In really simple terms, you can do one of two things with your brain. You can think, or you can sense. When you think, your body usually responds by preparing for action. In other words, it assumes that because you are thinking, you need to be prepared (for a meeting, a holiday, to go to work) and you need a little shot of adrenaline. In this way, the fight or flight response is triggered and the sympathetic nervous system activated.

Conversely, when you sense, the body usually responds by relaxing. It assumes that because you are not thinking, you have nothing you need to plan or be prepared for. As such, the parasympathetic arm of the nervous system is triggered, and every system within the body tends to return to a state of rest or balance.

If you’re having a bad day, one surprisingly quick and effective means of de-stressing is to deliberately turn your attention to any of the five senses. In fact, within just 20 seconds a shift occurs in your brain, and you’ll start to relax. This simple strategy — shifting from thinking to sensing — is the essential ingredient in nearly all meditation practices.

Note that this is NOT a shift away from thinking. It’s a shift towards sensing. In other words, the intention here is not to demonize or avoid thinking, but to recognize that —when required — we can direct our attention in a different direction.

Does that make sense? Try it out below and see what happens when you shift into sensing mode? You might like to consider which senses seem to work best for you.

Note: If the player below is not working you can listen to this meditation on Soundcloud.