Come to your senses

Do you remember learning about the five senses in grade school? I do, because my experience was highly disappointing. It was first grade, and we arrived at our desks to find several sensory items – a chocolate chip, a cotton ball, and other things I can’t remember. I remember the chocolate chip very specifically because, when our teacher instructed us to eat it, I was so sad to discover that it was completely bitter. I had never had unsweetened chocolate before, and it definitely left me wanting.

In our busyness, our five senses often get left behind. This is not an email to reprimand you, and order you to take time to smell the flowers. What I want to remind you of is the gift these senses can give us if we are experiencing overwhelm, or stress, or rushing, or anything that takes you out of your body, out of the moment.

I was really wanting to write a blog post this week, and struggled with several half-baked ideas. I think I’ve written three blog posts, but nothing felt finished or quite right for this moment. Then, as Loki was fighting sleep tonight, I placed on hand on my belly, to remind me to soften into the moment, to relax my own body in order to help my baby. I’ve no idea if it helped Loki fall asleep or not, but it certainly helped slow my racing mind, and to enjoy the moment, even though bedtime wasn’t going as I had hoped.

I’ve been noticing in my practicing how stopping to take several breaths helps calm my mind and slow me down. Along with the delight of having a nearly-one-year-old, I also have much more limited time. So when I sit down at the piano, I often have the sense of urgency, the strong awareness of how much I hope to accomplish before Loki demands my attention again.

All of this is to say, when you are stressed or overwhelmed or rushing or busy, take a moment to connect with one of your senses and see how that might make an impact on your activity.

Connecting to your senses calms your nervous system, helping you deal with stress. And it plays a role in activating the right hemisphere of your brain. We want this, especially when performing, as the right hemisphere is more aligned with being in the moment. Being in the moment is more likely to bring about Flow, the optimal state of performing, where all of our thoughts and energies are dedicated to the task at hand. No room for past and future thoughts, self-criticism, or distraction.

Here are some suggestions for a quick sensory connection:

  • Three breaths noticing the movement of your body as your inhale and exhale.
  • Three breaths noticing the sound of your inhale and exhale.
  • Close your eyes and notice the sounds around you, let your ears take you to the farthest sound, and then to the closest sound.
  • Close your eyes and notice what scent is in the air.
  • Give yourself a hug and feel the texture of your shirt. Really, there is lots of research about how hugging yourself is very soothing to the nervous system.
  • Feel your feet on the ground, the chair under your bottom, the clothes on your body, the glasses on your face. Notice the feel of your instrument in your hands.
  • What do you see around you? Ask yourself, “Am I safe here?”. This may feel silly, but it calms our lizard brain which is always on the lookout for any potential threat.

Pick one of these sensory suggestions, or listen to this 2.5 minute long guided exploration to come to your senses.