by Sonya Simpson: Interoception, sometimes considered the 8th sense, is the felt sense or mindfulness of the body…
and Interoceptive awareness is the ability to process the signals you receive from your body.
Some examples of this are; levels of energy and how to respond, pain and what to do with it, and sickness and its interpretation. Well-developed interoception has been shown to increase resilience , help with emotional regulation , improve health and wellbeing , support pain sufferers , and reduce anxiety .
A quick search on Google gives the impression that the world of researchers is becoming quite excited that this sense could bring about greater health and wellness. Yet at the time of writing this I can confidently say that spellcheck doesn’t even recognise the word.
From a Yoga perspective, interoception encompasses many of the integral Yogic teachings or beliefs.
Practice with integrity, awareness of self, remove ego, be compassionate, content… move, feel, listen – repeat… so we’re OK because of course we’ve been teaching, practicing, and living with interoception in mind… right?
A couple of years ago I assisted a friend at a corporate conference on wellness.
There was a range of speakers and presenters at the event and a large audience seated at round tables, in an airconditioned room, illuminated with fluorescent lights. Scattered across the space to assist with the presenters were yoga teachers, physiotherapists and other body healers.
The conference ran from 8am till 6pm so it was a long day. The attendees sat dutifully and listened, nodding at the presenters on stage at appropriate intervals, squirming in their seats occasionally and sipping glasses of water until they were released for toilet breaks, and at 12:30 (just the right time to luncheon) they were given a healthy lunch which they ate at their tables.
The yoga teachers and body healers by comparison sat on the floor, lay down every now and again for a stretch… some even took a quick nap. Every now and again – without warning – they would stroll straight out of the door and stand on the balcony in the sun, face to the sky, eyes closed in rapture. Then back in they’d walk and continue to listen with keen interest to the speaker. The contrast was fabulous to observe.
After lunch an energetic and enthusiastic man made his way to the stage to talk and point to a bright power-point presentation about a miraculous gadget that could be used to measure the needs of the wearer’s body and then report to the user what to do. It let them know when they needed to walk, drink, eat, sleep and even breathe!
I looked about the room and imagined each person in the audience wearing one on their wrists, noticing the mechanical vibration as it signalled they’d ignored their body for too long and then dutifully switching it off so that they could continue to sit in silence, wrapped in their uncomfortable clothes, feet bound, bladders full and bodies aching to move.
Amongst the body healers, the occasional eyebrow raised floating a sweet WTF above the horizon of their heads. Glances were exchanged… but in honesty, we’d all been there. Sit still, listen, don’t wriggle, ask to go to the toilet, it’s not time to eat, finish your dinner, it’s not time for bed, don’t nap; all these outside instructions from people in power that negate the body’s communication.
Can you remember when it started? I can’t… in fact it’s only in babies or very young children that I observe a natural reaction to the body’s needs, even toddlers often wait for instruction on when to eat, drink or go to the loo.
So how can we claim back the freedom of our body? How do we strengthen our sense of Interoception and interoceptive awareness?
Take a moment when you wake up in the morning to notice. You are thirsty, you want to stretch, you’re not hungry just yet. Then act on these cues. Stretch in bed, yawn and take some nice deep breaths, then get up and grab a tall glass of room temperature water, squeeze some lemon juice into it and maybe a pinch of salt. Why not take that glass of water outside and spend 10 minutes in natural light?
Use your commute
Your reality might be that you need to commute to work and that’s ok. Instead of this time being wasted ‘dead-time’ why not set an intention? Be kind, let people come in to the stream of traffic, smile at someone crossing the street – be aware of the reactions, carpool and take someone to work so that you get the chance to chat, or maybe use the time alone to practice some mindfulness. This might just be breathing deeply or really noticing the things going on around you. When all else fails though it’s sometimes just as good to listen to an audiobook or music you love.
Step away from Tech
I know, I know! You hear this a lot but at intervals during your day step away from tech and reconnect. Even if at first you set a schedule; each hour I will take time to be mindful of the sensations in my body, I will move or rest or talk to another human, not on social media but in real time. Walk over to a colleague’s desk or ring someone (it counts).
There I said it. Take a nap when you need it instead of another caffeinated drink. Talk to your employer if you need to about a space where you can kick back or take a blanket outside for a moment. Sometimes 10 minutes is all you need. Remember when you do this that if you nap longer than 45 minutes you run the risk of falling into slow wave sleep which can leave you groggy unless you have 90 minutes set aside, which most employers aren’t so keen on. Between 5 and 20 minutes is a good stretch for both you and the boss.
Avoid those ‘al desko’ lunches. Instead take the time to see your food, smell your food and enjoy your food, and whenever you can, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. You could even combine 3 different suggestions on this list and eat outside, away from tech with another human!
Take time to reflect and connect with how you are, regularly. This might be during your yoga practice or in any part of your day. Taking a moment every now and again to ask yourself some questions. These could be; how is my breath? Am I feeling any discomfort or pain? If so can I ease these sensations? How is my energy? Am I okay? Initially, there may be things that you need to leave as they are, but perhaps over time it will become second nature to resolve areas that need some attention.
So, start at the beginning, a gentle return to self through exploration. Let me know how you travel.