Most of our trauma-sensitive yoga sessions include psychoeducation to help you understand why we use specific methods in trauma-sensitive yoga. You learn how emotional trauma can affect the body, how trauma-sensitive yoga works, and a theme to focus on in the session.
In this blog post, I will introduce one of the key themes- interoception.
Interoception is a felt body sense- “it is the material me and relates to how we perceive feelings from our body that determine our mood, our sense of well-being, and our emotions” – Fowler 2002.
Our felt body sense goes beyond specific physical sensations into the broader realm of feelings associated with our general mood, emotional state, and feelings of well-being.
Felt body sense can influence our behaviour. Positive feelings often promote repetition of a behaviour or movement towards something that makes us feel good. On the other hand, negative body feelings tend to repel us away from a behaviour, person, object, or situation. Or drive us to change our behaviour so that we remove the uncomfortable or negative feeling.
For example, when we feel thirsty, we feel this in our bodies. This feeling gets us to behave in a particular way- to seek out something to drink.
At an emotional level, our felt body sense of positive and negative emotions can influence us in a similar way. A research article that you might find interesting is one published by Nummenmaa (2014), who showed bodily maps of emotional states.
Overall, what we feel in our body creates a sense of being, of an emotional state, of wellbeing, and awareness of physical shapes we are making with our bodies.
In trauma-sensitive yoga there is an opportunity to practice feeling body sensations. We use yoga shapes or forms to facilitate or explore body sensations.
During the therapeutic practice of trauma-sensitive yoga a participant might feel sensations induced by different yoga forms, or emotional reactions to these forms.
One aspect that makes trauma-sensitive yoga different from some other therapeutic treatments for complex trauma and PTSD is that we do not focus on linking felt body sensations to anything else. In other forms of therapy, you might focus on unpacking what the feelings or emotions mean for you with regards to past experiences or something you have planned in the future.
In trauma-sensitive yoga the focus, is instead, on simply noticing present moment body sensations, without thinking about what they mean… simply just experiencing them.
This might sound similar to other forms of mindfulness-based therapies- for example, mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness based cognitive therapy, or mindfulness meditation. In a way it is. But some mindfulness-based practices emphasise sitting still and watching thoughts, body sensations, and emotional reactions. Trauma-sensitive yoga is different because the focus isn’t the mind. Also, because there is movement, which you control, you get the opportunity to change what you are feeling.
Why do we focus on felt body sense in a trauma-sensitive yoga therapy session? There are a few reasons, one is because felt body sense can be impacted by emotional trauma. For example, people can become physically numb or conversely hypersensitive.
By focusing on felt body sense we give people the opportunity to explore feeling in their bodies, reconnect with their bodies, and increase accuracy with regards to what they are feeling.
In addition, trauma-sensitive yoga can be helpful for individuals that do not have a clinical diagnosis of complex trauma or PTSD or identify as having experienced trauma.
For example, many of us are people pleasers or try to avoid conflict. In some cases, we might avoid listening to how we feel about situations. Instead, we might look outside ourselves towards an external authority for guidance on how to act.
By practicing trauma sensitive yoga, we can become more attuned to body sensations and how our movements and behaviour can change these sensations. Research has shown that trauma-sensitive yoga can reduce symptoms associated with complex trauma and PTSD. But its likely that there are benefits for people who do not identify as having experienced a trauma.
Overall, the practice of interoception could give you more insight into your felt-self. The result is that we can become more embodied, and in touch with how we feel about situations, our emotional state, and our overall feelings of well-being. This could have profound impact on our day-to-day behaviour and a deeper understanding of ourselves.