Mindfulness is the ability to live in the moment, embracing your current circumstances without judgment. The key to embodying daily mindfulness practice is to turn into a keen observer. Using the five senses (sound, smell, sight, taste, and touch) to ground yourself in the present moment can enhance your experiences with the world around you. Appreciating the five senses can help you slow down and live for the moment. This article will cover the simple practice of mindfulness through the senses, using the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.
Using Your Senses to be Mindful
The basic premise of mindful sensory exercise is that reconnecting to all of your senses can help you to put a stop to racing thoughts, which in turn helps you to become grounded.
It is a short simple mindfulness practice that slows down your breathing and lowers your heart rate and also helps to give your body a chance to relax by letting it know that there is nothing wrong. It doesn’t take long to complete, so anyone can make time for this personal practice.
You don’t need anything special to do this 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise. Just get a quiet place where you can be alone for around 5 minutes of your day. This technique can easily become a part of your daily routine to ease a racing mind or even just to become a little more aware of your surroundings.
So let’s begin. Make sure you’re sitting up straight, resting your hands on top of the thighs, and start when you feel comfortable. Next, breathe, take a long, slow, deep breath. Then, follow these steps.
As you continue to take slow, deep breaths, start tuning in to what you can hear around you.
Don’t judge the sound around you by classifying it as positive or negative; just notice it. The first sounds you might notice are things like traffic, conversation, music, and so on.
However, as you take a minute to do this, you should gradually start to hear more sounds than you did at the beginning of the exercise. You may start by noticing the loudest and most annoying or intrusive sounds in your home or office, but eventually, you’ll be able to hear the little noises in them too.
If you find yourself having trouble concentrating on sounds and your mind begins to wander, bring your focus back to your breathing. When you feel like you have it back under control, bring your attention back to the hearing stage of the exercise. As you repeat this technique a few times, it becomes much easier to do it at a faster rate.
After focusing on sound, switch your attention over to your sense of smell.
What different smells can you detect in your environment?
Can you smell food that is currently cooking or that has been cooked recently?
Do you notice any scents from the products you’ve used, like your shampoo or fabric softeners?
If you’re somewhere in your workplace, can you pick up any distinctive scents or maybe something that is out of place?
Try picking up smells coming from outside, if you have the window open can you notice freshly cut grass or exhaust fumes?
Similarly to step one, the goal is not to categorise scents as good or bad. Just notice them and then let them go and pass you by. If you don’t have a strong sense of smell, then you can make this step easier by having a scented candle lit before your five-minute session.
You may have naturally closed your eyes at some point during steps one and two.
If you did, that’s fine, but open them up, so that you can concentrate on the sight step of this exercise.
Look around you and notice the finer details of your surroundings.
What can you see?
Notice colors, shapes, and patterns. Are there any dominant colors in the room, and if so, are they warm or cold? Is there something missing?
These facts ground you into the moment, and in your body. They reduce the physical and mental symptoms associated with anxiety. You can also place specific objects to focus on if you’re having trouble with this stage. Some people choose stones and gems, while others choose between 5-10 different items with varying textures, colours and sizes. By approaching the exercise in this way, you’ll learn to become accustomed to the idea of visual focusing, and you’ll soon become able to do it anywhere.
The sense of taste part of your mindfulness exercise may seem strange if you don’t have anything to eat or drink.
It might be easier for you if you have something to sip or snack on during this stage, but you aren’t required to do so.
You can also just concentrate on the sensations in your mouth; how your tongue rests between your teeth, what taste remains from a previous meal and how your saliva feels in your mouth.
You can also try running your tongue over every tooth in turn, and moving it along the inside of the cheek.
If you do have any food, apply the same concepts discussed in the previous steps. For example, really notice all of these different textures in what you eat. Are some parts smooth, while others are rough, are there any grooves or dips? What distinctive flavours or ingredients can you detect? Does any taste linger after you swallow?
After you’ve completed the previous steps, you’ll move on to touch. When you first began the exercise, you placed both of your hands on your thighs.
Are they still there? What can you feel beneath your fingers? You might feel the warmth or coolness of your skin, or maybe the softness of your clothes.
However, don’t focus solely on your hands. Think about what is underneath your feet, and where you’re sitting. Notice all of the different textures, and look for places where your body is tense and where it is relaxed.
To round off the anxiety 5-4-3-2-1 grounding practice, stand up from where you’re sitting and touch one or two objects in the room. This is an important part of the grounding process as it helps you to continuously train your attention on the present moment.
Even when there are distracting thoughts during this five-minute meditation, you can gently bring your attention back to your senses. Don’t be discouraged when that happens, because it’s just another engagement of a particular sense. Try to incorporate it into your personal practice.
How do you feel now compared to when you started? Are you fully present in the moment and back in your body?
Next time you feel stuck in the flow of the day, try this exercise.
Using your senses as a Coping Technique
When you feel anxious, it’s easy to feel trapped or stuck. Your heart races, you feel nervous and sweaty, and you’re sure that everyone is looking at you. Anxiety often feels like there’s an impending doom that comes along with it. A feeling that everything is completely out of your control.
Anxiety episodes can be both a common part of your daily life or they can primarily occur in response to stressful days. They are deeply unpleasant and can seriously undermine your overall well-being.
So, what should you do when you feel your anxiety flaring? One of the most effective ways to deal with anxiety is to learn how to perform an anxiety grounding exercise that instantly calms your body and your mind. Using the above technique can help you to cope with hard emotions and anxiety. It can show you that you are in fact in control and you are safe within yourself and your thoughts.
Your Five Senses Mindfulness Exercise
If you don’t have the space or time to find a quiet place then try using these prompts below while you are at work or doing an activity or taking a break. Start by taking a few slow breaths and ask yourself:
- Name three things you can hear? (clock on the wall, a car going by, music, your breath)
- Notice three things you can see? (this table, a sign, a person walking by)
- What are three things you can feel? (the chair under you, the floor under your feet, your phone in your pocket)
- Consider three things that you can smell? (flowers in the room, laundry detergent, a colleague’s perfume)
- What are a couple of things you can taste? (a drink, a snack, an apple)
Consider the answers to these questions slowly, one sense at a time. You cannot do this exercise without being mindful of the present moment. Give these techniques a try and see how you feel afterwards, it may help more than you think!
Frequently Asked Questions:
How does mindfulness connect to your 5 Senses?
Mindfulness allows us to connect more directly with our senses, bringing us into the here and now. In mindfulness meditation, by sitting quietly and bringing attention to our breath, we can slow ourselves down. Allowing us to become aware of our surroundings and how we are feeling through sensory action.
Why are mindful senses important?
Practising being mindful through our senses can help to broaden our ability to observe and enjoy our experiences more fully. By becoming more aware through a simple practice you broaden your horizons of understanding and eventually, you can develop a mindfulness skill.
What are the 5 senses exercise benefits?
The exercise has several benefits including increased empathy and compassion, improved sleep, greater focus and concentration, and reduced anxiety and stress.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.