By Tad Lusk, MA, LPC
Believe it or not, you already possess extraordinary abilities to feel centered and calm at virtually any time and any place.
You’ve had these abilities since birth. You use them every day, although often without being aware of them.
I’m talking about your five senses.
In addition to allowing you to enjoy and interact with life every day, your senses also give you the opportunity to get out of your head and into a peaceful appreciation of the present moment.
The practice of intentionally increasing your present moment awareness is known as mindfulness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, began teaching mindfulness in the late 1970s to patients who were struggling with chronic pain and stress.
They soon realized that mindfulness was having incredibly positive effects on reducing symptoms.
In the decades since, Kabat-Zinn has become one of the leading experts in the field, and mindfulness has become a much more widely practiced strategy for physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Mindfulness has its roots in eastern spiritual practices going back millennia. Kabat-Zinn explains that “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
It’s a simple concept, yet it can be a surprisingly tricky practice given the often busy and distracted nature of our minds.
However, cultivating the ability to be more present, here and now, is incredibly beneficial and powerfully enhances healing, peace, creativity, and clarity (among other benefits).
One easy way to begin practicing mindfulness is to become aware of your five senses.
Because stress and anxiety are so often a mental process driven by your thoughts and worries, engaging your physical senses helps to “ground” you in the present moment by drawing your attention away from your thoughts and into your experience.
This in turn enhances your sense of safety, security, and confidence, and helps create a peaceful internal feeling of spaciousness and calm.
In fact, “grounding” in the present moment can be an especially helpful tool for trauma survivors or those who struggle with panic to manage their symptoms.
But it’s also one of the most effective and readily accessible de-stressors. It only requires the willingness to pay attention to what you see, hear, touch, smell and taste.
- Coming to Your Senses
Pick any activity today and notice every sensory sensation you possibly can. Really take it all in, just observing “on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” You might be surprised at how even everyday tasks you normally ignore (or are too distracted to notice) start to become stimulating, enjoyable, and vibrant. Things like showering, eating, drinking, driving, folding laundry, even just breathing, can take on a whole new life. If your mind jumps back in with worries, to-do lists, or distractions, bring your attention back to your senses. Notice any breaks in thinking or subtle feelings of “space” or relaxation that come from paying attention to your senses.
- The Countdown
During any moments when you’re feeling especially overwhelmed, try counting down by noticing five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel/touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This can be a good grounding “reset” when you’re really stressed or lost in your thoughts and worries.
Tad Lusk is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), author, musician, and myStrength member in Denver, CO. Tad’s mission is to bring healing, inspiration and consciousness into the world. Find out more at www.tadlusk.com.