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Focusing Exercises

With tasting and smelling we must first learn, and that means we must focus.

If you want fun, you will need a ripe lemon, an onion, a knife and plate, soy sauce, a small glass of southern comfort or a similar sweet liqueur, a small unsweetened bitter expresso, and a cup o'tea or whatever is your habitual drink.

First though, read through and realise what i am suggesting.


First we need to discuss food. Since the 1990s Western specialists mostly agree on five categories to define the different tastes (sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami), but there are many differing opinions. There is also disagreement about where we taste, some experts say only the tongue has taste receptors.

I experience a clear sense of taste on my lips, tongue, the sides and roof of my mouth, the throat and down the central area of my body. And i'm sure i can remember years ago eating something hot and it blew my head off, i felt it all the way down my digestive canal, and started sweating. I feel as though i sense taste throughout my entire body.

Taste just a few drops of strong ripe lemon juice, swirl it around, gargle, feel how in different places it's different strengths. The sensation on the roof of the mouth may be faint, but the taste is clear on the lips, between lips and gums, all around the sides, under the tongue, naturally the tongue itself, and back all the way to the throat. Then swallow just a little drop, feel it in the throat, and down along inside the spine. Then do you notice how after a minute, a faint sense of this taste spreads into the cheek bones, jaw, the front and sides of your neck – (maybe something like an optical illusion, but that's how it feels).

With the lemon taste still in your mouth, drink a little bitter expresso, swirl it round your mouth, notice the effect, notice the contrasts. And then take a sip of southern comfort and notice the contrasts again. You will recognise that you have a sense of taste all over your mouth, including the roof of your mouth, your throat, neck and digestive canal.

An extra idea is to put a little soy sauce on a finger, and without touching the tonuge, spread it on just one side of the roof of your mouth, notice the contrast between the two sides. Also, remember how toothpaste often gives a strong experience of minty freshness all over the mouth.

Tasting Yourself

Now, drink something neutral, tea, or whatever is normal for you, and we will discuss the taste of your own body from the inside, how you taste to yourself. This is part of your basic feeling of being alive and it's so taken for granted we never even think about it.

Every day, in the modern world we eat such a rich variety of enhanced foods, the taste of our own body is bland by comparison, it's as though there's nothing there to taste. To start to get a feeling for this self-taste, we will explore the contrasts between the different taste areas. By noticing the parameters of this sense we can learn to recognise it.

Use the tip of your tongue, and taste at the back on the soft palate, then up top on the roof of the mouth, then at the front behind the teeth, then underneath the tongue, then at both sides, notice the similarities and the contrasts. Then taste at the front between the lips and the teeth, up and down and both sides, and lick your lips.

This is how all these different tastes are sensed by the very sensitive tip of your tongue, but now, without your tongue, take a minute to sense those tastes directly. Then follow these tastes as far as you can down your throat and into your body,... as far as you can. Take an extra moment to notice there are two particuarly flavourful areas at the sides, right back between the jaw bones. I notice a variety of tastes. Sweet, salty, nutty, rich like prunes or rhubarb, and watery.

I find in areas of my mouth which are tense, i have no sense of taste – tasting is a way of being sensitive to and relaxing such areas.

This is just a start. In everyday life you will find that several hours after eating, you can still taste the last meal or drink you had. There must hundreds of ways of waking up our sense of taste. Feedback would be welcome.

I would love parents to ask their four to ten-year-olds year olds : "you know that taste in your mouth, how does it feel in your cheeks, under the tongue, on the roof of your mouth and on your lips? What does it taste like in the different areas, is it sweet or salty or like nuts – and on 'this picture of the mouth', draw in which colours it tastes like – And can you taste anything in your neck, or in your body?"

Smelling :
First, Your Own Out-Smell

When practicing scenting, there is a strong tendency to smell-in slowly or irregularly in order to savour the scents. After a few breaths you will get breathless or dizzy. It's important to be able to let go of your breathing and give it time to regulate itself as described in Dozing Phase One. But, the best way to regulate the breath, is to recognise the difference between the ‛in-smell’ and the ‛out-smell’.

We might occasionally recognise our own out-smell when we have bad breath, but normally we are never conscious of it. It is another 'constant' in our self-identity, and we are almost totally out of touch with it.

It's hard to recognise because it is always there and we are so used to it. Hmmm, you notice no difference ... smell the lemon, or the soy sauce ... try again ... Over the next few days and weeks, whenever you notice a smell, take a moment to let it fill you, and then notice the contrasting smell of your own out breath.

The In-Smell

The first areas for sensing smell are the nose and the nostrils.

When i smell something strong, or something bad, i recognise it straight away and sense it very clearly in my nose, often at the tip of the nose. This seems logical, it's a wake up signal, either to contract the nostrils, filter out the bad smell and not inhale; or to savour and take this scent in, to ingest it.

The nostrils and smelling are very similar to the eyelids and seeing. But humans hardly ever use their nostrils. We need to do a few stretching exercises. We need a little nostril yoga ... Smells are sensed initially in the nostrils. Perhaps you've noticed how the stink of a bad perfume, hangs around in your nostrils for long minutes after the experience ...

The nostrils adjust to temperature and smells. Unless you live in a hot land, the in-breath is cooler than the out-breath. Cool and dry air is warmed and moistened by it's passage through the nasal canals. The nostrils may even contract a little, to warm or moisten the air on the in-breath.

When smelling-in with a general curiosity for scents on the wind, the nostrils expand. But if you flare your nostrils and just breathe-in, rather than smelling-in, the cool dry air will give you a sore throat. Thus it seems obvious that dogs who flare their nostrils when sleeping, are smelling-in.

We can do all sorts of funny things with the nostrils to channel smells, to refine and clarify them and search out the scents. Long forgotten and never used muscles become fully obvious once we start scenting. We sometimes contract the upper nostril while flaring the lower, and sometimes the outer rims narrow and almost seem to hold the smell at the top of the nose ... it's all very interesting, but i have no analysis of it all. Discover it for yourself ...

When dogs smell in a focused way, they contract the nostrils with short sniffs. Some people do this when they smell something specific, like perfume or wine.

Experiment with something which smells nice, a cut lemon under the nose, ... enjoy the smell, ... read on ...

After the nostrils, scents pass through the nasal canals. I doubt if any animal or child would realise that they have nasal canals. What it feels like, for humans who are so out of practice, is that the breath and smell seem to curl round into the back and sides of the mouth, and (if your tongue is relaxed and hanging), on the upper surface of the tongue and the roof of the mouth. The impression it gives us is that the roof of the mouth feels much higher than it actually is.

Experiment with freshly cut onion, and afterwards by smelling soy sauce.

Then experiment with freshly cut onion a few feet away on one side and soy sauce on the other, try to smell both by 'smelling in their direction'. I feel sure animals know the direction of a smell, and that they can smell in two different directions at the same time. I feel sure i can do this.

Smell is an ever changing experience out of doors. Since practicing with scenting i have become a lot more aware of petrol smells. I find this unpleasant, but i breathe them in anyway, if i'm aware of them at least i have a choice to move, or not to inhale deeply.

Indoors, where there is no wind, in your own room, most of your in-smell will be a mixture of your own body scent, and your own out breath. This may be reassuring, but it is not stimulating.

Indoors, these days, i often use aroma therapy oils.

This is just a start, there must hundreds of ways of waking up our sense of smell. Please experiment and give me feedback.

To build up a general awareness of these senses, the exercises in this section need to be developed creatively over a period of time, with an awareness of the different smells and tastes in your everyday life.

Please continue with Isolating the In-smell and the Out-smell

Back to Chapter 4 : Smelling and Tasting