Inner-awareness, or interoceptive awareness, is the ability to sense what is happening inside our body at any given time. Our bodies do not use words to communicate with us. It doesn’t stop us in our tracks and shout “Hey! You need to drink water! Or “Hey! You need rest not action…Yin not Yang. The way our bodies communicate with us is through sensations and interoceptive awareness is our ability to understand that communication. Most of us, if not all, have the capacity to develop this awareness but some of us we may only partially develop this skill. Trauma, neglect and lack of knowledge of our body can sometimes leave us feeling confused, let down and even betrayed by the sensations in our body. Some of us completely ignore and shut down the sensations our bodies give us. Whilst others become hyper-responsive to stimuli of all kinds. Having the ability to listen to our body and respond to its needs is essential to having a healthy relationship with ourselves. Our body will always tell us what it needs, but often we misinterpret or ignore its signals and our body brings us to a halt.
Before I started doing yoga I could go for days without checking in with myself. Days without checking in with how I was feeling or what was going on in my body. Much like a sleepwalker disconnected from what is real and not real. So many of us live our lives controlled by our mind, allowing the mind to swing us back and forth, from the past to the future, dragging us along in a whirlpool of thoughts, worries and fears… For the most part we are not even aware that this is happening.
For many years I suffered from eating disorders and for individuals with disordered eating and negative body image, many types of interoceptive awareness are either completely absent or they become hypersensitive. I learnt to choose which signals I would tune into in my body, learning to ignore signs of hunger, tiredness, pain and emotion and take comfort from the heightened awareness of my heart beat, blood pressure and the dizziness I often felt.
My body became a tool for the mind to find a sense of control over events that were happening in my life. My eating disorder became my identity and something I held on to when I felt lost or unsure. The awareness I had of my body was one of discomfort and unease. My body was a thing that I felt I was stuck with and I tried my best to ignore its needs. I was aware of what was happening to my body and how it fought to keep me alive but I did not have the mental power or willingness to change.
The practice of yoga can help us to rebuild the bridge between our body and our mind. It helps us to reconnect with what our body needs and wants. For me that bridge has lead to acceptance and love, for myself, my body and for the people I love and care for.
Yoga attends to all parts of our being – our body, mind, breath and our emotions. When you practice yoga with full awareness the Asanas, the physical postures, moves your body and gently massage your internal organs. The breath keeps you in the present moment and leads the mind into a calm meditative state that brings steadiness and flow to your practice both on and off your mat. A clear calm mind is like a laser beam, helping you to focus your attention, your Drishti, and allow you to take decisions more effectively. When the mind is calm, we can allow our creativity to blossom.
The more I practice the more I realise how my practice on my mat affects my life off the mat. Living with awareness creates space in your mind so that you can more clearly see your thoughts and behaviours. You become more aware of how the small choices you make every day affect you, your community, and the world around you. You no longer react with the same irritation or aggression to situations or events that present themselves or to what people say, but instead you can choose to respond with a clear mind, free of judgement. You can be proactive instead of provocative – in both your speech and your actions. Often we say things without thought, words just jump out of our mouth. As we journey on the path of Yoga, our words become more selective, more powerful. When we act with awareness, we are in control not our mind.
Yoga has taught me to listen to my body…to know when my body needs rest, when it needs to be nurtured. It has given me the tools to live my life with awareness of other people’s feelings and to my surroundings. Yoga has helped me to become aware of my body, including the pains or discomforts. The secret of awareness is to just watch everything that is going on in the body and mind, without judgement – as an observer. When we die our body is the only thing that we have had with us for our entire life. It is the loyal vessel in which we live. I know that my body is on my side, it wants me to live, it wants me to be happy. I now trust that it will tell me what it needs and my body trusts that I will respond.