on interoception and proprioception
As some of you may know, the beginning of my interest for what it means to be human, and how best to navigate it, started studying psychology.
Back then the body and how we feel in it didn’t interest most psychologists. The good old Cartesian separation of body and mind was how most of psychology worked then, and a lot of it still operates.
Thankfully these days, western science is finally catching up on the interconnectedness of the body to the emotions and mind, and how the state of this interconnectedness affects how we live. A connection long obvious to other bodies of knowledge across the world.
And the good news from science is that we can help ourselves with simple, but crucial tools, by boosting two senses most of us are born with: interoception and proprioception.
Today I want to share some basic knowledge about these, and some resources for those interested in digging deeper (found in parentheses and italic), and tell you what, in my classes, can inspire some day-to-day changes that will also benefit your overall wellbeing.
If you have come to my classes, you have heard me summarise interoception as our capacity to sense what is happening within our bodies, at the physical level, but also in terms of mood. Think blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, hunger/tension/energy levels… We mostly perceive these unconsciously, as they happen at a visceral, very basic and internal layer of our being. But we can become aware (in most cases) of this layer.
This sense (conscious or not) means our body can self-regulate to stay more or less balanced and healthy. The better your interoception, the better the self-regulation.
A whole lot of factors can disrupt this ability (operation, shocks, trauma, medical conditions, chronic pain, lack of stimulation through touch or movement), affecting our self-regulatory ability in turn, with real effects on our health: physically, emotionally and mentally.
_(1.For more on interoception’s impact on our emotional life, listen to this podcast episode
2. A podcast episode with exercises & examples with Bo Forbes, psychologist, yoga teacher and trainer).
3. And a blog post by her on how potential effects of a skewed interoception )_
Proprioception is just as crucial, since it is our ability to know where we are in space (our body as a whole and its various parts), which influences our movement, balance, speed, orientation, and the sense of where our bodies end and the rest of the world begins.
Disruptions here have profound consequences on how able we are to function and be in the world, with extreme cases of proprioception leading to inability to move the body is in the dark, severely impaired balance, or a sense of not knowing who we are and what we can do.
So why does these two senses impact our emotional and mental wellbeing? Well, whilst some of the interoceptive information gets directly acted upon, parts of our brain interpret our interoceptive and proprioceptive experience in stages, going from objective feelings like hunger, tiredness, ease, safety, to the stage of emotions. These objective feelings and emotions then form the lens through which we perceive and interpret what is happening to and around us, because they will affect our senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing, and our ability to use our rational brain.
Since our body’s experience and interoceptive + proprioceptive abilities are the basis for our emotions, and how we interact with the world, shouldn’t we take these seriously and know more about how to care for them?!
Yes, of course, and when doing so it is also important to recognise that how we live, both our personal and social habits, and our sociocultural contexts truly shapes these two senses (For more, see this blog post & this one). Whether you have the resources (time, space, relative safety, skills, encouragement) to pay attention to your internal experience, to move, touch and be touched in relatively free and safe ways impacts whether or not you are in touch with yourself, and more or less able to orient yourself skillfully and independently in the space of your body, and the larger space around it.
Not everything is on you! But you can do some stuff to help you:
* I go on about noticing the sensations and the mood you experience, as well as the state of your mind in classes, because developing conscious interoception helps the body regulate. You can easily do this at various points of the day.
Note that for depression the challenge, AND a helpful tool, is to start feeling at all, since depression is often associated with less interoceptive and proprioceptive abilities. Use pleasant touch, and any amount of movement that feels manageable. For anxiety, the important bit is to notice the whole landscape of sensations, neutral + pleasant, or to create them with touch or movement, to counteract the tendency to overemphasise the negative ones, and then to learn to switch your attention between these different sensations.
* I incorporate moments of playing with balance, and feeling the body (or some parts) move in space in usual & unusual ways in my classes, because this trains our proprioception. You could take a moment to stand, and close your eyes a bit ( or fully), or even do this moving any part of your body for a moment, forcing it to rely more on its proprioceptive ability, and less on the visual feedback from the eyes. Or you can bounce, jump, shake with your eyes a little/fully closed. Walking on uneven ground, using your eyes as little as possible to look down, is also great training.
* Start noticing if you have sensations, associated with your emotions/moods, and if there is anything you can do to change them, even a little bit, towards something easier to deal with when challenging. If you feel up to the challenge, you can also notice if certain environments, sounds, smells, people or activities seem to bring these sensations about. Is there anything you can do to either avoid these triggers, or prepare yourself when you know you will have to deal with them? Maybe just staying aware as things are happening, or breathing, moving a bit a certain way can help when you cannot avoid these triggers.
Now, you have a better insight into why I teach how and what I teach. I hope it helps you engage more fully with classes, and find tools outside of class to deal with life. And if you want to dive into more depth, consider joining one of the two retreats I mentioned at the start of this newsletter.
And for french speakers, a radio show episode on proprioception https://www.rfi.fr/fr/podcasts/20200617-la-proprioception-est-elle-notre-6%C3%A8me-sens