Engaging mindfully with the five senses brings a sense of calm and wellness to our lives. In fact, many alternative medicines, like Ayurveda, focus specifically on total sensory wellness.
Much of our brain’s space is devoted to receiving and interpreting signals from our five senses. Intentionally tuning in to those signals helps to bring our attention to the present moment. A popular guided meditation exercise involves heightening your sensory awareness and grounding yourself by identifying things that you can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste.
Read on to learn more about how to engage each of your five senses for total sensory wellness.
The sense of touch, technically known as the somatosensory system, is part of our body’s nervous system. The skin is our largest organ, and it constantly responds to external stimuli. Certain parts of our bodies, like our fingertips, are more receptive than others. The receptors in our skin send signals to our brain. These signals make us react to danger if we feel pain or promote connection with other living creatures. Some types of touch send signals to the brain’s posterior insula, which affects the emotions we experience with physical contact with others. There’s a reason why skin-to-skin contact is considered to be so important for newborn babies.
It’s easy to forget about the sense of touch. Because our bodies are bombarded with so many minor sensations each day, we learn to tune them out. As you’re reading this, you’re likely sitting on a chair or sofa, but you’re probably not conscious of the sensation of doing so. As we age, our sense of touch actually worsens, with touch receptors peaking in adolescence and slowly degrading over time. Tapping into the sense of touch can be hugely beneficial for total sensory wellness. In order to do so, engaging in touch therapy is as simple as hugging a loved one, snuggling with a pet, or giving yourself a scalp or foot massage. In moments of anxiety, it can be helpful to squeeze a stress ball or engage in a tactile experience like running your fingers through sand.
Sound can induce many positive emotions. Listening to a beautiful piece of music or a calming natural soundscape can make you feel more calm, joyful, or energetic. Music therapy is an evidence-based and well-respected field that uses music and sound to provide emotional, cognitive, and social benefits.
Sound can also have negative effects. Noise pollution in busy urban environments decreases the quality of life and induces stress and anxiety. If noise pollution is an issue in your home or everyday life, consider investing in a sound machine or high-quality noise-canceling headphones.
Achieve total sensory wellness through hearing by blocking out disruptive noise and consciously engaging with calming white noise or music.
Smells stimulate the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls both long-term memory and your emotions. The limbic system also processes smells. That’s one reason why the sense of smell is so powerful when it comes to accessing and recalling memories. The limbic system also has a physiological role, affecting heart rate and blood pressure. Loss of sense of smell has even been associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even early death.
Aromatherapy is an alternative medicine that uses the scents from essential oils to improve mood and fight anxiety. Many people believe that aromatherapy can slow one’s heart rate and lower blood pressure because of this connection. Essential oils are either diffused into the air or diluted with a carrier oil and applied directly to the skin.
Each essential oil provides its own unique benefits.
- Lavender is calming and relieves stress while combating restlessness.
- Lemon provides a boost of energy and revitalization as well as an uplifting effect.
- Peppermint acts as a great energy booster and can even boost circulation and open your airways.
- Sandalwood is calming and improves focus.
- Chamomile is relaxing and acts as a mood booster.
- Ylang-Ylang is great to use when you’re feeling off because it improves symptoms of headaches and nausea.
- Jasmine combats depression, providing a soothing effect.
Both light therapy and color therapy are practices that use the sense of sight to increase wellness. Light therapy lamps are used to treat seasonal depression by mimicking the light of the sun. They boost serotonin and improve your mood. Color therapy, also known as chromotherapy, is used to treat physical and mental health by using colors to provoke specific emotions.
While some scenes increase feelings of stress and anxiety, others reduce them. Negative visual stimuli have a negative effect on memory, attention span and make viewers more anxious. Even something as innocuous as a messy desk can have an adverse effect on your mood.
The problem is, you can’t always be surrounded by beautiful or peaceful sights. When waiting in line at the bank or sitting in an office cubicle, it can help to practice visualization techniques. Imagining peaceful visuals, like a leafy forest path or a pastel-hued seascape, has been proven to decrease anxiety.
Practicing mindfulness while you eat helps to prevent overindulging. It also ensures that you appreciate every bite of each meal.
Like many of the other senses, our sense of taste tends to decrease as we age. Be conscious of your salt and sugar consumption because both of these additives can harm your sense of taste. Similarly, the artificial ingredients in heavily processed foods can alter our ability to taste properly. However, don’t be afraid to experiment with intense flavors to engage your sense of taste. Consider adding spicy peppers to your cooking or snacking on sharp cheeses, bitter greens, or sour citrus. By varying your diet as much as possible and trying foods with new textures and flavors regularly, you’ll keep your sense of taste active and engaged.