If you’ve been dabbling with meditation, but find your mind is too busy to disconnect, then sensory mindfulness might be the alternative you’ve been looking for. Rather than concentrating on your breath and having a clear and thoughtless mind, which takes an abundance of practice and discipline, sensory mindfulness encourages you to hone in on the thoughts specific to the sense you are focusing on at that time. This practice forms the principles for grounding exercises, which are often used when supporting stress and anxiety. When anxious thoughts creep in, employing grounding exercises to keep you present and take your focus to a more positive place can help to alleviate the distractions of anxiety. Sensory mindfulness is also just a great way to stay present and connected to your surroundings.
So what are the senses and how do we make them mindful?
Start by deciding on the visual medium you want to engage with. This may mean a trip to the beach, park or your local look out. But you don’t need to go far, you can choose to focus on a painting in your house or a drawing in a book. It’s entirely up to you how you want to execute the exercise. Once you have your visual medium, take a few deep breaths and let your eyes wander across the medium before naturally settling on a section that draws your attention in. Once you’ve absorbed this subject matter and taken in all that you can (maybe ask yourself some questions about why you were drawn to it and what makes it different to other aspects of the visual medium), repeat the process again and find another spot you are drawn to that you can focus on for a few more minutes.
Tactile meditation will typically involve some kind of prop, like a stress ball or an elastic band. However, you can just use your other hand if you are struggling to find a prop that’s suitable for the exercise. Once you’ve chosen your prop, begin to assess its touch. How does it feel against your fingers, does it have a second side that feels different to the first side? Does the touch remind you of anything? Does it feel different if you were to place it against another part of your body, say your arm? Is it cool, or warm, or room temperature? Focusing mindfully on your touch is a great grounding exercise to take you to a meditation-like mental space.
Sound therapy is growing ever popular thanks to its relaxation benefits. It’s often utilised as an exercise to treat stress and support better sleep function. Sound healing, or a sound bath, is where practitioners will play a variety of instruments while you lay on a yoga mat and absorb the sound frequencies. The sound frequencies are said to then slow down brainwaves to a restorative state. If you are interested in sound therapy but are unable to find a sound healing practitioner to work with, you can always throw on a meditation playlist or guided meditation from YouTube to practice in the comfort of your own home.
Aromatherapy is the practice of integrating plant oils into meditation/healing rituals that support stress relief and relaxation. By adding oils to air diffusers or room sprays, you can create an environment packed full of sensory smells that not only bring your focus and attention to the different scents, but can also provide respiratory support. Take a mindful journey through your sense of smell and notice the difference in how it makes you feel.
Next time you do your weekly grocery shop, have a think about where your ingredients came from. What region, when they were harvested. Then when you return home to commencing cooking, take a moment to appreciate the ingredients you’ve collected and your plans to prepare a meal. As you commence cooking, take it slow and enjoy each step - from slicing up the veggies to searing the fish. Then when it’s time to sit down and enjoy your food, make sure you are present. Turn off the tv, podcast or music and really focus on your banquet and how it can nourish you. Think about the variety of foods you’ve packed into your meal and how nutritionally it will serve your body. As you take a bite, chew through your food and think about every last mouthful, making sure to pause after every bit to reflect on the taste and the way it made you feel. Mindfully eating is a journey, from the ground, to the store, to the kitchen, to the plate, to the body. Embrace this journey and consider it carefully. It will have you valuing food far more than you are used to.