Mindfulness is equivalent to framing our full attention to the present moment. This means focusing our attention exclusively on the input from all our senses. Learning the neurobiology and characteristics of our six senses is essential to master the practice of mindful framing.
Do we Have Six Senses?
Yes. We do have six senses and this is how they work:
- Sight: Through our eyes, the visual cortex in the brain collects and processes colors, shapes, letters, symbols and complex images from our environment. Sight is our most essential sense because we can also see with our mind by visualizing, memorizing and dreaming. This interplay of reality and imagination is a powerful driver of creativity.
- Hearing: Through our ears, our brain collects information from any sound waves hitting your ear drums. From an evolutionary perspective, hearing is the main driver of human behavior through verbal and musical communication.
- Taste: Through the taste buds on our tongue we can sense texture and flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami), converting eating, snacking or drinking in a symphony of pleasurable sensations. The sense of taste is important for human evolution because a bitter taste alerted us that a food was potentially toxic; while a sweet taste indicated sugary and nutritious food.
- Smell: Through the olfactory glands in the nose, the brain scans for friendly and unfriendly environments. Bodily scents draw us to our loved ones and even keep us from danger. Smell is believed to be one of the most primal of the senses, especially in mammals.
- Touch: Through our skin, we experience heat and cold, regulating and protecting our metabolism. Other key sensations include pain, pressure, and vibration. Besides helping us interact with the environment, touch also appears to be important for our sense of well-being. For example, touching and hugging others helps connecting to others at an emotional level.
- Proprioception: This lesser known sense allows us to feel and locate spatially where is our body and certain organs. For instance, if we close our eyes, and someone moves our right foot, we are still be able to tell where it is. Proprioception is essential for breathing practices, we are able to notice the expansion of the lungs and indirectly the position of the diaphragm. In this way we can also activate our parasympathetic nervous system, especially the vagus nerve, eliciting a relaxation response.
Optimize Your Six Senses
Our senses are essential connectors with the environment while allowing you to disconnect from unwanted thoughts and embrace the present moment. Therefore, it is imperative to keep your senses sharp. Here are few tips that can help you do just that:
- Sight: Protect your eyes from sun damage by wearing sunglasses. Eating foods rich in Vitamin A, as well as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin is beneficial for your eyes.
- Hearing: Long-term exposure to loud sounds can damage your hearing. Make sure you wear ear plugs in noisy environments. Adjust the volume when listening to loud music.
- Taste: Stimulate your taste buds by varying your diet. Try new recipes, exotic fruits and spices. Minimize your consumption of processed foods, which contain so much sugar and salt that you actually stop tasting subtle sugar and salt in whole, natural foods.
- Smell: Research has shown that training and repeatedly exposing your nose to substances with strong smells optimizes the olfactory receptors in the nose and the key areas of the brain processing these sensations.
- Touch: Apply sunscreen to your skin to protect it from the damaging rays of the sun. Make sure you consume enough water to prevent dehydration.
- Proprioception: In order to improve your sense of proprioception, it is important to add variety to your daily activities. For instance, if you’re a runner, try running barefoot, or try gymnastics, yoga or calisthenics.
Practice the ‘Sensational Scan’
The hectic pace of modern life requires more than ever to frame our attention towards the natural environment, our emotions and organism, the NEO Chi Lifestyle, setting aside anxious and stressful thoughts.
Practice these steps anytime you need to relax:
Step 1: Take a few, deep breaths framing your full attention towards inhaling and exhaling.
Step 2: Focus on your sense of sight. Observe your surroundings. What colours, textures, lighting, and movements can you see? Even with your eyes closed, focus on the back of your eye lids, you will ‘see’ a yellow, orange or blue background with flashing, starry or random shapes.
Step 3: Close your eyes and focus on your sense of hearing. Listen to the sounds of nature, the computer whirring in the background, your breathing, cars passing by. If already in bed, listen to the subtle rubbing of the pillow into your ears.
Step 4: Focus on your sense of smell. Smell the perfume you’re wearing, flowers, your hair, your body fragance. Try essential oils.
Step 5: Focus on your sense of taste. Look for a piece of fruit, and really savor it. Notice if it tastes sweet or sour, and how intense the tastes are. Or just lick your lips with your tongue, is it a salty or sweet sensation?
Step 6: Focus on your sense of touch. Notice the feeling in your hands; how warm or cold they are. Feel the air moving across your skin. Sense the bed sheets in your bed. Does it feel smooth or coarse?
Step 7: While breathing in and out, focus on the sensations coming from your ribs expanding and contracting while your belly is being pushed up and down.
This ‘sensational scan’ can be extraordinarily helpful as a daily practice when going to bed and waking up. You won’t believe how remarkable and powerful is your body and how you can actively control your sensations. By bringing awareness to your senses in the present moment, you will master the art of experiencing calm in the middle of any storm. Namaste.