The “Five Senses” Method I Learned at a Yoga Retreat is the Most Meditative Part of My Morning Routine

published Aug 20, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Meditation bowl on concrete surface with plants and notebook
Credit: Stocksy / Lauren Lee
Meditation Bowl And Plants

Whenever I need to get clear on a decision, I find myself scrolling on my phone too much, or I just need a break, I turn to my at-home meditation practice. Sitting in stillness and quiet is a great way for me to check in with myself, since meditation brings focus to the present moment, and one of my favorite ways to meditate is to tune in to all five senses.

I was lucky enough to attend a yoga retreat in Costa Rica a few years ago, and as soon as I stepped off the plane, all of my senses were heightened, simply because there was so much to see, hear, and feel. I was traveling in the winter, so I immediately felt the warm, humid air on my skin. As I arrived at the retreat center, howler monkeys all around made their presence known with loud, deep howls. The fruit was the sweetest, most delicious fruit I had ever tasted. The vibrant view from a seat at the kitchen table was lush and green. The retreat center was nestled in the middle of the jungle, and it was indeed a feast for the senses. 

More than a retreat, it was a yoga intensive — we stuck to a firm schedule. Our mornings however, were free and we were encouraged to have some sort of personal morning practice, whether it was journaling, yoga, or meditation. The one rule was that we remained quiet until after breakfast. One meditation practice they taught us to fill this quiet time was to simply pay attention to our surroundings, asking ourselves: What do you see? What you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell? What do you taste? The early morning hours were my favorite, and practicing the five senses meditation was a great way to ground myself at the beginning of each day, especially since it was so quiet and I could hear every bit of noise coming from the lush landscape we were surrounded by. 

I left Costa Rica deeply changed and with an arsenal of new meditation practices to try at home. Of course, once I was back in my apartment in Maryland, I wanted to practice my favorite new meditation, and I traded monkey howls for chirping birds outside my window. And even though the sights and sounds of everyday life were much different than they were in Costa Rica, I found the practice was the same — paying attention to the present moment can slow racing thoughts, and ground you in the here and now. 

Starting an at-home meditation practice couldn’t be easier, because you don’t need anything to begin. You can practice the five senses meditation at home whenever you need to take a breather throughout the day, or you can start your morning with it, before the hustle and bustle of your day begins. I personally love to meditate outside on my balcony, but anywhere will do. Start by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, close your eyes and start to take slow, deep breaths. Then, follow these steps.

What do you hear?

Shift your attention to all of the sounds that you hear. If you’re inside, maybe you hear the hum of your AC or a ticking clock. If you’re outside, maybe you hear birds and cars passing by. Try not to judge the sounds as good or bad, just notice them. I also like to meditate to nature sounds, like beach waves or rain, and having earbuds in is a great way to really focus on what you hear. If you notice your mind wandering, don’t worry — bring your focus back to your breathing and when you feel a little more centered, refocus on the sounds. It’s totally normal to have thoughts, and a wandering mind doesn’t mean you’re a bad meditator, it simply means you have a brain that works! With practice, you’ll find that your mind wanders less. After a minute or two, shift your focus to…

What do you smell?

Perhaps the smell of your freshly brewed coffee is lingering in the air, or your laundered clothes, or favorite perfume. If you can’t smell anything, find something close by like a candle or essential oil. Just like before, you’re not labeling smells as good or bad — they just are. After about a minute, shift your focus to…

What do you taste?

If you like, have a drink or snack with you and really take the time to taste and enjoy. Savor each bite and notice the textures and flavors of what you’re eating or drinking. And if you don’t have food or drink with you, focus on relaxing your jaw and tongue. Notice any sensations you have in your mouth, like how your tongue rests behind your teeth. Maybe there’s a hint of your breakfast or coffee still lingering. Keep breathing and tasting for about a minute. 

What do you see?

It’s time to gently open your eyes and take in your surroundings. Do a quick scan of the room you’re in, then begin to focus on some of the smaller details you perhaps don’t pay attention to much. Notice shapes and colors, and take note of anything that sticks out to you. You can also choose to look at one specific thing, like a basket or crystal, or really anything you have in your home. Especially if you’re having trouble focusing on an entire room or environment, having one thing to look at gives you a specific center of attention.

What do you feel?

The last sense is touch, and you can start just by feeling your hands on your thighs. Perhaps you feel the warmth of your skin, or the softness of your clothes. You can move to touching the chair you’re sitting in, or the sofa you’re lying down on. Feel the ground or floor beneath your feet. Stand up and touch an object or two in your surroundings. Keep breathing deep and after a minute, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Do you feel different than when you started? Don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel distracted, meditation is a practice just like anything else, and you can always bring your attention back to what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Move on with your day, and anytime you need a break or are feeling overwhelmed, try this meditation practice.