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Tuning Into Your Body: The Role of Interoception in Yoga and Mental Health


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Have you ever felt your heart pounding like it's trying to break out of your chest when you're stressed? Or maybe your stomach ties itself into pretzels before a big presentation? This mind-body connection is facilitated by a fascinating process called interoception– our ability to perceive and interpret internal bodily signals.


Interoception

Interoception refers to the awareness and perception of our physiological condition, including sensations related to breathing, heartbeat, and digestion, as well as the bodily sensations associated with emotions. It acts as an internal "sense" that allows us to monitor and regulate our internal states.


However, interoception is more than just physical awareness. It also plays a role in psychological well-being and emotion regulation. People with heightened interoceptive abilities tend to have greater emotional intelligence, more effective coping strategies, and better overall well-being. Conversely, impaired interoceptive processing has been linked to conditions like anxiety, depression, and difficulties recognizing and managing emotions.

So, how can we enhance our interoceptive awareness and leverage this mind-body connection for improved mental health? One way is through the practice of yoga, as highlighted in a study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity.


Interoception and Yoga

In a randomized controlled trial, Eusebio and colleagues (2022) examined the effects of yoga training (10 weeks, 2x/week, 60 min/session) on adults with significant sub-clinical levels of anxiety or depression. Participants were divided into two groups: one practiced "Movement-Focused" yoga, which emphasized physical postures and movement (think power yoga), while the other group engaged in "Interoception-Focused" yoga. Participants in this group practiced yoga with a stronger emphasis on tuning into internal bodily sensations, such as the breath, heartbeat, and subtle physical sensations during postures. They were guided in mindful movement, self-observation, breath-centered awareness, and connective tissue self-bodywork (with yoga therapy balls). Rather than cueing participants to “now do X,” which is a type of instruction common in movement-focused yoga, the instructors in the interoception-focused yoga cued the session with terminology such as, “When this pose feels complete to your body…”

The results?


Interoception and Yoga: Results

Both groups experienced improvements in mental health markers, including reduced anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as increased levels of mindfulness and self-compassion. However, the Interoception-Focused group demonstrated greater improvements in interoceptive awareness and overall well-being compared to the Movement-Focused group.

These findings underscore the potentially important role of interoceptive awareness in yoga's mental health benefits. By consciously tuning into the subtle sensations within our bodies, we may be able to develop a deeper understanding of our emotional landscape and cultivate resilience in the face of mental health challenges.


So, the next time you step onto your yoga mat, maybe don’t strive to work up a good sweat. Consider incorporating an interoceptive focus into your practice. Pay attention to the rhythm of your breath, the sensations in your muscles, and the subtle shifts in your emotional state. Who knows, you might unlock a whole new level of self-awareness. Besides, wouldn’t it be great to walk away from your yoga class with a stronger core, more flexibility, AND a powerful tool for navigating the complexities of life with greater ease?


After all, the wisdom we seek often lies within—sometimes, we need only listen to our bodies'

whispers and honor the profound mind-body connection.



Eusebio, J., Forbes, B., Sahyoun, C., Cindik, B., Vago, D. R., Lazar, S. W., & Farb, N. (2022). Contemplating movement: A randomized control trial of yoga training for mental health. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 23, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2022.100483

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