Interoception And Mindfulness: How Tuning Into Your Body Can Free Your Mind

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Have you ever heard of the word ‘interoception’?

It’s not exactly an everyday term, but it’s becoming more and more well-known within the world of mindfulness and meditation.

Interoception refers to the process of noticing or sensing feelings in the body. It could be a heaviness in your eyes, a rumble in your belly, or a tightness in your chest.

Often, we take our physical and mental feelings for granted, and don’t think deeply about where they come from, or what impact they have. Interoception is all about moving away from that tendency in order to feel more happy, comfortable, and connected.

In this article, we’ll be exploring the concept of interoception in depth. We’ll take a look at these key areas:

  • What Is Interoception?
  • The Importance Of Interoceptive Awareness
  • The Relationship Between Mindfulness And Interoception
  • A Practical Guide To Mindful Interoception
  • Tune Into Your Body And Free Your Mind

Want to find out more about the connection between mind and body? Read on!

man meditating and practicing interoception with headphones on

What Is Interoception?

Interoception is the sense that helps us answer the question “How do I feel?” in any given moment.

This is about collecting information about what’s happening in our body (e.g. whether your stomach is empty, bloated, tingly, or nauseous) and making judgments based on the results.

Our brains respond to this information about our bodily feels, interpreting sensations as clues to our emotional state. For example, different feelings in the stomach area could indicate that we’re hungry, full, nervous, sick, or excited.

You might not have thought closely about this process before, but the fact is, it’s an ordinary part of all our lives.

How we respond to any given situation is impacted by our level of interoceptive awareness. Any time we feel unbalanced in some way, we start thinking of ways to remedy that.

If we’re given a signal that we’re hungry, for instance, it may motivate us to take action and fuel ourselves with some food. If we notice goosebumps on our skin or shivering in the body, we may want to warm up by putting on some extra layers.

This kind of self-regulation is the essence of interception.

woman smiling in a city scape wearing a fluffy hooded coat

The Importance of Interoceptive Awareness

Now that we’ve outlined how interoception helps us motivate ourselves to self-regulate our bodies, it’s worth explaining the benefits of interoceptive awareness in a little more detail.

Gaining a better understanding of how our body works in the present moment can bring all sorts of advantages — this is the process that mindfulness aims to tap into (but more about mindful behavior shortly).

Studies have shown that our interoceptive capacities can be actively improved over time, and that mindfulness practices are some of the most effective interventions we can use for this purpose.

Shortly, we’ll explore the relationship between mindfulness and interoception in more depth. But first, let’s briefly sum up some of the key benefits of interoceptive awareness.

#1. Increased Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is all about becoming better at observing, labeling, identifying, and understanding our own emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

By doing so, we can boost our happiness levels and improve our interactions and relationships with others.

Noticing physical sensations like your heart rate rising or muscles tensing up during arguments, for instance, can allow you to better understand your own emotional triggers and develop ways of preventing yourself from rising to them.

two friends laugh at an outdoor pub drinking a beer

#2. Better Self-Regulation

Increased self-awareness means increased self-regulation. By recognizing internal sensations with more speed and efficiency, we can learn how to effectively respond to them, and gain more control over our daily actions.

#3. Reduced Stress And Anxiety

People with anxiety disorders are known to show hyper-activation in the cingulate cortex (the section of the brain associated with interoception).

Dysfunctional interoceptive awareness can also overlap with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Attempting to maintain moderate levels of internal awareness can reduce the impact of all these issues.

The Relationship Between Mindfulness And Interoception

Both formal meditation and more casual forms of everyday mindfulness have strong links to the interoceptive experience.

By activating the insula (the interoceptive center in the brain), mindfulness and meditation exercises can boost our interoceptive awareness and get us more in touch with sensations and feelings across our body.

a woman meditating and practicing interoceptive awareness by a lake

IA Builder exercises modify mindful practices into concrete strategies and activities that target inner personal experiences in order to improve interoceptive awareness. But they’re just one example of the bond between mindfulness and interoception.

Mindfulness meditation is all about strengthening the interface between your bodily sensations and the emotions used to explain them. One of its key goals is to create a greater sense of harmony between your inner and outer experiences.

The effect of activities such as mindful movement meditation and yoga are a testament to this shift in awareness.

But is there any evidence to back this up? Thankfully, yes, there is.

One study suggested that mindfulness practices enhance not just internal awareness but also meta-awareness, a form of subjective experience in which one can become more detached from their sense of self.

Mindfulness can help people move away from negative thought patterns, bad habits, and unhelpful behaviors by causing them to observe and question their own internal and external experiences.

This links closely to the process of interoception, which is rooted in gaining a greater understanding of the workings of the body and mind.

So how exactly can we make mindful interoceptive awareness a part of our life, and thereby reap all the related rewards?

Let’s look into it.

a woman wearing a white top jogs through a park

A Practical Guide To Mindful Interoception

Embracing mindful interoception can have hugely positive effects for all sorts of people.

Recent research by medical professor Hugo Critchley found that 121 autistic adults experienced markedly lower anxiety levels after a 3-month interoceptive training program.

Other investigations have found that tapping into the relationship between mindfulness and interoception can be used to tackle cravings, addictions, emotional regulation, stress, and resilience.

Whatever may drive you towards this process of reflection, it’s important that you approach it with confidence and an open mind.

That’s why we’ve compiled some simple practical steps to help you utilize the power of interoceptive awareness.

#1. Practice Self-Enquiry

Self-enquiry meditation seeks to drill down into your sensory and mental experiences by prompting you to ask yourself a series of questions. Interoception exercises harness a similar technique.

a man meditates with his hands on his chest

The most basic question to ask is always “How do I feel?”, but you should follow this with some more detailed enquiry points. Here are a few examples of things you could ask:

  • “How do I feel in my arms/chest/neck/feet?”
  • “Why am I tense?”
  • “Where is this sensation?”
  • “How long have I been feeling this way?”

If it helps, you can use healing meditation music to help you tune in and concentrate during these mindful moments.

#2. Embrace Everyday Mindfulness

Everyday mindfulness is the practice of incorporating mindful behavior into all sorts of ordinary daily tasks in order to boost calmness and stability, and reduce stress and negativity.

This could involve keeping a mindfulness journal, communicating more mindfully with others, or using mindful breathing to calm you down in moments of panic or stress.

The connection between everyday mindfulness and interoception is deep. For more guidance on this, check out our article on the power of taking mindful moments throughout the day.

a woman mindfully journals

#3. Listen To The Heart

Interoceptive exercises suggest that only by listening to the heart can we take better care of the mind. Don’t dismiss your own feelings or make judgments about whether or not they’re appropriate — listen to them, and respond accordingly.

Recording your feelings and experiences in a mindfulness journal is a great way of entrenching them in your mind and helping you realize the importance of listening to how things make you feel. Why not give it a try?

Tune Into Your Body And Free Your Mind

Interoception allows you to get a much better understanding of the relationship between the body and the mind. By becoming more aware of how experiences shape emotions and how emotions shape bodily feelings, you can develop your understanding of yourself.

And when you know what makes you tick and what doesn’t, you’ll be able to steer yourself towards positive experiences and improve your ability to manage and navigate negative ones.

If it’s not already clear, there are huge parallels here between the process of interoception and the practice of yoga.

Yoga techniques such as Buteyko Breathing and Corpse Pose are designed to relieve stress and calm anxiety, combining body posture and breathwork to align you more closely with your own body.

This kind of enhanced bond between mind, body, and breath is exactly what interoceptive awareness exercises are built around, too.

Tune into your body, and you’ll find yourself much better equipped to start freeing your mind.

When it comes to the power of the mind-body connection, we’ve got tons more useful content available for you. Why not check out our 4-step guide to calming racing thoughts?

And if you’d like to spend more time learning about the practical advantages of embracing meditation, take a look at our article on the powerful practice of body-scanning meditation.

Photo of author
Fred is a London-based writer who works for several health, wellness and fitness sites, with much of his work focusing on mindfulness.

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