Have you ever stopped and truly focused on what is happening around you?
Just take a second and pause — where are you? Are you sitting, standing, or moving in some way? What is the environment around you like? How does your body feel? What can you hear, see, taste, smell? Which part of your body is more present? Are you comfortable?
In today’s world that pushes notifications and demands instant responses, we rarely give ourselves the space to simply stop and be.
The practice of mindfulness allows us to experience ourselves for who we are rather than focusing on what we are doing. Over time, this practice allows us to better respond to stimuli and stressors, manage our emotions, and communicate. In short, to better know ourselves. This, in turn, helps our relationships.
We can’t begin this mindfulness work in the bedroom or during a conflict, though. In order for those muscles to strengthen, we need to exercise them in times of relative peace. I’d like to share with you five ways — one for each sense — you can practice mindfulness in your daily life and within your relationships.
How often have you gotten part-way through your commute only to realize that you didn’t even notice a landmark as it passed? When we are used to seeing the same things every day, we stop looking for them or at them. To practice visual mindfulness, spend a set amount of time (5, 10, 30 minutes) focusing on one item or scene.
How is it shaped? What do its colors remind you of? Have you seen it before? What do you feel looking at that item? Being more visually in-touch with the world around us helps us to be more aware of the people around us, including how they’re non-verbally reacting to things happening around them.
Stereotypically, sight is the sense that we most often associate with attraction. When we watch movies, there’s often a meet-cute that is heavily influenced by the level of conventional attractiveness of the characters. But in our relationships, attraction is much more complicated.
If you’re in a long-term relationship, you may feel pretty confident that you know what your partner looks like — where they have body hair, where they have moles, or any scars that they have. But bodies are always changing, and as we get deeper into our relationships, we may pay less attention than we have in the past. Set a timer for 30 minutes and during that time, really look at your partner’s body. What has changed about it? What haven’t you noticed before? Take the time to not just look, but truly see.
Do you have sounds that you really dislike? Music that you love? A person’s voice that can always soothe you? As infants and children, we bond to certain sounds and voices, but as adults, we begin to selectively turn off or focus away from sounds happening around us.
To practice auditory mindfulness, place yourself in a moderately busy room and simply listen. What can you hear? People having conversations around you, cutlery on a plate, air conditioning, background music? Work to focus in on each of those sounds for 1-2 minutes, then bring your focus back to the larger space. Make sure to take mental note of how your mind responds to each of those noises — do you feel happy or concerned? Stressed or at peace?
Sound is also directly tied to our listening comprehension, or our ability to understand information that is being given to us verbally.
When your partner is communicating their needs to you, do you truly understand them? To bring this mindfulness practice into your relationship, ask your partner to tell you a story. Pay close attention, and at the end, summarize the story for them. Did you miss any key parts? Did you overlook something that, to them, was important?
You can also consider how you might bring these practices into the bedroom. Focus on how you communicate your desire or pleasure (or displeasure) to your partner. What sounds do you make? Do you enjoy talking “dirty” with your partner? Do you like to listen but not speak? Connecting with what brings you and your partner pleasure can help to strengthen your sexual communication, one fundamental component of relationship communication.
Some psychological studies have found that our perception of taste changes based upon our emotions or the context around us. Specifically, they found that experiencing positive emotions made food taste sweeter, and experiencing negative emotions made foods taste more sour (Noel, Dando 2015). What does your favorite food taste like? Next time you get ready to eat a meal, savor each bite. What are the textures and flavors? Can you identify each of the ingredients? Does the cooking style make a difference?
Sit down to a meal with your partner, ensuring that you each are eating the same foods. How do the items taste to each of you? How do you each react to hot, cold, sour, salty, sweet, creaminess? Which flavors excite each of you the most?
You may notice that you and your partner don’t identify your meal in the same way — and that’s okay. Our taste buds are all different. It’s important to pay attention to how similarly and differently you each describe the meal. Note those differences and consider how that perspective brings you together or makes each of you unique. Delight in the fact that you have a palette that is uniquely your own.
Some of us are more sensitive to scents than other people are — we may love perfumes or only use unscented body care products. Scent is a primal instinct, one that tells us who we feel a deep connection to and one that feels personal in a way that is unrivaled by the other senses.
Think about what your favorite scent is. What feelings does that scent evoque in you? What does it actually smell like? Does the smell “feel” warm, bring back a memory, or make you think of a person?
Your partner has a scent that is uniquely their own. What feelings does that scent bring to you? Next time you embrace, try to remember the feeling that the scent of their hair, their toothpaste, their lotion brings to you. Do you feel more relaxed when you smell those things? More tense? Excited?
Touch is, perhaps, the sense that we most often conflate with pleasure. Our skin is our largest organ, and the nerve endings that create the pathways underneath our skin help us feel temperature, pleasure, and pain.
A simple way to practice tactile mindfulness is to hold an object in your hands. Describe it to yourself. What does it feel like? What is its temperature, its weight, its texture? Does it have a variety of textures? What does that sensation make you think of?
There are a few different ways you could practice mindfulness of touch with your partner. You could do an exercise similar to the one for sight, feeling your partner’s body and noting how its different parts feel — what are its textures, weights, temperatures? How that feeling changes with a light touch compared to a firm touch? How does it feel when your partner touches you? What feelings do you feel?
Any of these senses can be further isolated by removing one of its counterparts — if you wanted to increase taste, you might wear a blindfold or if you wanted to increase your sense of touch you might wear earplugs.
As we enter the new year, consider how your senses can guide you in your life and relationships. If you practice any of these techniques, I’d love to hear from you — let me know on Instagram @Dr.SaraNasserzadeh.
If you want to learn more about the relationship between mindfulness and your sex life, you may find this CNN article that I recently contributed to to be an interesting read.