SUSANNAH TAYLOR: How do you undo sensory overload?
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to escape to a yoga retreat in Morocco. It was held by Nicole Page-Croft, with whom I have been practicing yoga for years.
Her retreats are not only about the yoga postures, but have a theme from which she draws many wise teachings.
Our week was a feast of the senses. “The richness of life comes largely through our senses,” says Nicole. ‘They offer space for interaction, learning and enjoyment.’
We also had to learn how to use them. There is a Buddhist metaphor that compares our senses to horses pulling a chariot: “Without training and a wise driver, our senses can take us in all directions and even cause us to run off the road.” Every morning we dived into a feeling before doing yoga.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to escape to a yoga retreat in Morocco. It was held by Nicole Page-Croft, with whom I have been practicing yoga for years. stock image
First there was sight – the main one from which we learn about the world. But Nicole warned that we are subject to visual overload through screens, advertisements and media. Yoga teaches us to calm the mind by keeping our ‘seeing’ in check. We practiced drishti and fixed our gaze on a still point that calms and focuses the mind.
The next day it was our sense of smell, which Nicole described as “the closest thing to time travel” because a scent can transport you to another era and another space. For me, it’s the smell of art shops that takes me back to my creative childhood.
Nicole suggested calming our nervous system by regularly using a scent that we can associate with downtime. She uses frankincense, but you can also try aromatherapy oils or a breathable balm. I love Bertioli Breathing Balm, £20, bertioli.co.uk.
I really interacted with the session about hearing as I often feel the need to lie in the tub in silence and forbid anyone to go in or talk to me.
‘The world is a noisy place,’ says Nicole, ‘all spiritual traditions testify to the need for silences in order to think better.’ Silence reduces feelings of being overwhelmed and encourages contemplation and space between thoughts. So if you find that life is getting too much for you, find even a few moments of clarity that induce silence.
Then we learned the importance of touch, of how we thrive in direct correlation to being held – that’s why keeping your distance was one of the downsides of lockdown.
Meanwhile, the session on taste reminded us that not only is it a survival tool, but it is also meant to bring people together, which is essential for the community. Finally, we talked about what Buddhists call our sixth sense: intuition; that feeling most of us recognize that tells us when something is right or wrong.
But one of my greatest lessons was what the yogis call pratyahara – loosely translated as ‘sensory withdrawal’. ‘We communicate with the world through our senses,’ says Nicole, ‘and very often there is no space between its call and your response.’
An important lesson in Buddhist teachings is that while we may have little control over the world we live in, we can change our response to it. So before you send that email to your boss or yell at your partner, instead of responding right away, acknowledge some space in your mind and sit in it for a while. You will make better life choices as a result.