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November 3, 2010

Oh, The Humanity (Part 3)

One of the first lessons I had to learn as a massage therapist was to tolerate close contact with people and every person has a scent that is unique to them. I will be sharing some of the lessons about human smell, some obvious, others not so obvious, and what we can learn about our patients from our nose. Some of these lessons, of course, will require humor, others will yield useful information, but hopefully all will be shared with a gentle respect for our humanness.

So your client is prone on the table. You put oil in your hands, rub them together and lean over to apply the first stoke. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you can smell your client. They may be wearing perfume or cologne. They may smell like cigarettes. They may smell damp if they've just taken a shower or come in on a hot day. But underneath that is their scent mixed with body oils, fresh or not. I'm not talking about body odor, smelly feet, or a state of being unwashed. I'll get to that in another post.

The smell I'm describing can speak a lot about the state of a person's well-being and can give us information about their health. Much of what people consume comes out through their skin. Often, people smell oily like old hamburgers to me. These people probably consume a lot of fast food. Sometimes people give off a sour milk smell making me wonder if they consume a lot of cheese or dairy or maybe are dieting. These clients would probably benefit from drinking a lot of water, and likely, they do not.

Other clients often exude a smell that I describe as "wet." There is an innate puffiness to these people that implies that their bodies retain water. One such client had red, inflamed areas patches their knees that turned out to be topical candida. This particular client was also diabetic. It makes me wonder if there may be a connection between this moist, puffiness and diabetes.

Other still would have musty odor, reminding me of an old house. Who knows, the smells from their home could cling to their clothes and their being. These clients likely are elderly and tend to have drier skin. Sometimes their bodies soak up the massage oil like a thirsty sponge. These clients too would benefit from water consumption.

And finally, the healthiest of clients give off no odor at all or a slight sweetness. These clients tend to be young, healthy or in prime physical condition for their age. I must pause at this point and consider that I may have some biases working here. I'm reminded of Chinese medicine and the 5 element theory: wood, fire, earth, metal, water and each element has its own distinct smell. The Five element smells: goatish, burnt, sweet, rank, and rotten indicate which element is out of balance. Correcting these elemental imbalances using people's diet helps to restore health and normal body odor.

There is another possibility that I may be responding to pheromones, the unique chemical factor in all individuals that triggers a social response in members of the same species. A study conducted by Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institute for Urban Ethology, had subjects sniff T-shirts worn by the opposite sex and rank them by pleasantness. Subjects were then ranked by physical attractiveness and a correlation was obtained between the scent and perceived attractiveness. Even happily married people like me may be swayed into positive regard toward individuals whose pheromones compliment mine. It's just biology.

While I'm sure there are many other scents I encountered during my massage practice, I honestly am not able to remember. Instead I am barraged daily in the hospital setting with new scents and smells from patients -- some familiar, some not. I will go into more detail about these smells in a later post.

Posted by linda at November 3, 2010 12:22 PM

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