The Power of Interoception: Yoga as an Effective Interoceptive practice 

What is Interoception? 

It is our ability to feel into our body. It is how we understand our body’s inner sensations. 

Our ability to regulate our emotions involves a coherent relationship with our self. It requires effective communication between body, mind, and feelings; and accurate detection and evaluation of cues related to physiological reactions to stressful events. Poor interoception can lead to difficulties with emotion regulation. This can increase stress, lower heart rate variability (HRV), and is associated with high scores for fatigue, autonomic dysfunction, sleep quality, anxiety, and depression symptoms (1). 

Antoine Bechara & Nasir Naqvi had some interesting research published (2) (3) that looked at interoceptive awareness as a gateway to feeling. Their research involved participants sensing their heart rate, and comparing it to actual heart rate, as a measure of interoceptive awareness. 

You can do this test for yourself: 

Sit comfortably — not touching your body — palms up. 

Shut eyes, sense your heart beating. Count your heartbeats over 15 seconds. Do two rounds. 

Then feel radial or carotid pulse. Count your heart rate over 15 seconds. Do two rounds

Compare scores. 

What scores did you get? 

A matching accuracy of 80% or above is said to be indicative of high interoceptive awareness. 

Interoceptive acuity means we have a greater ability to notice what is going on in our body; reflects in an improved identification with self; and improved emotional regulation. 

There is an article in The Journal for The Association for Psychological Science that provides some further reading on interoception (4). 

Yoga is often referred to as an embodiment practice. Embodiment practices are those that use the unique sensations of our body as a tool to develop awareness. These practices can improve our ability to stay present and self-regulate. They and can facilitate feeling balanced and connected and improve our knowledge of our self. Effectively, yoga sharpens our ability to feel into our body — it improves interoception. 

These are fundamental skills in the practice of yoga. Yoga can improve our interoceptive ability, and thereby help us to move, breathe, think, and act in ways that move us in the direction of wellbeing, improve our HRV and improve autonomic nervous system function. 

References 

(1) Escorihuela, R.M., Capdevila, L., Castro, J.R. et al. Reduced heart rate variability predicts fatigue severity in individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis. J Transl Med 18, 4 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-019-02184-z 

(2) Bechara, A., Naqvi, N. Listening to your heart: Interoceptive awareness as a gateway to feeling. Nat Neurosci 7, 102–103 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn0204-102 

(3) https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/36280867/listening-to-your-heart-interoceptive-awareness-as-a-gateway-to- 

(4) Armstrong, K. Interoception: How We Understand Our Body’s Inner Sensations. Assoc Psychological Science. Observer. Oct (2019). https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/interoception-how-we-understand-our-bodys-inner-sensations 

By Rebel Tucker, Yoga Australia Registered Senior Yoga Teacher and Registered Yoga Therapist. 

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