7 Simple Ways to Strengthen Interoception

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Relational skills are grounded in resourceful responses to the sensory data we receive from our environments & other people.

Learning to strengthen interoception directly influences your capacity to identify physiological needs, regulate emotions, and connect relationally.

Interoception is a term that describes the signalling and perceptions of internal bodily sensations and the visceral organs. Interoceptive information is sent from receptors in the skin & organs to the brain. That data helps you to be aware of, and to understand, what is happening in your body.

This includes physiological/physical body sensations like;

  • heartbeat,
  • breath,
  • hunger & thirst,
  • bladder & bowel sensations,
  • temperature,
  • pain & pleasure
  • and fatigue.

It also includes awareness of deeper internal processes like digestion, and sensations associated with emotions.

What is Interoceptive Awareness?

Interoceptive awareness is "the ability to identify, access, understand, and respond appropriately to the patterns of internal signals" ~A.D. Craig

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have been encouraged to ignore & override our interoceptive messages to varying degrees.

At one end of the extreme, there are strong cultural messages that interoceptive sensations are signs of weakness to be ignored.

Some examples of this are;

  • The "no pain, no gain" orientation towards exercise,
  • Overwork as a badge of honour,
  • The push & hustle vibes of small business,
  • Mental health issues as personal failures not a response to systemic issues,
  • Toxic masculinity
  • patriarchal & capitalist messages about self-worth
  • Focus on self-sufficiency over mutual support
  • And on and on it goes...

At the other end of the scale is appropriate desensitisation or disregarding of information. It isn't always practical or appropriate to respond to interoceptive messages, if we were always attuned to our internal landscapes we would be overlooking our external sensory experience as well as having to respond to our bodies every whim!

Some examples of this are;

  • Desensitising to pain while we focus on other activities (note: this isn't 'ignore', but refers more to tuning out a stubbed toe, or dialing down awareness of period pain or a headache)
  • Checking in with hunger or thirst and regulating our responses appropriately,
  • Allowing breathing to happen in a natural rhythm without our attention

What Interferes with Interoception?

Interoceptive signals are processed by a part of the brain called the insula. The insula is the part of your brain that connects your mind & body in a bi-directional conversation.

When you receive information from your sensory systems, the insula combines this physical/ physiological data with cognitive interpretation. That looks like an assignation of core affect - 'pleasant' or 'unpleasant'. The next step is the interpretation of those feels, where we tell ourselves a story about what is happening.

The insula can become dysregulated which interferes with our capacity to interpret sensory data, and to respond appropriately.

  • It might be dialed down which looks like numbness, not noticing hunger, pain, discomfort, and other interoceptive information.
  • It might be dialed up which magnifies sensations, where the sensory experience is disproportionate for the situation.

If you are on the numb end of the scale, paying attention to your sensory experience will create small activations of the insula that increase the baseline activation and over time build your feels.

That sounds complex, but it's so simple & lovely! It could be;

🌺 smelling a flower (olfactory sense)
🌇 watching a sunset (visual sense)
🍵 tasting your tea (gustatory sense)
🚿 feeling your shower (kinaesthetic sense)
🦗 listening to nature (aural sense)

The key is to be purposeful about those experiences, and to feel into them...

If you are on the dialed up end of the scale, it helps to tap directly into your body. Paying attention to your interoceptive (internal feeling) experience will create small activations of the insula that helps regulate your body and over time dial down your feels. The 7 Ways to Strengthen Interoception below will help you with this.

Why is Interoceptive Awareness Important for Relationships?

Relational skills are grounded in resourceful responses to the sensory data we receive from our environments & other people.

That data is received through the body via your senses, and then interpreted by the mind. An individuals level of sensitisation, awareness, discernment, and responsiveness to their inner landscape directly informs their level of relational skill in;

  • managing stress
  • optimising wellness
  • experiencing pleasure
  • attunement to self & others
  • setting & maintaining boundaries,
  • making decisions
  • accessing intuition
  • improving memory
  • navigating conflict
  • emotional intelligence including self awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, & social skills.

What that means is that the more attuned you are to your inner landscape, the better you are able to become appropriately responsive in the moment to what is happening.

7 Simple Ways to Strengthen Interoception;

Paying attention to your interoceptive (internal feeling) experience will create small activations of the insula that helps regulate your body.

That sounds complex, but it's truly simple and takes only minutes each day.

How to Strengthen Interoception #1

Strengthen interoception through awareness of your heart beat;

Put your finger onto your throat or wrist & find your pulse. Visualise your heart beating with each pulse.

There's no need to do anything, or to make anything happen, just allow yourself to become aware of your heart beating. Follow your heartbeat for three minutes.

How to Strengthen Interoception #2

Strengthen interoception through awareness of your breath;

Follow your breath for 3 minutes. Notice each breath as it enters your nostrils and track the progress of air through your body... the way it feels as it moves through your sinuses and down your throat... the way it feels as your belly expands, filling with air, the sensation of your chest rising and falling. 

There's no need to impose any rhythm or restriction, just allow the air to move in & out of your body naturally.

How to Strengthen Interoception #3

Strengthen interoception through awareness of your internal landscape with a movement practice called Moving What You Feel;

On a mat, come onto your hands and knees. Drop your head and feel where your body meets the ground for a moment.

Let your neck relax, and feel your head hanging heavily, like a bowling ball.

Close your eyes and begin to feel how your body wants to move. Perhaps you feel some tightness that you want to attend to, perhaps there is an area you’d like to stretch. There might be thoughts and emotions that arise as you begin to move. No matter what occurs, just continue to move your body in whatever ways it wants to move.

Make sure not to apply any breathing techniques and also to allow the movements to be nonlinear, instead of reverting to postures you know from yoga or other exercises.
Just allow yourself to feel and move, to move and feel. Allow whatever thoughts occur to rise and fall naturally.
There is no right or wrong way to do this exercise; simply allow your body to move and your body’s natural wisdom to guide you.

Sometimes you’ll be lost in thoughts, sometimes you might feel enveloped in emotions, sometimes you might just feel bored—all of which is fine— just continue moving.

You can do this movement with music as a background or in silence.

The only two rules are:

  1. keep your eyes closed and
  2. keep moving, even if you are just moving a little finger or a making a slight undulation of the spine.
You can also adjust your posture or position according to your body’s needs, by lying down or resting on your forearms instead of putting pressure on your wrists.
This exercise is best done on hands and knees, though, as this position gives you maximum movement of the spine, shoulders, and neck.
Excerpt from  the book “The Wild Woman’s Way” by Michaela Boehm.
You can also learn more about The Non-Linear Movement Method and engage in a deeper exploration with me  here.

How to Strengthen Interoception #4

Strengthen interoception with an embodiment practice like the Movement Koan Method®;

This method is an innovative fusion of joint-nourishing movement and body-based mindfulness.

  • Ideal for daily joint maintenance, and an effective warm-up
  • Long and short sequences 
  • Scaleable to any fitness level
  • Brings ease to the body while stimulating the mind
  • Improve neuroplasticity and body intelligence
  • Develop muscular efficiency via somatic investigation

You can purchase a digital download of the  Movement Koan Method® video.

How to Strengthen Interoception #5

Strengthen interoception with sound & vibration;

Place your hand on your chest & feel the vibration as you make the sound "hmmmmmmm"

Make the sound again, hum a very high note, then allow the sound to fall down the scales to a very low note and notice how the vibration moves in your body.

Play with making different sounds, and noticing where they vibrate within you.

How to Strengthen Interoception #6

Strengthen interoception by Scanning Your Internal Landscape;

At regular intervals through your day, take a moment to scan your inner landscape.

  1. Close your eyes, or soften your gaze.
  2. Scan your body, and notice internal feelings or sensations.
  3. Describe the sensation, and be as specific as possible. For example; There is a sensation in my upper abdomen. It feels like a very subtle sensation of pressure, about a 2/10 in intensity. The sensation is moving. As I pay attention to the sensation, it feels like it is becoming more dense around my solar plexus.
  4. You can do this exercise to describe different daily interoceptive messages such as 'hunger', 'thirst', 'bladder fullness' as well as exploring emotions & thoughts.

How to Strengthen Interoception #7

Strengthen interoception with sound & vibration;

Place your hand on your chest & feel the vibration as you make the sound "hmmmmmmm"

Make the sound again, from a high octave to a low octave and notice how the vibration moves in your body.

Play with making different sounds, and noticing where they vibrate within you.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Working with, and learning to strengthen your interoception, are not so much goals as they are explorations.

Becoming attuned to the sensations inside your body provides important information about your body, your environment, and your day-to-day experiences and the interactions between them.

Over time, well developed interoceptive awareness allows you to become increasingly discerning about how you want to engage with yourself, with others, and with the world.