The Eighth Sense: Ineroception!
Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch! We are all familiar with these five senses. Looking at a beautiful landscape brings most of these senses alive. However, there are two other “hidden” senses: the vestibular sense, our sense of balance and head movement, and the proprioceptive sense, our sense of muscles and joints. These senses help guide us in the world with ease and composure. People with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are impacted by these sensory systems. It is now understood that these seven sensory systems work together. More recently, it is recognized that there is an eighth sensory system called interoception.
Interoception permits us to “feel” our internal organs and skin. It provides information about the internal condition of our body. Examples include feeling pain, hunger, thirst, muscle tension, pleasant touch, sleepiness, body temperature, itch, and heart rate. Interception guides us to sense feelings of warmth or cold, tension or relaxation, trembling or steadiness to name a few.
Interopception, or the recognition of the body state, is the foundation for how we feel emotions. For example, body signals may let us know we are nervous when we have to speak in public, and you may feel an increased heartbeat, tense muscles, and butterflies in the stomach. When we are in nature, the body signals calm and you may feel your muscles are relaxed and your heart is beating slowly.
For example, looking at the glass of iced tea, we see the golden brown color of the tea, taste the lime infused flavor, hear the ice clink against the glass, smell the lime and tea flavor, touch the cold glass, and use our interoception to know that once we drink the iced tea, we will quench our thirst, feel more relaxed, and even happier.
Practicing yoga puts us in touch with our inner body and mind. When we practice yoga using breath and movement, our mind clears, our stomach digests, and we become aware of how we feel. We recognize our own interoception. We know if we feel pain or pleasure when practicing a pose. We know if we are hot or cold, after practicing pranayama or meditation. We know if we have released a tense muscle, after warming up and stretching. Yoga teachers often say there are benefits of yoga on and off the mat. The more we practice tuning into our inner body and becoming conscious of hunger, thirst, sleepiness, and knowing how to respond in a healthy manner, the more we will have a feeling of well-being. We become more aware of our body and regulate what we need.
Breath, movement, and meditation during yoga practice will guide you to awareness of your internal organs and how they are “feeling.” This hidden sense will no longer be hidden from you! Grab your yoga mat and become familiar with your eighth sense!
Partially based on information from “Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System” by Kelly Mahler, MS, OTR/L