What is Interoception?
Interoception is our capacity to witness and feel the environment inside ourselves, from muscular tension to the beat of our heart , from the rhythm of the breath to the relative fullness of our stomach; from the soft, calm of relaxation and laughter, to the tense rigidity of fear and anxiety. Since inner sensations can often not be separated from emotion, interoception is a key concept in holistic mind-body practices and is an important indicator of self-awareness and well-being.
Interoception is often considered alongside proprioception, which is the sense of one’s body position in space, it is the awareness of your body in relation to the things around you.Interoception builds on proprioception by focusing on the internal experience. Proprioception is the awareness that might help you to avoid bumping into things, while interoception is the experience of pain in your body when you stub your toe. Interoception is also key to helping the individual regulate bodily needs, such as hunger, cold, and exhaustion. In other words, it is the experience of the embodied self.
The range of interoception varies widely among human beings, as the experiences of one’s life will shape the tone and texture of one’s inner world. Trauma, disease, diet, socio-economic factors and dynamics of oppression can all intersect to inform and impact the character of interoception for an individual. For example, on the one hand, one can suffer from PTSD and experience reduced access to interoceptive awareness – often described as feeling nothing. On the other hand, one may suffer from acute anxiety disorder and experience a hypersensitivity to interoception and in turn have more inner feelings than one can handle. These examples imply that interoception is a continuum and extremes in either direction can throw us from our center.
Contemplative practice and somatic forms of therapy in part aim to expand the orbit and balance the field of interoception as an aid to liberating individuals from unnecessary suffering. By developing a new relationship with our inner world, we can begin to taste the fruits of a more fully embodied life.
Jenn Pilotti. “Interoception: what it is, why it matters”, 14 Feb 2019, https://www.jennpilotti.com/blog/2019/2/14/interoception-what-it-is-why-it-matters/.
Noga Arikha. “The Interoceptive Turn”, Aeon, 17 June 2019, https://aeon.co/essays/the-interoceptive-turn-is-maturing-as-a-rich-science-of-selfhood/.
Norman Farb, Jennifer Daubenmier, Cynthia J. Price, Tim Gard, Catherine Kerr, Barnaby D. Dunn, Anne Carolyn Klein, Martin P. Paulus and Wolf E. Mehlingl. “Interoception, contemplative practice, and health”, 9 June 2015, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00763/full/.