Interoception, which essentially is your body’s internal awareness of self, allows us to be able to process and regulate our emotions.
Let’s think about interoception as our way to perceive our internal senses, such as our heart rate, respiratory rate, satiety, bowel movements, and bladder. It is a way for us to connect to our autonomic nervous system by a type of receptor, interoceptors, giving information to our brain.
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Our interoceptors are located in our viscera, as well as in our fascia in the free nerve endings. We have seven times more interoceptors than proprioceptors. Proprioceptors are sensory receptors located in the subcutaneous tissues. They are capable of detecting the motion and position of the body through a stimulus produced within the body. The sensory information from our interoceptors is processed in the insular cortex in the brain, where we can regulate our emotions. The insula plays a huge role in regulating homeostasis for us. It ultimately regulates our autonomic nervous system, our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. It has a role in visceral function, immune regulation, and ultimately, our survival mechanisms.
How can you improve your interoception?
By tuning into our body. The less tuned in we are, the less resilient we become, and we lose the ability to buffer stress. One of the ways you can do this is by sitting quietly, closing your eyes if you’d like, while asking yourself these questions:
1. How are you feeling at this moment?
2. Is your heart beating fast or slow?
3. Is your breath shallow or deep?
4. Do you have to go to the bathroom?
5. Do you feel hungry?
Now take a moment to reflect on that experience. Was that something that was easy for you? Was it something that is common for you? Or did it seem foreign? This is a great way to begin to develop this internal awareness of self—to tune in to your senses and what your body is telling you.
Other ways to improve interoception
Another great way to improve interoception is through movement. As I mentioned, these interoceptors are located in our fascial tissue, and this is where we store emotions. You want to think about moving and expressing your body in various planes of movement. For example, upward rhythmical motions can evoke a sense of happiness. If you are feeling down, performing exercises like dance or animal flow can be very uplifting.
All of this will help with stimulating the fascial receptors and interoceptors, thus optimizing your internal awareness of self. Developing your interoceptive skills is a journey. It is something that with practice has been shown to improve mental and physical health, improve your association with yourself and others, and optimize your well-being.
Hopefully, you can start this journey today if you are not already and begin to tune into your body and emotions. If this is helpful, make sure to give it a share with a friend or family member.