Learning to notice your body’s sensations can positively impact sleep, focus clarity, stress regulation, pain and more. If you intend to live your best life, honing this skill is a must. Happily, it’s also pretty simple and very relaxing. For those interested in more details, keep reading. If you prefer an experience, click here to try a 12-minute guided meditation. Here’s to you!
One of my clients recently explained how she demystified the phrase listening to your body. She said, “my neck was tight, and I noticed that it felt better when I moved it into another position. I moved it back and forth a few times to make sure it wasn’t just a coincidence, and that’s when it hit me: listening to my body just means noticing the sensations in my body.”
Noticing body sensations is called “interoception” in professional and scientific circles. It’s really just a fancy name for a powerful tool that anyone can master. If you’re aiming for vibrance, wellbeing, longevity and solid performance, then self-sensing is essential. Realize it or not, you already have skills and if you decide to actively practice them, you’ll probably gain influence over many important areas of your life.
Sensing the inner landscape of the body is all about becoming aware of something that’s already going on, such as breathing or a beating heart. Some others:
- noticing thirst, hunger, a full bladder
- becoming aware of a cold, headache or fever coming on
- feeling well-rested, or feeling tired
- awareness of emotions, mood, gratitude
In sessions with my clients, it might be:
- perceiving changes in pressure or stretch
- sensing muscle tension or relaxation
- observing flow, rhythm and sensations of breathing
- noticing areas holding stress, tension, trauma
It makes intuitive sense (and science is also proving in clinical studies) that noticing and appropriately responding to the body’s subtle and not-so-subtle cues can lead to better self-regulation of stress, improved sleep, less pain, gains in focus and mental clarity, and even faster healing. Imagine being able to turn the tables on stress or mood by noticing early signs (ex: increased heartbeat, short, fast respiration, clenched jaws, not thinking clearly) and taking measures to counteract them. Or maybe you sit at a desk all day. If you’ve trained yourself to notice mild discomfort, you could decide to revamp your workspace or take movement breaks to prevent additional problems.
An easy way to practice self-sensing is taking notice of yourself breathing. It’s not hard, and before long you’ll build up a natural awareness. Perceiving your heart beat is another simple method. It’s more subtle than the breath, but learnable all the same.
Body sensing meditations might be the most relaxing way to practice interoception. You can follow a guided meditation, or try it DIY style. I’m certified in a type of guided meditation (Yoga Nidra) that uses body sensing. All you need to do is get comfortable, press “play” and follow the guidance of my voice. Here’s the link again for my free 12-minute recording. I’ll be sharing more of these meditations in the near future.
If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into the science of interoception, I really recommend this HubermanLab podcast episode. Dr. Huberman is a medical school professor at Stanford, and he’s also dedicated to bringing science-based information and tools to the public.