“All our knowledge begins with the senses.”
- Immanuel Kant
While it may sound far-fetched or even a bit woo-woo, the term and concept of “sensehacking” arguably made its debut into the lexicon with the 2021 release of Oxford University professor Charles Spence’s book by the same title, promising to help readers use the power of their senses for happier, healthier living. The core idea of Spence’s guide to sensehacking is that our sensory stimuli have a more pleasurable side that can be “unlocked”, optimized, and perhaps even intervened with through various techniques. The end goal is to find ourselves more relaxed, productive, focused, joyful and perceptive, with the added bonus of improved sleep.
Spence told British Vogue, “Our senses have more impact over our well-being than any of us realise. The sights, sounds, smells of the environment, both those we are aware of and those that we are not, adding, “the more of your senses that nature stimulates the better for you it is.” From stress-reducing soundscapes to “dopamine dressing” (as fashion editors and energy healers sometimes refer to color intuition), here are five sense hack tips for optimizing your sensory input, inspired both by Spence’s original concept and indigenous wisdom.
HEARING | TUNE IN TO ‘GREEN’ SOUNDS
Nature sounds have demonstrated a wide range of potential therapeutic benefits for our emotional and physical well-being. Breaking waves and falling rain are among the natural soundscapes that have been studied for their ability to physically alter the neural pathways in our brains, bringing about a calmer mind state.
SMELL | BOOST MOOD WITH ESSENTIAL OILS
Whether through direct palm inhalation, a few drops on our pillows, mixed into our face and skincare products, or in a diffuser, essential oils are incredible tools for positively transforming our mood and emotions. By stimulating our olfactory sense, essential oils are also working with the limbic system to regulate our emotional well-being. Browse our newly arrived essential oils to explore the collection’s wide range of health benefits, from calming and soothing to energy lifting and grounding properties.
SIGHT | DRESS PURPOSEFULLY TO SHOW UP FOR JOY
New research has revealed that the fashion trend known as “dopamine dressing” may actually contain a secret key to tapping into our happiness reserves. In the professional world, some have labeled the phenomenon “enclothed cognition”, taking into account both the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them as important factors for improving performance at work. One thing recent studies on the topic of intentional dressing have shown to matter most, beyond the color of our clothing, is symbolism. In particular, if an item you wear has personal meaning to you, it is more likely to enhance your confidence and capacity. Try an herbal amulet or talisman to further amplify your power and presence, or journal about your experiments with a particular style or color that represents a feeling or manifestation you want to embody.
TOUCH | MAKE YOUR SKIN IRRESISTIBLE
Oxytocin heightens the desire to touch and be touched, increases emotional connections, promotes a sense of calm and well-being, can reduce and reverse the effect of stress and even our perception of physical pain. Loving touch is a huge booster of oxytocin levels, so why not start by taking care of your skin? A healthy skin care regimen builds confidence and boosts the lymphatic system, stimulates blood flow and energy, and can help lift our mood, among countless other health benefits. Visit the blog to browse hundreds of articles with radical self-care recipes from face masks and spiritual baths to massage techniques for both face and body.
TASTE | FORAGE LIKE YOUR ANCESTORS
Want a taste of nostalgia that’s good for you and for your local ecosystem? Start with our brief guide to foraging and check out some herbs to forage in the fall to think beyond what’s readily available at your supermarket. By foraging mindfully and sustainably, we preserve vital allies in our ecosystem that have nourished our ancestors for millennia. With some of the most nutrient-dense profiles available, wild foods and herbs help to deeply nourish our biome, and allow us to naturally tune into receiving the perfect chemistry of the season. In fact, seasonal offerings have some of the most powerful natural gut and nervous system healing benefits available. In a world constantly overstimulating and overloading our senses, foraging can provide benefits for all of our senses if we are willing to surrender to the abundance nature is sharing with us in the here and now.
While Spence and others say we can “sense-hack” our homes by bringing nature into our living spaces through lighting, music and fragrances, what about botanical sensehacking? Mother Earth—and the indigenous peoples around the globe who have long cared for her—offers us infinite “hacks” in the form of her leaves, roots, seeds, bark, and more. Plant medicines can heal, fortify, transform, and support all of our senses, or be applied to just one in particular. Keep reading for more about what “all of our senses” really means, and for some herbalist sensehacking, which existed in many forms long before the latest trend had a name for it.
HERBS FOR ALL THE SENSES: BOTANICAL “SENSE HACKING”
When we think of sensory processing—how our senses signal our brains what information around us to collect and organize—we are often operating under the impression that there are five main senses. But the number of sensory systems that deliver information to our brains may actually be made up of eight, not five, senses. According to psychologists and specialists like Dr. Neff, the three additional “hidden systems”—vestibular (balance), proprioceptive (movement), and interoceptive (internal)—Neff explains, “ impact how we experience our sense of body awareness, time, and our ability to self-regulate and manage emotions.”
Try the herbs below if you’re looking to target or support a particular sense, keeping in mind that plants have complex and wide-ranging powers to treat many senses, systems, conditions, and functions all at once! Getting to know specific herbs better can also support us as we follow our curiosity about the root causes of a particular dis-ease or discomfort we may be feeling, as often the symptom is merely a messenger, signaling us to take note of what’s below the surface of our current mind-body-spirit imbalance.
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) - Eye strain healer, nerve relaxer, and blood vessel calmer, passionflower has long been used in numerous first aid treatments and traditional medicinal practices for treating anxiety in its native North America, Europe, and beyond. Thanks to its calming properties, another usage of passionflower is to support our visual senses by helping to reverse the effect of chronic stress, which has been directly linked to worsening eyesight in recent studies.
- Blue Lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) - For spiritual seers and those looking to see dreams and other realms more clearly, “The Flower of Enlightenment” is a respected ancestral flower known to induce deep meditative energy, enhance third eye function, and motivate lucid dreaming. Read more here.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) - With a high potassium content, this golden root is a vital nutrient for ear health, especially as we age and our potassium levels drop. Data suggests that it can help prevent hearing loss related to aging, repeated exposure to noise, or other degenerative hearing conditions.
- Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) - Said to carry the energy of wisdom, memory, and focus, rosemary is a widely used herb for witchcraft and other forms of magical protection, healing, love and purification, among many other functions supportive of spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. Derived from the Latin ros marinus (“dew of the sea”), rosemary is particularly revered for deep ancestral work in many cultures, in smudges and incense, and for sleep and dreams.
- Moringa (Moringa oleifera) - For skin that is soft and supple to the sense of touch, moringa’s high vitamin C and K content helps boost and preserve collagen, repairing skin cells and reducing the signs of premature aging. It’s also a free radical neutralizer, hydrator, detoxifier and purifier.
- Catuaba (Erythroxylum vaccinifolium) - Desire to be touched—activated! Wild aphrodisiac, mood booster and Brazilian superpowder catuaba was first used by the Tupi Indians in Brazil, believed to endow them with unrivaled sexual prowess. A nervous system stimulant whose name translates to “what gives strength to an Indian,” this tonic is also believed to support heart and blood health, to strengthen and balance overall bodily functions, and to help relieve symptoms of depression.
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata) - At the peak of the Coronavirus endemic, a loss of sense of smell and taste was a persistent and widespread concern, impacting upwards of 700,000 people worldwide. Several studies demonstrated the potential of essential oils to help kickstart and restore olfaction, with rose, lemon, eucalyptus, and clove being among the scents with the most promising results. Rich in cineoles, eucalyptus is considered extremely versatile for therapeutic purposes, including natural support for deep and clear breathing, and for added vitality and energy during the winter months.
- Frankincense (Boswellia serrata) - Dubbed “the world’s most important resin medicine”, frankincense goes back to ancient times, where it was highly revered for its medicinal and spiritual properties. It remains vital to numerous religions around the world, as it purifies the atmosphere and facilitates meditation and connection to Spirit. Burning frankincense resin also has hygienic functions, including antimicrobial effects that are now confirmed by scientific studies.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale) - This warming and spicy herb has been used all over the world as a culinary treasure and digestive aid, particularly in healing nausea and upset stomach. Beyond its ability to spark our taste buds, the knobby root has been traditionally used for its anti-inflammatory and adaptogenic properties, and as a powerful preventative medicine for colds, flus, and much more.
- Cacao (Theobroma cacao) - Among the ancient Mayas, cacao was believed to be a gift from the gods, a sacred part of their very creation story. Also said to detoxify and powerfully rejuvenate us, cacao is known by sages as a “bone breathing” herb, meaning it helps energize our bones, skin, hair, nails, muscles, and our appetite for the sensual (aphrodisiac), as well as offering profound nourishment to the reproductive organs. And of course, its rich flavor is a treat for our taste buds!
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) - While these purple flowers are well known for their infinite properties for mind-body-spirit health, they are also a vestibular sense ally, a.k.a. our “balance sense”. Said to help treat ear infections, dizziness and vertigo, among other conditions associated with the balance sense, and by relieving stress and promoting better sleep, lavender can help bring a sense of calm and balance to our lives and homes—in a diffuser, via direct palm inhalation, on the pillow, etc.
- Nettle (Urtica dioica) - Bringing balance to our spiritual lives and the centers of our worlds (our sacred home space), nettle’s magical properties range from protection and healing to strength and warding off negative energies. Complementary to other tonics, nettle is one of the most commonly used herbs since ancient times all over the world. It’s also nutrient dense with high amounts of protein, iron and calcium, anti-inflammatory, and an ally for allergies, hair growth, and much more!
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) - Let’s not forget about proprioception, otherwise known as the “body awareness” sense! In other words, the body creates a “map in our mind” of where each body part is. Nature’s chill pill, adaptogenic ashwagandha, is popularly known as Indian Ginseng and revered for its ability to calm, soothe, and strengthen the body. Deeply healing for both mind and emotions, this herb can help support the immune, cerebral, neurological, endocrine, and reproductive systems, and is clinically proven to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It may also increase brain cognition, support thyroid function and adrenal health, while balancing blood sugar levels.
- Matcha (Camellia sinensis) - Ceremonial grade matcha is a proprioception secret super powder. Here’s how it works: Brain waves, serotonin and dopamine booster, heart health ally, and anti-inflammatory matcha can also fortify your immune system, enhance energy and endurance, and detoxify your liver. Matcha contains one special antioxidant in particular: catechins, which have antibiotic properties that fortify the immune system and boost overall health. Plus, matcha tea is rich in potassium and protein, as well as vitamins A and C. Keep reading here.
- Rose (Rosa centifolia) - For one of the most overlooked “hidden senses”, interoception has a wide range of functions—from coregulating emotions, hunger, fullness, body temperature, muscle tension, and much more related to our overall internal state, this system can deeply benefit from rose’s healing, love, and serenity powers. Its numerous benefits extend beyond heart opening to relieve the heart, alleviate anxiety, support psycho-spiritual imbalances, uplift mood, and reduce inflammation.
- Garcinia (Garcinia cambogia) - Our interoceptive input is known for regulating hunger and fullness, thirst, and nausea, among many other abilities to feel what’s happening inside our bodies. One of metabolism’s herbal besties, garcinia is a large green fruit that supports sluggish digestive systems, fat metabolism, constipation, and bloating. Its wide range of health benefits also include support for those with diabetes, ulcers, and even has been found to have anticancer compounds.
As our understanding of the senses is ever-expanding with the integration of ancient medicinal knowledge and modern studies of the miracles of neuroscience, one researcher at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine has proposed yet another definition of the “seventh sense”: the immune system. “The defining role of the immune system is to sense the microorganisms and to deliver the necessary information about them to the brain. The immune response, therefore, should be hardwired in our brain, which makes the immune system our ‘seventh sense’,” writes the scholar, Jonathan Kipnis. For good measure, here are some herbs for the “seventh sense” as we transition into the cooler months and could certainly all use some immunity boosting!