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Can you feel it?  - listening to the interoception




It's a typical morning, and you're rushing through your routine—coffee in one hand, phone in the other, mentally mapping out your day. Suddenly, a familiar rumble interrupts your thoughts. Hunger. But is it really? You've been here before, powering through meals, barely noticing the signals your body sends.

 

As you continue with your day, stress starts to build—anxiety creeping in, shoulders tensing. Your body whispers its discomfort, but you're caught in the whirlwind of tasks.

 

Fast forward to the evening. You collapse into bed, feeling exhausted, yet your mind races. Sleep seems elusive, and a sense of restlessness lingers. Your body speaks, but the conversation feels alien to you...thoughts run through your head, you worry about everything and don't know where to start...

 

We've all experienced moments like these, where the dialogue between our minds and bodies becomes lost in the chaos of everyday life.


What if I told you that becoming more attuned to these internal signals could transform how we experience our thoughts, feelings, and actions?

 

We can sometimes overlook the cues our bodies give us in the hustle and bustle of daily life. But recognising and understanding these signals through something that is known as “interoception” can help us lead a happier and more balanced life.

 

 

1. Understanding Interoception:

 

Interoception plays a significant role in various aspects of our lives: I love this statement from a paper by Khalasa et.al. in 2018, and have given you its full paragraph here:

 

[i]Interoception refers to the process by which the nervous system senses, interprets, and integrates signals originating from within the body, providing a moment-by-moment mapping of the body’s internal landscape across conscious and unconscious levels. Interoceptive signalling has been considered a component process of reflexes, urges, feelings, drives, adaptive responses, and cognitive and emotional experiences, highlighting its contributions to the maintenance of homeostatic functioning, body regulation, and survival. Dysfunction of interoception is increasingly recognised as an important component of different mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, addictive disorders, and somatic symptom disorders.”

 

For us, this means that we can use the “Interoception” concept to help us improve not only our mental health and wellbeing, but our physical fitness too.  Below, I go through some of the easy practical ways in which we can learn to “tune in” to our feelings/thoughts/symptoms and use them to our advantage.

 



How to help us with weight loss:

 

Weight loss is a strong driver for many to start to do exercise, and it is worth using interoception to help us - here are ways in which you can use interoception to help your weight loss journey.

 






Noticing when you are hungry and when you are full

  • Eating without thinking, clearing plates, chewing whilst watching tv or scrolling on your phone – these are ways in which we can be mentally distracted from how much food we are eating, and not noticing the calories.  Use your interoception skills, such as learning to taste and enjoy the foods you are eating, think about the texture, the flavours, and the nourishment it is giving to your body. These will help you to feel ‘satisfied” with your food and stop you overeating.

  • Secondly, tune into your hunger feelings. Are you eating because of the time of day, or habit, or because of your partner etc.  Think about how it feels to be hungry for food – we often eat before we recognise these signals. Then maybe let your hunger sit with you for 30 minutes to see what happens.  Did it increase? Did it go away?

  • Learning to tune into your hunger and full signals will help you to regulate your food and keep your calories under control. Try to avoid eating without thinking and sit and enjoy your meals in peace to help your body tune into these signals.

  • Interoceptive cues often manifest as "gut feelings." These subtle sensations might guide decision-making, influencing choices based on internal signals that aren’t immediately conscious but might help in evaluating risks.

Planning your eating

  • Planning ahead can be of great value when trying to regulate your eating. In a 2019 study[ii] found that overweight people reported difficulties in controlling their emotional regulation towards eating, and found they lacked planning strategies to help them lose weight – and that using these skills would help.  You can do this by meal planning and shopping, but also knowing what your weaknesses are to overeating and put in place strategies to help you overcome them – for example, if you like to eat chocolate when you are feeling bored or tired, plan to distract yourself with things like having a hot bath, going for a walk or even brushing your teeth – these all help, and even if it works for only 30 minutes, you keep practicing this distraction technique until you get the hang of it and learn your triggers.

  • Improved interoception aids in better understanding emotions. When you're aware of bodily sensations associated with specific emotions, you can acknowledge and regulate those feelings more effectively, preventing impulsive reactions.

 




How to use interoception when exercising:

 

Like with the eating, performing the exercises without engaging in the process means that we miss out on the tiny little things that can help you. I have listed some ways that you can do this in Pilates and Weight Training – but you can apply these too.



 

Weight Training:

 

Conscious Muscle Engagement:

  • During weight training, focusing on specific muscle groups is essential. This concentration fosters a deeper connection between the mind and muscles being worked.

    • For instance, while performing a bicep curl, consciously engaging the bicep muscles throughout the movement allows for a heightened awareness of their activation and fatigue.

 

Breath and Stability:

  • Proper breathing techniques are emphasised in weight training. Coordinating breath with movements aids in stability and power during exercises.

  • Techniques like the Valsalva manoeuvre (breath holding during exertion) and controlled exhales can enhance stability and focus on engaging core muscles.

 

Progressive Overload and Sensory Feedback:

  • Tracking progress in weight training involves paying attention to the body's response to increasing resistance or repetitions.

  • Sensory feedback, such as feeling muscle fatigue or the "burn" during a set, helps in understanding one's limits and capabilities, improving interoceptive skills.

  • We can use exteroception alongside this, by looking in the mirror when exercising, observing the muscles moving, seeing what it looks like, alongside feeling the training effect can be of great benefit – be focussed and “in the moment” to maximise your training results.

 




Pilates:

Core Strength and Body Control:

  • Pilates emphasises core strength and stability through controlled movements. Exercises require engaging the core while coordinating breath and movement, enhancing body awareness.

  



Precision and Alignment:

  • Attention to detail and precision in Pilates movements fosters a keen awareness of body alignment and muscle engagement. For example, in the Pilates exercise "The Swan Dive," the focus on spinal extension and controlled movement highlights the importance of alignment and muscle engagement.

 

Breath-Centric Approach:

  • Pilates incorporates specific breathing techniques that coordinate with movements to deepen the mind-body connection. Practitioners often use diaphragmatic breathing, enhancing relaxation and focus.

 

Both weight training and Pilates offer unique avenues to improve body awareness and interoception. Whether through conscious muscle engagement, breath coordination, or precise movements, these practices can enhance one's understanding of internal sensations and their connection to physical movement and exercise.

 




Breathing and Relaxation Techniques:

 

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that involves systematically tensing and relaxing muscle groups to induce a state of relaxation. Here's how it contributes to heightened interoceptive awareness and stress reduction:

 



Increased Bodily Awareness:

  • During PMR, individuals deliberately tense and then release muscle groups, focusing attention on specific body parts. This process heightens awareness of bodily sensations, such as muscle tension and subsequent relaxation.

  • By consciously experiencing and differentiating between tensed and relaxed states, you can develop a greater sensitivity to bodily cues and subtle changes within muscles.

 

Stress Reduction through Relaxation Response:

  • PMR triggers the relaxation response in the body, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This physiological response counteracts the stress-induced fight-or-flight response.

  • As the body relaxes, stress hormones decrease, heart rate slows down, and breathing becomes deeper and more regular. This promotes a sense of calm and relaxation, reducing overall stress levels.

 

Connection between Body and Mind:

  • Engaging in PMR requires focus and concentration on the body's sensations. This fosters a deeper connection between the mind and body.

  • As individuals practice PMR regularly, they become more adept at recognizing and responding to physical signs of stress, such as muscle tension, even in daily life, leading to improved stress management.

 

Improved Interoceptive Awareness:

  • Through regular practice, PMR helps individuals become more attuned to their bodies and internal sensations. They become more sensitive to subtle changes in muscle tension, which can indicate stress or relaxation.

  • This heightened interoceptive awareness allows individuals to intervene earlier when they sense tension building up, enabling them to employ relaxation techniques more effectively.

 

In summary, progressive muscle relaxation not only induces relaxation but also enhances interoceptive awareness by directing attention to bodily sensations, aiding in stress reduction, and promoting a deeper mind-body connection.

 

Incorporating mindfulness practices into our daily routines can have a positive effect on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. These simple adjustments in attention and awareness pave the way for lasting improvements and a more balanced, fulfilling life.

 

Remember, Interoception plays a crucial role in our overall health, influencing both mental and physical well-being. By understanding and honing our interoceptive abilities, we can enhance our emotional regulation, stress management, and self-awareness.

 

I encourage you to explore and integrate mindfulness practices into your daily life. Consistent efforts to develop interoceptive awareness can lead to profound personal growth and a deeper understanding of yourself. Embrace the journey towards internal awareness and reap the rewards of a more balanced and fulfilling existence.

Listen closely to the senses of your body; within them lie the secrets to unlocking a life of balance, resilience, and profound self-discovery.

 


 



Join me for a 6-week live and interactive online programme, where we will show you how to use interoception to help your fitness and weightloss. Starts on the 8th April, and you can watch at anytime via the webpage



 

[i] Khalsa, S.S., Adolphs, R., Cameron, O.G., Critchley, H.D., Davenport, P.W., Feinstein, J.S., Feusner, J.D., Garfinkel, S.N., Lane, R.D., Mehling, W.E. and Meuret, A.E., 2018. Interoception and mental health: a roadmap. Biological psychiatry: cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging3(6), pp.501-513.

[ii] Willem, C., Gandolphe, M.C., Roussel, M., Verkindt, H., Pattou, F. and Nandrino, J.L., 2019. Difficulties in emotion regulation and deficits in interoceptive awareness in moderate and severe obesity. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity24, pp.633-644.

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