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Developing mindful body awareness

Many people assume that they (or their kids) are well connected to their bodies, that they are aware of all their body signals, feelings and emotions. However, for many of us, including people who are autistic, people who have experienced trauma, people with a variety of disabilities, people raised without positive adult-child interactions and so on, this is certainly not the case.

Whenever I see someone wearing a t-shirt without any sweater, coat etc in mid-winter I wonder if it is because their internal thermostat is set differently or because they literally don’t feel the cold. When you don’t feel that your body is cold when your body is in fact cold, this is because of poor interoception, in other words poor body awareness (or there may be another neurological or biological reason for a small minority of people). 

The great thing about body awareness is that we know you can learn it, and thanks to neuroscientists and their work on neuroplasticity, we know that learning mindful body awareness can train the brain to notice and be aware of your body more and more over time. In other words by doing specific things whilst being talked through them or talking yourself through them you teach yourself to notice the feelings or body signals associated with those things.

As an example – if you hold an ice cube in one hand and a cube of room temperature jelly in the other (not recommended if you have a sensory aversion to jelly or ice) and you are talked through focusing on the feeling in each hand, on the palms fingers, the different sensations experienced due to the different temperatures. If you then repeat this again (and again) you will find it easier each time to notice something, to be truly aware, to experience mindful body awareness.

If you want to try this out for yourself, have a look at the PDF of activities on the resources page

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Preventing meltdowns

Once you are using interoception activities regularly you will develop a better sense of connectedness to yourself and to others/the environment around you. Becoming aware of how your body feels and responds can be a bit strange initially and it takes time to be comfortable with it. However, it is amazing to know how you feel or how you are responding to an event or other stimulus (sensory input/person around you etc). It is also very powerful to know when your emotional state is changing before it hits fight/flight/freeze, so you can actually prevent your meltdowns from occurring (though you may still need to process the event or experience in order to ensure meltdown is not merely delayed a bit).

When you know your emotional state is changing you can respond to that change in helpful or unhelpful ways. Helpful ways will be ways that lead to less stress and fewer difficulties, unhelpful ways increase issues and emotional distress. For example, when I know I am starting to get angry because my fitbit signals a huge increase in my heart rate, I can choose to ignore the signal or react. My reaction could be to do something distracting and/or something to bring my heart rate down or unhelpfully to yell at the person I am getting angry with. Yelling is unhelpful because it should not be the first step in trying to solve an emotional discord, walking away or getting a drink of water or casually doing an interoception activity with my feet (or hands under the table) or a breathing activity are helpful because they will prevent the build up of anger and focus me on connecting to myself and enable me to connect to others.

Give it a go using the resources – even if you just pick one thing to do once a day and then try to see how much more aware you are of your body during that one interoception activity over time.

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Mindful Body Awareness – Interoception

Mindful body awareness is another way of describing interoception, which is the sense of internal biological and emotional body states. For example being aware of your thirst is a type of interoception, as is knowing when your body is relaxed or tense. Without interoception we can’t connect to ourselves and will struggle to connect to others. Interoception skills are linked to well-being, both physical and mental health. Practicing mindful body awareness by doing interoception activities can build your interoception skills and increase your connections to self and others as well as support your physical and mental health.

This website offers a range of supports to enable you to build your interoception as well as for parents, carers and professionals to teach interoception to both children and adults.