Interoceptive Awareness and Yin | How Yin Yoga Helps You Look Within

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Kacie Shoulders

“Tune into your body, any sensations that arise and sit with them. Surrender to them.”

Variations of this phrase appear in yoga classes around the world, maybe even more so in yin yoga. But what does that mean? Or what if you struggle to notice what is going on inside the body? You’re not alone in finding it all a bit confusing, but that’s where our Interoceptive Awareness comes in. 

If you haven’t heard the term before, interoceptive awareness just means how you perceive the internal state of the body. Close your eyes, and without putting your hand to your wrist or throat, try and sense your own heart rate. How much you can perceive that is your interoception. 

And the best bit, interoceptive awareness can be cultivated. It can be learned, and practiced.

Why should you care about interoception?

You’ve survived your whole life so far with the current level of interoception you have. So why do you want to develop it?

Interoceptive awareness allows a better understanding / awareness of your feelings, it allows you to tap into your intuition so you can feel a little more confident in what you want. And it allows you to reframe situations and experiences, tapping into that inner narrative.

Building Interoceptive Awareness

One of the most notable frameworks for improving interoceptive awareness is MABT (Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy).

A very brief overview: MABT was created in the 1980s by Cynthia Price, to build interoceptive awareness and self-care skills. MABT uses some exercises to improve interoceptive awareness including breath monitoring, conscious relaxing of the body and guiding our attention to certain areas of the body – sound familiar? All are used in yin yoga.

There are three pillars of MABT which can be intertwined with your yin practice:

  1. Awareness – identifying your body sensations. Can you notice sensations within your body in your practice?
  2. Accessing – bring attention to the body’s inner experience via the breath and intention. Can you feel the sensation of the breath moving in and out of the body, especially the exhales.
  3. Reappraisal – re-evaluating situations and experiences. Yin allows us to sit with feelings of discomfort as an opportunity for growth and insight.

The role of fascia 

You’ll often hear about fascia and yin, and how great yin is for your fascia. 

What is it? Fascia is the type of connective tissue that wraps around every structure in the body – it serves as a sort of scaffolding that helps our bones, muscles and organs interact. Yin poses target this tissue – and stimulates cells within the fascia to communicate with the brain. This creates a sort of channel back and forth with the brain – and not just the brain but in particular the part of the brain that processes emotions.

So your yin practice helps you tune in with the body, give feedback to the brain and understand / be aware of your feelings.

A note on emotions

Interoception lets us sit with sensations in the body. For some these emotions and sensations might be uncomfortable, and you don’t have to push them. Ease back whenever you need to – yin is sitting with your edge, not pushing it. For some this sitting with emotion can act as a sort of revelation, a release of (especially when negative) emotions. And for others it is an indication that they need to ease off, maybe move out of a posture or even halt the practice for a second. 

A reminder that you are your ultimate teacher, and the expert on what you need. Regardless of your interoceptive awareness, you know what is best for your body.

Some exercises that may help you cultivate your interoceptive awareness:

  • Practice moving with intention – I once had a class where the teacher made us walk from one side of the mat to the other with the slowest, most intentional steps. Landing the heel and spreading the weight through the foot etc. Maybe you don’t go this precise, but move with a bit of awareness and intention.
  • Change up your routine – novelty keeps our brain guessing and subtle changes can help us re-tune in. And that doesn’t need to be a life shift, maybe you practice a slightly different flow or change your setup. Maybe you try a different variation or prop.
  • Keep your gentle practice – this helps reduce tension in the body. If you notice tension in the body maybe ease off a little. See if the sensations in the body change.
  • Reflect – sometimes we don’t notice any changes until we take stock. I once had a teacher use savasana as a point of reflection – if that works for you great. If not maybe journaling, or a little post practice stillness to reflect might be useful.
  • Use your asymmetry – we’re not equal on both sides. Notice how the right and left side feel different, do you have different expectations – do any emotions arise in either side.
  • Visualisation – when it comes to measuring your heartbeat you might visualise the heart pumping blood around the body. When in a pose maybe you visualise: the movement of air in and out of the lungs, the lengthening of the muscles, the extension of some parts of the body, the releasing of tension… the list goes on. And visualisation might help you tune in a little more with sensation.

Set the intention to pay attention.

And with that I’ll finish with word from Rumi that I think summarise Interoceptive Awareness and yin for me:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

An excerpt from the guest house by Rumi

Sources / you may be interested in:

  1. Price and Hooven 2018 – Interoceptive Awareness Skills for Emotion Regulation: Theory and Approach of Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy (MABT) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00798/full 
  2. The Body Keeps the Score – Bessel van der Kolk
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Titles for Website (38)
Kacie Shoulders
Kacie Shoulders
Kacie Shoulders is a nutritionist and yoga teacher focused on healing your relationship with food and movement. She focuses on trying to make yoga and intuitive eating accessible to all. Her favourite thing is to chat to students before and after class about their practice and experiences.

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