Using Your Senses During Meditation

Sometimes it seems we view our senses as distractions from good meditation. The senses have to be overcome in order to get into that deep meditative space. Something you can try is doing just the opposite—using and actively focusing on your senses during meditation. This is a great activity to practice mindfulness and noting as well.

IStock_000006270894Medium You might start your sensory experience by doing what is called “walking meditation.” Walk around your neighborhood or a natural feature nearby (river, lake, forest, hilltop) and merely take in whatever you sense. What are you smelling? Seeing? Hearing? Touching? Observe and be aware without classifying the sensations. Merely be mindful. You might consider this your “pre-meditation.” Upon return to your house, do a formal sensory meditation in the same way.

You can also do meditations in which you focus solely on one of your senses.

For example, here are some ideas for hearing meditations:

  • Listen to the regular noises around you with your eyes closed. Do you hear a refrigerator humming that skipped your attention before? Are people walking or cars passing outside? What does silence sound like? Pretend you're at a symphony focusing on each and every sound.
  • Meditate with a CD on very quietly so that you have to focus intently to hear it.
  • Plug your ears with cotton balls or even your fingers and listen to the sounds inside your body.

For smelling meditations, try any of the following:

  • Have several fragrant objects in front of you and begin your meditation. Once into a deepened state, place one of the fragrant objects by your nose and just be mindful of the smell. Allow yourself to scan through any memories you have associated with the smell. It is best to pick pleasant-smelling objects (no stinky gym socks). Try a flower, a scented candle, essential oil, cinnamon, garlic, herbs, etc.
  • Close your eyes and merely observe what the space around you smells like. Does the smell convey anything to you? If you smell “nothing,” what does that experience feel like?

For taste meditations, here are some ideas:

  • Place a piece of food in your mouth as you meditate and just let it sit there, slowly melting or softening in your mouth. Allow yourself to focus solely on the taste and experience.
  • Meditate with a clean, “average-feeling” mouth (not after eating or brushing your teeth when there are distinct flavors in your mouth). As you meditate, draw your attention to what the nothingness in your mouth tastes like. Is it salty? Sweet? Metallic? Simply taste your mouth and observe without judgment.

For touch meditations, consider:

  • Get a professional massage and as you lay there experience the touch with the voice in the head silenced. How does the touch feel? Use noting throughout the massage, “Shoulder. Shoulder. Knot. Rubbing. Shoulder.” Be mindful and still.
  • Gather up objects with different textures from around your house and place them in front of you while you begin to meditate. When you are into your meditative state, feel the objects and their different textures. Again, observe mindfully. Feel the texture, the weight, the density, the shape, and the size of each object.

Rather than trying to fight to turn your senses off turning meditation, consider a different approach of exploring them with focus and concentration. 


~ Jillian Avey,


Should You Meditate if You Are Angry or Upset?

Nothing seems farther from our minds than meditating when everything is going wrong, we're distressed, and peace feels far away. How can I meditate at a time like this, you ask? It is interesting how we often neglect to do what will benefit us the most at the time when we need it the most. Yes, of course, you should meditate when you are feeling angry or agitated. Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth has much to say on this subject.

Path The first step to a successful meditation when you are angry is to identify the anger or agitation. This is where the all-important meditation practice of mindfulness can help. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a mindfulness pioneer, defines it like this, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Rather than getting angry that you are angry, simply acknowledge the feeling—put your finger on it. For example, Eckhart Tolle explains about understanding the difference between, “I am angry,” and “Right now, there is anger.” This mindfulness can help you transition from the first statement to the last one. The anger you are experiencing is not you and is not a part of you, it is just there in your experience. Tolle describes seeing the emotion with a space around it, a cushion so to speak. In this way, you can see that the emotion does not have to permeate your being unless you let it.

Remember also that you are almost never upset for the reason you think you are. Use the feeling to dig deeper. What is underlying the anger? During your meditation, explore this. Is there a disappointment in childhood, a painful experience of abandonment, or some trauma or abuse at the root of your current anger? Another insight pointed out by Tolle is, “One of the most common ego-repair mechanisms is anger, which causes a temporary but huge ego inflation.” Are you upset because someone bested you, belittled you, or poked you in a vulnerable and sensitive spot? If so, focus on a mantra like, “I am. I am. I am,” during your meditation to re-connect with the vast, loving energy of the universe. This can help remind you of what you truly are–the essence of all there is–and thereby show you what you are not—the ego, the voice in the head incessantly thinking and chattering.

Another tip on meditating while angry that Tolle provides is nonresistance. He recounts a story of when he was counseling a woman who was angry about abuse her father had inflicted on her. He said to her, “There is nothing you can do about the fact that at this moment this is what you feel. Now, instead of wanting this moment to be different from the way it is, which adds more pain…is it possible for you to completely accept that this is what you feel right now?” As the saying goes, what we resist, persists. Use a meditation session to simply accept and stop resisting whatever emotion you are feeling. 

Remember that meditation does not always have to be the same old experience of “thinking about nothing” or focusing on a spot on the white wall. Make it what you need it to be. In this way, you can be feeling anger or agitation as you go into a meditation—because they don't all have to be loving kindness practices or communing with God. If you are experiencing anger, then do an “anger meditation” focusing on the things mentioned above. The chances are good that your anger will dissipate quicker than you know.

 ~ Jillian Avey,


Meditation Myth #2 – You Can’t Change Your Brain

A popular myth about meditation is that it's just something to do for stress relief or to gain a higher spiritual connection, but few people actually realize that meditating can actually change your brain. There is an emerging new field of brain science in fact called “Contemplative Neuroscience,” or the study of meditation's effect on the brain.

One of the pioneers in the Contemplative Neuroscience field is Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin—Madison has been personally involved with meditation since the 1970s and studying it for 10 years. Davidson has scanned the brains of almost 100 Buddhist monks and other regular meditators during this time. He says, “We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways. Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different. It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.” 

Neuron cell Contemplative Neuroscience has also shown that habitual meditation strengthens brain circuits that help us concentrate and express empathy. A study Davidson recently finished looked at how meditation effected those who had never done it before. He found that the beginners stimulated their limbic systems during meditation–the limbic system is the brain's so-called “emotional network.” On the same token, expert meditators (monks with over 10,000 hours of meditation experience) showed markedly higher limbic system activity across the board. Davidson's conclusion? The monks had changed their brains to be more empathetic! 

So meditation can effect your brain while you meditate, but what about when the meditation is over? The answer is yes. There have been observable changes to the baseline brain functioning for meditators outside of meditation. These changes are thought to be linked to generating positive emotions. While Contemplative Neuroscience is in its infancy, this is largely due to the fact that live MRIs (allowing doctors to observe a brain in real time) have only recently become available. 

   ~ Jillian Avey, 


More Information/Sources:

The Science of How Meditation Changes Your Brain

Can meditation change your brain? Contemplative neuroscientists believe it can

What is Walking Meditation?

I was reading a book about adult ADHD yesterday and it said that meditation is helpful for people with the condition because it helps them to train their mind. The book mentioned that walking meditation, yoga or tai chi might be easier because the movement helps a person keep their attention longer. It said that walking meditation in nature can be particularly useful.

This sparked a discussion with my husband who had coincidentally been trying to do a walking meditation earlier that evening. He felt like it had been a failure because he hadn't been able to get to his zone that he reaches in sitting meditation. He said that he was too focused on his steps and how the ground felt under his feet to clear his mind. Actually, that is what walking meditation is about; he was doing it without knowing. The same exercises in concentration and returning the mind to one topic apply while walking. Outdoors all the senses can be used to smell the trees, see beautiful colors or hear each one of the birds sign in their chorus. 

 ~ Jillian Avey,

More information:

How to meditate while walking

Study on meditation helping ADHD