Along with most of the population these days, I am afflicted weekly with the dreaded Sunday Scaries. Honestly, sometimes the symptoms hit me on Saturday or even Friday and I’m left with a nervous pressure about a week that hasn’t even started yet. I’ve never been good at formal meditations: I am a habitual over-thinker and deserve to be paid for the amount of time I spend catastrophizing. Safe to say clearing my mind is not easy. I love to analyze my yesterday and plan my tomorrow, but at a certain point it’s not healthy to live in the past or the future. I always thought mindfulness sounded stupid– a buzz word that my parents’ generation latched onto to get us off of our iPhones. All mindfulness really is is the Ferris Bueller method of mediation: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
I was first introduced to sensory mindfulness in high school and was taught simply that if you focus your mind on one or two senses, it wouldn’t have the energy or capacity to incessantly badger you about your irrational fear of puking during a presentation or nag you about why Chad from Calc hasn’t texted you back about your “homework question. ” Like I said, I have the antithesis of a one-track mind and was doubtful that smelling a flower or listening to music was going to ~free my mind~. I was astonished, however, when I was able to incorporate sensory mindfulness into my daily routine how quickly I could calm the 100mph thoughts sprinting through my brain at any given moment.
Using your senses to be mindful isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t a cure all for me, but over time has made me a happier, more aware person. Below are some examples I’ve tried for each of the five senses.
When I first began trying to incorporate sensory mindfulness into my life, I was a junior in high school. I thought it’d be super weird and conspicuous, but realized it could be as simple as smelling the perfume I had sprayed on my wrist that morning. I would do this before having to speak in front of class or even during the ACT when I couldn’t keep my focus. Using this tactic was the first time I actually understood that being mindful isn’t a grand gesture, but using what you have around you in the moment to become aware. Recently, I’ve been using an essential oil from Vesta Apothecary almost every morning that’s designed to help give you a boost called Moxie and the Sleepy lotion from Lush that calms me down.
The easiest way to use the sense of sight for me is to notice colors. Either counting the different colors in a room or the number of occurrences of each color can help ground you and make you more aware of your surroundings. If colors aren’t your thing, counting shapes or even each right angle in a room can be a way of taking in the space.
Mindful eating is something I’m really trying to work on this summer and, boy, is it hard. I’m so used to eating in a hurry, on the go, or while I do something else. Mindful eating requires much more than just the sense of taste which is what makes it hard for me. I’ve written up a few simple steps that I’m going to try to follow to help on my journey to mindful eating.
- Look at the food. What colors and shapes are on the plate?
- Smell the bite of food before you eat it.
- Take note of how the food feels in your mouth. Is it hot or cold? Crunchy or chewy?
- Does it sound like anything when you bite or chew it?
- Now pay attention to how it tastes. Is it spicy, salty, or sweet? Does it taste the same way it smelled?
Doing this process for every meal or every bite seems exhausting but I’m not going to hold myself to the standard of doing it all the time. Even just taking note of the amazing colors in a salad or the crunchy texture of an apple can focus you in the moment.
This sense is both my favorite and least favorite to focus on. I love to feel the texture of a soft sweater or run my hands under cold water, but another way of using the sense of touch is feeling your booty in a chair or your feet on the ground. If I pay too much attention to gravity holding me down in a chair, or trying to get my vertically challenged legs to help my feet touch the floor when I’m sitting down, I have a mini-existential crisis. Some people don’t like thinking about space, I don’t like thinking about gravity. That being said, some people love it, so its worth a try.
One thing that you can always use to exercise the sense of hearing is your breath. Listening to your breathing is one of the most stereotypical methods of meditation, but it’s a stereotype for a reason. No matter where you are or what time of day it is, you carry your breath around with you and the way it sounds is affected by how you feel in a given moment. You can also listen to the noises that are naturally around you. Personally, some white noise like the sound of other people’s breath or certain air conditioners make me want to pull a van Gogh, so tread lightly if you know focusing too hard on any sense is going to upset you.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, listening to music also grounds me. I love singing and dancing, so I’m constantly hearing music, but I rarely take time to just listen to and appreciate music. Every once in a while, I’ll hear a song that I can feel the bass in my chest so much that it fills me up. My friend, Ella, calls these songs that make you feel human. I’ve created a playlist of songs that make my friends and I feel human. You can listen and add to it here
I love finding new ways to consciously use my senses, so comment your favorite techniques below!