THERE’S a sixth sense you probably never knew existed – and it’s called interoception.
The “lesser-known” sense lets you understand what’s going on within your body, and can be improved with practice.
What is interoception?
Interoception is the sixth (or eighth, depending on who you ask) sense.
It tells you what’s happening inside your body, and represents things like hunger or thirst.
It can also be your perception of things like tiredness, pain, temperature or any other internal sensations.
Being aware of what’s happening inside our bodies is important for health – and issues with interoception can be a problem.
Does everyone have interoception?
Just like some people have better sight or hearing, so too do people have better (or worse) interoception.
For instance, research suggests that poor interoception can be a sign of some mental disorders – including autism and anorexia.
Interoception might sound like a wishy-washy term, but it’s actually a very physical process.
Inside your body is a complex system of sensory receptors that live inside your body’s skin and organs.
These receptors tell your brain what’s happening, so you can better regulate your internal systems.
For instance, if you struggled to tell when you were hungry, you might eat less than you need to – which could potentially cause problems.
Similarly, the sensation of being “hangry” – when you’re annoyed because you haven’t eaten – is a sign that your interoception is working.
Can you improve your interoception?
First, you need to know if your interoception is working.
Can you feel whether your heart is beating fast or slow, or if you need the toilet? Similarly, can you feel the tenseness of your muscles or the depth of your breath? Do you know if you’re hungry and tired?
You might immediately know the answer to all of these, or you may need to focus on certain parts of your body.
And scientists believe that it is possible to improve your interoception.
A 2017 study published in the Front Hum Neurosci journal found that it was possible to improve the accuracy of your interoception.
It involved using a technique known as “body scanning”, which is a mindfulness exercise.
However, some people might have naturally better interoception than you, even if you improve your own senses.
Body scanning could improve your interoception – here's how to do it
Here's what you need to know…
Body scanning typically involves focusing your attention on physical sensations around your body
You’ll need to be very still and quiet for 15 to 30 minutes, focusing on very specific areas of the body inch by inch
The idea is that you gradually improve your awareness of very specific parts of your body – like your heart or stomach
It’s best to try the body scan in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed
Often body-scanning will involve the use of an audio guide to help focus your mind
Stanford University offers a download link for a free body-scanning audio guide here
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How would you rate your interoception? Let us know in the comments!
There’s a SIXTH sense you never knew you had – and you can improve it just by thinking