Why do we have sense organs? They provide information: what's around us, what's happening inside us. Our job is to connect with - pay attention to
- the beautiful and the ugly that our eyes are seeing
- the natural sounds and noise that our ears are hearing
- do we enjoy what our mouths taste?
- is our skin being pinched by the ring we're wearing?
- are we thrown off balance when we close our eyes?
How does it work? Each sense organ has sensory nerves with receiving ends that pick up information that they are designed to receive. e.g. sensory receivers in your eye respond to light waves; ears respond to sound waves. These stimuli are converted to electrical impulses and conveyed
- directly to your brain, or
- to your spinal cord or
- to your brain via your spinal cord
Impulses that reach the brain are processed in specialized areas of the cortex - the upstairs brain - that is the site of higher brain functions.
When immediate reaction to sensory stimuli is required, safety and survival depend on short cuts. For instance, if you see a snake - or something resembling a snake - evasive or defensive action is triggered before your brain has time to process the information. When the brain eventually processes what you "saw", you may realize that it's only a harmless garden snake or a piece of rope that looked like a snake.
At least you’re out of harm’s way when you interpret what’s really there, and most people can laugh & shake off remnants of the adrenalin rush that prepared them for danger.
But, for a variety of reasons often related to past trauma, some people - and that includes kids - have difficulty shaking off/ resetting their nervous system - after they've been scared or excited.
Exploring Your Senses activities can potentially help everyone re-set their nervous system, and, after trauma, some people may need additional help.
Our sense organs constantly pick up and feed sensory information to the brain and nervous system. Most sen. info. does not enter our consciousness, because the body responds automatically to some information - ignoring a lot of it.
Ignore is an important word and we’ll return to it after we talk about Sensory Awareness, the opposite process:
Describing sensations is usually simple and easy for children:
* Sensory Awareness is more of a R brain activity
* Right brain is more accessible to younger children than Left
* Children are more directly influenced by body, images, non-verb communication like facial expressions, voice tones, gut feelings - stuff that doesn’t require thinking.
The thinking part of our brain can make Sensory Awareness more complex for adults.
Adults often find that their their grocery shopping list, ideas fora project, stewing about a snarky remark hamper their efforts to identify and stay with sensory experiences.
The thinking mind is just doing it’s thing - thinking, planning, fretting.
So, when you don’t want to be it’s captive audience, we offer you a tool - The Sensation List - to help you practice returning to the present moment.
When you identify and bring your attention to a sensation, you become a neutral observer, like a scientist who notices - without judgment or commentary - what’s going on right now.
Why is neutral observation important?
Hot kettle scene 1: I touch a hot kettle; HOT sensations trigger an immediate reaction to move my hand. While I’m taking protective action, the HOT info reaches my brain and my brain directs me to put some aloe & ice on it.
Hot kettle scene 2: I touch the hot kettle. Eich! i did it again, i’m so clumsy & stupid, and it’s HIS fault because HE knows i’m busy and HE always blah blah blah when i’ve got my hands full, I rant.
In the 1st scenario i’m Neutral/ in present time. When i get burned, my body sounds the “injury” alert and gives 1st aid directions and begins the internal burn repair process. Since i’ve burned myself in the past, i also access stored info about applying first aid.
In the 2nd scene, i’m judgmental: I beat up on myself & somebody else:
I add insult to injury and complicate my body’s response to being burned.
My tirade, (i’m so clumsy), I complicates the alarm signals and confuses my body. Confusion increases stress by distracting my body’s attention away from the burn, and I undermine my body’s natural healing process.
That brings us back to, what I consider to be the value of sensory awareness and our sensation list.
For many adults, learning to identify sensations is like learning a foreign language that is rarely taught. We’re usually immersed in stimulation that distracts us from sensory awareness unless we learn how - and set the intention - to tune in.
When we invite you to notice sensations in your body, check out the sensation list to help you i.d. your experience, and do it like a neutral observer - without opening baggage about the sensation that’s stored in your brain.
How do you know when you’re opening baggage?
If the label for each experience has more then one word or a short phrase, your thinking mind has hijacked the process.
KIS it! Keep It Simple!
When you notice that you are following a story-line, a memory, planning a shopping list - just say oops! and make a fresh start. Be patient with yourself. To begin, just notice a few sensations each time; maybe notice how they change.
Why is Sensory Awareness important?
In our brochure we say that
The speed of life, life events, distracting digital tools, toys and instant communication often disrupt focus, generate stress and complicate parenting, teaching and learning.
It’s sort of like our network of roads in LA. - if the # of cars, trucks & buses exceed the available road space at the same time - what do you get?
Traffic jams happen in our bodies. too.
1) Too much information at one time can exceed the capacity of sensory nerves to relay information - and the information that doesn’t get through can get stuck in the nervous system.
2) Too much information
- can exceed the brain’s capacity to process it
- overwhelm your ability to make choices and decisions
- we may end up ignoring it all - tossing out the baby w/ the bath water.
3) The stress of too much information triggers release of stress chemicals, which disrupt digestion, circulation, clear thinking and the immune system.
When we practice identifying sensations, we can select what needs attention, influence our capacity to take in new information, and make choices that are life sustaining. So choosing what to focus on is a healthy way of ignoring TMI.