No time? Constantly stressed? Need Clarity?
SM can help – and it feels good.
Sensory Meditation or “SM” is an easy to learn technique that helps you quickly relax and reduce stress. It’s also the starting point for getting to know yourself on a much deeper level.
SM draws from many eastern meditations. These practices are very powerful, however people in the west often have difficulty with concepts like “chi” or “energy” because they have no idea what it means. With SM, instead of describing something in metaphysical terms (like “the energy” flows here, etc.) you focus on actual sensations in your body that you can feel and relate to. This gives a clear, understandable process that makes sense to our western way of thinking.
The process also incorporates relaxation techniques grounded in neuroscience research, so it’s a blend of eastern and western approaches. I’ve spent over 40 years with various Asian practices, but found that I rarely was applying what I knew. This approach is something I developed because I really needed it myself.
If you want a quick summary of how to do Sensory meditation click here. BUT I strongly encourage you to read the whole article because there are several key points you need to do to get the most benefit. The actual technique is easy once you try it. When I get a chance I’ll make an audio file of the meditation.
We live in a fast paced, overstimulated society.
Some parts of this lifestyle are great, but it also makes it very difficult to calm down and relax. Many people have trouble sleeping because of this constant stimulation. Then during the day they have to rely on coffee and energy drinks to keep going.
Over time constant stimulation and stress hurts our health, well being, and relationships.
One widespread cause of reduced libido in women (and men) is chronic stress, and exhaustion.
So how can we relax?
We don’t have much time to focus on ourselves. Once we have free time, it’s often difficult to calm down. So when we try meditation, it’s hard to stop thinking about everything. As a result, we don’t feel better, and stop practicing.
Sensory meditation is designed for our modern stressful lifestyles.
It can be done in just 2-5 minutes once or twice a day, or whenever you need a quick break. It specifically was created to help give our overstimulated minds something to do that gently helps us relax. Most people feel the benefits after just one session, so they’re motivated to continue.
So what is Sensory Meditation?
SM (also known as “Steve’s easy meditation”) is a combination of meditation and breathing techniques.
It has an “active period” and a “quiet period”. Instead of just sitting there trying to “not think” – which usually makes things harder – it gives your mind something to do instead of worrying about random thoughts. During the “active period” you do breathing techniques to make sounds that vibrate your throat. This vibration massages the vagus nerve in your throat – which tends to cause rapid relaxation. Then in the “quiet period” you just breathe naturally while remembering sensations you’ve already felt before – like sitting in a hot tub, or feeling the sunlight. Since you already know what these sensation feel like, it’s much easier to imagine and “feel”.
SM can be preceded by some warm up exercises that help you relax, but this isn’t required if you’re short on time. If you need to get more energized afterwards you can also do a vigorous breathing technique called “power breaths”. These open your lungs and flood your body with oxygen.
Later, once you can do the mediation easily and are “getting into it” you can add specific pre-meditation questions. You just ask the question once with the belief you’ll get an answer in the future. Then you let it go and do the meditation. You might be amazed how answers pop up later when you don’t expect it.
Below is a summary of the process:
(1) Optional pre-meditation stretching & warm-ups (for a couple minutes if you have time).
(2) Sensory meditation that alternates between “active” and “quite” periods.
(3) If you want to feel more energized instead of relaxed afterwards, do a few sets of “power breaths”
Optionally, you can burn incense or have a fragrance to focus on.
Sensory Meditation has 2 goals:
(1) To help relax your body and clear your mind FAST by stimulating key areas, particularly the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve helps us relax and regain healthy balance. Many people live in a constant state of stress. Doing these breathing techniques just a few minutes each day helps re-awaken the parts of our nervous system that allow us to naturally recenter. To learn more about how stimulating the vagus nerve is beneficial check out this psychology today article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201607/vagus-nerve-stimulation-dramatically-reduces-inflammation
Over time you can actually measure how much SM is helping you relax by doing a “vagus nerve tone” test. This is easy to do by feeling your pulse, and comparing how it changes when you breathe in and out. I’ll share how to do this in the next article.
(2) To help you get to know yourself on a deeper level – so you can enjoy life more. Over time your meditation’s “quiet periods” will become more quiet and you’ll get a deeper experience of this part of yourself.
Why does this matter? Consider this… there is only one person that will be with you from the moment you opened your eyes, to the day you stop breathing – that person is you. Do you really know yourself? Do you really know what you want and enjoy? Most people simply focus on what they don’t want, and live out the role they learned when they were young. Knowing yourself is important for enjoying life and critical for positive relationships.
I want to be clear though, SM doesn’t magically answer all your questions in life. The truth is the only person that can answer those questions is you. Sensory Meditation is a way to get to know who you are and hear that “quite voice” inside. From that you’ll be more able to gain insights into yourself and what you want in life.
Sensory meditation, or any activity that allows to “be quite with yourself” on a regular basis has many benefits ranging from physical, to mental, as well as helping with how you interact in relationships. It gives you a mental “base” that you can build personal strength from.
Details about how to do Sensory Meditation:
First, you will be doing deep as well as vigorous breathing. If you are pregnant, have breathing or heart conditions, or any medical condition, don’t do this meditation until you have checked with your health care provider to make sure it is appropriate for you.
Also, this process can sometimes bring up deep memories and emotions. If you have any challenges with depression, panic attacks or other situations where memories or feelings are overwhelming, make sure to talk with an appropriate councilor or therapist.
Find a comfortable, private place you can be alone. You’ll be making some sounds when you breathe out so ideally it’s a place people won’t hear you. However you quickly learn how to make the sounds quietly so you can do this anywhere you can sit and close your eyes.
Optional pre-meditation “Warm Up”:
These steps are optional but only take a couple minutes. If you are really short on time but want to maximize relaxation, just do the full body tension process (mentioned below) for 10 seconds. Don’t do any stretches or movements if you have back problems, etc. that it might aggravate.
- Stand up straight and stretch your hands over you head as high as you can. Then lower your arms in an arc to each side stretching outwards.
- Arch your back and then roll your shoulders forward a few times.
- Hold your hands up and gently – but vigorously – shake them while you count to 20.
- Place both hands on your forehead and gently rub across your forehead and down around the sides of your face ending at your chin. Do this 6 times.
- Place each hand so your fingers are pressing right in front of your ears and gently rub in circles while you count to 20.
- Place each hand on the sides of your neck right under your jaw line (this is easier if you are sitting) and gently rub past your neck up to where your finger tips touch where the base of your skull starts.
Now do a process where you tense up a body area as strongly as you can for 5 seconds and then relax it for a few seconds before moving on to the next area. First sit or lay down.
- Tense your feet and calves as tightly as you can for 5 seconds, then relax.
- Tense your thighs and rear as tightly as you can for 5 seconds, then relax.
- Tense your abdomen as tightly as you can for 5 seconds, then relax.
- Tense your back as tightly as you can for 5 seconds, then relax.
- Tense your chest as tightly as you can for 5 seconds, then relax.
- Tense your shoulders, arms, forearms and hands as tightly as you can for 5 seconds, then relax.
- Tense your face neck and forehead as tightly as you can for 5 seconds, then relax. (Don’t clench your jaws)
- Relax for a moment.
- Tense your entire body as tightly as you can for 10 seconds, then TOTALLY let go and relax.
Now you are ready to begin the meditation. Note: if you are in a hurry you can just tense your entire body for 10 seconds and relax.
Sensory Meditation – the process:
Before you begin:
If you have limited time, set a timer on your phone, etc. to remind you when you need to stop.
This meditation is an exercise on both “being” and “doing”. We’ll talk more about that later.
To get the most out of this do your best to do the following:
During the active period of the meditation your only goal is to breathe and focus on the feelings and sensations in your body. This is where your attention is. Random thoughts will pass through your mind from time to time. Just let them go and continue to gently focus on how the air feels in your nose, mouth and throat, and how the vibrations feel as you make the sounds.
This isn’t about clearing your mind, it’s about focusing on sensations in your body. Your mind gradually becoming more clear is byproduct of the process and will happen in it’s own time. The idea is not to think but feel. If your thoughts wander, just focus back on the sensations of your body and breathing.
After you have become very familiar with the process you may choose to ask yourself questions before you begin the meditation. However after you have asked them you let them go. You won’t likely get answers during meditation, but you’ll be amazed how thoughts of possible answers will come up later during the next few days.
Starting the “Active Period”
Begin by closing your eyes.
With your mouth closed, inhale through your nose and breathe down deep into your belly until you have a full breath. Your belly should push out a little while you breathe in – but your upper chest shouldn’t rise too much.
How long you inhale is different for each person but as an example breathe in for 6 seconds.
Then hold for 4-6 seconds.
Then start to exhale as follows (your exhalation should be about twice as long as your inhalation):
Start exhaling with your mouth open while you make an “Ohhh” or “Ahhh” sound for a few seconds.
After a few seconds close your mouth and change the sound to “Mmmmm” which causes you to exhale through your nose.
When you exhale you should feel a vibration in the back of your mouth. You can try alternating “Ohhh” and “Ahhhh” or just pick the one that you happen to prefer. The important thing is you feel a vibration from the air and making the sound. Starting out it’s good to over emphasize the sounds so you can really feel the vibration. You’re both physically vibrating that area – AND – learning to pay attention to that specific feeling there. Both are important. As you get more familiar with it you don’t have to make the sound as loud because you can easily focus on that area.
After a few seconds close your mouth and change the sound to “Mmmmm” which causes you to exhale through your nose. The vibration should move down to your throat and be stronger.
This vibration in the throat has been shown in studies to stimulate your vagus nerve and help you spontaneously relax. I suspect that’s why it is a common aspect in many meditation practices.
During this process, let your mind relax and just try to feel the air going into your nose and filling your lungs as your belly expands. As you exhale feel the air leaving and the vibration in your mouth and throat, as well as the feel as it changes to your nose as you close your mouth. Also focus on the sound.
Don’t evaluate or judge it, just observe. As children assuming we had our basic needs met, we also desperately wanted caring attention and to be acknowledged. Most of us didn’t get all we really needed. You are now paying this caring attention to yourself. This is a unique form of love that is without judgment, just paying attention. You are now giving yourself that attention.
After you have exhaled for about twice as long as you inhaled. Pause for 4 seconds or so, then repeat the process.
If you ever feel like you need to take a deep breath, just stop and take it. As well if you feel short of breath take a break and return when you feel ready. This is a process, not a contest.
After doing these breaths for about 12-20 times, or more importantly when it just feels “right” change to the “Quiet Period”.
Begin the “Quiet Period”
Simply continue sitting, or laying and breathe through your nose at whatever pace feels comfortable.
SMILE while continuing to feel the breath come into your nose and to your lungs as you breathe gently into your belly. Every now and then focus on how it feels to smile.
The vibrations from your throat have likely caused your vagus nerve to help you feel more relaxed by now. Just relax and enjoy that feeling. The “Active period” required you to take effort to breathe and make the sounds. Now just let your body and mind rest. Thoughts may still come by. Just let them go and continue experiencing how your body feels at the moment.
Sometimes I also enjoy remembering the feeling of being in a hot tub, or laying in the sun. I “feel” that memory and just let go. I pretend that good feeling of warmth is love and just enjoy it. For many people, over time this feeling soaks into you and others can feel it as well when they’re with them.
Allow the “Quite period” to go as long as you feel is right, or if your thoughts start to wander a lot, then return to the “Active period”.
Keep alternating between the “Active and Quiet periods as long as you wish to, or if your timer indicates it’s time to finish.
When you’ve finished, take a deep breath or yawn and stretch whatever way feels right.
Be careful not to get up quickly because your blood pressure may have dropped.
If instead of chilling out afterwards you want to really wake up afterwards try “Power Breathing”. This is nice if you do SM in the morning.
Note: “Power Breathing” is very vigorous and can make you feel lite headed or dizzy, or out of breath if you do it to vigorously. PLEASE -if you have any health challenges or are pregnant, check with your doctor before doing this.
While sitting in a chair with your back straight, breathe in through your nose and reach your arms up over your head. When you have fully inflated your lungs, including your belly and upper chest, close your fists and forcefully exhale through your mouth as you pull your arms down until your upper arms (biceps) are parallel with the ground (and your forearms are still pointing up). Then open your hands while quickly inhaling through your nose and repeating the process. Each inhalation and exhalation cycle should last about 1 second (it’s pretty fast).
Do this 12 times(unless you feel you need to stop. Then put your arms down, close your eyes and breathe softly for a minute or so. Then repeat the process of 12 breaths and a rest.
If I have time I usually do this for a total of 3 cycles of 12 breaths with resting in between.
That should revitalize you and over time increase your lung capacity. You’ll likely soon notice during the day you can take deeper breaths, and it feels good.
Optional nice things to add:
If you want, pick an incense or fragrance you enjoy that ideally you only use when you’re doing this meditation. During your “Quiet period” also focus on the fragrance. Don’t think about it or evaluate it, just experience it along with the sensation of breathing.
I personally think that it’s best to experience rather than imagine, so if you have the opportunity consider the following. To feel “warmth” do the meditation in a hot tub, sauna, steam room, or while laying in warm sun. After doing this several times you’ll be able to “remember” the feeling even better when you are doing SM elsewhere.
After you used to SM, during the “Quite period” picture someone you care about and “feel” them experiencing the warmth and love you are feeling.
Every now and then during the day if you happen to think of it or maybe every time you are in front of a mirror, SMILE for a little while and remember that relaxed loving feeling.
Drink some strong hot chocolate (with lots of extra natural coco powder) before meditating – unless it’s before bedtime.
Keep a notepad beside you while mediating. If a thought occurs to you that seems so compelling or interesting, briefly stop and write it down. Then return to mediating. That way you don’t have to worry about forgetting it. It’s also a good idea to keep a notepad or phone with you during the day and by your bed because great ideas pop up all the time.
Quick Summary of Sensory Meditation:
Sensory Meditation allows over stimulated minds to focus on a “task” of feeling and experiencing breathing. The breathing process combined with the sounds stimulates the vagus nerve, which induces a more relaxed state which helps the mind go deeper and be more clear during the “quiet periods”.
KEY POINTS: (Make sure to read the whole article because this is just a quick overview)
- If you have an itch, scratch it. As well deal with any other unexpected distraction you need to. Then get back to the process. It’s like going to the gym, if you had to stop & scratch your head while working out – you just do it – it doesn’t stop your workout.
- If you ever get caught up in a thought, just focus on the “feeling” of what is going on with your breathing and throat vibration. Passing thoughts are part of you, everyone has them. Just let them go and over time things will become more “quiet”.
- Take some time before you meditate to remember a pleasant memory of either being in a hot tub, a sauna, laying on the beach in the sun or some other experience that warmed your body and felt great. If you haven’t had an experience like this you can start out by imagining it, but I recommend you try a physical experience as well. That way when you mediate you don’t have to ponder which memory to recall, you’ll already have it ready.
- MAKE sure to read “Actually doing this in your daily life” at the end of the summary.
- If you can, try this in a hot tub, sauna or in the sunshine and experience it. Then carry this memory with you when you meditate again.
Pre meditation warm ups (if you have time)
Find a quiet place you won’t be disturbed and either sit or stand.
Stand up straight and stretch your arms, arch and round your back.
Shake your hands for ~20 seconds
Rub round your forehead and face, then a spot right in front of your ears, then on the sides of your neck.
Work from your feet to your head tensing and relaxing your muscles.
Then tense your whole body for 5 seconds – then RELAX
With your eyes closed inhale to your belly through your nose for a full deep breath.
Hold the breath for a few seconds.
Exhale at least twice as long – for the first few seconds through your mouth saying “Ahhh” or “Ohhh” feeling it vibrate in the back of your mouth. After a few seconds close your mouth and change the sound to “Mmmm” feeling it vibrate in your throat.
When you have fully exhaled don’t breathe back in for several seconds (~4 or so)
Then repeat the process
Simply continue sitting, or laying and breathe through your nose at whatever pace feels comfortable.
After doing 12 or so of these breath cycles (or when if feels right) start the “quiet period”
To do this SMILE and breathe normally through your nose. During this time remember the feeling (and feel) what it is like to be in a hot tub or in the sunshine. Feel this as love and attention for yourself.
Allow the “Quite period” to go as long as you feel is right, or if your thoughts start to wander a lot, then return to the “Active period” usually focusing on the breaths helps keep us back with our mind more “clear”.
Keep alternating between the “Active” and “Quiet” periods as long as you wish to, or if your timer indicates it’s time to finish.
When you’ve finished, take a deep breath or yawn and stretch whatever way feels right.
Inhale through your nose while opening your hands and reaching upwards feeling a stretch in your upper chest.
Forcefully exhale pulling your arms down.
Repeat the process about once per second for 12 times.
Take a break and just breathe normally for a little while.
Then do 2 more cycles.
Get used to this meditation process and decide if you like how you feel doing it. If you do, practice for a month or so before adding questions before the beginning. You first need to really feel it and relax.
In the near future I’ll cover creating questions that are phrased to empower you and focus on positive outcomes (and not provide reasons why things are the way they are).
Actually doing this in your daily life:
Reading this and maybe trying it once or twice is nice, but our lives have so many distractions it’s easy to lose track. So if you’re serious about adding meditation to your life, here are some things that can help:
One day each week: Set aside one day each week (like on the weekend) you can devote a little more time to practice. Ideally 15-30 minutes. Do the warm up exercises (~3-5 min), the meditation 10-20 minutes, and the power breaths for 3-4 min.
Try to set aside a time each day you practice 3-5 minutes. For example:
Each morning: Either while you’re still in bed, or when you just get up, do the whole body tension warm up (not each body part but tense your whole body as tight as you can for 10 seconds – the totally relax it). Then do SM for a few minutes. Then do 3 sets of 12 power breaths.
Or – for a lunch break: Do the whole body tension warm up (not each body part but tense your whole body as tight as you can for 10 seconds – the totally relax it). Then do SM for a few minutes. Then do 3 sets of 12 power breaths.
Or – as soon as you get home from work: Do the whole body tension warm up (not each body part but tense your whole body as tight as you can for 10 seconds – the totally relax it). Then do SM for a few minutes. Then do 3 sets of 12 power breaths.
Another HIGHLY recommended thing is to do this with a friend at a set time once a week. What’s nice is you can do this over skype or google hangouts if you like. As long as both people can do this – try syncing your breath and sounds. It creates a cool effect. Or do this in a group when you can. When several people do this it can create an amazing “resonance” literally and metaphorically. However… if you have others with you and you are trying to sync your breathing, you need to decide on one person leading. Make sure this person breathes at a rate that others can keep up with.
In the near future I’ll cover how couples can do this meditation together to experience a new level of connection.