Yoga and Interoceptive Awareness

Interoception is “the process of receiving, accessing and appraising internal bodily signals” (Farb et al., 2015, June). Individuals access sensory information in combination with cognitive appraisals to inform a response to internal stimuli. This receptive process relies on the relationship of what you feel and are aware of, and what your interpretation is so that you can respond appropriately to your environment.

Interoception is often limited to the way one understands their body in space. Inappropriate appraisal for an experience an individual is having is typical. Attachments and aversions are cultivated based on ignorances that create a sense of identity which develops into the perception of something as plus or minus. As a result, when individuals experience particular sensations again (typically intensely), the individual now recalls a previous story into the present. A comparison between the immediate feeling and simulated past and future feelings occur and motivate behavior to resolve differences to maintain homeostasis. This cycle is known as a predictive error and leads to maladaptive interoceptive experiences (Farb et al., 2015, June).

Before developing solutions to alter predictive error, it is necessary to understand the key terms (interoceptive awareness, coherence, attention tendency, sensitivity, accuracy, sensibility, and regulation) used for interoception measurement as defined by Farb et al., (2015, June). Interoceptive awareness is the ability to decipher internal body signals. Interoception can be maladaptive without coherence. Coherence is the physiological and subjective experience drawn together to appraise the situation is accurate. Attention tendency is also needed as it is the habit of paying attention or not to interoceptive signals. How well an individual attends to interoceptive cues depends on sensitivity, accuracy, and sensibility. Sensitivity is how well one can detect changes in signals. Accuracy is the ability to differentiate between various interoception sensations while sensibility is a personal account of how one experiences internal feelings and one’s confidence in interoceptive skills. Ultimately, regulation, how an individual can work with interceptive sensations while maintaining homeostasis, is essential for well-being.

Modern science and contemplative practices offer varying approaches to regulation. Modern science models discuss the alteration of suppression, distraction, and reappraisal, while contemplative traditions use terms of acceptance and non-interfering observations (Farb et al., 2015, June). Both seek to minimize the disparity between sensed and expected states but differ in their approach through active and perceptual inference. Active inference requires action to conform by changing the stimuli through cognitive behavior to align with past experiences. Perceptual inference acts through acceptance through a change in observation to update previous experiences to align with the current experience.

The integration of both modern secular and contemplative practices allows for a shared influence. Sensory granularity describes this combination through the ability to notice specific details of internal sensory experience and subtle changes so that the one can shift back and forth between sensory monitoring and conceptual inference. This shift enables one to be both “doing” and “being” and chose, which is more impactful in each given situation (Farb et al., 2015, June). It is useful for looking beyond the personal account, more vastly, so to disconnect conditioned wiring so one can change and create new experiences and enable coherence. Accurate interoception leads to awareness and maintenance of homeostasis, which generate feelings of calm, peace, satisfaction, greater connection to others, and decreases the desire to seek out externally rewarding stimuli.

Referenced Article: Frontiers in Psychology