Sensory Processing

In Dawna Markova’s book The Art of the Possible she describes the different sensory preferences we each have for taking in information. Her work moves us beyond the simple notion of being an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner. Understanding sensory processing allows us to care for ourselves, and the experiences others have in the spaces we create.

We learn more about the brain every day. While any explanation is overly simplistic, these concepts help you understand why others have difficulty where you find ease (or the reverse). Dawna Markova explains that, depending upon the mode of processing that is required, your primary way of receiving information may shift from the use of one sense to another.

When you are organizing information, you are utilizing your conscious mind, your left brain; you are analyzing, being rational and linear. When you are sorting information, you are operating at a subconscious level, balancing the information you receive and making sense of it. When you are creating, you are operating at a right-brain level where you are finding associations and synthesizing. We all function in all three places.

Some of us naturally take in information through vision (visual), others through body movement (kinesthetic), and others through hearing (auditory).  When we speak of a visual learner, we mean they learn by watching. A kinesthetic learner needs to “do” the thing and the auditory learner can hear the information and understand its meaning easily.

Some of us sort information through movement, some through sound, and some through the vision. In order to know how you feel about something it may help you to dance (movement), sing or listen to music (sound) or journal (visual). Of course, you may always rely upon a variety of your senses for processing.

When you want to communicate your understanding, you have a modality that is most natural for you to use. An artist might wish to be able to paint a response to a question rather than to have to use words. A musician might hear music that explains his feelings better than any words he can find. We also have a mode we tend to “hang out” in, a preference of where we go when under stress.

Understanding these preferences and dimensions of sensory processing helps you take care of your own needs. It also helps you build the most effective bridges to support the processing needs of others. By considering your responses to the following questions, you can begin to learn about your communication style.


Do you learn by
sensing or feeling?
Do you describe according to how something
Do you remember what was
Do you relax by
moving or being still?
closing your eyes or choosing what to look at?
being silent or choosing what to listen to?


Do you move inward or outward by
feelings or actions?
visual input?
words, music, or silence?
Do you find or lose yourself by
touch or movement?
closing your eyes to hear or feel deeply?
listening or speaking?


Do you make connections and associations by
touching and moving?
seeing something visually powerful?
hearing music or someone speak?
Are you entranced by and vulnerable to
touch and sensation?
visual images?
words or music?

(For people who are very sensitive to energy there actually needs to be an entire additional set of concepts for their way of sensing. Because people who sense and feel energy have very different ways of doing so, it is hard to come up with one set of words for this experience. Many still “feel energy” or receive information in the energetic realm through either words, body sensation, or sight.)

When you evaluate the effectiveness of your message, you can become conscious of the different ways your clients or audience may be processing the information you present. You also realize that people are responding to different qualities of your message in the visual field, in the auditory realm through the tone under the words, and in the felt non-verbal experience of the setting or people your client encounters.

Vocabulary to Evaluate Sensory Experiences

When evaluating the health and appropriateness of an environment, it helps to consider the variables that may impact each sense.

Tactile: temperature, surfaces, materials

Olfactory: indoor and outdoor odors, chemicals, toxins, foods, cleaning agents, added scents

Visual: lighting (natural and artificial), patterns, color, shape, size, clutter, harmony, contrast

Auditory: music, television, conversation, appliances, wind and rain, traffic, cell phone conversations, forced air systems

Kinesthetic (body experience): weight of objects, places to put things, ease of access, ease of entry and exit, traffic flow, grade change, speed of activities, predictability, weight of doors, ergonomic experience of furniture

Energetic: clean or toxic energy and residue, water under physical site, electromagnetic fields, memory of past events in a place, geomagnetic influences