How To Practice Mindfulness By Utilizing Your Senses
Mindfulness is making headlines everywhere. Everyone from Buddhist monks to therapists and modern life coaches embrace it for helping manage stress levels and reduce mental health woes like anxiety and depression. However, you might not know how to practice it.
One method focuses on your senses. Those who have been through therapy may have already used grounding techniques like the 5-4-3-2-1 method, which isolates each of your senses with perceptions of surrounding stimuli to bring you into to the present. However, that’s only one small example of an exercise you can do to practice mindfulness.
How else can you use your body’s perceptions to center yourself and savor the present instead of getting lost in an immutable past or terrified of an uncertain future? Here’s how to practice mindfulness by utilizing your senses.
What Are Your Senses?
Before you practice mindfulness using your senses, it helps to know what they are. Most children learn about five of the senses in elementary school: Sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste.
While you use your eyes to see and your nose to smell, those aren’t the only organs involved. Most perception is a multi-sensory experience involving several senses and your brain. A cup of hot cocoa encompasses taste, touch (the mug’s warmth) and sight (the mini marshmallows dancing as the steam rises).
Furthermore, the big five aren’t your only senses. Some psychologists believe humans have as many as 33, but most focus on roughly 11. Your other senses include:
- Proprioception: Your sense of where your body is in space without looking. Without it, you couldn’t touch your nose with your eyes closed.
- Interoception: Your perception of sensations arising within the body. For example, you might not think about your right pinky toe much — unless someone tells you to focus your awareness on it.
- Equilibrioception: Your perception of being upright and balanced.
- Thermoception: Your sense of heat and cold or, more precisely, whether you feel too cold or hot.
- Chronoception: Your sense of time’s passage.
Mindfulness exercises that utilize your senses do more than ground you in the present moment when you feel yourself losing your grip. They also hone each ability, making your perceptions more accurate and skillful over time.
How can you reap the benefits? Let’s examine some mindfulness meditations or exercises you can do to engage each of your senses.
Mindfulness Meditations To Engage Each Sense
You can practice many of the following exercises anytime and anywhere, although you may prefer privacy for some. Try to dedicate at least 10-15 minutes daily to training mindfulness by utilizing your senses. Eventually, you’ll find it comes naturally — waiting in long lines is no longer a hassle when you use that time for meditation. Here’s what to do.
1. The Senses Grounding Exercise
If you haven’t been through therapy and learned this grounding exercise, it’s a great one to help you begin your mindfulness journey. You can set reminders on your phone to prompt you to practice throughout the day or use this exercise to calm you if you feel panic threaten:
- Look around and name five things you can see.
- Follow it with four you can touch.
- Finish with three you can hear, two you can smell and one you can taste.
2. Stop And Smell The Roses
You don’t need flowers to do this mindfulness exercise, but it helps to use pleasant-smelling things. This meditation begins with a homework assignment — look around and gather four to six highly fragranced objects. Some examples of items could be peppermint, to aid in alertness, lavender, to help ease stress and anxiety, or citrus fruit, for a mood boost
Then, get in a comfortable position — you can use a zafu or yoga mat, although it’s not necessary. What matters is closing your eyes and inhaling each aroma while mindfully exploring questions like: How does the fragrance make you feel? How does it impact your mood? Does the scent arouse any memories? If so, what? Can you mentally transport yourself to another place and time as you inhale?
3. Eye Spy
If you work on a computer all day, you probably know that eye strain can cause miseries like dryness and headaches. One exercise ophthalmologists recommend is 20-20-20. It involves taking a break every 20 minutes to gaze at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
This mindfulness practice adds a twist. Instead of selecting a fixed object, look around your immediate surroundings for 20 seconds. Then, close your eyes. How many things can you remember seeing? What colors were they? How much space did they take up, and what was their position relative to other items in the room?
4. Musical Interludes
Music has the power to change moods — think of how you feel after leaving work on a horrible day, only to hear your favorite song come up next on your playlist. We’ve all turned our vehicles into our personal concert halls on occasion!
Harness that power by doing a mindfulness exercise using your sense of hearing. Choose a few of your favorite songs and journal about how they make you feel. What can you play when you want to calm down? When you want to perk yourself up and rev up your energy? When you feel angry?
5. The Classic Mindful Chocolate Exercise
If you studied mindfulness in school, perhaps as part of a psychology or spirituality class, you might have tried the mindful chocolate-eating exercise. It goes like this:
- Grab a piece of chocolate: Or any favorite food. Some people with sensory issues dislike the feel of chocolate on their teeth.
- Don’t open it: Instead, take a few moments to observe it. Tune into how your body reacts. Do you salivate a bit as you anticipate your treat?
- Open it and nibble: Slowly peel back the wrapper and take a small nibble. Instead of chewing, let it dissolve on your tongue as you savor the sensation.
- Observe your body again: Is your tummy growling? Can you feel your mood changing as the sugar hits your system?
Finally, you can finish your treat.
6. Feel Your Way
What would life be like without your sense of sight? This activity works your sense of touch and proprioception. Choose a familiar room and douse the lights, getting it as cave-like as you can — it helps to do this exercise after sunset. Can you navigate your way around the perimeter without your eyes?
7. The Tree Challenge
This exercise is a fun one to work your balance, and it isn’t too tricky. Once you get proficient, you might find yourself comfortable enough to practice it anywhere.
All you have to do is shift your weight to one foot. Rotate the opposite hip externally, lifting the foot and placing the sole either high on the opposite thigh or lower, against the calf. Avoid pressing on the knee joint.
You’re now in a basic yoga tree pose. Your challenge is to hold the asana as long as possible before switching to the other side. Once you get proficient, try it with your eyes closed to work your proprioception as well.
8. The Flow
Here’s an advanced mindfulness exercise that utilizes proprioception and kinaesthesia — your sense of movement. You’ll probably need privacy and considerable practice, as you must memorize a short yoga flow. It can contain any combination of poses you like, although vinyasa offers more of a challenge than Yin.
Your challenge? Once you have the flow in your body, perform it blindfolded. Please ensure you have plenty of space and aren’t in danger of stepping on anything sharp or tumbling into protruding corners.
9. Nightly Nidra
If you haven’t tried yoga nidra, you’re missing out on one of the ultimate forms of deep meditation and relaxation. However, the practice can seem long and daunting at first. It helps to start with a small section.
Part of yoga nidra is called the rotation of consciousness. It’s similar to a body scan, only much more detailed. This mindfulness exercise uses your sense of interoception — your perception of feelings arising within the body. For example, you may spend several minutes exploring only the sensations inside your mouth, drawing awareness one by one to:
- The inside of your right cheek
- The inside of your left cheek
- The tip of your tongue
- The root of your tongue
- Your teeth and gums
You can find yoga nidra recordings for free on YouTube, including abbreviated versions focusing solely on the rotation of consciousness. Listening to one can help you slip effortlessly into a deep, relaxing sleep.
Practice Mindfulness By Utilizing Your Senses
So how do you begin your practice? Meaningful exercises can help you learn to use your senses to center yourself in the present.
Begin your practice by doing one of these mindfulness exercises that utilize your senses each day this week. Keep up the habit to attain greater peace and inner serenity, even when chaotic times strike.
Mia Barnes is a freelance writer and researcher with a passion for holistic healing and healthy living. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the online publication, Body+Mind magazine.