From the beginning, what attracted me to yoga was the inner work. Recently, as a student and teacher of yoga, I have been shining a light on the subtle nuances occurring inside the body. This is a process known as interoception. Yoga means union, so as practitioners we are interested in becoming more intimate with the various layers of self – in yoga parlance we call these the koshas.
Researcher Stephen Porges suggests that interoception can be thought of as our sixth sense. For many people, attention is habitually directed outward. Many of us do not want to travel inside and investigate what is there. Remaining on the surface of our bodies or staying up in our heads is safer and easier. Furthermore, our senses, the majority of which are located on the head and face are regularly offered a barrage of stimuli with which to engage. E.g., Iphones, music and screens in elevators, billboards.
What is the value of journeying inside? Why practice interoception? It is vital for our overall health. It promotes integration, healing and wholeness. It enhances sensitivity and sharpens our concentration and focus. It is also the practice of svadyaya or self-study, one of the four Niyamas in the systematic practice yoga. Introception asks us to connect inward and to discover our inner landscape. We begin to hone the skill of listening deeply. Throughout this process, we awaken non-judgmental awareness for what we encounter. We turn down mental chatter, let go of stories, and investigate what is there.
This is a 5 step process that I have been using to invite introception. In the beginning it is helpful to find a comfortable position – lie on your back on the floor with knees bent (constructive rest).
Breathe: Begin to breathe consciously – use deep, slow belly breathing. Feel life force moving through you.
Soften: Encourage your body to relax. Tension in the body can interrupt the flow of energy, sensation and feeling. Allow the belly to soften.
Notice and Feel: Actively feel into sensations, energy and emotions. Breathe into them. Get curious. Inquire, what is happening in my body right now? Where in my body am I noticing sensation? Locate the place in your body where you feel challenge (e.g., tightness in chest) and breathe into this area. Send the area energy. Is the sensation big or small? Notice if you are in your head or your body right now. Are you present?
Watch: Cultivate a kind observer mind – the compassionate witness. Be present for the experience exactly as it is. In yoga we understand this as welcoming a calm, abiding presence.
Allow: Let go of resistance. Let the process happen. Don’t try to control but surrender to sensation, feeling and energy by breathing and relaxing. It is an act of courage to stay open.
Continue to repeat the process as you move to more subtle awareness. As you become more comfortable with this process, you can use it anywhere. It becomes a life skill. Our bodies give us valuable information all the time – it is a matter of tuning in.
I regularly build introceptive opportunities into my Thursday afternoon open yoga class from 3-4 p.m. at Helix Healthcare Group. Classes are slow and mindful. Breathing, meditation and restorative poses are integrated. No previous yoga experience is necessary, just a willingness to explore and discover wholeness. Classes are kept small to foster an intimate, safe environment.