A Quick Guide To The Senses
When asked how many senses we have, most people would respond that we have 5 – touch, taste, smell, touch, and sight. In fact we have 7! Read on for more information:
Sensory receptors located in the inner ear let us know how our head is positioned, and contribute to our sense of balance, as well as our ability to make co-ordinated movements. Having the wrong amount of vestibular input – too little, or too much – means we can feel disoriented and unsafe. We can stimulate our vestibular system through activities such as using a rocking chair, dancing, swinging, or going on fairground rides.
Your joints have sensory receptors that register information whenever your muscles stretch or relax. Your brain uses this information to know how your needs to move – how much speed and force to use, and in what direction. This sense is called proprioception.
The awareness of our body in space can help us to feel ‘grounded’, and aid us in times of distress. In day to day life, people may get proprioceptive stimulation from a huge variety of activities including yoga, walking, lifting weights, swimming, or kneading bread. We can also get a lot of proprioceptive input from our mouths, for example by eating chewy or crunchy foods, sucking sweets, or chewing gum.
It’s well known that the skin is the largest organ in the body, and it provides us with a lot of information about the environment around us and how our bodies feel within it. Our bodies actually use two different pathways to process tactile information – light touch and deep pressure touch.
In general, we find touch that is light, quick, and on a small part of the body, to be alerting – think of splashing cold water on your face. Meanwhile, touch that is firm or heavy, and over a large surface area, is usually calming – think of a hug, or snuggling up under a blanket. The range of ways to stimulate the tactile sensory system is huge, and extends from fidget toys and heat packs, to massagers and weighted items. Plenty to explore!
Our sense of smell is closely linked to our memories, our basic emotions, such as fear or pleasure, and our drives, such as hunger. Supermarkets and spas know this, which is why the successful ones never smell unpleasant!
If you’ve ever felt pleasure at smelling a freshly opened jar of coffee, or nostalgia at the scent of a particular dish, you will understand the connection. A range of products can be used to simulate the olfactory system in order to enhance wellbeing, from scented candles and body lotions, to crushed herbs or spices.
You have 2000-5000 taste buds on your tongue, plus others inside your mouth and throat. Each one contains 50-100 taste receptors. These enable us to tell how sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or delicious something is.
In addition to the tactile and proprioceptive stimulation of chewing, different textures, and temperatures, it is no wonder that eating is considered a pleasurable activity by most people. Experiment by varying the sensory qualities of the food you eat – crunchy carrots or chewy muesli bars; salty pretzels or sour sweets; cold ice-lollies or hot herbal teas. Chocolate can be sweet, or bitter!
The visual sense is more than the ability to see – it can have a profound effect on our emotional and physical wellbeing. For example, some people find spending time in a room with harsh strip-lighting can make them feel tired or anxious, or give them headaches. There is a range of ways you can manage visual stimulation, including adjustable lighting, the use of colour, picture cues, or eye masks. Other ways that visual stimulation can be used, include light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the increasing popularity of adult colouring for mindfulness.
Our ability to hear is thanks to our ears’ ability to sense air and sound waves. We can enhance our wellbeing using our favourite music, nature sounds, guided meditations on CD, or white noise.
Some people find they can only concentrate in silence, while others need background noise in order to stay alert. Whether you are overwhelmed by loud noises, or irritated by quiet noises, it can help to get to know how you respond to auditory input.