Optimising The Nervous System Part 5: Interoception and Embodiment

Optimising The Nervous System Part 5: Interoception and Embodiment


In the fifth century, the primary goal of mindfulness training was described as developing momentary awareness, distinguishing it from awareness of conceptual thought.

This means training ourselves to live fully in the moment, rather than getting caught up in the stories about our experiences.

The latter is an interpreted version of our life. The former is living fully from our heart, seeing things as they really are and connecting more with our self, others and the world around us.


We can enhance momentary awareness by learning to attend to the visceral, momentary sensations in our body. Recent scientific studies suggest that the conceptualisation of an experience based on our culture, beliefs and view, activates different parts of our brains than the actual felt, direct experience itself that arises in the body spontaneously (Farb et al., 2007).

Think about a time when you have been truly present for a beautiful moment: you weren't describing it or interpreting it. You weren't thinking about anything else other than simply feeling that moment. A point in time where you were truly alive and awake.

Then think about a time recently where you were distracted from being in the moment because you were re-living something from your past or maybe worrying about something coming up in your life. This is different from truly living with present awareness of the moment. It can cause us to be consumed by regret, fear and anxiety rather than enjoying what's right in front of us.

Practices such as yoga, Pilates and mindful movement provide a ground for training the pathways of direct experience. The part of our brain that activates with momentary awareness is sensitive to mindful training, so we can enhance our ability to live more in the present. This profound practice helps us to awaken to our life.


Our field of sensory awareness fluctuates moment to moment. It mirrors our mental and emotional experiences. The body can therefore be viewed as the training ground for mindfulness. Developing the "sensory self" is relevant to compassion and insight, as well to the classic mindfulness practices that underlie them.

The concept of visceral resilience is the ability to be present with changing bodily sensations. As we're able to do that in a certain way, it fosters our emotional regulation. Emotional regulation leads to personal growth: it dictates how we view ourselves, others and the choices we make.

Yoga and Pilates are usually considered in the proprioceptive or physical form, rather than in terms of interoceptive awareness: defined as the sensitivity to stimuli originating within the body. Although there are the benefits of beautiful movement patterns, increased strength, flexibility and physical prowess, benefits of such practices to influence our emotional regulation and perception of the world are often undervalued. When we use these practices to become aware of feelings, moods and sensations we are practicing mindful, embodied movement. Truly embodied movement practices can lead to flourishing mental, physical and emotional health.

Classical contemplative practices originating from Tibet, China and India aim to generate insight into the fundamental nature of reality: to see things as they really are. This eases suffering and liberates us from conditioned thoughts about how we should look, act, think and achieve. It can quieten down the thought patterns that don't serve us, like: "I should be more like this... I'm not good enough as I am... I need to achieve/be/do more"

Such practices discuss Lung, Chi and Prana as the energy currents that flow through particular areas of our body. Such flows influence, and can also be influenced by the mind, emotions, posture and the position of our body.

Their presence is indicated by awareness of a rich array of internal body sensations. It is how we relate to these sensations that dictates our experience of life and our well-being.

As a physiotherapist I use movement as a therapy tool for improvement of the muscles, tendons and joints. But now with supporting evidence for managing physical and emotional pain, movement can be prescribed to improve interoceptive awareness and therefore our brain.

Interoception and embodied movement enhances our potential by altering how we relate to our self, others and the world at large.


Our body also holds so much of our innate wisdom and intuition. How often do we say "I knew deep down it wasn't right..." or "I had a gut feeling about him..."

If we want things to be different than how they are (and deep down what we likely know to be true), we will rationalise our choices. We justify a position or decision and tune out the signals from our body. Often these are warning signs that we are about to make a bad decision, or have made the wrong choice.

It is our emotions and feelings that drive us to take action, not logic and reasoning. If we can learn emotional regulation through interoception awareness and training through emobodied movement we make wiser choices.

Interoception training is liberating and empowering, connecting us to to what feels right and true for us, instead of over analysing and overthinking about what we should do.

THE TRAINING https://soundcloud.com/user-923864767/x

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