perceptions are a way of allowing the world to be navigated and understood.

the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, ready to remind us… the immense edifice of memory” Marcel Proust


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Nature’s Aroma Diffusers

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When we fill our homes with fragrance, whether it be with an electronic device, a reed diffuser or simply a drop of essential oil on our pillow, we can sometimes forget that nature was there first. Yes, filling the air with attractive smells was something the natural world came up with earlier…a lot earlier.

But to take a step back for a moment – what exactly is an aroma?

Our human sense of smell comes from specialised sense cells found in the back of the nose, these are connected directly to the brain. The thing we’re smelling releases particles and these travel through the air. Only when these particles enter the nose and stimulate the nerve cells, sending messages to the brain, are we aware of the smell of a rose, tonight’s dinner cooking in the kitchen or indeed that pair of smelly socks!

Throughout nature odours are used as a means of transmitting a message – the nose possessed by animals is one kind of ‘receiver’ of this message, there are others though, which are even more sensitive, such as the antennae of some insects.

Flowers provide, what are probably the most familiar and best loved examples, of nature’s fondness for fragrance. We tend to find both the sight and smell of flowers attractive, but they’re not really for us. Of course it’s all about pollination.

Plants go to great lengths to swap genes, in the form of pollen, with others of the same species. They’ve found some willing helpers in achieving this goal – namely insects (although birds, bats and other sometimes play a role).

Plants came up with showy colourful flowers – a kind of advert directed towards their pollinators – “step this way for your free gift of delicious, sweet nectar”. The insects don’t usually bother with the “fine print” – “and by the way, you’ll also be delivering this package of pollen to my neighbours.”

So where does the fragrance come in? Well many plants underpin the visual signals with odours to help them stand out from the floral crowd. It’s a beautiful example of co-operation – a win-win for flower and pollinator. The insect gets the nectar ‘freebie’, while the flower gets to ‘borrow’ the insect’s ability to fly and so to help pollination.

These botanical perfumes are particular to a given type of plant, which is why certain flowers have their own distinct smell, and the particles are lightweight (compared to air) so as to be easily dispersible. They are often released at certain times of day – or in the case of flowers like the Evening Primrose, at night.

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Male moths have prominent antennae – enabling them to find the aroma-emitting females

Moths are important pollinators, most are on the wing at night to avoid bird predators – for this reason these floral aroma diffusers release their fragrance at night when visual signals are much less effective.

Many moths are themselves examples of ‘fragrance-fans’ in the insect world. This is why the males often have distinctive and conspicuous feathery antennae – this is the moth’s ‘nose’, used in finding a female.

Female March Moths really go to town when it comes to natural aroma diffusion. Their strategy is so effective that they’ve done away with the need to fly! The wingless females climb up a tree and release their pheromones. Male March Moths are able to detect tiny quantities, even when a mile away, and so find their way to the female – enabling mating to take place.

There are many other examples of the use of fragrances as messages in the world of plants and animals. Laying a trail in ants, marking territory in some seabirds, queen bees effecting the behaviour of her workers…to name just a few.

One thing is clear – we live in a smelly world!

So next time you switch on your aroma diffuser – remember nature got there first!

earthstar

This Earthstar (a kind of fungus) isn’t really an aroma diffuser, in fact it’s dispersing spores. It does however rather look like a natural version of our aroma diffusers!

 

Photographs by Bernard Spragg and Phil Barnett

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Christmas Fragrances

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Close your eyes and think of the word ‘Christmas’ – what comes to mind?  The mental image will probably be two things – vivid and happy.  It’s a time for family gatherings – children opening presents around the tree, winter walks through the snow, games and TV by the fire. It’s a time for eating, drinking and the proverbial merriment.

Yes, the joyful Christmassy sights and sounds are part and parcel of the time of year, however it’s often the smells that announce themselves before anything else. The fragrances we associate with the festive season are guaranteed, perhaps more than anything else, to re-awaken that part of the mental filling system labelled ‘Christmas Cheer’.

Now imagine yourself enjoying the hustle and bustle of a Christmas market – the recent imports from northern Europe that have lately become a permanent fixture in our towns. The tempting aromas of bratwursts, dutch pancakes, and flammkucken waft over the melee and with it the heady smell of red wine with orange, anise and cinnamon. A distinctive combination that can only mean one thing – mulled wine.

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On arriving back home and unwrapping layers of winter clothing, yet more inviting aromas come from the direction of the kitchen. Mince pies are baking in the oven, tickling the taste buds in anticipation of the feast to come. The supremely appetising smells of roast potatoes, parsnips, gravy, cranberry sauce and, of course, turkey fill the air. They revive memories of all the shared times around the table, like the Ghost of Christmas Past – in fragrance form!

From the deserts and puddings on the festive table, to the waist-expanding sweets and treats that get passed around, there are also certain spices that are redolent of Christmas. Nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, orange, amber and patchouli add their aromas to the festive mix, in fact it would come as a surprise if Santa’s aftershave didn’t include a couple of these!

Yule traditions include bedecking the home with a little bit of natural greenery – an ancient custom reminding us of the springtime to come.  When bringing these totems – the tree, holly, ivy – into the house we are also bringing the welcome botanical fragrances associated with them.

Many people have artificial Christmas Trees these days, and many of them simulate the real thing with great authenticity. However one crucial thing is lacking the – the room-filling scent of pine. It’s no wonder that many room sprays and scented candles try to emulate the smell. For many people it is THE Christmas fragrance with the nostalgic power to send the mind hurtling back, with blissfully happy childhood memories – back, even, to a personal First Noel!

Sometimes it’s good to shift the focus slightly away from the more indulgent aspects of Christmas – things that can get overlooked – family, togetherness and kindness. Creating a welcoming ambiance in the home goes hand-in-hand with these, and way the home smells can add that final piece of the jigsaw in creating a memorable Christmas for you and your family.

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The Art Of Hygge

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The Danes have a superpower. No, it’s not the ability to fly through the air – it’s hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-ga’) – possibly the biggest Danish export since Lego. There is no exact equivalent in English, but the closest approximation is ‘cosy’.

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You may be thinking that an uncanny ability to make things cosy doesn’t seem like a particularly impressive superpower! Bare in mind, however, that it’s reputed to be one reason why the Danes are the happiest people on earth.

Imagine an evening sitting by a roaring log fire, feet up, shoes off, in a candle-lit room, drinking a cup of cocoa and wearing a thick woollen sweater – that’s totally hygge.

Many of us have such busy lifestyles these days and the cracks are starting to show. It’s no wonder then, that a lot of people are starting to look for ways to find a refuge from the frenetic, hectic world we find ourselves in.

Ways of slowing down, unwinding and generally simplifying our lives have come to the fore of late. Hence, we see the rise in popularity of things like mindfulness, The Slow Movement, and hygge.

So how do we emulate the Danes and make our lifestyles just that bit more hygge?

Spend time with friends and family.
Take our imagined picture in front of the of the log fire, add in two or three close friends, with laughter and conversation well into the night – now our scene is just about as hygge as you can get!

Connections with other people are things that earlier generations would have taken for granted. Our modern technology-driven world is, on the other hand, one of disconnection and alienation. For this reason we should make time to re-connect with people – to bring back conviviality – to welcome in hygge!

Simplify.
Hygge is all about appreciating the little pleasures. It’s about stopping for a moment and focussing in on the small things – things that give us joy and what’s more, often come for free.

Our frantic lives with their demands – only exacerbated by constant emails and social media updates – cause an incessant mental chatter. So our mental health suffers. Try putting down the phone and switching off the TV and pick up a book instead. Simplify, switch off and slow down. Find the beautiful in the everyday and the wonder in the mundane.

Enjoy nature.
The perfect antidote to modern day stress is to go outside and revel in the natural world. Danes love nothing more than a country walk, a hike through the woods, a wander by the sea. Being close to nature is part and parcel of art of hygge.

The fresh air in our lungs, the sights, smells and sounds of the countryside – these are all things that give us a much needed wind-down and a respite from the hurly-burly of modern living.

As well as enjoying nature outside the home the Danes are big fans of bringing it into the home and this informs the way they arrange their houses. Flowers on the table, potted plants in the living room and natural stone walls all increase the home’s hygge.

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Light some candles.
Danes love candles! There’s something about a flickering flame that’s guaranteed to create a warm, cosy feeling. As soon as we replace our electric lighting with a candlelit ambiance we get a frisson of pleasure.

Now if we add scented candles we’re putting the sense of smell into the mix. By using favourite fragrances we’re upping the hygge even further.

A phrase that perfectly sums up hygge is ‘stop and smell the roses’. This means slowing down the pace of your life and, yes, literally smelling the roses. Seek out the small pleasures, look for the little things that make life worthwhile. Be like the Danes – find your inner hygge!

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‘Rider Park’ courtesy of Nicholas A. Tonelli

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