INTEROCEPTION: YOGA AND THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION

By: Sue Van Raes

As a yogi myself, I wanted to share with you some pretty cool {cutting edge} science today that directly relates to yoga and some important benefits of the mind-body connection. This research will enforce that daily practice (of sorts) assists you in knowing what your body needs and wants, how you can better listen to your body, heighten your inner awareness and make YOU the priority in your life and your health.

WHAT IS INTEROCEPTION?

In 1906, the Nobel laureate Charles Scott Sherrington, introduced three terms into medical parlance: “proprioception”, “exteroception”, and “interoception”. Of the three, perhaps proprioception, which is basically the awareness of one’s body in relation to external objects, is the most familiar. (Proprioception is why we don’t constantly walk into walls or get into car accidents.) Exteroception refers to awareness of any stimuli coming at us from the outside (sights, sounds, smells etc.). Interoception is our awareness of what is going on within the boundary of our own skin; it is intra-organismic awareness. (Emerson, 2015)

Interoception is the process of receiving, accessing and appraising our internal bodily signals. Interoception is how the awareness and attentiveness of the sensations arising within our bodies influence how these signals are interpreted by our minds and the actions that follow.

Interoception evokes the quality of the relationship between the mind and body. Interoception remains newly understood within modern science, but recent research is insightful, and provides the missing link to healing our relationship to food and our bodies.

For example, maybe your hunger cues are shut down. Maybe it is hard for you to read your body’s satiation cues. Maybe it is hard to ready your cravings and eat intuitively. Maybe you are not in touch with the deeper currents of your emotions and sensation sthat could be providing valuable information about a situation or circumstance.

Poor interoceptive awareness is often cited as one of the key qualites of eating challenges, disordered eating, confusion around how to best feed our bodies and read our bodily cues.

While the research on how to heal our interoceptive awareness is still new, there are many studies and antidotes that are leading us in a positive direction with what we can do along the healing journey and how a mind-body practice such as yoga can help.

HOW CAN YOU HEAL YOUR INTEROCEPTIVE AWARENESS?

Interoceptive awareness means developing a curiosity towards the sensations arising within the body. Learning to trust your body, and heighten your inner awareness makes navigating life {and food} much more graceful.

Try these body-centered practices that have been part of the Boulder Nutrition methodology for years {and that really work}.

1. Bring a lot of love, healing, and patience to your relationship to your body:

If you are like most of us, you have probably had times in your journey of life where your body felt like the enemy. I get it. I have been there too. Feeling disconnected, angry at, checked out, turned off, disgusted by and even in conflict with our bodies is a pretty common phenomenon.

You may have experienced this if you struggled with a big health issue, if you have suffered with an eating disorder, if you have chronic stomach aches, or body pain. The truth is, discovering how your body is your biggest ally is like discovering the Holy Grail.

While releasing the negative emotions and associations with your body is a windy road, as you watch yourself heal, feel stronger, more intuitive, and more connected to yourself, it won’t be long until you find the process inspiring and even enchanting.

2. Create an embodiment practice:

There are many simple mind-body practices that support body awareness, emotional wellbeing, and physical vitality – all leading to improved interception and mind-body awareness.

Embodiment, as it turns out, is vital to our health and well-being. It may also be a doorway into higher consciousness.

According to a recent study (Biological Psychiatry, 2016) connecting to the sensations in your body during an embodiment practice such as yoga, offers a powerful gateway to connecting with the junction point between mind and body. Dr David Creswell’s new study indicates, practicing mindfulness meditation may also increase functional connectivity, or communication, between this ruminating and negative part of the brain, and the part responsible for executive control.

Embodiment practices increase interception, something many of us have experienced in our personal journeys, but that is now being scientifically validated, and encouraged.

3. Try the four-part check in:

I love to teach the four-part check in on my Boulder Nutrition retreats and to my women’s groups. I use this almost every day as a platform to check in with myself and see what I can do to take better care of myself each day. I learned this through the teachings of Deepak Chopra and they have proven to be priceless in my path.

To start, find a quiet place where there is some solace and serenity. If this means a quiet place in your house, closing the door to your office or pulling over on the way to work at a near by park.

Part One: How are you feeling in your body? Describe only the physical sensations, the quality of what is arising on a physical level: temperature, hunger, tightness, tingly, heavy, achy, the taste on your tongue, the growling in your belly, the tension in your shoulders. Stay with the physical sensations.

QUESTION: WHAT DOES YOUR BODY NEED TO BE NOURISHED

Part Two: How are you feeling in your emotions? Describe emotions that are arising in the present moment. More than one? That’s just fine. Emotions can often arise simultaneously. Describe them (on paper or in your mind)

QUESTION: WHAT DOES YOUR HEART NEED TO BE FED WITH SUPPORT AND JOY?

Part Three: What is the quality of your thoughts? Most of us have good days and tough days when it comes to our monkey-mind thoughts. Some days our thoughts are supportive and kind, and other days we are own worst critic.

QUESTION: WHAT DOES YOUR MIND NEED TO BE FREE, CLEAR, SUPPORTIVE AND KIND?

Part Four: We each have a connection to our higher self, our intuition, and our souls. There are many names for this aspect of the self, so feel free to insert yours in this process.

QUESTION: WHAT DOES YOUR SOUL NEED TO BE AT PEACE?

4. Slow down and give yourself daily downtime:

Our culture moves so fast. It is so common to be going from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we fall into bed at the end of the day.

Just a little bit of down time each day (electronic free) will do wonders for you body, mind and soul while also creating the space to enhance your interoceptive awareness.

Luckily, over time, we CAN heal our interoceptive awareness by implementing just a few of these small changes. You can increase and heal your mind-body connection through daily practice, to create lasting changes in your body, your eating and health.

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