If you are involved in any kind of therapy or self-care world, the idea of mindfulness is probably familiar to you. Optimum Joy’s therapist Daniel has a great post on the concept and practice of mindfulness if you’re interested in learning more, but for the sake of this post I’ll just give a brief definition:
Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally paying attention to (or being mindful of) your present experience. It can be focusing on the thoughts that are crossing your mind, or physical sensations you are experiencing in the moment. The purpose of mindfulness is to cultivate our ability to be fully present in the here-and-now, which can be helpful in warding off anxiety, deepening relationships, promoting relaxation, and so on.
There are plenty of practical activities you can use to strengthen that mindfulness muscle, but I wanted to share one of my favorite techniques for anyone who is interested in trying out the concept of mindfulness but aren’t sure where to start.
The Four Senses activity is a quick and simple exercise to pause and reorient yourself and your body to where you are and what you are experiencing in the present moment. We pay attention, one at a time, to four of our senses and allow ourselves to fully enter in to our here-and-now experience in the process.
- What do you see? To start, take a moment to identify 4 things that you see in your environment (for example: the blue sky, a colorful photo, a rusty bike chain, a white window sill). Take as much time as you’d like, and be as descriptive in your “noticing” as you’d like; the more descriptive, the greater your focus will be (i.e., the blue sky with long, thin, gray clouds vs. the sky).
- What do you feel? Next, identify 3 things that you feel. This could be textures around you that you take time to intentionally feel (like a soft blank, the cool computer keyboard, the rough stool fabric) or it could be noticing what sensations you are feeling in your current position (like feeling your feet on the ground, your back against the chair, your hand on your coffee).
- What do you hear? Take time to identify 2 things that you hear (for example: the air conditioner, car horns). Of course, focus on any sounds you’d like! But it is sometimes helpful to focus on the more soothing sounds that are available (maybe your breathing or a clock ticking).
- What do you smell? Lastly, identify 1 thing you smell. This one can have the most limited options, but the odds are good that you could find something to smell (lotion or soap, food, gasoline, perfume or cologne).
That’s it! I love this exercise because it is simple and easy to remember, you can do it anywhere, and it is super flexible! You can spend as much or as little time with it as you’d like, you can identify more or less sights, sounds, etc. than directed, you can substitute taste in there if you are eating or drinking, etc. Variation is fine; the goal is simply to take time to intentionally experience the here-and-now, strengthening your mindfulness muscle and practicing the art of being fully present.
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness or other relaxation/presence techniques, give us a call! We would love to talk more about it with you.
Written by therapist Clair Miller
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