Mindfulness and meditation have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. The pervasive issue of mental health, reaching crisis point in some countries and demographics has created demand for solutions. Apps such as Headspace and the countless YouTube guided videos speak for themselves. Sensory rooms are a way to take this further, perhaps you already treat your bedroom as a comfortable place, but the difference between feeling comfort and feeling out new sensory experiences is distinct.
What is a sensory room?
Sensory rooms are specially designed environments which aim to develop a person’s senses. This is done through the interplay of space and objects from which emerge experiences to help those in need.
Sensory rooms are closing linked to snoezelen, a Dutch invention from the 1970s. Jan Hulsegge and Ad Verheul developed the original concept to act as a theraputic environment. Today sensory rooms for those with autism, cognitive disabilities, or brain injuries are common, especially in Germany. Sensory rooms do not strictly have to be used by those with such conditions, similar to floatation tanks these environments can contribute to mental wellbeing for those without a pathologised condition. They could be considered as gyms for your senses if you will.
What sort of things should I include in my sensory room?
A good place to start if by counting off the senses. Our five basic senses are, if you have forgotten; sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. Of these taste is arguably the hardest to achieve as a permenant part of a sensory room, although eating a piece of fruit or a sweet whilst using your room is a good idea.
Lighting is a must. As a starting point white walls are the best colour, because you are then able project and modulate between the whole spectrum without interference from the base wall colour. Think projectors, lamps, or even the Dream Machine– a stroboscopic flicker device conceived by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, first build by Ian Sommerville.
One of the most crucial senses as it relates so strongly to our motor functions. A variety of textures, soft and hard, fuzzy and smooth should be included and these should cover different planes of the room and be interchangable if possible. Tactile sensatons from handling objects of different sizes and weights are also important facets.
Comfortable cushions and furniture which can be navigated in low light ar essentials. It is important to be creative and think how regular items like mattress toppers could be re-purposed when deployed in a sensory room.
Controlling the temperature in the room is important, how does heating or cooling the environment affect the interplay of the senses? Do you have the right appliances for remote control or even programmable settings if you’re undertaking a long session in your room?
Quality speakers are one essential component of a sensory room. These should be easy to control, both in terms of changing the sound, accessing new sounds via a laptop or smartphone for instance. But they should also be easily muted or easily turned up and down should some discomfort arise.
Along with pre-recorded music, being able to play an instrument in a sensory room is a great way to produce new sensory experiences. You do not have to be a concert pianist to make music, a small drum, chimes, rattles or even singing bowls would be perfect to include.
Olafactory sensations are a more difficult proposition in a sensory room. Humans have the ability to smell over one trillion scents, our brains make up for the lack of receptors compared to some mammals you might know. This powerful mental connection to a physiological process means though difficult, scent is worth pursuring despite inherent difficulties.
Unlike sight, touch, and hearing the ephemera associated with scent are harder to control. You cannot quickly turn down the smell of something. It is best to take the same approach to scent as it is to the walls, neutral. If you have a favourite incense or essential oil burner you might wish to include this in your sensory room set up. However if you do not include smell, you still have the other senses to mingle.
Again this is a harder sense to manage. The idea of a permenant taste installation seems far fetched and ineffective in a sensory room. It is better to approach taste as an addition, something you bring into the room. Go shopping if you plan on spending some time in a sensory room, buy some food from childhood or something with a distinct and interesting flavour, go for small amounts and do consider the potential stickiness of the item and how hard cleaning it up might be, it is not very zen to have to get the sponge out and scrub up some mango.
Overall sensory rooms provide a way to get in touch with yourself and with others through play, something many of us are less accustom to doing as adults. The benefits of this kind of play include improved concentration and attention, developing through mingling our sense of hearing and sight, helping our co-ordination and in general instilling a sense of mindfulness and peace.