Interoception is Mindfulness in the Body – listening to the body and learning to inhabit the body in a new way. Interoception is tuning us into the subtle language of the body.
In yoga, we tend to work with proprioceptive cues (shoulders away from the ears/ reach to the sky etc). Meanwhile, exteroception is how we take in information from the world around us through our senses. Interoceptive cues invite us into the body and into sensation – let your arm float/ feel into the earth/ follow your awareness into the root of the heart. Cultivating this awareness gives us a deeper sense of the capacity of each breath and the possibility of change within our posture and habits. We tend to see the body and feel it on a superficial level, judging our feelings and our tensions or falling into habitual movement or ways of standing and sitting – interoceptive awareness gives us a different sense of the impact of each step, each asana or each breath.
We need the 3 dynamic qualities of exteroception, proprioception and interception to navigate our day-to-day lives. How we take in the world around us, how we inhabit the body and orient it in the space around us, and how we tune into our inner world.
In yogic philosophy, we have the concept of pratyahara – sense withdrawal – withdrawing the senses from the external world (exteroception) and drawing them into the subtle inner world (interoception). We need exteroception and sensation obviously, but in meditation and even in our yoga practice it can be a distraction – our senses stimulate thought, memory and reaction. So we need to practice non-attachment to our senses in the external world and then let the senses be an invitation to a richer experience of our inner sensation.
“Interoceptive awareness is an embodied awareness that helps us recognise signals from the body and respond in a way that enhances physical and psychological wellbeing.” Catherine Kerr
Interoception is an invitation to be present with the sensations of the body whether pleasurable or painful – without judgement.
If we engage in a yoga ‘workout’ there are numerous health benefits, but often we are on auto-pilot. We need to cultivate a mindful practice of ‘introceptive’ awareness – so not only tuning into the physical body, but seeing how it is a mirror to our mind, our emotions and our habits and belief systems. When we suffer from depression, anxiety and stress we are often disembodied – not listening to the messages of the body or even numbing them out. If we anchor ourselves in the body, it can bring us out of our habitual defence mechanisms and limiting beliefs.
When our Yoga becomes mindful – we increase the activity of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system and in turn improve vagal tone. Yoga increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in your brain that reduces anxiety. GABA works by “stimulating vagal afferents”, which increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system.
Cultivate Interoception – Be awake and aware of sensations as life happens.