Finding Your Way Out of Pain Our Seventh Sense: Interoception

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Mind Body Connection

Interoception is the awareness of physical and emotional sensations in our bodies. In a healthy functioning nervous system, the nerve endings trigger all kinds of sensations in the body, from the feeling of tight muscles when we bend, to elation or depression. We feel these sensations throughout every day. Interoception also reflects the ability to know the quality of movement that is safe for us. Interoception as a mindfulness practice, assists the body in being whole, connected, and healthy for the purpose of movement and the pleasure of physical activity and exercise. Interoception provides us critical information which affects our health, physically and emotionally.

What happens though, if we habitually override our interoception? Eventually, we will likely experience pain. This can happen very easily for someone, let’s say, who is hypermobile and used to having their knees hyperextended when standing. They can easily bend over to reach the floor during a yoga class but be unaware that the sensations felt in the back and behind the knees, perceived as muscle tightness, may be causing undue stress on the spine and nervous system. Current research shows a relationship between faulty perceptions and conditions such as degenerative arthritis, as well as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and irritable bowel syndrome. Postural habits and how we move may be major factors in the cause of pain and all types of degeneration in the body. The question is…Can the internal awareness of how we feel in our body be improved? Can we learn how to increase our interoception? And by doing so, help ourselves to more optimal health and less pain? The answer to these questions is a resounding—YES!

In my practice as a physical therapist specializing in interoception, I commonly observe chronic abnormal resting tone in the tissues which interferes with the normal functioning of the nervous system. Knowing how easy it is for “healthy people” to override their nervous system, I help people recover their ability to use the nervous system for protection. Retraining the nervous system requires a conscious “letting go” of abnormal tone in the soft tissues. This process is not a “quick fix,” but requires time, which is unique to each person. The important point is that individuals change direction towards less stress. This change is a paradigm shift for the nervous system and at first may be perceived as “danger” by a nervous system that has been in a chronic state of stress or “fight or flight.” For a person who has been in persistent pain, their nervous system will need to do much unlearning to recover its ability not to ignore sensations essential for optimal health. I help patients increase their awareness and empower them to change their current state of health and well-being by increasing their interoception for proper posture, correct body mechanics, and an appropriate amount of force in movement. Call now to get freedom from pain!