Research evidence suggests that interoception, the internal perception of bodily states, is linked positively to physical and mental health. Low interoception is associated with increased pain awareness. Body awareness connects us to the flow of life and eliminates areas of constriction in the body, allowing emotions also to release. And yet, the burden of chronic illness and pain can weigh us down, and when we don’t feel good, the last thing we want to do is pay attention to our body’s sensations.
How can we increase interoception, and by association, vagal tone – a measure of parasympathetic calming influence on heart rate? Simple, by choosing where your attention goes. Below are some basic steps to increase the rhythm of the body’s autonomic nervous system and mitigate the experience of tension and pain.
Take a moment to notice the space your body occupies. Notice where your body touches another surface – a chair, the floor, your hands on your lap.
Allow your eyes to go wherever they want to go, without pressure noticing light, shapes and colors that are pleasant and appealing.
Become aware of the rhythm of your breath as your body relaxes and enjoys the pleasure of the moment. Don’t shape your breath, just notice its flow.
Take note of all the areas of your body that are at ease, comfortable, or relaxed. Rest there for a moment.
Allow your mind to momentarily explore areas of constriction, tension, or pain – touch into the edges of it rather than go into the core of the pain.
Return your awareness to the rest of your body where it doesn’t hurt, then to the external environment around you through the eyes and the ears.
Notice your breath and any changes in your experience since you began this exercise.
You can do the same with painful emotions by moving awareness between desired and undesired emotions, or any other “pairs of opposites” such as images, or thoughts. Your body’s intelligence will increase and you will become a master of your experience. The overall benefits of body awareness include:
Feel good in your body and at home in your own skin
Enhance your health and overall wellness by increasing heart rate variability
Calm the mind and the emotions to promote wise responses to life challenges
Rewire nervous system patterns through the tracking of body sensations that accompany the ingrained thoughts, feelings and behaviors that no longer serve you
Change from the inside out to be more resilient and adapt to changing external circumstances
As your nervous system becomes more flexible, so do your thoughts, emotions and interpersonal relationship strategies, making relationships more fulfilling and lasting