I’ve been intrigued by the concept of interoception, which means what it sounds like: internal perception. This concept describes the ‘felt sense’ within your body, which leads to an understanding of your own experience and your own needs. This internal focus is what I rely on to tell me when I am hungry or when I need sleep. It is this same internal awareness that informs me of when I am angry, when I am lonely, or when I am joyful! When I am aware that I am hungry I eat. When I know I am lonely I seek out connection.
Trauma compromises our ability to accurately perceive our internal experience: interoception is interrupted and blocked. Trauma occurs in most of our lives even though we may not recognize or characterize it as such. Trauma can be something dramatically tragic or violent and it can lead to a diagnosis like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Trauma can also come from a series of smaller incidents that happened repeatedly over time, perhaps as a result of childhood neglect or emotional abuse. The reality of this type of trauma is that because it happened in smaller doses and in such regularity it became a sort of “normal.” One might not even realize trauma occurred.
Since trauma interrupts our interoception our ability to perceive our wants and needs can be altered. If we don’t know how we feel, we cannot give ourselves what we need. We don’t sleep when we are tired. We don’t eat when we are hungry. We don’t reach out for a hug when we are sad and we don’t dance or sing when we feel joyful. Knowing what we feel and what we need ultimately leads to a feeling of knowing who we are as an individuals. It leads to a sense of personal identity. I can know if I am someone who likes the to be outside when it’s hot and humid. Or do I prefer the crisp and chill of Autumn? Do I like mint chocolate chip ice cream? Do I like beets? Do I feel refreshed by the company of others or do I prefer to recharge with the quiet of being by myself? Knowing what I like and what I need help me know who I am as a person. And knowing the complexities of who I am as a beautiful human being can get lost, covered up by the dust and grime of past experiences and trauma.
Hope is not lost. We can regain this sense of self, this understanding of who we are and what we need. According to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, “Most of our conscious brain is dedicated to focusing on the outside world: getting along with others, making plans for the future. However, that does not help us manage ourselves. Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves” (The Body Keep the Score, 2015, pg. 208).
Yoga can offer a unique and powerful way to learn interoception. Different postures create different sensations in the body for our consideration. We draw inward and pause. “Do I feel tension? Do I feel warmth? Do I feel pain? Do I feel strength?”
Considering how we feel in these postures hones the skill of interoception. Learning to notice what sensations your body feels is a skill that takes time, intention, and practice.
Author: Betsy Rosenbrook is a counselor and registered yoga teacher with Grand Rapids Healing Yoga. Blending traditional elements of talk therapy with somatic therapies, Betsy brings health and wellness to the whole person.
Reposted with permission from Grand Rapids Healing Yoga.