Mindfulness meditation and other mind-body practices enhance body awareness, and mounting research indicates that such practices yield physical and mental health benefits.
Attending to, appraising and responding to body sensations is referred to as interoception. An international group of experts has defined
and discussed this concept—based
on a comprehensive research review—in a paper published in Frontiers
in Psychology (2015; doi: 10.3389/ fpsyg.2015.00763). The authors identify several domains in which mindfulness practices can enhance well-being by cultivating sensory or interoceptive awareness:
- Sensitivity. Mindfulness practices
enhance the ability to recognize subtle physiological changes and to detect what is occurring in the body with more objectivity and less emotionality. For example, practitioners learn that stressful situations stimulate increases in heart and breathing rates; become able to notice these responses as the physiological changes begin; and can alter habitual reactions before these responses escalate.
- Nonreactivity. With mindfulness training, students can cultivate the ability to observe and view thoughts and emotions as transient mental events, rather than as cues to immediate action. With less reactivity, people can choose how to respond to a situation, rather than doing what is most habitual.
- Self-regulation. As practitioners become aware of physiological arousal in the presence of a stressful situation, fear is less likely to overwhelm them; they can reappraise the situation and realize—if it is not an emergency situation—that no realistic threat to well-being exists. With more objectivity, they can choose an alternative view. For example, they might perceive the stressful situation as an exciting challenge, instead of a threat, and use the arousal energy to create success.
- Presence and agency. With more precise embodied awareness, practitioners develop a deeper, more accurate connection with their lives. They can also gain self-confidence: For example, when a person correctly assesses what the body feels and
is capable of doing, dysfunctional
self-representations that he or she cannot do something lose power. Instead of disassociating with the body, the person can discern his or her actual limits and capabilities.
- Positive experiences. Mindfulness educates practitioners to pay more attention to and appreciate pleas- ant sensations. This can gradually undo habitual patterns related to addiction or other issues and can help people experience more feelings of authentic joy.
- Embodied effects. Mindful practices have an impact on physiological systems, and this change can influence cognitive processes as well. In other words, as the body becomes calmer, the mind also experiences more calm.
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