Practicing Mindfulness Through The Senses

By Sheila O’Shea

I have a lot of mindfulness techniques in my mental toolbox that I use to handle my bipolar disorder, particularly the depressive ends of it. I refined my knowledge of mindfulness meditation at Skyland Trail, and I have a few methods that I came up with on my own.

Mindfulness In Hearing

One of them is focusing on one sense at a time. The one I use most often is hearing. When I make a cup of tea, I listen to everything—the whisper of the boiling water, the clank of the spoon as I put it on the counter, the splash of the water as I pour it into the teapot, and the splat of the teabag as I drop it in the trash can. By paying attention to the sound of things, I find that I can cut the mind chatter that rattles through my head. If my mind starts to yammer, I can simply draw my attention back to my hearing, much like how in sitting meditation, one returns to the breath.

Mindfulness In Touch

Another sense I use is the sense of touch. Paying attention to your feet as they touch the ground is a common one, and a very effective one to help ground oneself. Going back to the cup of tea, I can also notice the feel of the cup in my hands and the heat from the tea as I drink it. If you’re wearing something comfortable, paying attention to the clothes against your skin (something you don’t even think about, usually) can be surprisingly centering. Taste and smell are, of course, good senses to pay attention to when eating, but you can also use touch to notice the texture of each bite, whether it’s the crunch of a tortilla chip or the juiciness of a strawberry.

Mindfulness In Sight

We’re constantly focused on sight to get around, so it can be tricky to be mindful of it since it’s a perpetual stimulus. But one thing that can work is focusing on colors. You can focus on one color at a time, noticing all the red things in a room, for example. Or you can notice each color in individual objects—a blue cup on a white counter, next to a silver knife with a black handle. Observing colors helps you notice things, instead of skimming past them, which helps keep you in the present moment.

Mindfulness And Mental Health

Focusing on the senses is a proven mindfulness technique for handling anxiety, by taking someone out of their panicked thoughts and bringing them into the moment. It also helps interrupt rumination, when your brain decides to gnaw on one particular thought for longer than is necessary. While sitting meditation is a potent tool, sense-based mindfulness doesn’t need a place to sit in quiet, or even ten minutes to set aside. It can be done at any moment you find yourself in.

Try experimenting with it and find out which sense does the best job of centering you in the present. Mindfulness has many benefits, and this can be an easy way to achieve it.

A portrait image of Sheila O'Shea.

Sheila O’Shea is a writer, recovering poet, and one of the first graduates of the Creative Writing program at Emory University. She acted in Theatre Gael’s production of Waiting for Godot, sang on the album The Mod Mod Sounds of Middlesex, and DJed for Emory’s college radio station. She’s currently working on The Ten Thousand Flowers Project, in which she draws flowers and gives them away to people, with the intention of drawing and giving away ten thousand of them. She hopes to hit 5,000 flowers by the start of 2022. You can find out how to get one at She also works as a freelance copywriter, with an emphasis on narrative marketing. You can find out about her writing services at