Today, on the last day of the year, my pink yoga mat welcomed me back after almost a month away. December has been a blur of travel and spontaneous festive family gatherings, broken only by an intense 10-days of silence and meditation during my first Vipassana retreat experience, just outside Bangalore. From the early winter chill, nostalgia and revelry of Delhi to the glitter, scale and smog of Shanghai; through a Christmas barbeque dinner at home, and a last-minute family road trip to Chennai and the beaches of Mahabalipuram, it’s been a non-stop, often disorienting whirl. So it wasn’t surprising that I’ve had to ditch my regular yoga, gym and meditation time this month and find other ways to stay centered. As I work to put that routine back in order starting today, I’ve put together a list of ways in which you can use each one of your senses to experience a few moments of tranquility and beauty. Remember to breathe in deep and slow and focus as clearly as you can, with the intention to remain aware. The magic will come.
Your eyes are a gift: Look around you and focus on colour, shape, size and form. Watch movement, fast or slow. Notice how light falls on objects, how the dark swallows them up. Nature or anything outdoors really, is a glorious way to absorb the magic that’s around us. Even in the concrete wonder that is Shanghai, I marvelled at the brightly lit waterfront Bund area and the stately buildings that line its length. There’s a lot to see out there; you’ll find it in the smallest details if you just look. And you don’t need to wait to go on vacation to do so.
Listen to the music: Focus on one sound at a time if you can. Music on? Are you in the moment to really experience what it can do for you? A crackling fire? Food sizzling on the gas? A loved one’s voice? The clatter of daily life? When’s the last time you really heard the sounds? Can you separate what you hear? Can you listen for patterns? What does it do to you? I love listening to language: nostalgia for me in Delhi was listening to Hindi, the familiar cadence, accent and colloquial slang. It made me smile because I felt completely at home. In Paris, earlier this year, I wandered the streets feeling drunk on listening to the French speak French…it has to be the most delightfully spoken language in the world.
Breathe in life’s fragrance: Notice the smells and scents coming at you on the air. My favourite place to do this is in the kitchen, particularly when I’m baking. Vanilla, chocolate, sugar, cinnamon spell sweetness, joy and lightness for me. When I travel, every city smells differently. I know I’m home when I smell the warm lush red earth of Bangalore. Mumbai’s distinctive sour, fishy, salty smells have a vibrant energy. In the frantic festive season, breathing in the heady scent of a peaty single malt or a lush red wine can quickly transport you to a moment of lightness.
Savour the moment: When was the last time you truly tasted what you ate or drank? Taste can be a powerful way of noticing a moment as your tongue explodes with sweet, sour, spicy, hot and cold tastes. At the Vipassana retreat, with only two meals a day, breakfasts were almost a spiritual experience as we ate steaming hot food while sitting outdoors on very cold mornings watching the sun rise – tasting the sweetness of the ragi porridge and drinking spicy masala chai, biting into the softest idlis doused with a delicious coconut chutney that combined for a heavenly experience.
Feel the power of touch: Sensations on the body are what I learned to observe from the meditation retreat. In daily life, even if you don’t meditate, these can be experienced from just paying attention to what touches your skin. Heat, cold, water, fabrics, textures, pets, physical pain or tiredness, even the keyboard under your fingertips. It’s enough to just notice how the sensations feel. It’s different from the feel-good oxytocin rush of being touched – this is about being aware of any sensation that your skin experiences and just staying in that moment for a bit, without judgement of how you feel about it.
Open your heart: Your sixth sense is what your heart tells you. Breathe deep, close your eyes, dip your head down a bit and put both your hands over your heart to listen; that’s your truth being told just there. It’s a wonderful practice I learned from a Newfield coach. You’ll need a few minutes more for this one; remember to end the exercise by expressing gratitude.
I hope you enjoy these moments as much as I do. Over time, you’ll be able to notice what all your senses feel in a single moment. Your body is the gateway to living in awareness – experiencing magic is just you coming home to what is already there within. Happy New Year!