Ever felt like a million dollars after a yoga class? Indeed, whether you crave a vigorous Vinyasa practice or prefer chilling out in restorative yoga, the reason we all keep coming back for more is that special, serene yoga glow we often feel after class.
Ever wondered why that happens and what it is that sets yoga apart from other types of movement?
Obviously, yoga offers similar benefits as other movement modalities: Increased circulation, enhanced detoxification, greater mobility and strength. But in addition, notes yoga therapist and author Robin Rothenberg, yoga is unique in that it invites us to connect with deeper aspects of mind and body that we typically are not in touch with.
Yoga is a beautiful invitation to develop deeper levels of self awareness, says Robin Rothenberg. We are not just going through the motions of physical exercise; the practice of yoga encompasses the mind, breath, physicality, mindfulness, and attentive awareness. We are also reflecting on the inner experience of doing whatever the movement is via the sensory process of interoception.
“Embodied yoga practices that raise interoceptive awareness can change our nervous system response and help us come into a right relationship with ourselves,” says Robin. “In an embodied experience every moment on the mat is akin to sharing a cup of tea with your true self.”
“Interoception is really our relationship with ourselves on every level, like knowing that I’m tired before I’m absolutely falling apart and have to pull over on the highway so I don’t drive off the road,” Robin explains. “How do I start to pay attention to the more subtle messages to avoid the suffering from letting things go too long, whether that’s pushing our bodies beyond our limit in physical activity or pushing our body too long by not feeding it or not sleeping it right?”
Developing Interoception Happens in Stages
Proprioception, the awareness of our bodies in space related to spatial awareness, is often the first entry point to developing greater interoceptive awareness.
How does yoga develop proprioception? Focusing on the alignment of our hands in tabletop position can be one first step, Robin notes. Similar refinements to physical practice offer more ways to awaken to the more subtle aspects of bodily functioning. From there, interoception develops to elicit a much greater awareness of our processes, both on- and off the mat.
Awaking interoception in yoga increases the felt sense of the experience, Robin notes. It’s becoming aware of the sensation of muscular congestion here, an inhibited movement there, a stilted quality to the breath. It is less about alignment or performance than our inner experience in each moment. And that carries into our daily physical cues, such as hunger and fatigue.
A Pathway Toward Better Emotional Regulation
Developing greater interoception and self awareness can be a pathway toward better self-management and emotional self-regulation. It hones our ability to maintain what Robin refers to as the window of tolerance, a place from which we can recognize the need for immediate self-care, such as when it’s time to take a mindful pause, play with the dog, or take a walk. In that sense, she explains, it becomes part of a healing process that is based on wholeness.
This process, Robin states, is an inside job.
“We can go to a doctor, massage therapist or chiropractor, all of whom I love and appreciate,” Robin notes. “They can do something, perform something on us, or give us a prescription that gives us temporary symptom relief. But to me, healing is putting those pieces together to help me to understand and grow myself.
“There’s a lot of evidence that the healing process only comes to fruition when we own our experience and say, ‘This is mine. I’m the one steering this ship and I have these tools to take it inside to out as opposed to grasping outward for help.’ That makes all the difference in how we approach life and how successfully we can deal with challenges.
You may also be interested in Robin’s course: The Healing Power of Interoception.