Why every yogi should be practicing interoception…
…even if you don’t know what it means yet.
Don’t be put off by the terminology. Interoception may sound like that Leonardo DiCaprio movie that no one understands, but it’s definitely not as confusing.
Interoception is mindful body awareness. It’s your unconscious ability to understand and sense what is happening inside you. It may be sensing hunger or tightness in the body, or sensing that you need to go to the loo. It’s not thinking about and analysing what’s happening in the body; interoception takes us out of time and space and is simply about feeling.
Why should I care about interoception?
When you are under stress or experiencing trauma or illness you have the tendency to stop embodying the body, and instead disconnect from it. You become reactive rather than responsive to what’s going on internally.
But embodiment is actually vital to your health and wellbeing.
Interoception for physical health and wellbeing
According to interoception expert Richard Miller, when you are more interoceptive – more sensitive to the body – you can intuit issues even before they arise. Have you ever felt a cold coming on? That’s interoception. And it’s powerful. Being ‘tuned in’ means you notice and respond to the body’s signals, and proactively take care of yourself rather than reacting to the dis-ease when it’s already present and settled in the body. It may be that you begin to eat healthier food, make an effort to get more sleep, or visit the doctor before you get really sick.
Interoception for emotional health and wellbeing
The ability to feel what’s happening inside also gives you greater emotional stability. Interoceptive sensing improves your emotional awareness, helps you regulate your emotions, and enables you to approach what’s happening internally with curiosity and kindness (rather than blind panic). As an added bonus, being more emotionally aware can also improve your relationships with others.
How yoga can help you be more interoceptive
You can enhance your interoceptive capabilities in many ways: with mindful awareness, meditation, and mindful movement (such as Tai Chi and of course, yoga).
I believe yin yoga is particularly awesome way to practice mindful movement and strengthen your interoceptive sense. Yin is a quiet, contemplative practice that cultivates deep stillness. Long-held poses allow you to slow down and ‘tune in’ to what’s happening in the body. You allow yourself to move from one internal sensation to another without getting ‘stuck’ on one. There’s also less focus on getting yin asanas ‘right’. What’s ‘right’ for the teacher or the latest Insta-yogi many not be ‘right’ for you. Instead you listen to your body and sit with the sensations.
There’s no denying that practicing interoception – feeling instead of thinking – is tough at first. But that’s the same as anything that’s worth doing in life. And practice makes perfect – every time you flex your interceptive muscle, even for a few moments, you’re creating and strengthening neural connections so it’s easier next time.
So next time you’re on the mat, rather than trying to copy flexi Becky, reconnect with yourself and tune in to what’s happening inside you. I promise that your body, and your mind, will thank you for it.
I’ll be delving into interoception as part of my upcoming yin yoga teacher training module – The Energy Body. Click here to find out more and to secure your discounted ‘early bird’ space.